How to transform a traditional MES system into a Real-time one, using AssetPulse RFID Tracking

Companies use Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) to measure and control critical production activities, offering improved traceability, productivity and quality. MES controls process flow, and reduces any chance of mistakes in the process. It gathers data every step of the way including who operated on the process, when it was done, how long each process took, equipment used for the process and other parameters . Further, it provides immediate data visibility for each work order, what  the current work-in-progress items are and what stage they are in. MES systems serve numerous functions, such as equipment tracking, product serialization, labor tracking, inventory management, costing, task completion capture, and defect and resolution monitoring.

In order to finely tune the production process and hone in on areas for improvement, more detailed visibility is needed into these areas. This requires data capture in Raw material tracking which leads to inventory management tracking; costing, WIP tracking, equipment and labor tracking. By effectively digitalizing data collection and controlling the entire system, an MES can realize a many-fold improvement in manufacturing efficiency and productivity.Traditional MES systems employ barcodes and/or manual data collection during all the phases. However, the gap between physical flow of product and material and information flow in the MES is too large to provide accurate visibility.  Automated data capture via AssetPulse’ RFID tracking system transforms a traditional MES system into a Real-time MES system. 

AssetPulse’ RFID tracking system automates data collection which includes reporting of raw material consumption in real time, which in turn, allows for real time updates of inventory;  WIP tracking, Tool, Process Instruction Document and Operator tracking. All this information feeds into the MES to afford real time updates of the entire manufacturing floor including real time status of all the jobs on the floor and where potential issues are cropping up. Without automated data capture from AssetPulse’ RFID tracking systems, updates to MES were being provided whenever it was convenient to enter the transaction in the system. E.g. When raw material for the next workorder is sent from ‘Supermarket’ (warehouse) to be staged at the assembly line, an ERP transaction might be completed as soon as it leaves the warehouse instead of when it actually arrives at the line. This may be done, because it is easier for the warehouse to complete this transaction since there might not be anyone at the line to receive the components at the staging area of the assembly line and then enter it into the system. With AssetPulse’ RFID tracking system, a transaction is completed only when the inventory actually arrives at the line. Similarly, WIP status is captured in real time, i.e. exactly when the operator starts work on the WIP and when he finishes. In a traditional MES system, the start time may have been the completion of the previous operation, since that is the time the operator transacts in the system.

Similarly, AssetPulse’ RFID Tracking system automatically captures the presence of all tools and equipment used on the line, Travelers, documents and even the operators working at each workstation on the line. This allows alerts to be issued if and when incorrect tools, past-due calibration-equipment and documents are present. Further, it can flag operators and technicians present on the line, who haven’t completed the necessary certifications or training to perform the work.

There are numerous such examples where deployment of RFID can vastly enrich an existing MES system in order to gain maximum improvements in operational visibility and efficiency and improved quality.

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Manufacturing Traceability using RFID Tracking

Traceability in the Manufacturing industry includes keeping track of supplier lots, batch number and/or serial numbers that are used in the production of a specific finished good. This allows a manufacturer to trace back any part of the finished good through all internal manufacturing processes to the original raw material. Capturing this genealogy data is a requirement for regulated industries like biomedical devices, pharma, automotive and food industries. Collection and recording of this data is often a manual process, which can be time consuming, inaccurate and inefficient.

Automating the capture of traceability data using RFID tracking is a step in the right direction. AssetPulse’ RFID Based traceability solutions can be used to track parts, process, equipment and people. Tracking all these four categories are essential to get a holistic traceability view of manufacturing.

The AssetGather RFID traceability solution lets you know which supplier lots or serial numbers were used in which finished good. It allows you to monitor the entire manufacturing process from the picking of raw material to its delivery to the assembly line and the consumption of the components on the line. This information can provide insight into where a defective part was introduced in the product manufacturing lifecycle.

At the same time, AssetGather’s RFID solutions can track and record the technicians or manual labor who worked on every stage of the manufacturing process for a specific finished good. This information can be valuable when reviewing for operator related errors in the event of a quality issue. Manufacturing equipment and tools are RFID tagged so they can also be tracked and recorded, such that one can determine which equipment or tools were used on which finished good and when.

AssetPulse’s AssetGather RFID Traceability solutions can play a big role in a company’s Industry 4.0 initiative. It provides insight into productivity, regulatory compliance and quality control. Automated data collection using RFID can play a big role in a company’s Manufacturing Digital Transformation program. Along with RFID Based AssetGather’s tight integration with Enterprise applications like SAP, Maximo, JD Edwards etc., a slew of benefits can be realized, including gaining insight into root-cause analysis by moving upstream step-by-step to hone in on the root cause, continuous improvement, wastage monitoring,  and allowing for accurate status updates on customer orders.

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How to Optimize Supply Chain Management with RFID

The much-touted supply chain covers all activities that an organization performs from raw material receiving to finished goods delivered to the customer.  AssetPulse’ RFID solutions can play a role at almost every step of the Supply Chain, from receiving components or raw material at the Receiving dock to delivering finished goods to the Customer’s facility.

supply chain management

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1) RFID tagging of raw material to increase their traceability

Leveraging AssetPulse’ RFID Asset Tracking solutions provide in depth visibility into the Supply Chain. Raw material that feeds into the Manufacturing process can be RFID tagged to not only expedite the Pick Process of the Raw Material, but also will allow for traceability of the raw material through the Manufacturing process. For specific industries where it is important to be able to trace back specific lot numbers and/or batch numbers of raw materials to a particular manufactured product, AssetPulse’ RFID solutions are a perfect fit. Tracking raw material with RFID also allows for real time inventory tracking of raw material levels.

2) RFID tagging WIP to optimize manufacturing process

Visibility also extends to the specific equipment used and also, of course, to the product under manufacture. WIP is tracked through the manufacturing floor, thereby providing visibility into where and how long WIP stays at each phase of manufacturing.

3) Manufacturing Line Changeover is automated by RFID tagging raw materials and tools

Other benefits of using AssetPulse’ RFID Asset Tracking solutions in the Supply Chain include Automation and Increasing Accuracy. E.g. automating the Changeover process can lead to enormous improvement in productivity and accuracy. It eliminates the meticulous and time consuming manual tasks that need to be completed by qualified personnel, which always have potential for human error.

4) Finished Goods can be tagged with RFID tag at the end of the production line

The Supply Chain doesn’t end at completion of Manufacturing. Finished Goods need to be tracked from the Manufacturing facility through the Warehouse or Distribution Center to the Consumer/Customer. RFID tagging finished goods lends visibility to the location of the finished goods as they are moved out of the factory and into the Warehouse. The length of stay at the Warehouse can be tracked. Various metrics on productivity, inventory management and pricing can be calculated using this data.

AssetPulse’ RFID solutions can also help in the post sales phase, particularly, in industries where product is returned to the factory either as an RMA or for maintenance/repairs. There is visibility into how the product moves within the factory undergoing various tests and processes and the customer can be notified when the product is ready to be shipped back to their facility.

Since most organizations have a Supply Chain Enterprise system, an ERP system and/or an MES system, AssetPulse has performed bidirectional integrations with such Enterprise systems including SAP, JDE, Oracle, etc.

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How does RFID help in Manufacturing Changeover Process?

Changeover is an important component of lean manufacturing initiatives. It is the process followed when a manufacturing line is being changed over from producing one part to another or from completing one workorder to starting a new workorder. Changeovers can last from a few hours to days or weeks, depending on how extensive the changes to the line are. This process requires a lot of attention to detail and can be vulnerable to human errors. Errors during the Changeover process can have lasting repercussions long after the finished goods leave the line. Due to the meticulous nature of doing a Changeover process, specially trained personnel are needed to perform these tasks, which can be costly. Ultimate goal of any manufacturing organization is to achieve the fastest possible changeovers without compromising on accuracy or quality.

Changeover complexity depends more on the process itself—factors such as number of internal steps, and validations required. Rapid changeover is critical to improving flow and maximizing throughput. RFID Tracking  can go a long way in automating this process, thereby minimizing or even eliminating human errors. Aside from error prevention, the Changeover process can also be expedited, thereby reducing overall downtime of the manufacturing line.

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AssetPulse’ RFID Tracking solution has been implemented at various manufacturing facilities to automate the Changeover process. In industries that are strictly governed by compliance requirements, using the AssetPulse RFID Tracking solution also allows for automated record keeping. Details about Raw Material or Components including Part numbers, Lot numbers, Batch numbers, etc. can be automatically recorded at each point of the Manufacturing Line during Changeover. Equipment and Tools deployed during the Changeover process can also be automatically recorded.

Not only does the AssetPulse RFID Tracking solution help automate recording of tools, equipment and components deployed during the Changeover process, but it can also help with validation and detecting errors. At every step, a validation can automatically be performed to ensure the right tools, equipment and components or raw materials are placed at the right location. On incorrect placement, the user can be alerted, so the error is rectified immediately.

Tracking with RFID can also help with enforcing the sequence of steps in the Changeover process. E.g. if the Changeover process requires pre-staging to be done, before the items are moved to the actual line, the AssetPulse RFID Tracking solution can ensure the right items are pre-staged and will throw up errors if they are moved to the line without the pre-staging step.

AssetPulse customers have seen a much-improved Changeover process, that is faster, more accurate and which allows the organization to meet compliance regulations with significantly lesser time and resources.

RFID & [WIP] Work-in-Progress Tracking System for Manufacturing Units

WIP Tracking, Work-in-progress tracking encompasses nearly all the phases of manufacturing. It starts with tracking raw material which includes Receiving and the Put Away process. AssetPulse’s RFID solutions can provide Real Time visibility of flow of materials through the production process. It allows for a lean and optimized production process by keeping the demand and build requirements in sync.

As WIP is converted to subassemblies, they are moved standalone or in bins, containers and totes. We work with the Manufacturing Engineers to determine what should be tagged – the physical subassembly itself or the containers which carry them. This is a function of the ease and practicality with which the subassemblies themselves can be tagged. The factors to determine this include, the size of the subassembly, the material it is made of, the environment that the tag would be exposed to, contamination risk etc.  Class III Medical Devices and Semiconductor Wafers are cases where it is not likely direct-tagging is possible due to contamination risk. The extremely high temperatures in a firing process in industrial manufacturing may not allow for direct tagging.

Tracking WIP in real time provides accurate snapshots of exactly when it entered and exited a specific phase in production. Relying on personnel to ‘log in and log out’ WIP at each phase can lead to costly errors, especially in time-sensitive processes in medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing, where timestamps are also recorded.

WIP tracking can be accomplished in real-time or at critical junctures in the manufacturing process. This is also a function of the manufacturing environment. Industrial manufacturing floors lend themselves well to real-time tracking since there is typically, sufficient room to deploy RFID read-points on the floor. With respect to Clean Room Assembly lines, real-time tracking is possible with careful study of the lines and determining optimal RFID read-point locations at each workstation. AssetPulse has extensive experience with both industrial and Clean Room manufacturing operations.

Working closely with Manufacturing Engineering and Operations, we have successfully deployed our RFID solutions where bottlenecks, ‘waiting for parts’ stoppages, ‘completed too quickly’ steps, ‘taking too long’ steps, out-of-sequence steps etc. have been detected accurately and efficiently. Tracking Rework and scrapped parts provides visibility into oft-obscured parts of production.

AssetGather RFID solutions work hand-in-hand with Enterprise Resource Planning Systems during the entire manufacturing process. ERP systems track the virtual flow of raw materials through the processes while AssetGather’s RFID solutions track the physical flow. Real time updates back and forth between the two systems, allow not only for an efficient work flow, but also allows for maintaining integrity within the entire process by physically validating various process steps and alerting when an anomaly is detected.

It is highly recommended that all stakeholders in Manufacturing are involved in designing and deploying RFID solutions. Processes may need to be changed slightly or significantly, and in some cases, eliminated entirely. The initial scoping, design and redesign of processes is worth the effort, since this can result in a many-fold improvement in visibility, efficiency, accuracy and overall quality.

 

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