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Shop Floor Connectivity, Visibility, and Profitability

Robert Humphreys
By Robert Humphreys International Sales Manager, Fastems LLC

The backbone to successful and widespread digitization of manufacturing is connectivity. It pulls everything together, enabling visibility, scalability, and greater productivity.

The optimal solution for automation and production management is a manufacturing management system (MMS) that seamlessly connects and integrates the entire production process—from material procurement through order fulfillment. This includes pallet systems, robotics, machine tools (both off- and online), enterprise resource planning, and manufacturing execution systems. With a fully integrated MMS, shops of all sizes will have full visibility of their processes and resources, as well as the ability to predict future needs.

For predictive scheduling to become an effective tool, MMS needs to include three things that have traditionally been managed by separate systems: pallet automation, robot automation, and scheduling for stand-alone machines. By integrating them into the MMS, users can see the availability of tools and fixtures, coordinate robotic material handling, and schedule production on individual machines so operators know what parts are coming next and when.


Most management software programs enable shops to track what’s loaded on each pallet, as well as job frequency and type. Top programs expand upon these capabilities by tracking the pallets in a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) and those in storage. So, if a rush job requires a tool on a stored pallet, the system tells the operator where the pallet and tool are located. MMS can also tell operators which pallets can be removed to seamlessly integrate a rush job into the existing production flow. Companies with a high mix process and many fixtures are now able to predict production outcomes even when flow is disrupted—which, in reality, is most of the time.

To control robotic functions, companies typically have used a programmable logic controller to create an “island” that communicates back and forth with the MMS. Advances in software programming, however, now enable robotic control to be a part of the system. This streamlines production management to enable more efficient job setup, better movement within the FMS, and more effective simulation of complex operations.

Inclusive Connectivity

For manufacturers to achieve true predictive scheduling, stand-alone machines must be part of the MMS. In the past, it was difficult to include these important resources in the production flow because they weren’t a part of the FMS or MMS. With a few small adjustments—a network computer located near the machine and minimal training for the operator—separated machines can now be integrated into the production flow of the entire facility.

Once this is done, if the operator receives a rush request for a different part than the one being run, he or she can input how long it will take before running the rush job. That information will be added to the MMS, allowing the system to estimate completion of the entire job.

With everything managed under one system, production managers can achieve effective predictive scheduling. Will there be things that disrupt that schedule? Of course. But once an issue is resolved, the system will update and highlight new potential bottlenecks caused by the disruption.

Purchasing and installing an advanced MMS gives facility managers a critical advantage: visibility. With total visibility of what’s occurring in real-time, what’s coming, and what resources are available, manufacturers benefit from predictable and efficient workflow, cost savings, and higher profit margins.

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