Manufacturers use a variety of software solutions, from systems designed for small businesses to those made for huge organizations, from single-user to enterprise-wide, from cloud-based to on-premises. Some systems claim the ability to handle every facet of your manufacturing business. And some specialize in one particular aspect.

It’s like a giant used-car lot out there. You need to carefully look at the options available, kick the tires, and ask questions in order to feel like you’ve made the right move when the time comes to spend your hard-earned revenue.

Infinity QS Infocenter

Let’s look at systems that claim to be able to increase your visibility into the data you collect. We’ll test drive a bit and try to help you understand the depth of the challenges before you. You wouldn’t want to drive through a rainstorm without good wipers; why do something as complicated as manufacturing without good visibility into the information you’re collecting?

Where to Turn: PAS, MES, or ERP?

The benefits of multiple-plant or enterprise-wide visibility are many—and so are the available software options. Many companies have already invested heavily in process automation, manufacturing execution system (MES), or enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Most of these companies also monitor quality, using real-time quality management solutions. All these systems can provide some level of enterprise visibility, but not all of them are created equal.

Process Automation Systems (PAS)

Let’s begin by looking briefly at process automation systems (PAS), which are used to automatically control a process in facilities such as chemical plants, oil refineries, paper mills, and pulp factories. A PAS often uses a network to connect disparate parts: sensors, controllers, operator terminals, and actuators.

However, process automation systems for manufacturing don't provide complete information.

Every year, manufacturers automate more and more processes to improve efficiency and profitability. Data is the driving force behind process automation systems. And much of this data can be stored for later use within process historians, which PAS vendors typically offer to their clients—along with a variety of data analysis and reporting tools to “exploit” the data.

Some vendors even offer manufacturing operations management solutions to expand the use of the data stored in their historians and other plant data sources. They claim that these solutions can handle all of a client’s plant information needs. However, many manufacturers worry about becoming dependent on one vendor for all their enterprise visibility needs and (as it turns out, rightly so) the cost and time needed to implement these systems across all their facilities.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

A manufacturing execution system is another important software solution found in many industrial plants. Companies use an MES to better control the manufacturing process, improve traceability, increase yield, and reduce scrap.

An MES can also be used to improve uptime, lower inventory, and improve process consistency. However, such systems can be very complex to implement and costly to maintain.

A large amount of customization is required at the plant level to attain an effective system, and enterprise visibility can be difficult—and expensive—to achieve across plants that use different MES solutions.

Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions

Manufacturing companies often spend millions of dollars on enterprise resource planning solutions. Much of these systems’ extended functionality is provided via an array of modules that must be purchased separately.

ERP solutions can deliver enterprise-level visibility, but that visibility provides more of a business perspective than a quality focus, as the systems deal mostly with transactional data.

A quality viewpoint depends on process data, usually in the form of time-series data. This type of data is difficult for ERP systems to handle, so the resulting view of process performance is not a strength.

Real-Time SPC Quality Management Solutions

Though not typically thought of as an enterprise visibility option, real-time quality management solutions use many types of manufacturing process data to help visualize process performance. Is the process in control? And is it capable of producing quality output?

Besides collecting data on key quality parameters, these systems also collect production information—product, line, machine tool ID, shift, employee, customer, specification limits, set points, lot, work order, and many other types of manufacturing data—which add context to the quality data. If quality or process issues arise, these systems might require operators to input corrective and preventive action (CAPA) codes, which add further context to the manufacturing process.

As a result, the range of data that such systems store in an enterprise quality database—which some vendors offer—provides a rich resource for enterprise visibility dashboards and reports. Corporate process improvement experts can easily generate database queries to compare the performance of specific manufacturing processes at the plant level and at the enterprise level.

The Right System Can Mean All the Difference

Real-time quality management systems—like the solutions we sell here at InfinityQS—are easier and less costly to implement and maintain than highly customized MES and ERP solutions, making them less risky to implement as a Manufacturing Intelligence solution.

InfinityQS real-time Quality Management solutions are cost-competitive, quick to implement, easy to run, and extensible to multiple processes and product lines. You can integrate the solution within your existing infrastructure to obtain operational insights without a large equipment investment or extensive customization.

By comparing quality data from across your enterprise, you not only gain the ability to discover weak spots, you can identify your strengths and replicate them across processes and across plants. That’s how you transform your business!

Before you choose a quality management system, you need to kick the tires. We understand that. Contact one of our Six Sigma Green Belt-certified account managers at 1.800.772.7978 or via our website for more information.