For many process plants, there are three distinct tasks with respect to their control, instrumentation and information systems—otherwise known as the automation system.
Engineering disciplines, just like may other disciplines, have become very narrowly focused. At some level this is a necessary trend, since to be expert in every aspect of a field has become something that is almost impossible to accomplish. Very few mechanical engineers are experts in metallurgy, hydraulics, machine design, HVAC design, thermodynamics, mechanics of materials, strength of materials, metal cutting operations, metal forming operations, and, well, the list goes on. An engineering student attempting to delve deeply enough in every aspect of his or her chosen discipline to be an “expert” would never finish college.
You can tell a lot about a company, by taking a quick look at their annual report and website. In today’s economy, it’s the results that count — that’s easy to understand —but leading companies take a more holistic approach to measuring safety. If you can only find results or lagging measures, look elsewhere; the lagging measures are functionally useless when it comes to evaluating a company’s future success. Instead, look for companies that provide results along with proactive or leading measures. When you find one, you’ve likely found a company known for its product or service quality, customer service, productivity and financial success.
Everybody talks about quality. It’s job number one. It’s what drives the company. And so on. But when it comes to manufacturing, what does that really mean? In most cases with manufacturing and the shop floor, it can mean a lot of things — probably way too many things. It’s easy to get confused, and by trying to do too many different things on the quality front, you can become your own worst enemy.
Every New Year’s Eve, something special happens when the clock strikes midnight. We come up with a plan to eat better, exercise more and take time to smell the flowers along the way — a resolution. We imagine the different and wonderful life we'll live if we just stick to it — a revelation. Then one day rolls into another and we go about our work as usual — a resignation.
Most of the project management mistakes I’ve made in my career were caused by lack of experience in project management processes, or lack of time. After some years in the process automation industry, I’ve learned that there are standards to help PMs with the process piece, including PMI, Prince2 and other custom processes developed by some of the world’s leading companies. With this wealth of information, there’s really no reason today’s PMs wouldn’t be well-armed with, or at least exposed to, standard project management processes.
But what about lack of time? They say that time cures all ills. But what happens when project timelines are compressed and there’s a severe time crunch? Sound familiar? Lack of time can cause a PM to brush over or even skip critical steps. Here’s a listing of what I believe are the three PM mistakes you don’t want to make:
1. Failure to plan: The project has been awarded late and is due in six months. The key stakeholders are pressing for a kickoff meeting and the project team hasn’t even been established. Let’s get going! It takes a lot of discipline to say, “Wait, we need to plan this thing out!” During planning, many critical processes should take place. Allow time to ensure good scope definition, plan for quality and risk management, and determine project communication needs. Failure to do this can lead to dire consequences — it’s the difference between success and failure.
2. Failure to monitor and control: The project is behind schedule for whatever reason. It happens. Some project team members believe there just isn’t enough time to check for quality or review with the client. Everyone is advocating we go with what we have and fix it later. Don’t get me wrong, under some circumstances this can and has worked out, but can you risk the rework, customer dissatisfaction and cost overruns that may result in more complex or subjective projects?
3. Failure to close: The project team is scattering to the four corners of the earth and management is pressuring you to get the project closed out. But what about your customer? Is he ready to close? Have the project deliverables been formerly accepted? Are you setting yourself up for the next project with this valued customer?
Ask yourself these questions at the key points of every project to make sure you are planning, monitoring and closing for success.
ERP systems are supposed to be the “silver bullet” of computer systems. They’re supposed to solve just about every business problem you might have. They’re supposed to handle finance, purchasing, logistics, orders, shipping, inventory, manufacturing, maintenance and everything else with a beautifully integrated suite of modules.
And, you know what, except for the “silver bullet” part, ERP systems have actually delivered a lot of what they’ve promised. They really have done pretty well in finance and purchasing and logistics and several other areas. For most companies, ERP has been worth its weight in gold just by providing an integrated set of financial records and all the tools you need to manage the financial transactions of the company.
ERP doesn’t have that same track record when it comes to manufacturing, however. ERP doesn’t really support manufacturing that well and there are usually some extra pieces you need to bring to the mix to get ERP to really do what’s needed.
The real problem is that ERP just wasn’t designed to support manufacturing. When it comes to the actual manufacturing processes, or the quality processes, or even the material and inventory processes, ERP usually doesn’t do very well when it hits the shop floor.
You can tell this is the case by the number of Excel spreadsheets it takes to run the shop floor. And, yes, Excel is still the number-one manufacturing management software package in the world. Just look at the number of spreadsheets your manufacturing people use to run the floor. They probably have more spreadsheets now than before they had ERP.
So, what can you do? Can you help the plant without getting into a shop floor versus ERP war? Can you come up with something that helps the people on the shop floor? And, can whatever you come up with keep the ERP people happy and not make them the enemy?
Well, it’s not necessarily going to be easy, but there are some solutions out there that can help the shop floor people, and play nice with ERP as well. There are lots of different technologies, vendors, solutions, software, packages, platforms, toolkits and so on out there. Some of the best are even sold by the big ERP companies. I won’t use any of the names so I can protect the guilty (and the innocent). I’ll just call them manufacturing systems.
So, here’s what makes this all work. Manufacturing systems do more than just help the plant; they can make real impact on the bottom line. Manufacturing systems can help you reduce your costs, increase your quality, provide you with some new capabilities and even help you with your regulatory compliance issues.
So, how can manufacturing systems do this? Here are a few pretty random ideas on what manufacturing systems can do:
• Provide information and trends in real time
• Respond to problems on the shop floor
• Measure and monitor what’s going on
• Support better decision-making processes
• Capture information and its context
• Support continuous improvement initiatives
• Provide new quality tools like SPC / SQC
• Provide better specification management
• Support better asset utilization
• Provide more manufacturing flexibility and agility
• Increase productivity and throughput
• Increase yields and reduce waste
• Provide root cause analysis
• Support lean and six sigma initiatives
• Automate compliance processes
• Automate recordkeeping and reporting
So, why does all this work? Because these are the kinds of things they need on the shop floor. And, this is not typically what ERP is all about. If you can deliver solutions that do these kinds of things, they really shouldn’t conflict with the ERP system, and they can provide some major benefits to the people on the shop floor. And that can provide some major returns to the company, which isn’t a bad idea at all.