Lean Manufacturing, Part 2

12 Oct, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Pelion Systems offers software tools that get to the root of process improvement

In the previous installment of MCAD Tech News (click here for archives), we discussed the fact that the full benefits of lean manufacturing are realized when their principles are applied enterprisewide. Just a few months ago I became aware of a related concept, known as MPO (manufacturing process optimization), put forth in a comprehensive suite of software modules by Pelion Systems. Although not exactly a new principle, MPO obviously focuses on improving the most basic, most important aspect of any lean principle: process. Pelion Systems has been around for nearly ten years and has developed a unique model-based system for optimizing manufacturing processes that synchronize the supply chain with the factory floor.

It’s no secret that global competition is forcing many manufacturers to deliver more custom products faster and at lower prices. These intense competitive pressures, coupled with today’s economic conditions, are forcing manufacturers to look for ways to improve customer-service levels while lowering operating costs and inventory levels. All in all, a tall order. Meeting these competitive and economic challenges requires the transformation of manufacturing processes from forecast-driven (push) to demand-driven (pull).

Pelion Systems’ Solution

In attempting to meet these challenges, many companies are implementing, or have implemented, manufacturing improvement strategies such as lean, six sigma or TPS (Toyota Production System) to improve customer service and response while simultaneously reducing operating costs and freeing up working capital. However, the successes are difficult to sustain, and many efforts end in failure. What causes these manufacturing improvement initiatives to fail? Pelion Systems says it has found several common reasons.

· Lack of software tools to support and sustain initiatives over time.

· Lack of MRP/ERP functionality to support unique operating environments.

· Lack of consolidated factory floor data to support lean calculations.

· Lack of support for the entire manufacturing transformation lifecycle.

· Lack of links between the factory floor and suppliers and customers.

To counter these historical problems, Pelion’s MPO modular suite of software is designed to automate manufacturing transformation methods and operational practices. The software integrates with a customer’s MRP/ERP systems, enhancing the performance of existing enterprise applications and linking them to unique shop floor requirements and configurations. A key to success and a critical aspect of the Pelion Systems approach is synchronization of materials and resources necessary for managing a company’s extensive supply chains.

Because of the graphical nature of its software, Pelion MPO simplifies complex mixed-model line designs and supporting data relationships. The software provides tools for quickly analyzing and responding to changes in product mix or volume while balancing line and load requirements with actual demand. Management tools optimize shop floor materials replenishment and velocity while supplier management communication and portals ensure smooth product flow in response to actual demand. If all this sounds complicated, it is, but after some training can be handled with the assistance of the various software modules.

A Modular Approach

Pelion MPO software is offered as a diverse range of six modules that can be implemented as specific needs dictate, based on the type of industry being supported, whether it’s automotive or more general discrete manufacturing. Because the individual modules are really enterprise scale, to maximize their impact and effectiveness they are meant to be integrated with existing ERP/MRP systems.

The six modules are:

· Process Optimizer. Interactive process design and modeling tools streamline manufacturing cycle times, reduce nonvalue-added work and increase customer flexibility and factory shipping performance.

· Demand Manager. Optimizes daily production efficiencies with a resource planning engine. Compares actual demand volume and mix to factory resources for optimizing daily scheduling and load balancing.

· Factory Manager. Implements a demand-pull material flow process with internal signals for cycles of replenishment for production and materials. Reduces material shortages and optimizes inventory turnover by analyzing and supporting changing material requirements.

· Supply Manager. Extends demand-pull materials flow to internal and external suppliers via the Internet to reduce effective lead times with rapid response for replenishment.

· Distribution Manager. Extends pull production system directly across the supply network, including suppliers, subcontractors, other plants, warehouses, distribution and logistics partners and customers.

· Performance Manager. Integrates Pelion MPO with existing legacy, ERP/MRP systems. Provides tools to plan, customize, lead, execute and control MPO initiatives using data-collection and visual tools.

One of the things that impresses me most about Pelion Systems’ software and approach is that it is adaptable to current business operations, and not the other way around. Because you can graphically model current manufacturing operations with the various modules, you can quickly identify and target areas for improvement and perform implementation in phases, instead of the Herculean task of trying to improve everything at once.

Looking Ahead

Expect to see manufacturing process optimization grow in visibility and importance as a key manufacturing improvement strategy for companies of all sizes, encompassing virtually all industries that produce goods and services. It’s all about perpetual process improvement.

In the next edition of MCAD Tech News, we’ll conclude this short series on lean manufacturing principles and trends with an introduction to a relatively new concept known as lean consumption – a process through which consumers get exactly the goods and services they want.

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