This article is influenced by Jim Brown’s study, “How Top Performers Implement, Operate and Maintain PLM Integration ” (Observer #1/2017). The issues raised in this paper clearly show that successful e-production is achieved by ensuring the connection between heterogeneous workflows in the enterprise and the efficient use of data created in different corporate software systems.
Implementing an information system that ensures data concentration and management within production processes is an urgent task for a wide range of companies. Today, the information landscape of most companies is defined by a “zoo” of virtually unrelated systems that perform their functions in their respective production niches. The consequences of such patchwork automation – multiple inputs of the same information, inconsistency between services – determine the time and financial losses, level out the growth of efficiency from applying IT. Many enterprises acknowledge the problem, but that doesn’t mean they understand how to solve it.
As a common solution for the integration of heterogeneous design, technological, production, and financial systems in the organization of “paperless” pilot production of complex engineering products, we suggest considering the APS-Infosfera system created by the teams of several Ukrainian companies.
Prerequisites for the creation of the system
The APS-Infosfera system has become a response to the existing requests of industrial enterprises. Between 2012 and 2014, a number of large enterprises engaged in the design and production of complex engineering products formed the task of qualitatively improving the efficiency of preparation and launch of new samples of equipment into production, as well as the organization of their further serial production.
The complexity of such a task was increased due to these factors:
– the deadlines for the creation and implementation of the proposed software solutions were finite and extremely tight;
– the introduction of new technologies should not lead to a reduction in the existing level of production;
– the range of automation systems for various sections of design, production, material and financial management was formed at the enterprises for decades. At the same time, some of the systems, obsolete from a technical point of view, somehow fulfilled their functional tasks, were serviced by trained personnel and, according to their management, their replacement was not a high-priority task;
– the modern ideology of product life cycle (PLC) support and organization of post-sales service required the creation and tracking of information on each sample of the manufactured product;
– tougher requirements to the reduction of terms and increase of economic efficiency of production determined the necessity of multilateral integration of activities of design, technological, production, material and financial departments to organize optimal planning processes.
Satisfying this list of wishes did not seem to be a trivial task. The first natural reaction from our side was an attempt to convince the company that the elixir of success could be the introduction of another system capable of covering the entire range of existing tasks. However, a long in-depth discussion with customer representatives of the algorithms of functioning of the created solutions led us to the understanding that the existing commercial solutions will provide “running in a circle” with very poor prospects for achieving the desired result in the foreseeable future. The similarity of the requests of different companies pushed us to the idea of the necessity to create a specialized integration solution for a new wide range of tasks. An important factor contributing to the systemic nature of the solution creation was the initial need to dock several PDM/PLM-systems, various technological preparation systems, different-aged and multi-format information programs and databases, as well as independently developed systems by enterprises.
Construction principle – controlling Web-hub
The modern level of information technology development has clearly defined a platform for creating a new solution – a Web-environment of consolidation and management of data and processes within the full range of tasks, the solution of which is necessary for successful design, technological preparation of production (TPP), production and maintenance of the product.
In fact, such a system can be called a controlling Web hub.
The technical implementation of such a solution implies:
– reliance on XML formats to provide cross-system (and, often, cross-module) coordination.
For internal data storage, a mixed model is provided, which mainly uses XML format, but traditional relational tables are used for the attributes that are often involved in the formation of selections;
– the extensive use of web services to implement the necessary functionality of a complex distributed solution. The event mechanism is used to coordinate and synchronize the work of services;
– the fundamental rejection of the direct transfer of voluminous data in inter-system coordination;
– the use of a three-tiered application structure and modern methods of creating screen web- interfaces.
Each of these points is worth exploring in more detail and examining how these factors affect the efficiency and flexibility of the system solution.
The use of XML formats for inter-system coordination provides the necessary “flexibility” and “transparency” of data transfer interfaces.
“Flexibility” of interfaces gives enterprise services the unique ability to choose which specialized systems they work in. As a result, all services work with the tools they are used to and comfortable with.
“Transparency” of interfaces means that any interested user has the ability, if necessary, to verify the data that has been received from the adjacent system.
He can do this in a convenient form, without the obligatory use of special software tools and the obligatory possession of programming skills. As a consequence, errors in transmitted data and their sources are found extremely quickly, data models and business rules of their processing are polished, which allows combining the industrial operation of systems with the processes of their refinement.
Reliance on XML
The use of XML formats for internal representation makes it relatively easy to make changes to the data model, and do it “on the fly”, without taking the system out of production operation mode.
The use of traditional relational database forces, even in the case of minor changes in the composition and structure of attributes (which means changing the structure of the database), to make numerous edits to the source code. However, the database stores XML files in the form of relative independent objects, and changes in the structure and/or composition of these objects have minimal effect on the functioning of the system as a whole, which allows you to make the necessary edits without the risk of losing its operability.
The use of web services provides one of the main advantages of modern web programming technologies. With this approach, functional modules of a complex system can be “scattered” across different web servers of the enterprise’s corporate network, developed and maintained by different groups (services) of programmers.
It is not necessary for an application programmer to know the internal structure of a service. He is required to correctly organize the interaction between the services on the input-output (or rather, request-result) level.
This approach of using standard development and maintenance tools of the system provides an opportunity for an enterprise customer to independently maintain and upgrade the created solution, relieves its dependence on the developer.
Rejection of voluminous data transfer
The absence of the need to transfer big data in cross-system coordination means the following. Instead of chasing voluminous data from system to system and from module to module, only links to the data are transferred. The versatility and “objectivity” of web links make this mechanism particularly efficient and attractive.
A striking and very illustrative example is working with all kinds of 3D models in electronic form. It is well known that the volume of a complex 3D model can be up to several tens of gigabytes, and the mass transfer of such an amount of information from system to system can consume all the computing and network resources of an enterprise. What is the situation with transferring a reference to a 3D model? This volumetric object constantly “lives” where it should be – in the system in which it was generated. Most often “file repositories” are used for this purpose, but in principle, a web link can be organized to any type of information object.
Instead of transferring a huge file (files), a small link to this 3D model is transferred – the size of the link is a few tens of bytes. As they say, feel the difference!
If the user of a technological system, for example, needs to see a 3D model, he activates the link passed to him (e.g., by double “clicking’ the mouse). This automatically starts the software means of accessing this object. Usually, it is a lightweight programmes-viewers, but in the absence of such (or when the firm has nowhere to spend the money) a full-featured system can be used.
The result of this approach is the economical use of computing resources (which means money, operability and performance of the system as a whole) and the guarantee that the user is always provided with the actual data (taking into account all the changes that have been made).
A three-tiered application structure
Using a multi-tiered application structure and modern methods of building screen web-interfaces belongs to the category of best practices in web programming.
Let’s note the main advantages of this approach:
– You don’t need to install specialized client software to work with the system at the user’s workplace;
– All modifications made by the developer become instantly “visible” to all users (depending, of course, on their access rights);
– the tools of the system interfaces are recognizable to users, as they use common web components, familiar to many by everyday work on the Internet;
- the graphical representation of data is separated from the data processing procedures, which makes it technically possible to organize different screen interfaces for different groups of users.
It is important to note that the web-oriented system is corporate in the full sense of the word. Any authorized user can log in to this system from any workstation connected to the corporate computer network of the company.
The number of simultaneous connections is practically unlimited (it is limited only by the capacity of web servers, and if necessary, the number can be increased to several thousand). And this means that the system can be used by any enterprise services in any place and at any time when they need it.
To summarize, it can be stated that the web environment, which acts as a “hub”, accumulates up-to-date information in accordance with all stages of the product lifecycle. Each sample of the manufactured products is accompanied. In this case, not files (bulk data) are stored, but only the current links (URLs) to them. The bulk data are stored and tracked in the systems in which they were created. The mechanism of links allows you to provide the user with only actual information: when the designer changes an object, the link changes, too. During the designer’s change, this link is updated in all associated systems, and all “participants” of PLC processes see this change.
How does it work?
Within a single solution the Controlling Web-hub integrates:
– Design PDM/PLM systems;
– Technological systems at the level of chief technologist services;
– Technological and production systems at the shop services level;
– Test support and TCD systems
– ASEM and/or ERP systems.
- Design stage
A culture of working in PDM/PLM systems has taken hold in most design departments in recent years. Design engineers develop products and product components (parts and assemblies – PAU) in the PDM/PLM environment according to approved methods and refine them by issuing change notices (CN). A project database is formed that stores all the information required for manufacturing and acceptance of the product, taking into account the variability of designs – optionality.
The availability of all this information allows configuring any sample of the product or a series of identical samples. That is, when producing a particular product, a special service of the enterprise configures an item or a series (taking into account all options and CN for the current moment) and maintains their relevance when new CNs are released.
Any modern PDM system has a standard function for uploading project data in PLM-XML format. This format is redundant and contains complete information about all project objects and their connections without exception. This is a huge amount of information with a very complex structure. A special “publishing utility”, extracts from the entire PLM-XML data volume only those data that are actually needed for the next phases of the PLC, simplifies it by using links, and publishes the simplified data in a consistent XML format – sending it to the controlling web hub.
As a result:
– the designer works in a familiar environment;
– The project contains all of the necessary information about the product;
– The designer keeps the product up to date by releasing the CN.
- Stage of technological preparation of production
Filling the components of the design structure with technological data can be done in two ways.
The first option (in our opinion, the more correct one) – technological data are entered by technologists in the PLM system environment. In this case, the configuration service publishes (sends to the controlling web hub) already configured design and technological data.
However, this approach is not common in enterprises. A much more popular option is the use of a process CAD system existing at the enterprise. In this case, to consolidate the structure of design and technological data, our system module called “Launching DD into production” is involved. Its function is to supplement, on the basis of the data generated in the enterprise CAD of TP, all components of the design composition with technological attributes.
The service of the “Launching DD into production” module is called after publishing the design document of release with the associated product or part structure on the APS-Infosfera resource.
This generates the necessary orders for HW and CNC machining, which are then published (by calling the corresponding services) in the independent accounting and registration systems of HW and CNC, where the corresponding processes are organized. In the order passport there are actual links to the technological design files, which are necessary for the design of the HW or CNC machining.
As the result of the technological processing, each element of the published structure is augmented with the following attributes: rationing, delivery terms, samples, technological allowance, labor and material standards, links to the necessary files (including created production requests (PR), etc.), links to HW, CNC. If there are no necessary automation systems at the enterprise, to create a complex solution, it is possible to use CAD-T modules of APS-Enterprise system, as well as UiHW and UiCNC modules, closely integrated with APS-Infosfera system.
As a result (in any variant), the “hub” archive accumulates actual “concentrated” design and technological information for each individual product item. As noted above, voluminous data (a set of files) are not uploaded, but actual links to them are formed.
The production composition formation module (PCFM) is linked to the hub archive. Based on the directive planning instructions, the document of launching (d/l) into production (order, instruction, memo, etc.) and the associated electronic structure “what to make by d/l” are formed. It is created on the basis of the “what is designed” structure available in the “hub” archive and takes into account the anticipatory launch, ” the unfinished work”, etc.
To organize the logistical support, the formed “portion” of the launch document is elaborated. By means of a special service for the corresponding system all necessary information is prepared. After processing the received data, the logistics system returns (using the corresponding service) information on the availability of materials for each PAU.
Integration with operational production planning systems is performed similarly.
- Production stage
At this stage in APS-Infosfera uses a special accounting and registration shop system (ARSS). Let’s consider its work in detail.
After forming the document of launching into production and supplementing it with planning, dispatching and procurement attributes, the service system calls the ARSS service and transfers to it all the attributive information on the task through the agreed XML format. First of all, this is the general part of the d/l (passport) with common attributes – d/l designation, fin. order, item number(s), last CN, etc. In addition, a list of all PAU to be produced under this d/l is attached to it. Each PAU of this list has all the design and technological attributes, including current links to the design-technological files. The PAU designation is a link to the actual object of the design project.
A double click will allow going to this PAU in the project structure: all actual information on it is concentrated there, including links to electronic models, technical requirements, links that allow to get full information on CNC, HW, etc.
Thus, through an ordinary network computer the production has access to all relevant information on the manufactured PAU. The ARSS system provides users of a particular shop with all the information according to the “shop-to-shop routing” and also allows to attach the created production data to a particular PAU (TP, TS, technical sketches, etc.).
The ARSS system consists of several subsystems, corresponding to the structural subdivisions of the workshops: TB (technological bureau), PDB (planning and dispatching bureau), TCB (technical control bureau), PROST.
Let’s consider the principle of operation of subsystems on the example of subsystem URCS-TB.
The main task of the shop’s technical bureau is to develop a complete set of working technological documentation (the concept of “a set of documentation” is transformed with the transition to electronic form, but this is a subject of a separate discussion).
URCS-TB provides the TB specialists with all the up-to-date information on the PAUs produced in the shop. Within the d/l, the head of TB assigns the technologist responsible for each PAU and the deadline for the work. Having received his task (he sees the task on the computer screen), the technologist starts to design the description of the technological process, orders the HWs, etc.
The system, on the one hand, provides him with all the necessary information and, on the other hand, gives him the opportunity to attach the information he created to the “object” link of the PAU for which it is intended. For example, the designing of a technological process can be carried out manually (with the help of a text editor) or with the use of CAD.
In the first case, the URCS-TB automatically generates the necessary forms for a technologist with filled-in fields, for which there is attributive information in the system, and allows to save the already developed document to its archive – a link is automatically created to it, associated with the PAU, for which the technological process was designed. In the same way, related links to other documents are formed – including those to operational sketches created by the technologist according to the annotated electronic PAU model.
If a technologist uses any CAD system, the URCS-TB subsystem transfers the necessary information to it through the service. All the work is performed in the environment of this CAD system, and the created information is stored in its archive – only a link (for example, in the form of TP designation) is attached to the PAU, for which this technological information was created.
The designed technology, after its approval by the Head of TB, is attached to the project and becomes available from any workplace of the computer network of the enterprise – in accordance with the access rights.
For the further work of the PDB the information accumulated in the project is sufficient. At that, the subsystem provides the PDB only with the information that is required by the particular PDB, automates the receipt of certain forms, allows to attach its own documents (for example, the task of the foreman, etc.), and to enter additional attributes.
The subsystems TCB and PROST work in exactly the same way.
- Change recording
From the above, you can see that the web hub system for any PAU has all the relevant information on a particular item, accumulated at different stages of the life cycle.
The system keeps track of all changes. If the designer, by issuing a CN changed the PAU (issued its new revision), then the design part of the project is reconfigured by the event “CN approval”. In the data structure, the “object” link to PAU with the revision “0” disappears and a new one appears with the revision “1”.
The service system republishes (that is, sends according to a pre-described script to all the systems used at different stages of the life cycle) this currently relevant link (the old one disappears), indicating the CN. Naturally, only design attributes will be attached to the new “object” link in the d/l, and attributes from other stages (including operational sketches) will be absent – they are stored in the archives of the systems where they were created, but there will be no links to them in the project. All project participants will have to re-enter their information, or “join” the old one if it is also relevant for this revision. But, in fact, it is an automated internal transaction of the CN.
The interface allows you to see all the basic data by stages and provides, via the corresponding web links, a pass to any system for detailed information. For example, if the production tooling has not yet been produced, then by clicking on the corresponding link of the HW, it is possible to see at what stage it is at. Any objective report on the status of a project, an individual device, an individual DSE can be obtained at any time.
- Stages of testing, TCD
The functionality of the presented software package allows connecting subsystems on account of product testing and interaction with the TCD service.
You can “attach” your own documents: acts, protocols and requests.
If there are actual links to the operational documentation in the web environment of the hub (no matter what tools are used to obtain it), then it will be accessible from any location.
- Interaction with ERP systems
Integration with a wide class of ERP systems is provided on the same principle as with the above-mentioned systems. The ERP subsystems receive the actual product information required for their work from the “hub” – by means of a corresponding query, via the format agreed upon XML. The results of their work are given back in the form of attributes (if they are needed in the project or if they need to be accessed via web links from any workplace in the enterprise network).
As a consequence:
– the “hub” integrates all relevant information for each sample of products;
– access to this information is provided (subject to user rights) from any computer in the enterprise computer network (intranet) through up-to-date web links;
– the service system allows the project participants to add their attributes to the project;
– the procedures for keeping the project up to date are implemented – only the actual data on the particular sample of the products are included in the project;
– it becomes possible to organize the business process of transition from stage to stage of the product life cycle.
As a whole, the solution on the APS-Infosfera platform allows providing integration of information processes and enterprise resources in a short time to create an effective system of electronic production and maintenance of products.
N.А. Lyashenko (SE “Antonov”), А.G. Paramonov (PJSC “Arkada”), А.Y. Popov (SE “Antonov”), А.V. Petrenko (LLC “A-Prosystem”)