Effective integration on all levels of business revolves around controlled actions based on sound data and an understanding of the underlying phenomena. We wanted to share what we have learned when moving from details to large-scale systems and back several times. Most importantly, it is necessary to understand the big picture before the system details can be designed. Likewise, making individual parts work before we can expect the entire system to perform, is crucial.
Simple notions apply when a control engineer works on the automation of a production site on its lowest level:
To control any target values, you need to be able to manipulate parameters that have a known relationship and a reasonable response time to the target value impact.
Control results can be significantly improved if the major disturbances are known and their impact can be quantified and compensated.
In many circumstances, integrating many unit processes to form a physical production line, makes sense. Some ultimate examples can be found in oil refining and car manufacturing. In the same way, it may be profitable or even necessary to integrate the process controls to make sure that disturbances affecting the first unit processes will not propagate through the entire production process. Also, additional unit processes may be brought in to recycle materials or to increase the energy efficiency of the mill, for example. All this leads to higher physical or control integration of the production unit, and one more control engineering principle emerges:
Control procedures need to ensure that the integrated system does not become unstable.
Making a great simplification: Effective and safe integration can only be achieved if the faster phenomena, typically near the physical or chemical as it might be, processes are controlled in a proper manner first, and only then higher levels of integration are built. If this simple principle is not followed, you might lose an aircraft – or two – during the model’s early introductory flights.
Moving away from the manufacturing process itself, this same principle applies to higher levels of control. You can only coordinate and manage the department, mill, production organisation or business if its parts are under control. It also means that organisations can only move, change or transform as quickly as their parts can adapt.
As a corollary to the above, it is necessary to truly understand the characteristics of the object, system, organisation, or structure you want to manage. This is where earlier experience of similar circumstances comes into play. Control engineers may be able to build a mathematical model of the controlled object, but on higher levels of management the model is typically mental. And building mental models takes time and concentration.
In terms of production sites, creating a well-integrated production system often means that data flows horizontally between process steps and is made vertically available for all organisational levels, and the production floor works in harmony with higher-level business functions such as engineering, procurement, and quality.
Integration on the production floor: Smart production floors connect machines and units, enabling real-time communication and autonomous response to dynamic requirements. The goal is to achieve efficient production at any production lot size and minimise downtime through predictive maintenance.
Integration across multiple sites: Companies with multiple production sites strive for integration through Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). In this context, data related to production sites (such as inventory levels and unexpected delays) are seamlessly shared throughout the organisation. Production tasks are also shifted among sites to adapt quickly and efficiently to changing production conditions.
Integration of the production site across the entire supply chain: improves transparency and automation throughout the upstream and downstream supply chain and logistics, including collaborations with third-party partners, ensuring a seamless alignment between production and logistics.
Integration across different business functions: within the production site aims to create a harmonious flow of data and decision-making throughout all organisational levels, from the production floor to engineering, quality control, IT, sales and more. Data flows freely and transparently between these functions, allowing both strategic and tactical decisions to be data-driven. This approach equips the production site to respond effectively and adapt quickly to shifting market dynamics and emerging opportunities.
An integrated production site offers tangible benefits, including reduced production costs and an enhanced ability to manufacture small, customised batches cost-effectively without compromising on quality. It fosters collaboration within the supply chain and internal business functions, empowering organisations to respond effectively to evolving market demands. Ultimately, integration drives business success in an increasingly interconnected world.
Paula Hantula has gained a profound End-to-end understanding of supply chain from both operational and system & interface points of view during 20+ years of professional work. Her expertise includes:
Hands-on experience in various supply chain roles
Project management experience in process development and business and IT project delivery
Ability to see the big picture and capability to act as a liaison between business, people and IT
Strong experience working with different cultures, organisation levels and stakeholder groups in multinational teams.
Matti Ketonen has moved from control engineering to control device R&D to supply chain operations and development during some 30+ years of professional work. His expertise includes:
Project ownership and management experience in different industries and organisations with a focus on various value chain business capabilities
Management of 100+ person supply chain and project organisations globally
Holding major development portfolios in four different organisations with experience in five major ERP-level transformational programs
Team leader and member responsibilities in various projects, development and operational teams.
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