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Best Practices, Manufacturing, Process mining, production

Tips for Achieving End-to-End Visibility in a Production Environment

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End-to-end production line visibility. Definitely a worthy goal. And if you were to attempt to achieve this full level of visibility all at once, it would be a monumental undertaking. But by breaking it down into smaller, more attainable milestones, you can reach your desired level of transparency without it being as painful as you’re imagining. With its unique ability to map the processes as they really happen, process mining is a great point to start.

There are many reasons for a manufacturing company to seek end-to-end visibility:

  • Social compliance: Customers are demanding more transparency, and many manufacturers are complying with that market pressure.
  • Regulatory compliance: Depending on your industry, the government may require extensive reporting.
  • Return on investment: End-to-end visibility can contribute to decreased downtime, increased productivity, and the ability to conduct predictive maintenance on your equipment.

Four Types of Visibility


Before you take on a transparency project, it’s important to know what you’re trying to see. In a production environment, there are four key areas of visibility:

    1. Asset: Being able to track supplies from the warehouse to the factory floor
    2. Process: Tracking your assets as they go from supplies to end product
    3. Product: Tracking products from your factory to your client’s door
    4. Customer: Giving your customers a portal where they can view the status of their order or support request

Once you have an outline of your current situation, and a direction for the necessary improvements, it’s time to start developing your plan.

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Take it One Step at a Time


Given the complexity of a manufacturing facility, and the sheer number of processes, people, and machines involved,it can be cost prohibitive to go all-in. With some careful work and planning, however, it is possible to reap the benefits of increased transparency while working on the necessary upgrades in stages.

  • Start by assembling a list of current issues. Whether it’s inventory tracking, shipping and returns, or customer service backlogs, the more complete this list, the better start you’ll have.
  • Second, map the processes for each scenario. This gives you a handle on the departments, personnel, and equipment involved.
  • Next, assess which of these processes offer the necessary level of transparency, and which do not.
  • And finally, address the areas that lack visibility. Either by integrating them into a process that has attained the required transparency, or by developing a plan to automate or redesign the process so it addresses the cause of the problems found.

Start Upgrades from the System’s Backbone


Before you can add hardware or software that will draw on existing IT resources, you’ll want to evaluate your network infrastructure, to ensure it’s ready. Every one of the systems you’ll be bringing online in your efforts to increase visibility will rely on this infrastructure:

  • IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) sensors rely on a connection to the cloud to report their data.
  • CRM systems are only as powerful as their ability to transmit data to customer service reps and customers.
  • Process mining software needs access to your existing systems to compile data on your as-is status.

Some questions you’ll need to answer at this stage:

  • Where is your infrastructure? Whether it’s on premises or in the cloud, your infrastructure needs to be scalable to support your future use of IIoT assets and process mining software.
  • Where do you need to focus resources? Look back at where the problems cropped up when you were assessing your existing network. Is the priority your contact call center? The network hardware (routers, access points, and so on) at your factory? Or is the network at the main office the primary source of your problems right now? Focus energy and resources as appropriate.

You will ultimately need visibility into all these segments of your network. So starting with a robust and scalable network infrastructure is key.

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Deploy IIoT Sensors on Your Factory Floor


Fitting sensors to your existing production machinery is a great place to start. These sensors collect and transmit real-time information, rom the status of production levels, to reporting the health of the equipment on the factory floor.

  • IIoT sensors monitor the production of your line by tracking the raw material entering your line, and the number of finished good units that come out the other end.
  • Along with this increased visibility, IIoT sensors can alert your technicians when a piece of equipment is beginning to operate outside optimal parameters, so they can perform proactive maintenance and avoid downtime.

On top of these benefits, IIoT sensors are a necessary first step in developing a digital twin of your business. Digital twins provide many advantages to a manufacturing company, including prototyping and process mapping. You can test new design ideas and processes in the digital environment before deploying them in the real world. This cuts expenses by bringing to light any potential areas of failure, design flaws, or process gaps before they can cause production to halt.

Strive to Integrate Systems


Once you have a robust network infrastructure in place and your production-line sensors are up and running, it’s time to ensure that the right data is indeed visible to all necessary stakeholders. Aside from allowing needed access to ensure transparency, this step gives you easier access to the combined data available from these systems. In the past, you would have had to do manual exports and analysis of each disparate system to achieve this.

CMS, CAD/CAM, MES. All of these systems rely on that IT infrastructure discussed above. This also means that to at least some extent, they can be integrated. It may involve custom ETLs or APIs, but the results will make it worth the initial effort.

Don’t overlook your CRM and trouble ticket systems. These are an endless source of insights into your customers and their satisfaction with your company. These systems can also give you a glimpse into the workings of your customer facing teams that you might not otherwise get.

The overall benefit to this step is to decrease the number of places someone will have to look to find the information they need. Since the goal is end-to-end transparency, this is an integral piece of the puzzle.

Process mining is a great way to get started, the map it creates gives you an unprecedented view into the current state of all of your business processes. This, in turn, allows you to better visualize which systems need upgrading, re-working, or even which can be integrated into another process entirely—enhancing the transparency of all of your business systems.

As you can see, there’s some work ahead. Creating end-to-end visibility of your production environment is no small feat. With advance planning and a measured approach, however, it doesn’t have to be painful. And the benefits your company will reap well into the future will be a boon to your bottom line, compliance, and customer satisfaction.

Michal Rosik

10. 04. 2019