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Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, 2006/03/29 - Materials management systems, e-mail communications, customer relationship management – computer networking has revolutionised business processes in many areas. However, it is generally a different story when it comes to the production side.
The intensive use of EDP systems has transformed the world of work in offices all over the world. Internet searches, online orders, and e-mail in particular, have long become an essential part of everyday life in the office. The computer is assisting in opening up opportunities for growth and savings which even optimistic experts would not have thought possible. The speed of many processes has also increased radically. Order today, deliver tomorrow – a principle which now applies equally to books and to complex components for the automotive industry.
In view of this, it is all the more astonishing that networking in most companies stops at precisely the point where the actual process of value-added begins in industry: when it comes to manufacturing. Let me give but one key ratio to support this observation: whereas you can find a computer in over 90 per cent of German offices, overall only 53 per cent of employees in industrial companies use a PC frequently. In other words, if you are working on the production side generally you will be working offline.
Admittedly, it feels as if you are being transported against your will back to the early 1990s as you argue the case that it is high time for manufacturing to be linked in to the internet and/or intranet. Back then, people with mobile phones who were seen using them in public were often greeted with a shake of the head from many of those passing by. It was practically the same when it came to the internet. What’s the point of e-mails? After all, you’ve still got the regular mail.
The rest is history. And it is simply a realistic forecast to suggest that, once manufacturing finally goes online, it will similarly develop a dynamic all of its own, with developments which to some extent cannot yet be predicted. It is set to develop in much the same way as the incredibly fast integration and spread of mobile telephony and the internet into all areas of our daily life.
Ultimately, every experience of practice in industry demonstrates more than clearly already that consistent networking, known as Factory Net, can enable production flows to be further accelerated, costs to be reduced and customer services optimised. With this, there is a particular critical advantage in the transparency of networked manufacturing. For example the works manager can use the network to monitor how many parts a machine has already manufactured and when the order in progress will be completed. This enables him to have an optimal assessment of existing production capacities, on the basis of real-time data. This in turn allows idle times and production bottlenecks to be minimised.
If all machines and production halls are linked with one another via a common database, then raw materials management can be optimised with ease. The supervisor can see from his workstation which machine still has how many raw parts available and when it will need resupplying. Even ordering processes can be automated, in a further stage.
Professional management of service intervals or repair work can be delivered more easily using Factory Net. Many machine manufacturers are already offering a remote maintenance option. The technician can then access the defective machine via the internet or using what is known as a P-to-P connection. Some problems can thus be resolved without a service team deployment. If the technician does need to come on call-out, he has the advantage of already being familiar with the problem and thus being prepared accordingly. Downtimes and maintenance costs can be reduced to a minimum in this way. In a world of increasingly strong competition, this is a critical advantage.
Factory Net also allows you to significantly simplify day-to-day processes which are essential for production management. A good example of this is recording the volumes produced. In many companies, the operator still writes down the number of parts produced on a slip of paper and hands this in to the production manager. He then has to enter the figures for all the machines laboriously onto the PC. Not only is this very time-consuming, but it can lead to inaccurate data if the handwriting is illegible or if there are keying errors – and the associated risks are difficult to guard against.
Using Factory Net, the volumes produced can be recorded on the machine entirely automatically, and summarised immediately into comprehensive overview tables to be used in production management. A system which has already proven itself in practice in terms of offering this kind of performance is the BRANKAMP eR5 Production Monitoring tool. It even enables key production data to be downloaded via a secure internet connection and a standard internet browser from anywhere in the world - for example, during an on-site customer presentation. But the customer also benefits in his day-to-day operations: capacities and delivery dates can be calculated in the shortest of times, and with a degree of accuracy not possible before. In the fierce competition for orders, that can be a critical advantage.
Unlike in the 1970s, when the notion of networked manufacturing first excited engineers, Factory Net is no longer just a theoretical concept which still needs to be realised. The applications and technologies are available today, and are already being used by innovative companies such as the forming and shaping company Vosseler Umformtechnik. As the pioneer and global market leader in ProcessMonitoring systems (sensor-based measurement systems for machines), BRANKAMP will be exhibiting Factory Net in use at the “wire” trade fair in Düsseldorf. The next step in “eVolution” will soon be upon us, and companies which react quickly will secure clear market advantages. To give an example: networking manufacturing will trigger a revolution and reconfiguration of operations – just as we have seen in office practices.
About the author
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Brankamp is the founder and Managing Director of BRANKAMP System Prozessautomation GmbH. The company, based in Erkrath near Düsseldorf, is a pioneer and global market leader in ProcessMonitoring systems. At manufacturing sites around the world, roughly 50,000 BRANKAMP applications are in use. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Brankamp also lectures at RWTH Aachen on "Planning and development of new products”, and is the author of several specialist works.
Dr.-Ing. K. Brankamp System Prozessautomation GmbH
Max-Planck-Straße 9, 40699 Erkrath