Getting Lean With SOA

Feb. 23, 2006
The SOA platform enables manufacturers to seamlessly integrate EAM and other components into their ERP system.

For years, manufacturers have been implementing the principles of lean manufacturing to increase efficiency, lower costs and eliminate waste. As a methodology, lean manufacturing requires unprecedented integration and collaboration between partners across the entire supply network. The ability to deliver on lean manufacturing depends on IT systems that are seamlessly linked so that all information and data can be accessed on demand by the people throughout the supply chain who need it, when they need it.

Until now, manufacturers have had limited options for providing cross-functional IT support for lean manufacturing to:

  • Deploy and maintain large enterprise application suites, such as an ERP system to handle the complex synchronization of the entire supply chain. Because many IT systems have been developed to support only discrete segments of the manufacturing process (maintenance, execution, warehousing, etc.), manufacturers have been challenged to effectively integrate critical components into their ERP, such as an enterprise asset management (EAM) system, which is responsible for processes around inventory, procurement and maintenance of assets.
  • Hard-wire together best of breed applications, which results in a brittle infrastructure. The downfall of this method is that a single change to one system automatically requires a reconfiguration of all other systems, a costly endeavor that requires extensive internal resources to maintain and continually update.

It is because of these challenges that the industry has gotten so excited about Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). SOA is more than a buzzword -- it is a fundamentally new software infrastructure based on services and a framework for integration and interoperability among applications to support business workflows. In other words, it is optimized to support end-to-end business processes, rather than segments of processes, through loosely coupled integration that enables manufacturers to fully support their lean manufacturing initiatives.

Many manufacturing professionals are beginning to understand SOA as the key to the lean manufacturing future, because it will enable the ERP vendor to offer a loosely coupled platform that can integrate EAM and other key processes within lean manufacturing, without having to restructure the underlying IT infrastructure.

Current State Of Affairs

In the ideal world, the perfect manufacturing application would support every step of the process with robust functionality and high-resolution visibility -- from product conception and development to the store shelf. However, this has largely been a pipe dream due to inherent incompatibilities between applications that have been developed in silos. In the traditional application-centric world -- where IT budgets have been allocated to the purchase, deployment and maintenance of individual applications -- it has been challenging to support end-to-end business processes, making it extremely difficult for manufacturers to deliver on the true value of lean manufacturing

Typically, manufacturers have to separately engage individual systems to manage the product lifecycle -- from materials procurement and warehousing to quality control, maintenance, labor and logistics. Each step in the process has to be transmitted seamlessly among department and plants managers to execute the plan, and often they are not working with updated information because their systems are not speaking to each other.

This creates enormous opportunities for human error, product variability, increased processing time and other inefficiencies.

Creating A Lean Machine

SOA enables organizations to make the transition from an application-centric view of the world to a process-centric one. Within an SOA, the traditional stand alone application paradigm is replaced by a process-centric view of IT systems comprising services that enable communication among applications in a distributed environment. Systems are integrated, but flexible; manufacturers can easily call upon different functionality as needed to support the process, while maintaining the integrity of the data and IT architecture.

What does this mean for manufacturers?

The SOA platform enables manufacturers to seamlessly integrate EAM and other components into their ERP system -- effectively merging critical best-of-breed components within a widely accepted enterprise-wide IT infrastructure capable of driving lean manufacturing processes throughout the extended supply chain.

One example of the SOA platform enabling the seamless integration of EAM includes a leading manufacturer of frozen food products that needed to monitor its mission-critical refrigeration units. Because of the underlying SOA architecture, this manufacturer was able to easily integrate its refrigeration alarm system with its EAM system. The result was the ability to monitor and track exception alarms coming from the Refrigeration Management System and automatically create work orders that maintenance technicians could immediately implement. The SOA platform has allowed this manufacturer to easily integrate two disparate systems to detect problems coming from the Refrigeration Management System as they occur, which has significantly reduced the potential spoilage of its most profitable product lines and prevented any disruption to the supply chain.

As manufacturers work to adopt the principles of lean manufacturing -- the IT infrastructure will need to support these initiatives. While still an emerging technology, SOA offers a promise of both integration and flexibility -- a powerful combination that can drive efficiencies for delivery of superior products at minimum cost.

Marty Osborn is vice president of product strategy, Datastream Systems Inc., which provides Asset Performance Management software and services. Datastream's solutions combine asset management functionality with advanced analytics to deliver a platform for optimizing enterprise asset performance.

© Datastreams Systems Inc., 2006

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