The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a hard reset event for almost every single industry across the globe. The Electronics Industry was no exception. Component shortages, demand fluctuations and operational disruptions all caused the industry players to rethink their strategies, from NPI to design and from JIT capacities to safety stocks. Success stories from all over the world pointed out two absolutely critical capabilities organizations now need to possess more than ever before: operational resilience and value chain-wide agility.
Agility stems from the interoperability of disparate IT applications, integrated so that information from all facets of the value chain reach personnel just in time, and lead to decisions which either help save or make money. Resilience is when an agile operation acts, rather than reacts, to external and internal stimuli to produce the best possible result in a given scenario. Resilience may be the ability to design new electronic sub-assemblies based on available components, or cross-facility collaboration among design and operation teams to deliver orders which are designed and partially assembled in one plant and completed near the point of use in order to expedite or meet specific requirements.
Silos suffocate Data and Information Flow
Both agility and resilience rely on end-to-end visibility across operations, not just across an individual manufacturing line or location but from site to site and enterprise to enterprise. However, this process wide, plant wide, manufacturing ecosystem-wide and value chain-wide visibility in this increasing scale is a major challenge. It is especially daunting in SMT and packaging electronics assembly. The challenge can be attributed to the quote at the very beginning of this post: SILOS.
Electronics manufacturing and assembly traditionally have a functional focus. IT solutions are designed to suit the needs of a particular facet of the operation. Over time, as operations and products designed/manufactured became more complex, additional standalone solutions were deployed. Existing solutions were allowed to remain in place either due to dependency, inertia or just because replacement would mean more time, effort or skill, which was not available. Even MES applications which can provide a relative degree of integration, if purpose-built and hard-coded to perform only a restricted set of execution related functionalities, act more as an information silo than a possible cure.
Cut to the present scenario, where COVID-19 reset the global supply chains and exerted additional pressure for cross-functional, cross-facility and cross-location collaboration. Electronics manufacturers immediately felt the pressure to modify design functionality to account for component shortages and for supply chain reconfiguration/recalculation of safety stock for major components.
At a macro level, this collaboration required all value chain partners to constantly share data and process large amounts of data to create prediction patterns for demand and execution. At a micro level, with all of the disruptions and pressures of collaboration to keep a component focus, it meant the free flow of data was needed, from assembly lines to shop floor to enterprise, and then out to value chain partners and vice versa.
Information silos prevent this free flow of data. Their existence is a testimony to disconnected operations and dark data. Silos limit the ability of Industry 4.0 technologies to fully manifest in an operation. Silos prevent the OEM from leveraging their design complexity as a competitive advantage.
A classic case of silos is the deployment of current modern assembly equipment. IoT capabilities and sensors measure and report on multiple KPIs, working in a plant where a not-so-modern MES is unable to collect and process the data collected by the sensors. Another example is disconnected WMS and R&D functions, where lack of visibility in component availability, shortages and future delivery schedules limits and delays NPI. Product design is operating with latent data, relayed manually or via disconnected IT systems.
Forbes highlights the findings of the Dimensional Research “2020 Trends in Electronics Sourcing,” that a majority of executive supply chain leaders in global manufacturing believe that their product launches have been delayed or cancelled. The delay and disruption can in part be attributed to the pandemic, but the main culprit is data silos, which prevent swift and decisive action. The post further highlights that these challenges identify the need for collaborative and real-time knowledge sharing and that the pandemic should be a wake-up call for distributors, EMS and OEMs alike: that siloed and disconnected data along with rigid processes can limit innovation.
A modern MES Data Platform is the answer to data silos and scalability challenges
A modern MES Data Platform can alleviate the challenges posed by data silos. Let’s understand how.
A modern MES data platform at its very core is configured to connect IT and OT, through tight integration across automation/equipment, control and enterprise level applications. This means modern equipment deployed on the shop floor with a modern MES in place can relay data in real-time from manufacturing’s edge. Edge data is then contextualized within the application and shared across the value chain through other IT applications like WMS, SCM, CRM and ERP. Data flow becomes bi-directional. Demand or component availability-related data from enterprise applications reaches both design and operations just-in-time for them to take actions, which allow better response to improve resilience of the entire process.
Elimination of Point Solutions and Legacy Applications
As mentioned by Forbes, data in silos and rigid processes makes innovation slower. It also impacts operational flexibility, exposing the entire supply chain to risks and disruptions. Point solutions and legacy MES applications both act as silos: their rigid structure keeps them from integrating with other applications and their inability to get enhanced data prevents them from scaling to meet current and future complex requirements and configurations. A modern MES becomes the ‘single source of truth’ when it comes to plant operations, which implies it either overarches and controls data to and from existing point solutions, or replaces them by encompassing their existing functionality within its own, making the legacy solution redundant.
Smart Factory means MES
A modern MES application goes above and beyond integration and modernization of the value chain IT infrastructure. It creates the foundation of Industry 4.0 smart operations. Forbes referenced how it is extremely important that electronics manufacturers use AI and Machine Learning (ML) to create better models for risk management and component availability-based design. It is only through AI that current practices can be optimized. MES brings these ‘smarts’ to Smart Manufacturing. It unleashes native AI and ML on data sets collected from the process and beyond. It creates context and uncovers ML patterns, which allow activities from design to development and assembly to packaging become more efficient, more agile and more predictable. Having data in silos hampers its conversion into the currency of Industry 4.0: actionable intelligence. This is precisely what the modern MES does through AI and advanced analytics.
The modern MES is modular and faster to deploy, addressing the major challenges posed by silos: scaling. When information resides in silos, the ability to use it and fuel operational improvements or transformations is hampered. The MES eliminates this scaling challenge by allowing use case-based deployment. It keeps standard execution and core operation related functionality uniform across plant and lines, while accommodating localized use cases and challenges. The modular nature and multi-faceted deployment, while accommodating both standardization and customization, allows the application to scale.
The right MES can help eliminate data silos for any value chain. The key is to find the right application. The MES vendor must have enough client testimonials and industry expertise to not only understand the process in a given plant, but the means to formulate a journey towards a more agile and resilient value chain. For industry incumbents in the Electronics industry, the urgent need is to integrate disparate IT applications to create an Industry 4.0 infrastructure. It starts from individual assembly lines to supply chain partners and from design to delivery of assemblies.
Find the right MES and you will be able to eliminate silos, create a collaborative infrastructure, and most importantly, scale.