For some time now, production experts have observed that the functions of industrial internet of things (IIoT) platforms and manufacturing execution systems (MES) – software that tracks the process from raw materials to finished goods – are increasingly overlapping. Users must find the right building blocks from over 400 available solutions. With an existing system landscape, the selection becomes a Herculean task.
Diehl Metering – which belongs to the Diehl Group – also faced the problem of operating with a heterogeneous solution architecture. The company employs around 1,600 staff members at seven locations worldwide and manufactures water, thermal energy, gas and electricity metering devices.
As an internationally active company in a volatile market with increasing product variance, Diehl Metering requires flexible development of assembly capacities and shortened lead times to deliver operational excellence. Having analysed the shop floor IT landscape, an interdisciplinary team found that these sites used more than 30 software solutions with MES functionalities. The diversity of solutions made it difficult to set up flexible production capacities.
The challenge for Diehl Metering was therefore to completely reorganise the existing IT landscape while keeping investments and timelines within a competitive framework. The goal was to be able to assemble any product semi-automatically at any location.
We decided to address these challenges with a global MES-IIoT strategy, with the goal of harmonising the internationally distributed system landscape and maintaining the competitive core functionalities through specialised MES solutions.
We first established the functional requirements for an MES and recorded the currently used solutions in an IT landscape analysis. We decided on a best-of-breed solution in each of the various manufacturing styles and the team then specified which of the 10 MES function modules were core or additional. Core functions are considered absolutely necessary for production so should be retained locally in the MES of the respective manufacturing segment. Additional functions, on the other hand, must be harmonised across all sites and manufacturing segments, and should be implemented in the future based on Microsoft Azure services.
To bring this to life, Diehl Metering has introduced the Manufacturing Data Platform built on Azure. It enables us to flexibly process, store and display data from the relevant systems. As a result, we have been able to significantly increase the transparency of production processes and the comparability of sites.
We were also able to retain the strengths of the previous systems. By separating on-premises and additional functionalities, we have created an anti-fragility design that enables continued, autonomous production at each site even in the event of a network failure. This hybrid approach also enabled us to establish a cross-site and scalable MES-IIoT environment with low investment and downtime risk.
In addition, the Manufacturing Data Platform has helped us to further modernise our IT landscape by providing access to Azure services such as machine learning, the IoT Hub and application programming interface services. These provide a step-by-step approach without disrupting production processes.
Diehl Metering used a systematic IT efficiency model to develop its MES-IIoT strategy, which helped to create a future-proof solution architecture that considers budgetary constraints and general conditions. Key factors for its success included the support of the management team to implement an innovative hybrid approach of MES and IIoT cloud. We believe that the selection of the right shop floor IT solutions depends on the individual requirements of an organisation. With Azure, we were able to implement a modern solution architecture that was customised just for us.
Sebastian Wäschle is analytics project manager at Diehl Metering
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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