Industry 4.0 in make-to-order manufacturing

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For anyone who manufactures capital goods, the fourth industrial revolution poses a challenge on two fronts. Suppliers need to ensure that their products and services, as well as their own value chains meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. Even more so than their customers, the suppliers are left with the question as to which areas they should focus their resources on. ERP systems that allow the development and operation of service-oriented architectures offer significant streamlining potential.

Modern ERP systems are key to value creation. In addition to internal processes, these ERP systems assist with customer relationship management and the coordination of subcontractors and service management. Manufacturing companies thus have a broad foundation for integrating third-party systems into their processes. From the quotation and production order to the service request, all requirements that arise in the life cycle of tools, machines and plants can be mapped. This results in cross-system workflows that are largely automated. As a result, users can concentrate on handling planning deviations.

In order to detect possible needs for action at an early stage, the use of customisable dashboards is recommended. As well as being early warning systems, dashboards serve as the operational command point: If, for example, a traffic light changes from green to amber, users are able to access the specific areas of their ERP-supported Industry 4.0 solution at the click of a button, carry out further root cause analysis and efficiently initiate any necessary compensatory measures.

Do orders seem to be permanently stuck in scheduling and business planning? Dashboards can help in a number of ways. For example, sales engineers can simulate how additional quotations will affect the capacity situation in-house and with suppliers. Or buyers can identify at an early stage, which purchased parts show delivery bottlenecks that could endanger the deadline. As a result, purchasing is concentrating on managing these scenarios. The remaining processes are left to the automated workflows of the Industry 4.0 solution.

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In order to consistently organise the information and material flows, ERP systems must support the development of a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The underlying data management concept should ideally be based on widely used, open industry standards. Generally, the use of XML mark-up language and SQL database language works particularly well. An architecture such as this allows the easy integration of third-party systems via web services with minimal programming effort. For example, the machine controls of delivered equipment or intralogistics solutions.

The ERP consolidates the data formats of the integrated systems. This permits the multi-directional exchange of all relevant status information for the respective sub-process. The real-time availability of process information means that all systems in the value chain are able to continually optimise their own processes. The process-oriented concept goes far beyond the integration of ERP, CAD and PDM/PLM solutions. The latter focuses on the exchange of static product and order data. It is therefore possible for all parties involved in the process, including designers, dispatchers, purchasers and production planners, to transfer the data of the upstream and downstream project partners without having to re-enter information. The Industry 4.0 approach of fully integrated ERP systems is set to continue. From now on, the ERP system will no longer simply transmit the current data, it will also monitor how the status information based on this data develops.

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As a result, completely new application scenarios become possible. For example, in customer service it is now possible to evaluate the operating data of machines and systems in real time. The aim is to ensure that the service operations relating to capital goods are implemented with a minimum of costs. Secure Internet connections provide technicians with access to the current operating parameters. The ERP system evaluates the continuous influx of information in a rule-based manner in order to suggest useful maintenance tasks as part of preventive maintenance. Since the ERP system provides a complete overview of all planned and unplanned measures, both the maintenance-related downtime of the systems and the number of service activities carried out by the technicians at the customer site can be minimised.

When carrying out service operations, the service technicians have mobile access to the system and order information they need for their current maintenance and repair orders. Similarly, they report the progress of their work via an app or browser application back to the central hub. Completed orders can thus be recorded in the ERP system immediately and billed according to contract. In addition, the ERP tool updates the spare parts system, human resources planning and the technical order documentation of serviced machines and systems. As a result, users have all the information they need to process ongoing service orders for their customers and schedule future jobs with a view to conserving resources. Workflows can also be stored which, in the event of a malfunction, trigger an escalation management process that adheres to the response times agreed with the customer.

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In addition to the service industry, there are numerous other possible uses of Industry 4.0 solutions. This is especially true for industrial equipment manufacturers. There are a huge number of areas where producers of capital goods can influence the value chains of their customers as well as the business of their suppliers and vice versa. These areas range from sales, development, production, scheduling and purchasing to materials management, assembly, shipping and service management.

Initially, it makes sense for many companies to focus on the customer-oriented potential of Industry 4.0. State-of-the-art ERP solutions are often regarded as trailblazers. Thanks to their open-ended data management concept, ERP systems are the tool of choice to develop practical Industry 4.0 solutions that deliver a fast return on investment.

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