Connected business processes Shop floor IT connects ERP and manufacturing

From Christian Erlinger*

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Holistic digitalisation is only possible if the administration (top floor) is connected to manufacturing (shop floor). We show how the individual systems are connected both horizontally and vertically by means of IIoT and interoperability.

Implementing an end-to-end digitalisation project in machining from the top to the shop floor requires a lot of cooperation and a deep understanding of the process worlds of IT and production.
Implementing an end-to-end digitalisation project in machining from the top to the shop floor requires a lot of cooperation and a deep understanding of the process worlds of IT and production.
(Source: free licensed / Pexels)

With the advent of CAx systems, internal technical IT in production companies has gained enormously in importance over the past decades. In the course of Industry 4.0, holistic networking strategies of shop floor and top floor as well as service concepts in manufacturing, IT departments are facing new challenges.

In organisational terms, a manufacturing company is usually divided into business and technical business processes, which in turn lead to work areas such as marketing, design, work preparation, production/manufacturing and disassembly. Computer technology, with CA techniques such as CAE, CAD, CAP, CAM and CAQ, is anchored in wide areas of discrete manufacturing in the 'Top Floor' (engineering and office applications) and the 'Shop Floor' (manufacturing). In the manufacturing environment, the term 'virtual machining' is used. It refers to a clustering of processes involving the deep integration of CAD with CAM, machine simulation and subsequent processes, such as post-processing with NC code creation.

For some years now, companies have been focusing on interoperability and services related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for their shop floors. All in all, the influence of IT in manufacturing companies has continued to grow in importance over time, and the relocation of individual IT systems is at the focus of those responsible.

Central networking on the shop floor connected to the top floor

The successful implementation of an end-to-end digitalisation project down to the shop floor requires not only the ability to cooperate but also a deep understanding of the process worlds of IT and production. Dovetailing them is difficult due to the technical nature and the heterogeneous infrastructure of manufacturing. The spatial separation of top floor and shop floor also adds to the complexity. These challenges can be overcome by introducing an 'intermediate layer' that acts as the connecting link. Even if the terminology is still rather unspecific, it seems clear that the goal is a new kind of 'process excellence'. Often the department that deals with these issues is called 'shop floor IT'. Usually, these are well-trained experts with a strong affinity to IT topics.

The digitisation wave with its specific demands for more and more flexibility also means that manufacturers of monolithic IT systems have to face the pressure of standardisation, whether driven by ERP or PLM projects, for example. It is therefore assumed that the trend to create new process platforms will intensify.

The end-to-end digitalisation of shop floor processes such as paperless production is still in its infancy compared to the successes on the shop floor, which is of course also due to the heterogeneous infrastructure and the associated process diversity. The potential in terms of process optimisation, greater efficiency and more efficient use of resources is great, so it is understandable that digitalisation is now a central IT topic.

IT competence and process know-how for successful digitisation projects

One example is the connection of engineering with production: the complete tool and NC programme for manufacturing the product are created from ERP data and CAD drawings, and the collision check of tool and blank can be carried out precisely by means of machine simulation. All relevant production data, including the change service, can be transferred to the machining centre or machine tool in a paperless way. The entire process is optimally reflected in a process platform that integrates all IT systems involved in the process via a central database in an interoperable manner. This makes it possible, for example, to create the digital twin of the tool with all its advantages.

Shop floor and top floor are merging, many applications overlap. The clear demarcation of ERP, PLM, MES is receding into the background. The challenge for IT managers is to connect the individual systems, both horizontally and vertically. The decisive criteria are not only related to IT competence, but also the corresponding process know-how and technical expertise, for example in all aspects of the machining process.

Designing data processes without gaps and using synergies are essential components of digitisation projects in CNC manufacturing. Service providers such as Coscom can implement data integration strategies from the ERP system to the shop floor of the machining manufacturing industry and relieve the burden on in-house IT departments. The areas of data and information networks, the targeted use of tool and production information systems and the optimal design of a CAD/CAM process chain through to highly effective automation solutions must be the focus of holistic digitalisation. The combination of process consulting, self-developed software solutions and project implementation stands for a successful and timely introduction time, fast productive use and economic payback time of a digitisation project.

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* Christian Erlinger is a member of Coscom's management.