System Integrators

Steps to take for a successful integration project

A successful system integration project should have clear goals and solve problems that will benefit companies in the short- and long-term, but not every project applies. See tips for when integration does and doesn’t make sense for a project.
By Tyler Whitaker March 21, 2019
Courtesy: CFE Media

Clear visibility is critical in every facet of our daily lives and is especially so for manufacturing system integration projects. Visibility gives us insight and information we can take action on and sheds light on problems and successes.

In hunting, for example, visibility is essential. A simple tool like binoculars can be the difference between meeting an objective or not. Turning the dial on the binoculars brings the view into focus. With a clear field of vision, a hunter can see what they are targeting at longer distances and can be assured they aren’t shooting at the wrong thing, increasing safety and lowering risk.

Visibility is also the first element needed in a manufacturing plant to understand what integration opportunities and problems to focus on. It’s difficult to understand which problems should be solved through systems integration and what should not without visibility.

Operating and making decisions with low visibility on the plant floor is like walking in the woods blindfolded. Limited visibility at many manufacturing plants creates costly consequences in labor, capital, and lost opportunities from unsolved problems.

Evaluate expected benefits

Integration can enable the flow of data between systems, improve data accuracy, and drive efficiency. It’s important to pause and evaluate expected benefits before sprinting headlong into an integration plan.

However, manufacturers can fall into the trap of viewing systems integration as a one-stop solution to their problems. Just because integration is possible does not mean it will unlock additional value for businesses. Appropriate integration means integrating when and where it makes sense to address specific business needs. It’s critical to pick the right target the first time.

Integration makes sense for manufacturers when it:

  • Adds visibility and data to help solve or prevent known problems
  • Automates the collection of relevant production data, including machine cycles and operational parameters
  • Triggers an important human task such as signaling material handlers, maintenance, or quality
  • Brings data together and makes it more accessible
  • Saves time for a large number of users.

Integration does not make sense for manufacturers when it:

  • Is driven by empty buzzwords such as “totally integrated,” “no double entry,” or “lights out operation”
  • Only saves a few button clicks
  • Automates infrequent tasks where current manual methods suffice
  • Moves data to unseen, siloed systems
  • Further entrenches outdated legacy systems or corporate “system of record” mandates
  • Means spending dollars to save pennies.

Establish opportunities for clear ROI

Manufacturers don’t have a lot of time and many resources are often limited. Therefore, they should identify and act on opportunities that will improve their business and provide a clear return on investment (ROI).

The first step is implementing a Lean execution system (LES) to track plant floor issues and gain visibility into a company’s operations. An LES also can bring clarity and help determine what problems to solve first, and determine where integration is the right solution to those problems.

It’s important to have a system that shows what the constraints and abnormalities are in the factory. Understanding this better will point users toward the best opportunities to integrate that will truly make a difference, and when they should be addressed. An LES also can help prioritize opportunities and implement them in the right sequence.

Tyler Whitaker is chief technology officer and chief operating office of Leading2Lean, a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

MORE ANSWERS

Keywords: system integration, project management, return on investment

Appropriate integration means integrating when and where it makes sense to resolve specific business needs.

Integration makes sense when it solves known problems and saves a large amount of time for users.

A Lean execution system (LES) can help companies track plant floor issues and provide visibility into operations.

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Tyler Whitaker
Author Bio: Tyler Whitaker is chief technology officer and chief operating officer of Leading2Lean.