How to turn PLM, ERP & MES into a 360-degree system

How to turn PLM, ERP & MES into a 360-degree system


Major pillars of enterprise software in every manufacturing company are represented by the silos – engineering, manufacturing planning, shop-flow control. Historically each silo developed its own system to manage information and processes. Nothing wrong with that, but within time, created a huge problem of data handover between organizations.

With increased competition, demand for efficiency and data transparency, inefficient data handover is a bottleneck that can bring a manufacturing processes in a full stop. Integration between PLM and ERP is one of the most painful examples. I shared my thoughts on why manufacturing future will depend on solving old PLM/ERP integration problem.

Existing PLM/ERP integration model with complicated data synchronization is bad and won’t work for future of manufacturing. It is heavily relies on the idea of data synchronization and replication between systems. It is too costly to implement and maintain. It is sometimes too slow and requires lots of data manipulation and transformation.

Automation world article PLM + MES + ERP = Closed-Loop Product Lifecycle brings few examples to highlight the importance of integration between core systems – PLM, ERP and MES in manufacturing.

What struck me is how the demand between achievement of a 360-degree view is conflicting with the idea of data synchronization between systems. To replicate data is hard. To replicated a massive amount of data between existing systems enterprise and legacy systems is even harder. Many of these systems were developed decades ago and using data foundation technologies not capable to maintain efficient data integration.

The following passage from the article speaks about problems of integration:

Despite the huge upside, integration between these core enterprise systems is relatively immature for a very simple reason: It’s historically been way too complex. Closed systems coupled with proprietary networks and communication protocols have been huge technical hurdles preventing data from flowing easily between core enterprise platforms to create a closed-loop system, says Khris Kammer, information partner and competency manager for Rockwell Automation.

“These systems are used by different industries and different companies in different ways,” Kammer explains. “One company’s master data might mean something different than another company’s master data, and this lack of a common definition of what fields mean or what data means has been a hindrance.”

Data ownership is another key element, which is a major divide between how different enterprise systems are managing data. Clearly BoM is an apple of discord between PLM and ERP. Ownership model is preventing to build an efficient handover as well as create complex political tension between enterprise stakeholders.

The question of who owns the BOM data is just one of the many cultural and people-related issues hampering widespread integration efforts. Historically, IT, engineering and operations have had their own systems that they kept pretty close to the vest. It’s also been unclear at the vendor level which company is responsible for driving the integration, says SAP’s Lackey. “Is it the MES, middleware or ERP vendor that owns the integration?” he asks. “There’s been no one point of ownership to make it work.”

So, how to stitch PLM, ERP and MES systems for 21st century manufacturing? I can see few possible options:

1. Point-to-point integration between systems with semi-automatic handover. This is the option most of companies are using. Development of “bridges” between systems is a business of service providers and small software development outfits capable to pick a small integration opportunity and make profit out of it.

2. Integration Middleware or Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). This model is support by IT as a strategic option for many years. Back 10-15 years, it was mostly an infrastructure provided by IBM, Microsoft and other giant vendors. These days, we can see examples of integration services leveraging cloud and event driven infrastructure. This option is usually required implementation service provider and cannot be done out-of-the-box.

3. Break large systems into separate integrated services. In my view, this option can be considered by many large companies to solve a problem of legacy systems lifecycle and to improve integration among silos. Branch by abstraction model can be used in order not to break existing systems and to insure smooth transition. Some of PLM replacement projects are following this paradigm, but this is still not a mainstream option used by manufacturing companies.

What is my conclusion? Closing the loop between engineering and manufacturing silos is a big problem for all companies. I don’t see any universal direction that can work for all companies. It depends on many factors and existing systems. I expect companies will start actively cut old and legacy systems to achieve better integration and data handover. “Less is more” will become future IT strategy. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image Courtesy of Prime Focus


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