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Documenting Your Manufacturing Ecosystem

*This blog is a repost from a March 9, 2020 blog post that ECS President wrote for AutomationWorld.com

Understanding your manufacturing ecosystem is one thing, but documenting it is just as important. Having extensive documentation of the manufacturing ecosystem, helps those who aren’t involved in daily, plant-floor operations make informed decisions.

Your manufacturing ecosystem is the system you use for making your product(s), and fully documenting and understanding this ecosystem will help the decision-making process of your organization.

It is very common to think about how a plant or process cell goes about making its product(s) in terms of component offerings. I hear, “We use blank for our historian, blank for reporting, a spreadsheet to schedule labor, another spreadsheet to schedule production, and we get orders from our ERP [enterprise resource planning] on paper.” Vendors in, what is sometimes called, the manufacturing execution system and manufacturing operations management space offer separate software packages or modules for various pieces in this space.

As an integrator, we think of this space as a vibrant, agile ecosystem full of people using tools to accomplish and measure production, where the various pieces are software packages, spreadsheets, or paper, is less material than the interaction of the whole system.

By documenting your plant’s manufacturing ecosystem, you can understand how decisions in one part of the plant affect other parts of the plant process. As I wrote previously, standards, such as ISA-95, only guide you on a journey to more deeply comprehend the workings of your unique process for manufacturing your products. Each plant or process cell needs to document its own ecosystem, because each is different. An experienced integrator can help you with this process by asking, “How do you do this and how does it interact with that?”

Documenting your ecosystem allows you to quickly understand, at a higher level, how the plant operates. You will be able to more easily “connect the dots” of data being received from the plant floor, and utilize basic equipment resources, personnel, instructions, and materials to manufacture the final product.

One way to use this new understanding is to make better decisions is optimization. The documented ecosystem helps understand how improving one aspect will affect another. Though there may be additional cost or additional benefit or both, you will reduce risk of unforeseen consequences of a change.

We often show clients higher payback from improving how they manage their manufacturing process than from how they control it. A food product manufacturer was able to add 20% capacity by improved scheduling. Another added nearly 20% through improved equipment utilization. A third set production records a week after implementing an overall equipment effectiveness and “paper on glass” quality data collection system.

Documenting your ecosystem will help you get the capital funds for an improvement by helping you explain to the business managers how what you propose will affect the plant, not just the process. Information, derived from data, is the lifeblood of good management decision making. Your ecosystem document will help you explain to management how the improvements you are making can be measured and reported.

Documenting your ecosystem takes work, as do other worthwhile endeavors. Perhaps it is time to get started.

Timothy S. Matheny, P.E., is president of ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). He is also author of a paper on model-based control, presented to the ISA Food and Pharmaceutical Industry Division in 2014. To obtain a copy of Matheny’s paper, or for more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.

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