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Keeping the communication flowing

05 May 2023

Mathew Simpson explains the importance of having good communication from the SCADA system up to the enterprise resource planning platform.

Automated production lines, palletising systems and warehouses are always amazing to watch – but, in common with all robots and AI applications they lack initiative! They don’t know what to do unless they receive very clear instructions. 

In the case of a food or beverage manufacturer, this means that the automated line needs to be told what label to apply – and perhaps what price per kilo and batch code to print on it – and how many pieces or kilos to put in a container. Furthermore, the automated picking systems need to be told what to pick, when to pick, who it is for and where it should be sent. 

All that information is contained within standard ERP systems. The tricky bit and the job of the Manufacturing execution system (MES) layer is to relay information between these systems and make sure that if the last machine stops, the ones preceding it are also going to stop! 

MES bridges the gap between enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Without this link it would not be possible to automatically access and use information such as sales orders and customer addresses to steer shop floor machinery.

Sophisticated MES systems operate as an event-based service and allow two-way communication between shop floor machines and ERP. This means, for example, that the application of a specific weight price label is an event that will trigger a transaction in the ERP system – for example, a finished product count. 

If the labelled product is further packaged, such as in a case of six or 12 units, the transaction could be a stock movement from the weigh-labelling cost centre to the case packing cost centre.  In the event of a machine breakdown – perhaps if the label reel runs out – the MES system will stop further inputs to that line and inform the ERP that there is a stoppage. This will alert the planner to an issue so they can immediately consider alternative options or communicate to other relevant parties such as maintenance or warehouse.

Joining the links
Integrated MES solutions, which connect to food specialist ERP software enable companies to join up all of the links in the supply chain from raw material suppliers and customer sales orders to production, shop floor line control and picking.

For one meat processing compnay, Promessa, the whole process from the point of sealing a finished product to building the delivery stack has been automated with MES software in communication with ERP system and third-party systems.

Once packed in a reusable tray, the sealed but unlabelled products are automatically sent to either a fast mover storage location or a slow mover location. Products enter and leave the fast mover store via an automated gantry crane. Slow moving products go into traditional automated high bay storage.

Upon collation of the morning’s sales orders, picking, labelling and sorting orders are sent to the automated stores and goods are automatically sent to the weigh-price-labelling lines and automated sorters. When orders for individual retail stores have been labelled and packed in reusable trays, they are automatically conveyed down to another gantry crane which builds up route specific loads that can finally be rolled on to the truck.

By decoupling production and order fulfilment, Promessa has been able to plan long and efficient production runs with fewer product changeovers. By automating the fulfilment process the company reduces labour costs and error rates. Furthermore, the whole project has allowed Promessa to double production volume without expanding the footprint of its site.

Mathew Simpson is Sales Manager, UK and Ireland, CSB-System.

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