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The manufacturer of soft furniture Neiser, who has been implementing the so-called digital shift since the spring of the previous year, has taken the management of their production to a new higher level, whereby web-based visualised data enable to monitor the pace of production practically in real time and make relevant operative management decisions.

Implementation of new production and process management platform was induced by the need for better planning of production with less mistakes, in order to be a reliable partner for the customers. In other words, this meant a shift to digitalised level Industry 4.0, including implementation of innovative technologies in the entire supply chain for maximum efficient use of the resources of the industrial company.

While most companies try to achieve this objective through the software solutions of enterprise resource planning (ERP), in Neiser a new production management platform was created with the assistance of the IT company Columbus Estonia focused on the provision of digital solutions, which is based on ERP, but is at the same time connected with business analysis programme Microsoft Power BI. The latter enables interactive analysis and visualisation of data received from ERP, creation of dynamic overviews related to production and distribution of such overviews to various user groups as necessary.

Need to manage production data

Factory manager of AS Neiser Group August Kull explains that ERP is a tool with good analysis capacity, but retrieval and processing of necessary information is rather bothersome, and therefore, in order to make fast management decisions, retrieval of information from the system had to be improved and adapted to the needs of Neiser.

This was made possible through connection of ERP with Power BI – according to the words of August Kull, such solution enables to achieve many variations of the information generated by ERP from the production of the furniture industry, which can be regularly extracted from the entire data volume, analysed and made easily visible for the users with Power BI. For this purpose, Neiser is using Prodmaster software.

As the contemporary production, such as relocation of resources, should be as fast and flexible as possible in order to ensure efficiency, it is important for the management to possess as operative information as possible about the whole production process, from general parameters of the work of various departments to computation of potential and actual contribution of each employee.

Neiser had drafted initial task to the IT company – which information is needed from ERP, how it should be available, how it could be visualised and with which interval the data should be updated. Up to the smallest details, such as: which part of the information is included in tables and which part in diagrams, with which colour some subsection should be presented, etc.

„We decided that for us it is sufficient, if data are updated every hour. Several inputs for various analyses were placed on the desktop of the programme. From the point of view of production monitoring, overview of the operation of different departments of a factory is the most important aspect. For example, if a product has been accepted to production, I already know the load it will cause to various departments in coming periods, and how it will match our production capacity,” describes August Kull the main principle of digital production monitoring. „For weeks, the resource capacity of each department is visible with the precision of an hour, as well as production plan and execution of the plan compared to capacity. In other words – I can see practically in real time, how we have been able to cover the capacity of our departments with sale, where are available resources, and where the resources are lacking in some period of time. Knowing all this, the management can correct resource capacity as necessary inside a department or between departments.”

Digital shift excludes promises without a cover

In different departments, resourse capacity is calculated based on the capacity of operating centres, of the staff, or combination of both. Precondition for purpose-oriented use of these data is digitalisation of the whole information, so that before a product is sent to production, it already includes the information for characterising technological process of the product – e.g. how much material is needed for the production, what is the time consumption by operating centres and by materials, when the product will be completed, etc. Possession of this information and ability of its operative management contributes much to the planning of operation of the entire plant. In simple words, managers have constant overview of the efficiency of use of the capacity of the plant. They can see, how much of the plan has been completed in the selected period, how high is the „debt” of a department, how high will be the production capacity in the future, and further the knowledge will enable to prevent undertaking excessive work. All this information is visible also on the level of departments.

„My experience has shown that we can retrieve and analyse data and make relevant decisions very fast and precisely. Even if the error is two or three per cent in some stage, the decision is still correct in extent of 97%,” says Kull. „But if I do not pay attention to the data, and make decisions based on instinct or derivation, they can be up to 100% wrong. This platform displays all data graphically „spoon-feed”.”

For example, a time axis is generated for the products in Neiser, which helps to understand, how high is the reserve in various departments and how much production can be taken in. This enables to check that the reserve time would not exceed the critical limit – to ensure that production is smooth in all stages and nobody has to wait for anybody else.

„The common practice is to accept a new order whenever it is proposed. And when it is asked, when the order will be completed, they say, for example – by 5 February. But what is the basis for promising such date? Do you have the necessary production resource?” tells August Kull. „And then, the delays will start – sorry, we cannot make it by 5 February, maybe after a week, etc. We cannot afford such game. More than one hundred sofas are dispatched daily from the factory, 97% of Neiser’s production is exported through very different logistic channels, and our delivery must be precise. When we promise something, we shall fulfil the promise. Our current digital platform helps to avoid promises without a cover.”

Saving labour force and resources

In principle, these data existed also before, but they had to be submitted manually, matched and analysed with separate programmes. All this took time, and therefore the data needed for making decisions reached the decision-makers with great delay and were not used. Now the machines or loggers transmit all necessary information into the system, as the products move in the factory. Human role in the recording of working time and production volume has become minimal.

„At the moment, these data are available for me with a single press of a button,” describes Kull the progress of the company in digitalisation. „Machine is essentially planning all our operations; there is only one person in the building, who is responsible for planning. If I could not use this digital system, I cannot imagine, how much medium-level managers should be kept in the company.”

In the opinion of August Kull there is no need to fear bottlenecks in industrial management, because these anyway sometimes occur in certain stages; instead, the real dangers are unexpected problems. It is important to be able to resolve the bottlenecks when they arise, and for that purpose the platform using ERP data and Power BI analysis is almost perfect, based on the contemporary knowledge. Problems arising in the factory were learned also with just the help of ERP, but unfortunately only after the problem had already arisen. Now any potential problems are foreseen for long enough to take measures in advance for their solution.

Furthermore, production data are visible also to the employees in all departments: how much has been done in a specific week and day, how much still remains, and how high is the debt per day and week, taking account of the capacity of the department. This will help everyone to monitor their contribution and engagement, and such overview provides also motivation for more efficient work.

„I would describe the digital development of Neiser as follows: while we used to navigate with a paper map in the past, we now move from point A to point B with a navigation device, which shows us also any dangers, obstructions, closures on the road, etc,” says August Kull. „This way we can see early any potential failures and as we have enough time, we can eliminate these failures in good time.”

Text: Ain Alvela. The composure of the article were supported by European Regional Development Fund, Interreg Baltic Sea Region programme project DIGINNO.
Published: December 2020, Photo: Neiser Group