How to Make Complex Manufacturing Easier with Connected Process Control

by Epicor, on Oct 13, 2023 8:30:12 AM

Streamlining and simplifying to drive results

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In a modern marketplace where customization is king and manufacturers are responding to growing consumer demand with more and more customized products, new tools are needed to reduce complexity and make production environments simultaneously more flexible and controlled.

Between unique or complex parts and products and high-mix assemblies that might entail thousands of parts or product variations, there is an urgent need for manufacturers to change processes, maintain efficiency, and help ensure quality. An expanding ecosystem of manufacturing execution system (MES) solutions purports to achieve those goals. But as many manufacturers have discovered to their frustration, very few of those solutions can truly meet today’s growing customization demands. In many/most MES systems, you need to configure every possible product variant—along with all the possible components and assembly options. This is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that not only consumes valuable personnel and financial resources, but also reduces flexibility and increases production timelines.

Epicor’s Connected Process Control solution, however, is very different. To understand how it differs—and why it matters—it might be helpful to think about it in terms of a recipe. Because Epicor’s Connected Process Control platform intuitively reacts to the individual components and options in the bill of materials (BOM) without the corresponding need to configure every possible variant of the product, there is no need to configure product variations independently. The manufacturer can configure the What Ifs based on the list of ingredients in the pantry, without programming an entirely new process for each new dish.

To illustrate how important this distinction is, let’s make some metaphorical cupcakes. With most MES systems, each new flavor of cupcake requires an independent configuration, painstakingly programmed, and selected before production resumes. But with Epicor’s Connected Process Control capabilities, modified recipes that may require different ingredients, or the same ingredients added in a new order or new way, are all dynamically accounted for. Operators are only shown the ingredients they need in the order they need to add them, unlocking near infinite variations. If you want to make the same basic cupcakes with different frosting, extra sprinkles, or in a gluten-free variation, those options are all available quite literally by just entering in the order number.

This distinction—the difference between individual recipes and a smart system that adapts based on a list of customizable ingredients—is a true game-changer. Manufacturers have access to advanced sequential process control and extraordinary error-proofing capabilities with a solution that reacts dynamically to the entire process, not the individual product. This facilitates faster configurations and deployment as well as more efficient system maintenance. Instead of starting over with a whole new model/process, manufacturers can easily add components to the correct moment in the production process as new models or variations are developed. And by configuring the details of the product “underneath” the process, manufacturers can account for parts or procedural details that may be dependent on other details (e.g., this specific spare tire model is associated with this specific vehicle assembly).

It’s not hard to see how the ability to handle essentially infinite variation matters when we move out of the kitchen and our cupcake example to more familiar real-world production challenges. In the automotive space, for example, a product as recognizable as a Ford F-150 comes with a range of customizable trim options that can yield quite literally hundreds of thousands of possible variations. That is a dauntingly complex and costly proposition for manufacturers without access to the Epicor connected process control solution. Ironically—or perhaps fittingly—attempting to meet the customization challenges of today with traditional MES solutions is not what anyone would describe as a recipe for success.  

Topics:OpinionLean ManufacturingIndustry 4.0Connected Process Control

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Our team is a creative bunch that loves learning and pushing the limits to find the best solutions for today's lean manufacturers.  Internal discussions at the office might range from new features that manufacturing process control software should have to machine learning, blockchain technology, or what the future of AR on the plant floor looks like. Check out our blog for opinions, news and trends that we find interesting and think you might too!