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Perfect knowledge for a "perfect market"

May 1, 2006

5 Min Read
Perfect knowledge for a "perfect market"

Globalization, consolidation, energy and resin prices, and huge variances in labor costs continue to narrow the margin between profit and loss for all manufacturers, particularly those in Western countries. Plastics processors are no exception.

Thanks largely to the Internet, buyers of plastics components are in an advantageous position. They have real-time access to globally comparable price and product data. As trade barriers fall, they can source production nearly anywhere they wish.

Economists refer to conditions like these as "perfect," as in perfect knowledge, perfect competition, or the perfect market. Plastics processors might call them the perfect headache-or something worse.

With competition less limited by geography, processors must get smarter. Lean operating techniques build a climate of continuous improvement while boosting productivity. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems quickly consolidate vital data required to support solid buying, selling, and management decisions. And manufacturers must improve on plant and machinery operating efficiencies by integrating real-time machine information into their daily management functions. This is a perfect role for real-time production and process monitoring systems, also known as manufacturing execution systems (MES), which manage the shopfloor execution of daily manufacturing functions.

Certainly, the investment in such a system is not trivial. However, the benefits, as well as synergies with other important management tools-like lean operations, ERP systems, and continuous improvement programs-can make them a powerful cure for common "eliminate-costs" management headaches.

And, now that production monitoring and ERP systems are more compatible than before, it is even easier to integrate these two platforms.

Timely data reporting

Businesses serving well-informed buyers throughout the world cannot function without up-to-the-minute data from the production floor, often delivered through ERP systems that support management decisions. Corporate planners need data to track inventory. Purchasing needs it to anticipate and meet material requirements. Logistics needs it to plan and track shipments. Schedulers need it to identify and utilize available production capacity. Manual tracking, recording, and data entry are time consuming and create ample opportunity for error or delay. With a production/process monitoring system linked to your company''s MIS network, data collection and processing are automatic. MRP and ERP updates are instantaneous. "Perfect" data are available, in real time.

Real-time information, process alarms

It takes accurate and consistent machine processes to make good parts profitably. Production and process monitoring systems make monitoring and documenting every machine cycle a reality, so you can avoid the cost of inconsistent machine cycles times and recognize immediately when process conditions drift out of spec. You can achieve 100% parts qualification and avoid shipping bad product. Best of all, you can correct faulty conditions quickly.

Manufacturing and inventory control

Managing raw materials, work in progress, and finished goods becomes much more difficult as companies strive to manage cash wisely and leverage growth. The use of lean production methods, supported by just-in-time raw material inputs, timely order assembly, and scheduled shipments, creates a ripple effect throughout operations and management. Purchasing is challenged not only with meeting material requirements, but doing so just in time. Managers must coordinate production, tool changes, machine downtime, and shipping activities to meet tight delivery windows. Setups and maintenance must happen smoothly, since the margins for error, delay, or downtime are narrowed.

Fortunately, a production/process monitoring system can support production from beginning to end for routine or special jobs. When a job is scheduled, the system can provide setup and operator guidelines, or special standards or certification information. This ensures that the job is set up and run with appropriate documentation, security, lot tracking, validation, maintenance, or inspections. Real-time scheduling functions allow raw material to be ordered from inventory and delivered to the processing machine before machine downtime occurs. Alerts built into the system will sound an alarm if proper material has not been logged in at the machine. As production progresses, part production numbers, run hours, scrap rates, and other critical data are constantly processed and updated. As finished goods are moved off the production floor, the system is there to gather and disseminate the information.

Instituting best practices

Frequent, effective communication is essential to a company''s efforts to define and apply best practices throughout the manufacturing process. A production/ process monitoring system provides a conduit to the shopfloor where setup people can access proven operating parameters for any job within the organization. Job history, mold history, and even historical information on the machines and operators are stored in the system database. Accurate job-costing information with machine runtimes, machine and tool downtimes, part-scrap reasons, and production-labor hours are readily available.

Remote troubleshooting

As processors expand into markets where labor rates are low, they find that skilled production supervisors, maintenance personnel, and troubleshooters are often scarce. Fortunately, today''s production/process monitoring systems can recognize when machine conditions are beginning to drift out of the acceptable range and sound an alarm. This can all happen remotely, saving companies with multiple plants the cost of having appropriate people in each plant and eliminating the costs and downtime of sending troubleshooters to remote sites.

Multilanguage support

New language capabilities enable personnel in Mexico and China, for example, to interact with the system in their native languages, while managers elsewhere view the same data in English.

Staffing and performance evaluations

Processors need to know precisely where they operate efficiently and where they do not. At the corporate level, the system becomes a report card on plant managers, reporting on critical issues like overall equipment efficiency, rolled throughput yield, quality, on-time delivery, and lean manufacturing, as well as comparing one plant''s performance to another''s.

A well-integrated production monitoring system can help executives and plant managers find the knowledge they need to succeed.even in a perfect market.

Michael `Mick'' Thiel is president of Mattec Corp. (Loveland, OH), which develops and markets real-time production and process monitoring systems. He can be reached at [email protected].

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