At BIC, Macroscope is showing what the factory of the future already looks like. "One press of a button for an appointment with a mechanic and work on the broken machine is taken over automatically."
Manufacturers who can control their machinery at the touch of a button, or have jammed equipment automatically checked by a service technician. From the factory, or remotely. It is all possible with the software packages from Epicor. Macroscoop is the Dutch partner of the American software company and helps Dutch clients with implementing this ERP package. At Brainport Industries Campus (BIC), Macroscoop has a so-called customer experience center where companies can try out the various capabilities of the software packages.
On the large screens that are impossible to miss as soon as you enter the experience center, Patrick van Hoorn, manufacturing consultant at Macroscoop, switches on a demo straightaway. He enthusiastically starts talking about the new features of the Epicor Kinetic software package. “Epicor is already taking the next generation of manufacturers into account. These are people in their twenties who simply can’t be kept away from their mobile phones. Entering information in a conventional way – on a keyboard – is not something they like doing. They all talk to their devices. They will soon be controlling the machinery in a factory, by talking to an app on their phone. It’s all going to be much more intuitive.”
These are the kind of innovations you would normally expect from a start-up, not an ‘old hand’ in the trade. Since 1972, the American company has been supplying software packages to support companies in logistics, retail and manufacturing. Among other things, the company’s programs help support manufacturing processes, e.g., ensure that machinery in a sawmill is working properly, or that nothing goes wrong with the shipment or receipt of products. With sales of about $1 billion a year and more than 27 thousand customers around the world, it is a major player in the software market.
Playmobil vs Lego
Macroscoop has been a supplier in the Netherlands of this American software for about twenty years, with a specific focus on the manufacturing industry. In conjunction with manufacturing companies, Macroscoop looks for solutions and support that they need. According to Macroscoop, the software is somewhat similar to the convenience of Playmobil. “You take that out of the box and you can play with it. That’s how Epicor works, too. You don’t want to spend hours puzzling with construction drawings first, like you do with Lego.”
The company at BIC works with the customer to come up with ideas and tries to set up the software to suit their needs. For instance, for manufacturers who want to connect an IoT sensor to their system to measure temperature levels. “That can be done,” says Van Hoorn. According to the project manager, it is important that these kinds of measurement is set up properly. He compares it to a speedometer in a car: “If you don’t use the right wheel sizes, the speed on the counter won’t be correct. You can’t make the right choices to boost production in your factory based on something like that. You can’t learn anything from wrong information. It has got to be right.”
But even if an information flow is correct, some systems are unable to process it. Van Hoorn shrugs his shoulders in bewilderment: “We regularly hear that during demos. But for us, it’s the most normal thing in the world that our software can handle so many different data streams. This is because there is a lot of knowledge and experience behind Epicor that is only continuing to grow. We may not make software, but we do receive a lot of feedback from the industry. We hear what manufacturers are up against and what they need. Like all other Epicor vendors, we share this with America so we can make these products even better.”
Multiple systems communicate with each other
According to CEO Merel Overdevest, Epicor has all the tools in house for industry 4.0 or the factory of the future that companies at BIC are working on. “The beauty of this system is that it connects all the different parts of the factory. Not only the people on the floor have full insight into manufacturing, but salespeople do as well.”
Take an example: “Suppose a certain part is no longer in stock and you need to use something else. You often have to adjust this by hand and discuss it with customers yourself. In Epicor, all these systems are automatically linked to each other. So, if something were to change on the manufacturing side, this would automatically be passed on to the finance and sales departments. This enables you, as a manufacturer, to change gear more quickly and to confer with your customers. This will prevent a lot of misunderstandings. You can also link this automatically to Microsoft Teams, so the mutual contact throughout the manufacturing process is also linked to the rest of the organization,” Overdevest explains.
With all the information that the Epicor MES package (one of the software packages that the company offers, ed.) gathers from various machinery in the factory, manufacturers can not only make their production processes more efficient, but they can also automatically trigger a follow-up step. This works as follows: “For example, you link the injection molding of parts to a weighing scale. The software then sees – let’s say at a weight of 100 kilograms – that a pallet is full. Automatically, a robot then brings a new pallet. Pretty cool, right?”
In the end, only manage exceptions
Without waiting for an answer, Overdevest continues on with her story with enthusiasm. She points to the large screen where a production line is shown in a schematic. One of the machines is blinking red and has stopped working. Overdevest grabs her phone and opens an app. “Look, now I’ll send for a mechanic,” meanwhile she taps on another one of the machines in her app. “This one automatically takes over the work of the broken machine. At the same time, I can also see who has the right skills to work with this equipment, and this also provides you with additional oversight.”
Overdevest holds up her smartwatch. In theory, you could also link wearables to the software – “to check the health of employees on the floor.” According to her, the possibilities are endless. “All aimed at manufacturing as efficiently as possible in the factory of the future. The goal is to eventually manage only exceptions. We have those tools in-house and invite manufacturing companies to see this with their own eyes. Drop by sometime!”
This article is written and published by Innovation Origins