Apr 22 2016

Q&A: Michelle Mertens, Hitachi Computer Products, Inc.

Michelle MertensI had the opportunity to participate in a webcast between Michelle Mertens, Hitachi Computer Products, Inc. and Andrew Hughes, Principal Analyst MOM Practice at LNS Research. If you are interested in hearing this discussion, it is available to watch here.

Below is a condensed transcript of select questions that were asked by the audience immediately following the presentation. This feedback offers a unique perspective of what challenges Hitachi Computer Products had to overcome while in process of implementing their global manufacturing execution system.


BENZIE: Which was your pilot factory, and how were the processes rolled out to the next three factories? Was it simultaneous, or sequential?

MERTENS:  The initial footprint was created at our U.S. factory in 2009. That was prior to the global initiative. We were in the process of replacing our current MES. At that time, the factory in Japan was using a purchased product and then the factory in Europe was using a homegrown solution. So, when it came time to select a global product, if you will, obviously ours was one of the candidates. But, at that point, we worked with the Japan team to pilot a smaller piece of functionality across the DELMIA Apriso technology stack as a proof of concept.  Once everything started rolling and we truly had the global initiative, we had to realign our local U.S. implementation because, of course, we made a significant amount of changes to go into the global as practiced type of structure, and we were essentially already live with some changes that we referred to as re-factorizations. Then we brought up one of our major product lines – the European factory first – and then the second product line across the U.S. and the European factory and then moved on to the Japan factories. So we did not do any type of Big Bang, if you will. We certainly rolled them out so that we could have the proper staff both technically and functional end to support everything.

BENZIE: As part of your implementation, there was likely a question on how to “draw the line” between what would be done in ERP and what would be done in MES? And, in a thirty second answer please? 🙂

MERTENS:  Well, basically, having worked on several ERP implementations as well in the past, for us – the ERP is where the money is. The MES is where the process is – the quality and, for us, the traceability. So, anything that’s going to source MRP or that’s going to source finance, the system of record is going to be the ERP system. The process, the quality and pure traceability – the system of record was going to be the MES. How’s that for a quick answer?

BENZIE:  That’s very impressive.

BENZIE:  Is there any R&D functionality within this deployment you’ve done and a minimum size for facilities that makes sense?

MERTENS:   In terms of the MES, the R&D aspects are not tracked in our MES. We do manufacturing, of course, quality as well as starting to look at some aspects of customer repair. Our system of record as well as our research and development foundation is actually managed in a separate system. So, essentially, I’d say the answer to that question would be no at this time if I understand it correctly.

BENZIE:  Mm-hmm. How about a minimum size for a facility? Do you see that? I mean, you’ve done three now. Do you see that there might be a minimum or do you think that this could be deployed, regardless of size?

MERTENS:  Yeah, I think absolutely. The smaller the easier.  Because we’re an electronics manufacturer and we’re doing some pretty high end solutions, we consider our foundation to be pretty complex. And, in working with our counterparts within our industry as well as manufacturing , now it’s become pretty evident that what we’ve deployed here is pretty intricate and complex. When we look at some of our product lines that are a lot more basic, they were able to do more of a modular type of approach. Those are able almost to be plug-and-play so, from a certain sense, as a member of a team those would be the ones that would be the easiest to do. Definitely, from a scalable standpoint the smaller – the less complex – the easier it is just to plug it out there. I don’t think there really is a minimum.

BENZIE:  Sounds logical.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/qa-michelle-mertens-hitachi-computer-products-inc/

Apr 19 2016

Do Forklifts Have a Place in the Warehouse of the Future?

forklift_warehouseToday, just as it’s been for several decades, forklifts are a common sight in warehouses. They are a vital part of the entire warehousing process – from taking new products off the truck for storage, to moving them to different shelving areas, to putting them back on a truck for delivery. But with automation, robots and other new technologies, some people in the industry are starting to wonder if forklifts will have any place in the warehouse of the future. Are they becoming obsolete?

An Increased Use of Automation

Led by companies such as Amazon, many warehouses are moving to more automated storage and retrieval processes. As this technology and robotics improve, it has become faster and cheaper to make use of automation in warehouses. Using barcodes and scanners (or similar technologies), these robots can accurately select inventory, or entire pallets of products, move them to a new location, and update information in the inventory system. Everything is done quickly and efficiently.

This equipment can interface directly with Production, Shipping and Inventory systems. Technology in the warehouse can now instantly receive a customer order, find the correct shelf or bin, pull the necessary number of items, and place them with other ordered items for shipping. Once the packing is complete, an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) can take the box to the truck. Forklifts won’t be needed in any part of the process since AGVs are basically self-driving forklifts.

Fewer People Are Needed

It also requires less people. Rather than hiring a number of forklift drivers and other employees, one single person can operate a fleet of AGVs. The only area where a human may be needed is the actual packing of the box, and then that’s really only necessary if there are multiple items of different sizes or if the items are fragile and need to be carefully wrapped. In some cases where this does not apply, robots can even package up the materials.

A Reduction in Risk

Because fewer people are now needed on the warehouse floor, the warehouse overall will become safer. Even if robotic forklifts and other machines were to crash into each other, no one would actually get hurt. Vehicle operators do not have to worry about back and neck pain from awkward posture, continually reaching for levers, and climbing up into the forklift. When people do need to be involved, the robots can hold pallets at the optimal height so there is no need to bend down or reach up while moving heavy items.

A Reduction in Errors

When humans are involved, there is always the chance of errors being made. While robots may not be absolutely perfect, there are far fewer issues with inventory control. There is little risk of a robot selecting the wrong item or selecting too many or too few items. An automated system is not likely to forget to adjust the number of items or pallets in the inventory or forget to log a change in inventory location, since each device has its own built-in location tracker.

A Slow Shift

Getting back to the original question of what role forklifts will play in the future, there is no need to worry quite yet. While automated picking systems may have started replacing the forklift in some warehouses, Forklifts are not likely to vanish from the warehouse tomorrow, especially not in smaller warehouses. Automation technology tends to have a greater return on investment when implemented in larger facilities, resulting it its use being somewhat limited in smaller ones (cloud-based solutions, however, are changing this paradigm too). Who knows what market absorption might exist in another ten or twenty years!


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/do-forklifts-have-a-place-in-the-warehouse-of-the-future/

Apr 15 2016

How the VSS Unity Is Bringing Disruptive Technology to Space

nasa-techWith much fanfare, founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson unveiled the newest in the Virgin Spaceship (VSS) fleet called the Unity in 2014. This spacecraft is 60 feet long with a wingspan of 42 feet, and it can hold six passengers. Its flight maxes out at MACH 3.5 and it boasts several minutes of zero gravity time. This is just part of Branson’s vision for space tourism, and Virgin Galactic is breaking more than just the orbital barrier to make this dream a reality.

Using New Technology

Much of NASA’s technology is old. For economic reasons, it was easier to fit new technology onto existing equipment, even though it was not the most efficient engineering. Working from a clean slate, Virgin Galactic could choose from existing tech and discard the rest. There was no retrofitting. There was only new discovery. The first challenges fell under the category of material science. VSS Unity is 100 percent carbon composites, which makes the vehicle stronger and lighter than metal with a near zero corrosion factor. Virgin isn’t saying much about its composite material, however, because it is proprietary and the result of a large investment in research.

Developing Modern Equipment

Currently the VSS Unity uses a piggy-backing method to get into the air, much like the NASA shuttles have done in the past; however, the goal is for the craft to take off like a commercial jet, reach orbital or suborbital heights and then land again normally. Traditional jet engines use air that is driven through super-powered fan blades. At lower altitudes, this type of engine works, but at higher altitudes the air thins out, leaving the engine with no thrust. The engine prototypes for suborbital vehicles are hybrid, threefold propulsion systems. They act as a rocket to start, have a low energy propulsion unit to navigate at apogee and a jet to land. All of this equipment needs to be light enough, so the weight-to-power ratio is not thrown off.

Creating Disruptive Technology

Disruptive technologies are those that create an entirely new market. Space tourism is definitely disruptive and the market needs to be developed. There is a psychological component to this modern space race, which can been seen through the excitement over the VSS Unity and the high-profile speakers that were at the unveiling, such as iconic physicist Steven Hawking and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Virgin Galactic is creating a market conversation that includes peace, education and courage as its narrative. In a world where economics drives science, this is the greatest trial of all.

Branson’s vision extends beyond suborbital flight. He wants to go past the 62 mile limit that marks the point between the Earth and space. He plans to place a hotel in orbit over the moon, offer moon walks as a fun outing and shuttle people back and forth at a fraction of the cost. More profound than simple tourism, Branson’s ideas aim to continue what NASA started — putting people in space and exploring the cosmos from there.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/how-the-vss-unity-is-bringing-disruptive-technology-to-space/

Apr 07 2016

Despite all the Change in Manufacturing Operations Today, Safety Must Still be a Constant in Process Improvement

despite all the manufacturing transformation, safety on shop floor still a constantThere are many responsibilities business owners and plant managers must juggle. While you have duties to your customers, business partners, and the government, your responsibilities to your employees are perhaps the most important of all. All businesses have to ensure its workforce remains safe while on the job and you can’t do that without the proper equipment.

Despite the digital transformation now underway in manufacturing operations, there are still other parts of operations that will not change – as hard as that may be to imagine, given the sweeping changes now underway! One of those activities is safety. So, I thought it might be a good idea to review a list of safety best-practices that might easily be forgotten at a time when such high levels of scrutiny are applied to Lean, Six Sigma and other continuous process improvement initiatives.

1. Alarm Systems

Alarm systems are a must have for any factory, office, or other indoors workspace. Fire alarms are likely required in any building, based on, at minimum, code requirements. A fire could break out due to the failure of the building’s electrical system, for example, at which point employees would then need to be alerted of the fire to escape to safety. However, other companies may need other kinds of alarm systems installed. Gas leaks and chemical spills in special factories and other industrial settings can certainly kill or badly injure employees.

Beyond the act of installing such alarm systems, training should be regularly conducted to ensure everyone knows the propper, safe route to evacuate as well as where to meet after, to ensure all workers can be accounted for, should an actual fire break out.

2. Safety Goggles

One of the most common workplace injuries involves the eyes. Injuries here are especially serious since they can lead to blindness and badly hamper a person’s quality of life. If there is even a slight chance of particles, however small, becoming airborne in your employees’ workspace, safety goggles are required. If employees could be exposed to harmful chemicals that could affect the eyes, safety goggles should be worn. If employees require prescription goggles, see if you can get customized options at places like All About Eyes. Or, simply use safety goggles that are big enough to fit over prescription lens. Make sure you have eye wash basins in place as well.

Interestingly, those workers operating in clean rooms typical with high tech manufacturing should also wear goggles, but perhaps, for an additional reason – to avoid contaminants enter the clean room environment, such as eye lashes. Increasingly with sophisticated manufacturing processes now required by today’s manufacturers, the precision of what materials are part of the production process must be highly regulated and monitored. Any sort of contaminants could seriously impact the quality and end-user experience while consuming your product.

3. Airborne Debris or Equipment

In certain cases, employees simply breathing in the air at a worksite can be deadly. For example, employees that have to renovate old buildings may come into contact with asbestos. If breathed in, asbestos can lead to extremely serious and incurable chronic health problems. You should never take chances. If there is a chance that a worksite could be contaminated, employees should use respirators to filter the air supply so it’s safe.

Other safety issues can occur from things travelling through the air – such as a robotic arm. The use of robots is increasingly becoming part of many production processes. Traditional robotics usage might have been limited to just specific areas of the production line. Today, some manufacturers are now experimenting with the use of robots to work alongside workers on the shop floor. This practice has all sorts of implications on new safety measures to ensure injuries are avoided at all costs. The modernization or automation of production processes will not be a positive return on investment if workers are injured as a result!

4. Falling Objects

And, lets not neglect the continued risk of falling debris, a serious concern on many jobsites. If a heavy object can fall from up high, it can certainly kill or badly disable an employee. Hard hats should be required for all jobsites in which falling objects is a possibility. Make sure your employees know to keep these safety equipment and measures in place at all times. They are responsible to keep themselves safe as well.

5. Emergency Stops

Sometimes, equipment or machines malfunction. Other times, an employee might accidentally fall and slip into a working piece of equipment. If that is the case, there should be a button that can be pressed to stop the machinery immediately so it causes no more harm to such an employee. Most equipment come with this as a standard part of the machinery. If not, make sure you replace older equipment with newer models.

Those manufacturers considering adding new automation processes, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) or robots to be installed on their production line need to also consider the safety ramifications of such an investment. How will an employee quickly stop one of these machines in time before someone gets hurt? It is easy to get caught up in the performance improvement or efficiency gains from such investments. Don’t neglect to also invest in the necessary safety standards to ensure the best possible protection for your factory workers.


Overall, workplace safety has always been a vitally important concept. This is why so many manufacturers have dashboards or Andon boards to track how long it has been since a safety incident. As new investments are made in new technologies or automated processes, don’t neglect to consider the safety ramifications too as part of your initial investment and project scope. Make sure your employees have all the tools available to them to protect them from harm while on the job.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/04/safety-constant_process-improvement/

Mar 31 2016

Alan Mulally’s Perspective on the Digitization of Manufacturing

alan_mulallyFormer CEO of Ford and Boeing Commercial Airplanes says all companies are becoming digital, connected.


Alan Mulally is not your average retiree. At 71, he’s one of the very few business leaders who has had the opportunity to change the business world twice: At Boeing, where he was CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, he pioneered the use of a new generation of computer-aided design (CAD) software that revolutionized manufacturing; then, before retiring as president and CEO of Ford Motor Company in mid-2014, he led the 112-year-old automobile maker’s turnaround from a US$17 billion loss at the end of 2006 to profitability by 2008 – without the aid of government bailouts.

Today, Mulally is still very much in demand for his talent, his ideas and for knowing how to gain competitive advantage through organizational culture, serving on the boards of two high-tech companies. When he speaks people listen – and his insights about the future of business might be best described as provocative.

Traditional Industries Versus Digital Ones

For example, Mulally believes that the distinction between well-established companies that participate in more traditional industry sectors – ones that existed long before the start of the dot-com era – and so-called “new economy” companies heavily involved in the technology sector will become increasingly blurred.

“I find the whole discussion about digital versus non-digital companies very interesting, but it’s just not true,” he said in a wide-ranging interview exclusive to Compass. “Digital technology, the Internet, information processing and the ever-improving quality and miniaturization of sensors and robotics will enable the quality, productivity and transformation of all industries around the world. All companies will be brought together by databases and systems thinking. Individual companies simply will need to decide which things they are working on to add value in which industry. The enabling technologies will be exactly the same.”

The most important lesson that business leaders can learn from broad societal and business trends, he said, is the power of operating systems that deliver connectivity. “Information is going to be ubiquitous, and everybody around the world will have access to it,” Mulally said. “Can you imagine what’s going to happen when people get a chance to access that information and work together to create even more value for all of us? Embracing the integration of hardware, software, sensors and systems absolutely will be the key to the future for everybody.”

777: The First All-Digital Airplane

As one of the first executives to bring a traditional heavy industry into the digital age, Mulally sees a parallel between the digital-driven transformation he discerns on the horizon today and what he experienced 25 years ago, when he employed the power of digital technology to break the decades-old paradigm of how commercial airplanes were designed and built.

The year was 1990. Boeing had kicked off development of the “Triple Seven” jet from scratch in 1988, and Mulally was director of engineering. Prior to the 777 model, engineers created physical parts from two-dimensional drawings on paper. Specialists in various departments would design them, but it was up to manufacturing to figure out how to produce and assemble them. Testing form and fit was impossible until the first physical prototype was built.

In Boeing’s previous development of the 767 model, the paper-to-prototype approach had required about 13,000 individual design changes to the door assemblies alone. Management knew that if Boeing was going to deliver the capabilities and quality its customers wanted and complete the even larger 777 project on time and on budget, the company’s approach to designing and building planes needed to change radically.

Boeing had been following trends in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies, in which Mulally had taken a special interest. “We knew that if we could find a breakthrough in how parts are created, so they could be assembled quicker and more easily, we could make a tremendous improvement in the quality of the end product and in our productivity,” Mulally said.

In Boeing’s global search for solutions, Mulally and his team tapped Dassault Systèmes, the developer of CATIA (and the publisher of Compass), which enabled engineers to simulate the assembly of any product – an aircraft, an automobile – in three dimensions in a computer, prior to actual physical production. This capability allowed engineers to verify that all the parts would fit properly before they were manufactured. Theoretically, by virtually eliminating the trial-and-error approach to building and fitting parts, the software could save Boeing substantial time and money.

But could the software be scaled up to simulate and build an entire airplane? Mulally and Bernard Charlès, who was Dassault Systèmes’ president of strategy, research and development in 1990 and is now the company’s president and CEO, thought the case for designing and virtually pre-assembling parts in three dimensions – bypassing paper blueprints altogether – was so compelling that it was worth the risk.

To prove their point, Boeing built a mock-up of the 777’s nose section. The test verified the concept and demonstrated that CATIA could be scaled up to simulate an assembly of the entire airplane. The test was so successful, in fact, that all planned physical mock-ups were canceled.

“Unheard of – never been done!” Mulally exclaimed with as much excitement and pride as if the achievement happened yesterday – not 25 years ago. “It was probably one of the biggest single improvements in the design and manufacturing of airplanes in the last 100 years.” The gamble was such a success, United Airlines accepted the very first production airplane virtually defect-free and on time, a remarkable accomplishment for such a large, complex engineering effort.

Continue reading the rest of this story here, on COMPASS, the 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2016/03/alan-mulallys-perspective-on-the-digitization-of-manufacturing/

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