EN News TypeCurrents & Trends - 10.03.20

Networked Systems: Back and Forth in the Background

6 typical application areas for bus-based communication

It has never been easier to network people, IT systems, machines, and sensors. Besides classical one-to-one interfaces, it is more and more a service-oriented architecture which ensures quick data exchange. In this article, the ERP provider proALPHA has compiled a list of the 6 most common use cases.

It's quick and easy to directly connect two systems via a programmable interface. However, there's always the risk of a complex and error-prone network of connections and dependencies. For this reason, more and more companies switch to a so-called service-oriented architecture where an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) engages in the background as communication channel between IT, devices, and machines. The benefit: All connected systems only send their data to the ESB once. The information can then be retrieved by whoever requires it. Besides pure data logistics, the bus also translates the information into other values, formats, or languages. This is what makes this middleware so strong and versatile. In this article, the ERP provider proALPHA has compiled 6 of the most important fields of application:

  1. Sharing machine statuses and production data in real time
    Not only the IT systems are networked in the smart factory. Machines, sensors, and even workpieces actively communicate as well. This requires a reliable data juggler that transmits production specifications to the machines and returns statuses, lot sizes, and scrap rates to production planning and production control – and all of this completely automatically. This way, a middleware like proALPHA Integration Workbench reduces cycle times and increases the process reliability at the same time.
  2. Integrating special applications
    If companies wanted to avoid an interface chaos in the past, they oftentimes resorted to a monolithic ERP system. It was able to cover many functional divisions but required compromises in process design. Thanks to service-oriented architectures, companies now have more flexibility and freedom of choice. Software packages can be integrated as required, including special applications for quality management, storage area management, delivery or group consolidation. Consequently, system disruptions and data silos are a thing of the past. When processes are changed, only little effort is needed for maintenance and the adaption of interfaces. It's oftentimes enough to only adjust the one interface to the bus.
  3. Excellent self-service for customers
    Nowadays, customers don't just expect a quick delivery on time. They also want to be informed at any time: How many items of the product of choice are still in stock, how long will production and delivery of a variant take, what is the status of my order? Answering all these questions via telephone or e-mail would by far exceed the resource framework of the company. By means of a configurator and self-service portals, customers can interact directly with the manufacturer 24/7. Already today, many ERP providers offer solutions for this in their portfolio. However, if you want to use a different portal or shop system, a middleware can help with the direct communication in real time.
  4. International intercompany processes
    By means of an ESB, product data or master files can be synchronized between several production and sales locations and documents can be automatically exchanged – be it bills of materials, dispatch notifications or invoices. In addition, a middleware provides assistance where different laws and regulations turn international business into an obstacle course. This way, data silos and country-specific applications like the Russian accounting software 1C:Accounting become part of seamless processes across companies and locations.
  5. Connecting partners
    More and more companies organize themselves in vertical supply chains. Consequently, the data flow cannot come to a halt at company borders. A middleware like proALPHA Integration Workbench provides a close technical alliance with suppliers or production partners while staying in the background. Nevertheless, users, suppliers and partners can feel the benefits of a seamless information exchange.
  6. Industrial Internet of Things brought to life
    Rigid maintenance cycles are "so yesterday". Now, products "communicate" directly with the manufacturer and inform him if something is not right. This is possible since statuses of systems, machines and other products are continuously analyzed, e.g. by means of a programmable logic controller (PLC). In case of an anomaly, it will sound the alarm via the ESB in the ERP system. Consequently, the ERP will automatically inform the service or, depending on the case, it might even commission a technician directly. This works for commercial coffee machines just as for plants in industrial use. The manufacturer can spring into action even before the first problems arise with the product, since probabilities for an imminent problem can be derived from data of load-dependent reliability analyses, previous failures and models about the wear of individual parts. With this, maintenance measures can be planned ahead and performed without operational disruption, completely in line with real predictive maintenance.

The fact that employees, machines, customers, and suppliers can be linked so easily by means of a bus software offers great potential for redesigning and improving processes. Since manual work is no longer necessary for system transitions, processes run more quickly and more safely. Additional systems and devices can be connected at short notice. Furthermore, process costs are reduced as the ESB requires less maintenance and it is no longer necessary to update one-to-one interfaces. All of this improves a company's efficiency, makes room for other tasks and thereby opens up new opportunities.

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