The many different kinds of industrial software that emerged the last 30 years are mostly absorbed by now into supervisory-control, product life-cycle or enterprise-planning software suites.

One exception is “manufacturing-intelligence” software, which tends to come out of the statistical process control space. One observer has noted that plants or corporations that implement a manufacturing intelligence system tend to initiate a practice in it and over time use it to accomplish more and more.

If you’ve just spent the last five years configuring a system instance until it was just the way you wanted it, you don’t want to hear that SAP just bought the master.

InfinityQS International celebrated its 25th year in business at Infusion 2014, held recently in Chicago. 

Hands-on comments

Recarda Schmitz is technical support manager, Coloplast Manufacturing US, which makes skin and wound-care products. Her presentation message was simple: there is too much data now for the answer to be simply, collect it all.

“Why was there so much data collected?” she asked. “It was done to better understand and meet legal and regulatory requirements, but not all the data truly impacted the process.”

Coloplast had accumulated 96 full file drawers of job files, generating about 3,500 word orders a year, with each work order running four pages and more than 19 pages of data gathered per work order.

“Excel is wonderful,” says Recarda, “But it’s not a database and we never instituted a nomenclature for documenting spreadsheets.” When it came time for a solution, “We wanted ease of use, a validation package, a database, technical support, the right amount of statistics, adaptability and expandability, and it needed to be a standalone application and not tied to MES or ERP. Our ERP system is plain vanilla.”

There were challenges involved in getting management, legal and IT teams to agree to the change, but today a single report sheet replaces what was a 19-page spreadsheet.

Data relates to lot genealogy, raw material weighing, process data collection, labor reporting, on-line logs and forms, equipment states and maintenance tracking.

In the future Schmitz hopes work orders will be replaced by standard operating procedures; that bar-code scanning replaces data entry; and greater use is made of tablets, amongst much else.

Three examples

During the expert panel discussion that followed, Zack Tran, an information technology associate at General Cable, noted that manufacturing intelligence is kept separate from other systems because of the need to be lean overall. “Here you are bringing product and process data together. You are able to go back and analyze problematic batches.”

Tracy McConnell, VP of IT technical services, King and Prince Seafood, counted down the many intelligent uses of the system: incoming inspection, variable control, hazard check list and shelf-life data. “Working with cooking platforms, the key variable can be an elusive concept,” McConnell says.

Brad McClave, IT director at Snak King says that at his place what once was done using Excel and Access is now done in an integrated lab and process environment for recording all standard quality checks, with gauge integration soon to follow. Both the MES and quality system contribute to operations dashboards. McClave adds that the plant environment is a big fan of Microsoft SharePoint.

Word from the top

“Companies tend to develop a practice around a tool set that is the software,” says Michael A. Lyle, president and CEO of InfintyQS International. “They often have an initial problem they are seeking to address with the software, validation of regulatory compliance for example. Some stop there. But others begin using the statistics to impact the process.”

While the focus of InfinityQS development work is around Microsoft Windows, as is expected in the industrial space, the Internet is having big impact on the technology side, Lyle notes. There is change in visibility and connectivity in the billions of devices coming on line. There is the cloud that provides implementation and other benefits. But there are also increasing security challenges because of these technologies.

Companies are looking for increased services from technology vendors and being very particular in defining their core competencies, says Lyle. “What we do isn’t plug and play. We have the ability to bring data into rational sub-groups that we can analyze and that leads to engineering change.”

Finally, Lyle says that the company has more than 100 employees, is growing rapidly and has zero long-term debt, as well as offices in Great Britain and China.