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View the Shop Floor More Clearly with High-Visibility Solutions

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: What are companies looking for in manufacturing execution systems [MES] software?


Pam Bednar
Vice President, Marketing
Synchrono Inc. (St. Paul, MN)

Pam Bednar: When we talk to manufacturers, we start by working to understand the challenges they are having that are leading them toward a new MES system. By definition, MES covers a lot of ground and in many cases, there are specific issues manufacturers are trying to resolve that may or may not be specifically addressed through a traditional MES system.

For example, in recent discussions with manufacturers looking for MES solutions, we’ve heard the need for end-to-end visibility; enhanced traceability; adaptive production planning and scheduling; inventory down-sizing [or right-sizing], real-time machine status and more. I recently spoke with a technology manager at a winery looking for better quality, traceability and execution tools to support new compliance regulations in the wine and beer industries. I also spoke with an electronics manufacturer with several contract manufacturers around the globe in desperate need of better visibility up and down their supply chain. Addressing these issues doesn’t require an entire new MES; just certain capabilities within a typical MES. The Synchrono Demand-Driven Manufacturing Platform offers MES capabilities, but we do so through a collection of solutions that can be installed collectively or individually, based on the needs of the manufacturer.

There’s no doubt manufacturing and technology are merging like never before. The cloud, IIoT [Industrial Internet of Things], visualization systems and more are aiding manufacturers who are looking to innovate and work smarter in the midst of increasing complexities and competitive pressure. Newer MES and production technologies certainly support requirements for more connected, flexible and scalable solutions. And newer technologies empower manufacturers to pay only for the capabilities they really need.

ME: Your SyncView software gives visual insight on what’s happening on the factory floor. Describe how it works.


John Maher
VP, Product Strategy
Synchrono Inc. (St. Paul, MN)

John Maher: In speaking with manufacturers across industries and across the globe, we hear a common theme: a lack of visibility. As a visual information system developed for manufacturers, SyncView works to uniquely address visibility and communication challenges by enabling quick access to data, from any source, and providing easy, self-service tools that anyone can use to create dashboards [or what we call visualizations] without intervention from the IT team.

A big part of the visibility issue stems from the inability to access data when, where, and by whom it’s needed. One client told us that they have multiple data warehouses that are ineffective because they can’t get at the right data when they need it. Another manufacturer we are working with has over 200 disparate databases. SyncView is ripe for both environments as anything that collects data can be connected to SyncView, including machines, tools, enterprise systems and point solutions.

Once a data source is connected to SyncView, users can create visualizations using natural language queries and conditional [if, then] statements. They also assign color codes to indicate status. For example, a manufacturer may have a blueprint visualization of a workcell within the plant that contains an oven. The quality engineers want to ensure that the oven maintains a constant rate of temperature, so they would place an oven icon on the blueprint for monitoring its status—and create a conditional statement using drag-and-drop elements such as ‘if the oven reaches 500ºF [260°C], then turn the status red.’ In this case, a green oven icon indicates the machine is functioning normal; if the icon turns red, they know they have a problem. The good thing is they see this in real-time and can drill down through the oven icon to access a deeper level of data to determine the root cause of the issue. Quality and process engineers don’t have to run from machine-to-machine or system-to-system to collect data or diagnose issues—it can be all be collected, aggregated and analyzed within context using SyncView.

Dashboards in Synchrono’s manufacturing software show key metrics on workcell performance on the factory floor.

ME: How will growth in the IIoT affect the way manufacturers operate?

Bednar: We are already seeing manufacturers working smarter through a digitally connected, IIoT-enabled environment. It comes down to the ability to access data and turn it into information that you can take action on to innovate and improve your operations and, ultimately, business results. In working with manufacturers to connect their environment and access information from various data sources (machines, systems, etc.) they instantly become empowered with accurate decision-driving information.

ME: Synchrono’s new white paper on demand-driven manufacturing gives managers a roadmap for the IIoT. Describe what manufacturers need to be competitive in the future.

Maher: As plant managers and process engineers are looking to enable the IIoT, they are also making the shift to demand-driven manufacturing methods that not only support a connected environment, but help them aggressively compete in a variety of ways.

In demand-driven manufacturing organizations, production is based on actual customer demand [or actual consumption in make-to-stock environments] with the aim to synchronize everything [people, processes, materials, method and machines] in order to drive flow. The key elements here are synchronization and flow. Some of the outcomes that help manufacturers elevate their competitive position include enabling end-to-end production flow by effectively managing constraints and disruptions; increased capacity to take on more business with the same resources and/or the ability to enter new markets; and access to actionable information that lends focus to continuous improvement efforts and supports predictive analytics.

In adopting a demand-driven, synchronized approach to production, an aerospace and defense manufacturer we worked with was able to increase their production rate by 400%, driving more business and increasing their market share. Another client, a slurry pump manufacturer, was able to increase their capacity such that they were able to expand into new markets with minimal added headcount. In doing so, they doubled their revenue in a little over two years.

ME: Lean and Six Sigma are key elements of your software lineup. What does the SyncKanban software offer manufacturers looking to get lean?

Maher: Our approach to demand-driven, or pull-based manufacturing is to combine the best of Lean, Six Sigma and Constraints Management principles. This hybrid, best-of-breed approach has served our customers well. With respect to our eKanban system, SyncKanban, the software is tied in tightly with the Lean methodology by helping manufacturers reduce inventory waste with pull-based replenishment. SyncKanban works to automatically adjust inventory levels based on statistical analysis of K-Loop [number of kanbans and quantity per kanban] performance so that inventory levels are continually ‘right-sized.’ One client, a plastics manufacturer, saved $985K in the first year on SyncKanban, just by right-sizing their inventory. The same client was also able to reduce their lead times from 12 weeks to two weeks.

ME: What industries have had success in deploying these technologies?

Bednar: We’ve been fortunate to serve a diverse mix of manufacturing clients across industries, and around the globe. Our solutions can easily accommodate most manufacturing environments. Some industries where we have more presence include aerospace and defense, capital equipment, transportation, wire and metal forming, medical device and packaging.

New Releases

Kepware’s updated communications software adds to the company’s IoT Gateway technology.

Kepware Technologies (Portland, ME) on May 3 introduced its new KEPServerEX version 5.20, which includes key enhancements offer additional device connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT) advancements.

The latest update includes improvements to Kepware’s BACNet/IP driver and a new ThingWorx Agent to further bolster the company’s IoT Gateway offering. The ThingWorx Agent available in the IoT Gateway for KEPServerEX enables interoperability with the ThingWorx IoT Platform. Kepware and ThingWorx are both owned by PTC (Needham, MA), a developer of IoT, CAD/CAM and PLM software solutions. The new agent allows users to move edge industrial data into ThingWorx using the technology’s proprietary Binary Protocol.


Materialise NV (Leuven, Belgium) announced May 26 that it would partner with Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, WA) in a deal that allows Microsoft to tap into Materialise’s 3D printing software and services backbone. Users of Microsoft 3D printing platform applications such as 3D Builder will be able to print their models directly through the cloud-based i.materialise platform, which is powered by the Materialise Magics 3D Print Suite.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.


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