Data Drives Microsoft Dynamics and Other ERP Systems

Bob Karschnia, VP & GM of Wireless, Emerson Automation Solutions
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Bob Karschnia, VP & GM of Wireless, Emerson Automation Solutions

Bob Karschnia, VP & GM of Wireless, Emerson Automation Solutions

According to Microsoft, its Dynamics software “is designed for businesses looking for an all-in-one business management solution that's easy to use and adapt.” It connects “finances, sales, service, and operations to streamline business processes, improve customer interactions, and enable growth.”

This article will focus on the operations aspect of Microsoft Dynamics, and the points discussed will also apply to other business management software solutions, such as those provided by Oracle and SAP. The entire group of these solutions will be referred to generically as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

 The more high-quality data supplied to the ERP system the better, as this data can be shared across the enterprise to improve operations 

When it comes to manufacturing operations, no ERP system can function without a reliable supply of data. In general, the more high-quality data supplied to the ERP system the better, as this data can be shared across the enterprise to improve operations. This is one of the main expected benefits of the IoT in general, commonly referred to as the industrial internet of things (IIoT) in manufacturing environments.

In Emerson’s view, the IIoT is a logical extension of the work they have been doing for years to deliver value to manufacturers. Using the IIoT to connect to ERP systems and supply data is therefore a logical step, and one that has already been taken by many of Emerson’s customers.

Before we examine how the IIoT provides data to ERP systems, let’s look at bottom line reasons why manufacturers should be interested. According to Emerson’s research, there is a $1 trillion opportunity for process plant operators if they move to the top quartile in terms of safety, reliability, production and emissions. Figure 1 shows how this value was calculated.

What does it mean to be in the top quartile?

• Reduction of recordable safety incidents by two-thirds
• Operating costs 20 percent lower thanks to 10 percent higher plant utilization
• Emissions and energy use drop by 30 percent
• Improved reliability cuts maintenance costs in half and increases plant availability by 4 percent.

Process plant automation systems use the IIoT to work in concert with ERP and other systems to deliver these benefits. In manufacturing plants, the IIoT starts with the collection of data related to process paraments such as flow, temperature, level, pressure, etc.

This data has traditionally originated with wired instruments, but is now increasingly being collected by wireless sensors, often using WirelessHART networks. The reason for the move to wireless is primarily lower installation costs, often half of the cost of installing a wired instrument. Installation time is typically much quicker, about one-third the time to install a wired instrument. Modern wireless instruments come with power modules lasting ten years or more, providing trouble-free operation for many years.

Whether wired or wireless, the data collected must be sent to multiple software platforms, one of them often an ERP system. If the ERP system is on premise, then these connections are typically Ethernet-based via an intranet. If the ERP system is cloud-based, then these connections are also Ethernet-based, but via the Internet. Getting the data to the ERP system in a reliable manner is the first and most critical step, with the next steps encompassing the use of this data.

In some cases, data from instruments and sensors is sent directly to the ERP system. But more typically, this data is first processed in an edge analytics software application. These types of applications take the data and translate it into the type of high-level information required by an ERP system in a manufacturing environment.

For example, an ERP system would typically not display a temperature from a distillation tower in a refinery, but might instead display and distribute a single number indicating the performance of the tower. This type of performance-related information is often referred to as a key performance indicator (KPI), and it provides high-level information regarding performance and other business metrics at a glance.

Another useful KPI might be the overall output of each of a refinery’s products in gallons per day. This information could be viewed by ERP users in a variety of areas to produce a number of benefits.

Accounting would be very interested because output is closely related to revenue. The salesforce could view these numbers and get an idea of the volume of output they could promise for sale to their customers. The purchasing department could relate output to required crude oil input to determine how much feedstock to buy.

Business analysts could examine the amount of each product produced and suggest changes to the product mix to maximize total value. They could also compare output across an entire fleet of refineries to determine the optimum output mix for each plant.

Operations management would of course be very interested in these numbers and would typically drill down if the output was significantly less than expected. This could be done by viewing more detailed KPIs within the refinery, such as the performance of various units like the aforementioned distillation towers. Still further investigation could be carried out by plant engineers and technicians, often by interacting directly with the real-time control system.

In all cases, from top level KPIs provided to operations management to detailed information provided to plant personnel, the supply of high-quality and reliable data is the key. This makes wired instruments and wireless sensors the foundation of the IIoT, and of ERP systems in manufacturing enterprises.

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