Can IT in Industry 4.0 replace all the spreadsheets?

IT systems are essential for operations in manufacturing. They cover everything from business, execution to communication. Usually, systems are designed as static structures that natural workflow has to be fitted to. Practice shows that a lot of effort is lost for fitting and bypassing those structures. Is it possible to create a system that fits the natural workflow?

Can IT in Industry 4.0 replace all the spreadsheets?

IT systems in manufacturing

The basis for the majority of the manufacturing companies is ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. ERP covers the business processes and passes production orders to shop floor through MES (manufacturing execution system). MES tracks realization and passes it back to ERP. That is how management can calculate the realistic cost of produced items. In addition, some companies have separate IT systems for attendance, planning, warehouse management or have it covered with spreadsheets.

Alternative ways of information transfer

Despite carefully designed IT systems specific production processes and people require different ways of communication. Whenever the workflow in an IT system does not mirror an actual workflow there are additional or substitute steps added by employees. Additional steps usually connect two different software solutions or transfer information to another department within a company. Substitute steps replace software that is no match for the process or replace repetitive manual tasks. Information transfer is usually executed in the form of spreadsheet files, notebooks, emails, calls, and meetings. Those steps enable employees to transfer information more efficiently and effectively.

Time lost with inefficient information transfer

Establishing and maintaining additional steps in information transfer require time. For example, let’s have a closer look at an automotive company that uses SAP and MES, collecting realization at the end of each shift and/or at the end of each production order.

A planner that builds a plan in SAP PP needs an extra 4 hours of effort to translate the plan in a more shop-floor-friendly form. Due to the ever-changing nature of production, he also spends an additional 8 hours per week to check the current status of the production and inventory. He collects this information with weekly meetings and phone calls to adjust schedules and plans if necessary. Together he spends almost 2 days building and maintaining the production plan. That is all happening outside the implemented IT system.

A digital twin of your company

New technologies such as artificial intelligence can help manufacturing companies to mirror production workflow in an IT system with actual workflow. Artificial intelligence is utilized to build a digital twin of a company based on historical data of production orders.

By utilizing digital twin a planner can build realistic production plans on one platform. Plans are then automatically translated to schedules for shop-floor to execute. All the changes in business and production processes are automatically taken into account in production plans. Artificial intelligence is also used to pass relevant and urgent information to responsible employees. In effect reducing the number of spreadsheets, emails, and calls.

Can all the moving parts in production be handled by one IT system?

Manufacturing IT systems have a fixed structure that usually is no fit for the production workflow. To overcome these issues employees lose time to build bridges using spreadsheets, calls, and emails. Using the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, you can build a digital twin of your company that will drive information transfer.

An experienced digitalization partner with extensive knowledge in artificial intelligence can help you to automatically build and maintain a digital twin of your company.

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