- October 24, 2019
- Epicor Software Corporation
By Bill Lydon, Automation.com
While many manufacturers are aware of the benefits of digitalization, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin, in order to reap those benefits. EPICOR has put together an architecture for companies, particularly small and medium manufacturers, to implement Industry 4.0, and Internet of Things conceptsy.
By Bill Lydon, Contributing Editor, Automation.com
While many manufacturers are aware of the benefits of digitalization, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin, in order to reap those benefits. With this in mind, EPICOR has put together an architecture for companies, particularly small and medium manufacturers, to implement Industry 4.0, and Internet of Things concepts; finding their way to improve manufacturing competitiveness, profits, flexibility, and quality. This may be no surprise, since EPICOR has a long history providing business systems, including ERP and MES, for small to medium manufacturing enterprises. Epicor ERP is positioned as “Visionary” in the Gartner 2018 Magic Quadrant for cloud ERP in the product-centric midsize enterprise. Gartner notes that Epicor ERP has a reputation for being a flexible and highly capable product for small and midsize manufacturing companies (those with employee numbers ranging from 20 to more than 1,000). As I have been asked by many small and medium manufacturers if digitalization though implementation of Industry 4.0 and IoT concepts is practical for them, I took a deeper look into these developments.
I had the opportunity to discuss EPICOR’s developments and directions with Terri Hiskey, EPICOR’s Vice President of Global Product Marketing, Manufacturing and Andrew Robling, a Principal Product Manager Robling mentioned that there is a growing interest in manufacturing modernization, with many companies designating a Digital Transformation Officer to facilitate the process, and Hiskey agreed.
“In order to compete in today’s fast-paced environment, manufacturers must have a strategy for digitization in place. Modern manufacturers want to be able to streamline operations to gain greater transparency and visibility across their business, and they want to move from being reactive to proactive with their business strategies and operations. So investment in intelligent solutions that can automate processes, provide a single source of visibility across the factory floor and can help identify emerging trends so they can make more informed decisions is key to their success.” – Terri Hiskey, EPICOR
The Epicor architecture supports integration from sensor to enterprise to create efficient and responsive manufacturing. The plant level interfaces include OPC and connections with Epicor’s Machine Interface Unit (MIU).
Starting the Digitalization Journey
Epicor recommends manufacturers begin the digitalization journey by taking three basic steps to start:
- Step 1: Identify what is should be monitored and tracked via a sensor—whether that is temperature, vibration, quantity of products, etc.
- Step 2: Apply a sensor to that machine and set the ‘normal’ threshold.
- Step 3: Link that sensor to an ERP/MES system to visualize and act upon data.
Through these steps, the sensors collect data that is generated from that machine in the system. The data is then transformed into understandable and actionable information in order to achieve more responsive manufacturing. Personnel throughout the organization get immediate access to data and warnings when real operations are outside of defined tolerances and thresholds, alerting workers to adjustments required to proactively ensure efficient operations. The greater visibility and accurate information about manufacturing operations helps empower workers to add more value.
Integrating a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)
While MES is not a new technology, the Epicor Mattec MES is tightly integrated with the Epicor ERP system and collects data directly from equipment and operators on the shop floor in real time, using OPC and the Machine Interface Unit (MIU). This is intended to help gain real-time insight to pinpoint critical issues and reduce waste, while improving quality and customer service. Everyone in the plant and throughout the organization can then take action to improve manufacturing performance. The Epicor Mattec MES can also be used independently with other ERP systems.
The Epicor Building Blocks
To help manufacturers continue the digitalization journey, the Epicor architecture has building blocks for manufacturers to deploy in order to help them digitalize their operations. Some of these blocks include:
Machine Interface Unit – MIU
The function of the MIU is to capture real-time data using digital and analog sensors including temperature pressure and vibration. The unit also can connect to PLC and controllers to access data. The latest MIU version is based on a Raspberry Pi processor which can be a blind node or have an optional touchscreen display for operator interaction. The unit also features a large memory cache in order to ensure information is not lost in the event of network interruptions and outages.
Shop Floor HMI
The Mattec Shop Floor HMI enables real-time shop floor monitoring of production activities, operator production data entry and job changes. Further it helps to review current and upcoming job data, quality activities, and to perform maintenance. The Epicor Mattec MES Shop Floor HMI software runs on any device with an HTML 5 compatible browser, facilitating BYOD (bring your own device) strategies. The interface is configurable to conform to the operators’ and users’ manufacturing environment. Operators use the HMI to execute jobs and manage equipment, log and track time spent on machine & tool maintenance, track downtime events and reasons, initiate and acknowledge calls for machine assistance.
Mattec Shop Floor HMI that supports Embedded context-based videos and PDF Files providing information to increase productivity and quality.
CAD Data Integration
Epicor QBiuld’s CADLink software facilitates direct creation of Epicor Item Master and Bill Of Materials (BOM) records identical to engineering CAD data, working to ensure reliability and quality of work order documentation.
Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA)
The company recently introduced the Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA), which provides a natural language interface to interact the Epicor system using text and voice. Beyond the request/response conversational experience, EVA also uses artificial intelligent (AI) capabilities to proactively deliver alerts and carry out targeted actions based on combinations of events, market statistics, and historical data. EVA was developed using AI services from Microsoft Azure and can be added to all sizes and types of Epicor ERP implementations.
Epicor Data Analytics
Epicor Data Analytics (EDA) is powered by Phocas software to Visualize and analyze data from production to sales. EDA is a cloud service with tools built for non-technical users that can be access from any device to track business-critical KPIs on visual, customizable dashboards.
Epicor offers ERP software-as-a-service (SaaS) in the cloud, designed to be beneficial for many organizations by removing the burden of maintaining secure backup servers and ongoing lifecycle maintenance. The MES Mattec server resides at the manufacturing facility to ensure ongoing operations and responsiveness.
Making the Most of the Digitalization Proposition
Andrew Robling, Principal Product Manager summed up the discussion with an excited look into the future, “At Epicor, we believe that companies that adopt digitization strategies will not only continue to compete in today’s global marketplace but will take market share away from their competitors by reducing costs, boosting customer satisfaction and ultimately increasing profits,” Robling opined.
This view is shared by more than just EPICOR. Throughout the industry, it is important for small and medium manufacturers to invest in technology that is appropriate for them to leverage Industry 4.0 and digitalization concepts and methods to remain viable and competitive. EPICOR is one option to help manufacturers along the way.
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