Putting Technology In Sync With ERP

Friday, September 28th, 2018

EU Automation explores how integrating ERP with new technology can benefit business in the long run. By John Young, Sales Director of obsolete industrial automation equipment supplier, EU Automation.


Just like a football team preparing for the World Cup, factories and production plants need to work like a completely integrated, cohesive single unit. However, with new technologies quickly emerging, how can facilities managers get everything working in sync?

A successful plant needs to work like a well-oiled machine—both literally and figuratively. Every part must have its place and job to do but must also work seamlessly with the other equipment in the facility. Integrating new technology to existing systems, hardware or software can be a daunting task, but the benefits it could potentially provide can be endless.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software systems provide a vital function to manufacturing and processing plants. The software gives organisations the opportunity to collect, store, manage and interpret data in one central location that multiple people and teams working on a single site or across multi-site facilities can access in real-time.

Integrating new technologies with a business’ ERP system can help to streamline processes, bring cost-saving opportunities, improve staff awareness of operations and make operational management easier. From wearable devices, sensors, cloud-based storage and robotic automation, there is a wide range of new and innovative technology that can be integrated into your business’ ERP system for increased benefits.


Wearable Insight

According to Statista, the number of connected wearable devices worldwide is expected to soar from 325 million in 2016 to over 830 million by 2020. Aside from consumer devices like fitness trackers, wearable devices like smart watches and sensors can open up reams of opportunity for integration to your ERP software.

Arming your workforce with wearable trackers that monitor their location and activity enables management teams to allocate tasks to employees based on their proximity to a particular piece of equipment. Should a machine or part break down, it would be possible to deploy the nearest maintenance team member to ascertain what went wrong. In turn, the nearest employee to the replacement parts that are required to fix the equipment can be tasked with collecting it to further reduce delay.

Wearable devices can also ease communication between staff, especially in large facilities, as instructions or information can be sent directly to the employees that need it, with very little disruption to productivity or workflow.

Many organisations are implementing integrated wearable technology with their ERP system to enable faster decision making from the factory floor to top level management. Users can seamlessly communicate workflow information between equipment operators and managers without the need for manual monitoring or input.


Remote Tracking

Aside from information and data captured through human tracking, monitoring equipment itself is swiftly becoming the latest go-to integration trend. For companies hoping to move towards an Internet of Things (IoT) business model, integrating smart technology with your equipment and ERP system is the way forward.

The sensors on the plant equipment will be able to directly report back to management their exact status or needs. Whether that be a reminder that routine maintenance checks are due imminently, or that a part will need replacing soon, the data provided can help teams plan through their ERP system exactly when, where and why productivity stoppages may be required. By being able to be warned when parts need maintenance or replacing, preparations can be made for staffing requirements, scheduling the necessary downtime and ordering the parts required.

Sensor integration is also possible on older equipment. A ‘black box’, which can be installed alongside existing equipment, can integrate it with the network, allowing the box to read and communicate data from the machine without any changes to existing hardware or software. Retrofitting sensors and monitoring equipment can be particularly helpful for older machinery, especially if plant managers need to source replacement parts that are no longer supplied by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).

Integrating reporting sensors from your equipment to the ERP system also means you can track overall productivity and performance in real time. If the performance of a particular component or product drops below acceptable levels, the machine will report the malfunction and the information is immediately viewable by operators and production managers.


Cloud Storage

Traditionally, in order to manage and monitor a particular production line or piece of equipment, you had to be in the same building, often directly beside the machine in question. However, with new technology and software integration, that is no longer necessary. Cloud-based data storage opens the monitoring and assessment of real-time data to any allocated person, in any location, at any time.

In addition, cloud-based ERP systems enable companies to reduce initial development costs and scale their systems easily as the business grows, both of which are significantly beneficial to small and medium-sized businesses. Cloud-stored systems also permit unlimited levels of power and storage, which provide flexibility to organisations that may be limited with their in-house capabilities.

Cloud ERP solutions also improve security as the information can be adequately encrypted and protected and users can be monitored closely. However, it must be noted that having complete reliance on a cloud-based system could be problematic, should unexpected technology disruptions occur.


Additional Automation

Many ERP-beneficial technologies can be integrated to existing equipment, but new automation solutions like Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can change the landscape of your business operations.

RPA technology opens process improvement possibilities that can be integrated to rule-based routine jobs. RPA bots can be trained to check the required input across ERP systems and perform automated processes once data has been captured. For instance, across food and beverage industries, the picking and packing of products can be automated as it involves a lot of fixed and routine movements and transfers.

Additionally, adding AGVs throughout a facility can support material handling across a plant. AGVs were first introduced in the 1950s—however, recent advancements in technology mean that there has been significant development in recent years.

Rather than using guided wires placed in the floor of the facility, AGVs can now be directed and tracked using smart sensors, which means plant managers can monitor the exact position of each individual vehicle. As a result, the pick-up, transit and delivery of materials and products can be intrinsically tracked across the facility.

Integrating this detail into the ERP system can help to support system planning and time-sensitive tasks including the delivery of parts or materials to the production line as well as transport to storage areas. AGVs are also now being fitted with auxiliary mechanisms including clamping, positioning fixtures and tool attachments, which broaden the scope of possible functions.


The Future Is Forward

Despite technology making huge advancements for comprehensive integration across entire facilities and software systems, the future holds a number of exciting developments that could further broaden opportunities.

Augmented reality and smart glasses have the potential to be integrated in the manufacturing sector. Smart glasses could be worn by machine operators and information can be collected through sensors or trackers to monitor and analyse machine efficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

Social media is already part of our everyday personal lives but incorporating social media packages into ERP systems can impact how enterprises interact with staff, customers and business partners. Social media can be integrated with business processes and ERP systems to provide insight into existing clients as well as build relationships with prospective customers.

Regardless of the technology you integrate with your ERP system, it must be a well-considered and cohesive approach. Just like you wouldn’t want the players of a football team to play as individuals, you wouldn’t want your manufacturing equipment to be operating independently. With your own technology and ERP system integration, you could be lifting the winner’s trophy in no time.


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