Make-to-Order: The Right OLTP Helps Manufacturers Deliver

Acomprehensive synchronized supply chain is critical to a manufacturer’s agility and profitability. A properly implemented shop floor Online Transaction Processing (OLTP) system is the key to effective realtime management of make-to-order manufacturing or flow manufacturing. An OLTP system helps manufacturers dynamically change the plant floor activity to meet new customer requirements. It ensures realtime changes can be reliably tracked through the manufacturer’s system, to shorten production cycles and reduce cost while improving customer satisfaction.

The dimensions of change are nearly unlimited. A manufacturer may have to suddenly accommodate a new product requirement from the customer, a change in technology, a change in management, a change in materials, or a change in how the customer wants to be billed. Nothing seems to stay the same for long, and each and every plant has its own variables.

Enter the most flexible approach to OLTP, the Orthogonal (statistically independent) model. With Orthogonal OLTP, every element that makes up a transaction can be independently changed, and the software makes the changes while the system runs. So, a single element, such as adding a dye step to the process, can be tested and interfaced while your production line never misses a beat. It gives manufacturers more freedom than ever before.

In an utopian world, you could have a single platform solution, because everything would be fully integrated, and the environment would change at a reasonable pace. The reality is that each company has dozens of systems -- or more. These systems all are changing constantly. This picture gets worse when you factor in outside requests from the channel of distribution and suppliers. Automating the workflow doesn’t stand a chance of improving the scenario if the technology doesn’t provide the ability to incorporate new processes, and effectively and efficiently manage change.

Workflow was originally, a batch process. Remember the days of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), where status requests took a day? You sacrificed visibility in the batch environment; seeing individual orders simply wasn’t an option. OLTP brings realtime to workflow, enabling decisions to be made on the fly. Now, every material, process and employee activity can be tracked and made immediately visible in realtime.

Identify What You Want to See

Information overload is always a possibility when you’re talking about technology that lets you see everything, everywhere. With all internal business processes and information status updates in realtime, manufacturers need to establish the Key Decision Indicators (KDIs) for their business: to know when to change out a stamping die, for example. It’s possible to know almost everything about anything when it comes to business process integration and workflow -- indirect labor, labor, machines, genealogy tracking, materials, production, and much more can be tracked in minute detail. But, it all comes down to what’s going to make the most impact on your bottom line. The Manufacturing Execution System Association (MESA) Model identifies 11 MES functions to focus on, so you can maximize the benefit from your OLTP technology.

1. Resource Allocation and Status. Manage your resources including machines, tools, labor skills, materials, equipment and documents/information necessary before work can start. Get realtime status and history. Insure equipment is properly set up.

2. Operations/Detail Scheduling. Recognize alternative and overlapping and parallel operations to calculate exact time and equipment loading. Provide sequencing on priorities associated with specific production units, such as attributes, characteristics and recipes.

3. Dispatching Production Units. Manage flow of production in batches, lots, jobs, orders, etc. Change realtime as events occur on the factory floor. Alter the schedule in realtime, control work-in-progress, rework and salvage.

4. Document Control. Control forms and historical records, such as instructions, recipes, drawings, standard operating procedures, shift-to-shift communication and more. Edit "as planned" and "as built" information.

5. Data Acquisition. Data can be collected from the factory floor, either manually or automatically to populate records attached to the production unit.

6. Labor Management. Track status of personnel, including features for activity-based costing. React with resource allocation for optimal assignments.

7. Quality Management. Provide realtime analysis of measurements collected to assure quality and identify problems.

8. Process Management. Monitor production. Automatically correct or provide decision support. Provide alarms for out-of-tolerance processes.

9. Maintenance Management. Track and insure preventive maintenance scheduling. Maintain history.

10. Product Tracking and Genealogy. Complete realtime visibility on product -- provide traceability of components and usage of each end product.

11. Performance Analysis. Up-to-the-minute reporting of actual operations results, along with comparison to past history, standards and expected results.

Agility: A Must-Have

Price and quality are now "given." The competitive edge goes to the company that can react to market conditions and say, "Yes, we can fulfill that order to your new specs and deliver on time."

To sustain this degree of nimbleness, the manufacturer expands virtually, and maintains the same level of visibility with the sub-assemblers outside the plant walls as with the divisions inside the plant. OLTP empowers the manufacturer to track and work with sub-assembly suppliers, providing virtual management of the entire process. With electronic demands from trading exchanges, ASPs, and marketing dictating the way products are bought and sold, the manufacturer has very little control over how things are done.

Without middleware like OLTP, manufacturers risk spending too much of their internal resources to modify applications in response to change. For example, if you have SAP, and your trade exchange gave you four weeks to modify it to meet new requirements, you’re faced with costly programming efforts to make the custom changes. Even if your IT department is a crack team of round-the-clock programming champions, and you accomplish the changes within the deadline, it likely won’t be long before the trade exchange decides to pull another change-up. A flexible OLTP solution gives you the power of Rapid Application Development (RAD) that fills the gap of functionality between old and new systems. Through RAD, you focus on implementing business rules rather than programming.

Process-Based Architecture

Processes are islands; until you bring the islands into a realtime flow, it’s going to be fragmented. OLTP is a way to tie legacy systems and processes together so they work like an integrated system, and the production flow is not interrupted.

The key is to define a transaction independent of where pieces of data may reside. Then, you can simply tell the system to go "validate purchase order." The request is handed off to OLTP. It knows where to the get the information, and what format to request to meet the new trade exchange requirements. OLTP serves as the intelligence between the endpoints, so they don’t have to know anything about each other. This frees you from the fight of standardization; you’re database independent, and not burdened with constant adjustments.

Traditional client server architecture defined a computer. OLTP, if implemented properly, defines an enterprise and its processes and flows.

Ultimately, the truly process-centric model will deliver the flexibility to manage end-to-end e-business processes successfully, and seamlessly scale beyond specific applications, departments and plant boundaries.

The rule of the new economy is: He who has the flexible system gets the business. In fact, the mantra of the connected, Internet economy is that business rules will continue to change constantly. The right middleware makes change manageable, extends the life of your existing platforms, and allows transactions to be defined independently. So, you can achieve integration with legacy systems and Supply Chain Management (SCM), Advanced Planning Systems (APS), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and more.

Turn Up the Volume

If the technology and platform has limitations on distribution or size, you run the risk of a system that’s obsolete before its time. When it comes to computer technology, prepare to scale as far as it can take you. Networking will have physical limitations, but even options for connectivity are expanding. Think big when it comes to scalability.

High availability is a primary consideration for manufacturers: the OLTP world dictates that computers stay running. The OLTP system must know when one point fails where else to go to get service. Mirroring or shadowing ensures that if something breaks, something automatically kicks in. Rollback keeps it all synchronized.

An ideal OLTP system allows you to tell it what you want it to do, as easily as if you were creating a spreadsheet. So, the plant manager can "tinker" with the process, transaction by transaction, event by event. No programming needed. It should not be necessary to take the system down and interrupt production processes when modifications need to be made. The system can be manipulated or modified while it runs, without interrupting in-flight transactions.

As OLTP solutions are implemented on the factory floor, manufacturers are enjoying the benefits of expanded market share and production increases. According to a recent MESA survey, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) shorten manufacturing cycle times by 45 percent on average.

Middleware like OLTP is the "glue" that integrates disparate systems. OLTP is the key to the flexibility that will enable manufacturers to build complex trading-partner relationships on the fly, anticipate the needs of their customers, then deliver finished goods in a timely, cost efficient manner.

George Mendenhall, Ph.D. is Vice President of Application Development for Integrated Business Systems and Services.

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