SiO2 Medical & Grantek Systems Integration

Business Systems Connectivity

26-minute video  //

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Business Systems Connectivity

Jesse Records (00:02):
Welcome everyone to the Flexible MES Conference for 2021. This is our Sepasoft® Virtual Conference, and for this session we’re going to be talking about business systems connectivity. So…connecting to external systems, bringing that into your Ignition® system, and utilizing that data as part of your workflow.

I’m joined today by Ryan Thompson and John Blalock. Ryan, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.

Ryan Thompson (00:32):
Sure. Hi, my name’s Ryan Thompson. I’m the Director of Client Success for Grantek Systems Integration, a Sepasoft® premier partner. I’ve been with Grantek just about 15 years now, based out of our office in sunny Fort Lauderdale. Hand it off to John.

John Blalock (00:49):
How you doing? I’m John Blalock at SiO2 Material Sciences. We are… I’ve been with the company pretty much since we started up 8 years ago and designed and laid out the information systems and integration to our shop floor, working with Ryan.

Jesse Records (01:11):
Great, thanks guys. And I’m Jesse Records. I’m one of the MES Design Consultants here at Sepasoft®. So I mainly work with new customers and existing customers, help with architecture, answering questions, that kind of thing. So looking forward to the discussion today.

So for this first section of this webinar, we’ll talk about business connectivity tools that Sepasoft® provides. With the project that we’ll be discussing specifically, we’ll talk about Web Services and the Business Connector. But as an introduction to the tools, first, we have Web Services. So Web Services allows you to connect to external REST or SOAP API endpoints. And on the other side, it allows you to create API endpoints on your Ignition® gateway that external systems can then access. This could be custom applications, it could be other applications out on the floor that you want to retrieve data from or receive data from. So that’s the Web Services module and it integrates with the Business Connector.

So what is the Business Connector? It’s a visual sequencing tool that allows you to drag and drop your connections, whether it’s a connection to a REST or SOAP endpoint or an interface to SAP, both are supported. And you can also sequence through data from a database via named queries if you’re familiar with that. But the tool itself when you’re building what are called charts, and I’ll show you some of those, they’re kind of self-documenting. They’re very simple to understand when you understand all the little components of the chart and kind of results in much lower total cost of ownership.

So we’re reducing that script load that traditionally folks had to do to interface with external systems and making it just much more intuitive. That’s Business Connector briefly. So you can see here from this example, I’m dragging and dropping connections as I’m…in this case…connecting to SAP. Where traditionally on the left here you’re having to script this kind of thing. So reducing the script load significantly, making it much easier to manage over time.

So that last tool to talk about is also the Interface for SAP ERP and that’s that native connection to SAP. And we’re going to pull in objects from SAP dynamically, so it’s not like a static list or anything like that. We’ll pull in what’s exposed on your SAP system. We had that certified by SAP Labs, went through all the security and kind of load testing scenarios, and it also ships with a bunch of pre-built charts. So you could build a chart from scratch or it comes with a whole host of charts with the module as far as getting production orders, goods issues, and receipts. And kind of those common scenarios that you’re likely going to be encountering.

All right, so Ryan, go ahead and take it away and let’s get into talking about your project.

Ryan Thompson (04:52):
Thanks a lot, Jesse. So I guess a bit of history on this. I started working with John and the team at SiO2 Materials Science back in April or May of 2019, so two and a half years now. And John’s team was in the process of implementing an ERP system. They already have an MES system with Sepasoft® that was doing some recipe and recording or recipe and trending functionality. And they wanted to leverage the investment they’re making with the ERP system, what they already have with Ignition® and Sepasoft® MES.

And really they wanted a solution to get real-time manufacturing data at the machine level with no manual intervention. So what that means is we don’t want operators on two different systems. We don’t want to have operators using an SAP GUI to do things that are complicated, it doubles training and it looks at licensing costs. And then importantly getting that information as close to real-time as possible so that business stakeholders can make decisions and take action on that information.

So as I mentioned, by the time we got engaged in this project, SiO2 had an Ignition® Sepasoft® system installed for some time. I don’t know how long it had been there. But like I said, it’s primarily doing recipe handling and data logging for some of their proprietary processes. And since they already had the licensing and the server infrastructure set up and with the release of the Business Connector module and with John’s vision of having a completely web service integrated business system, it really made sense to kind of invest further into these technologies.

As a bonus problem we got to solve as well, SiO2 had to increase their business on the order of 10000% to respond to market disruptions caused by COVID. We had to scale the MES system accordingly. So when the system was originally designed for say dozens or hundreds of transactions a day, we actually had to scale that up to on the order of thousands to 10 thousands in order to meet their business needs.

So with that said, I’ll go into a little bit of a project demonstration, which will kind of explain some of the features of the Business Connector Web Services module, how we integrated it, how little customization is involved, and how someone even… I like to call myself a recovering Controls Engineer, I didn’t program any of this. But I’m able to jump on with the Ignition® platform and with Sepasoft® and troubleshoot issues, debug things, and see how everything is built. So, I think that says a lot to how simple the system is to deploy.

All right, so as you can see now I’ve got the Ignition® designer are open and you can see on the left here I’ve got my nice Sepasoft® plugins. So I’m going to talk about a few things with this project and how we use the technology and all the connectivity points we have into their ERP system. So see here the Business Connector, we have a few charts here. The one that I like to talk about the most is this B-L-E-O-I-T-M chart. The chart we make the best use out of.

So as you can see here, this is kind of drag-and-drop programming. It’s pretty simple start-to-end. But what’s really nice here is we are taking the web service endpoints and mapping them to work order objects. And when we’re configuring this, it’s just a matter of literally dragging and dropping responses from the web service into Ignition® tags.

And the purpose of this chart here is actually to just get material information. So product codes and descriptions and quantities and weights and any sort of material properties we might have. But what’s great about this is they update their item masters in SAP and whatever item and whatever bill of materials comes along with that. And when our connectivity… Sorry, when our web services realizes once we’ve loaded that product, “Hey, we don’t have this product number,” or “We don’t have this material.” We run this chart and we get all of the properties forwarded and update our materials database on the fly.

So that’s saving people a lot of time by, we have somebody that knows SAP that can configure item masters. We don’t need somebody on the MES or operation side going to configure the equivalent materials in an MES. It just happens seamlessly whenever we’re detecting a difference in configuration.

So then you can see how easy it is to just kind of drag and drop, “Oh, I can figure out the item name is coming from this field here.” And it’s not necessarily in the same old order, although that’s just kind of how we used to define data types and work order properties. But if we look through here, you can see all of these charts are super simple and you can imagine the little bit of programming that we had to do, it was super… Really minimal to get all of this charting done.

The web services piece is really the backbone of this though. So all of these charts are referencing equivalent web services here. So that’s where the bulk of the work and testing and handshaking has gone on. So you can see we have web service endpoints defined here. And primarily we are pulling information from the ERP system on demand. We’re not really pushing information onto it, although we’re kind of working on a couple of use cases for that in the background. But you can see here we’ve got a nice JSON post. It’s really easy. We just have the web service endpoints defined, material submission production. We have production receipts and time receipts and they’re all pretty… All this is brought in automatically when we hit the endpoint URL.

What we really like about web services in particular as opposed to different methodologies of integration is if we were to use something like SQL tables for instance, the handshaking becomes problematic. It’s not real time acknowledge, not acknowledge, and this way every transaction we’re either through or we can take action on the MES or ERP side when a transaction doesn’t fail… Sorry, when a transaction isn’t issued successfully. And a little bit later on I’ll show you how we were monitoring that and notifying when those things aren’t happening.

We’ve also done something where now we’re all of their labels are web service printed, so taking advantage of the module in another way. What this allows us to do is… Sorry, it allowed us to take a lot of load off of our SQL server. By that again, we get the web service responses, which is helpful. And what we’re doing with a lot of these web labels are when a label is printed on a container, now we can scan it in a different places in the production process and either issue materials to a work order or issue finished goods to the warehouse based on what’s being scanned in that barcode.

The other thing I wanted to show real quick here in terms of what’s been customized and what’s not been is an example of the production model here. So we can see a representative line here. We have a couple of tags that monitor good parts and bad parts, a couple of tags that monitor mode and state of each machine. And then some modules might have some recipe information in them as well. But all we’re doing here is just mapping them to standard Ignition® tags so there’s nothing proprietary or customized. I don’t have to click on this and go in to see a script that’s running and debug all that. It’s kind of right out of the box.

So with that said, I’m going to transition onto the interface now and kind of give you all an idea of how operators would interact with this system. Basically, I’m simplifying this a little bit and I’m not going to press any buttons, John, so you don’t have to worry about me about breaking anything.

When a user wants to start a work order, all they have to do, they click on the work order they want to start. You can see this one is already active and they’re hitting start, and then there’s a couple of questions when they go to set something up. And what that’s doing is it’s just turning on everything in the Sepasoft® module and now we’ve got all the information we need loaded to populate the web service commands.

I guess taking a step back from that, these items that are on the schedule here are also being sent in via web service. And that’s when a work order object is loaded in, that’s when we’re doing that material reference check that I had mentioned earlier. So we’re looking at, “Hey, is this a new material yes or no?” If it’s not, we’ll just throw it on the schedule and if it is, we’ll go back and add the material into the database before we load the work order into production.

One thing we’re doing right now is, I think I mentioned that we’re only pulling information from SAP. So what we’re doing in our schedule right now is we’re checking SAP periodically for changes and then loading those changes in. In the future, we’re going to be taking advantage of having the Web Service module actually be an endpoint and having ERP notify Sepasoft® via web services that a schedule change has been made. And then loading that individual schedule element. So that should be helpful going forward, reducing the load on the system and only doing things in a push-pull method instead of a pull.

So I talked about the number of transactions that we’re handling. So SiO2 is tracking everything to the tub level. So that means for them somewhere between 48 and a hundred parts per tub are traced. And as you can imagine they’re making millions of vaccine vials on other devices. So we’re doing… By calculating that we’re doing hundreds of thousands of calculations. So how do we handle all those? How do we make sure the load is good? I think I talked a little bit about the bonus problem that we had by scaling up our systems because of the number of machines that we’ve added, the number of transactions. And we did have to do a little bit of optimization work, packaging these transactions 10 at a time so that the web service on the ERP side could handle it a little bit better. But overall it scaled pretty seamlessly.

We did add a redundant server and the reason for that was just business continuity and criticality. But overall, we scale from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of transactions pretty seamlessly. We’ve just been adding machines onto the production model and going from there. So we have a couple of interfaces and a couple of notification methods where transactions aren’t going well. So you can see here we’re looking at this… This is our transaction type. We’re looking at the BSL sub PR, which is a production receipt and it’s showing the last however many transactions, and these are all good.

We can filter to just show failed transactions and these transactions would have a reason around them, but this allows people to see what’s going on. We can look at if there’s a response, what the error is here, and we could actually retry this transaction if we wanted to. If we had diagnosed the cause of this and wanted to retry this, we could. There’s also bulk resubmissions, and again, because we have this all via web service, it’s super easy to just retry the web service call again. And if it goes through, great. If it doesn’t, then there’s obviously some more diagnosing to do.

Another use case that we’ve been looking at recently is backflushing. So, I think if we go back to the goals of the project to have real-time information, backflushing has been something new to this project. We realized early on that we’ve had a lot of success with every transaction that was automatic, whether that’s a material issue because we’ve scanned a barcode coming into production or we’ve created a new type of product. So we’ve now issued that as finished goods.

The automatic transactions were very successful, the transactions that relied on human intervention or humans typing in, “Hey, which batch number of this did you use and how much of it did you use?” That was not as successful I’ll say. So we’ve been starting recently with backflushing, so now that we’re… Every product that we make, we can reverse engineer the bomb and say, “Hey, we use this much of each material.” So instead of doing a batch issue of material to start a work order, we’re doing it kind of on the micro level as we create each product. So that’s kind a work in progress.

Right now, we’ve started with resin. So for injection molded products, we might issue materials a hundred grams at a time or something to that magnitude. And now we get much better accuracy on those inventory transactions as well.

Jesse Records (18:36):
Ryan, do you guys trigger that web response or that web communication or is that someone has to come in and backflush?

Ryan Thompson (18:46):
No, it’s all completely automatic. So the production system we’ll look at, we have a… We had to add a configuration table for this. So we have a configuration table in SQL that will say these materials are able to be backflushed. And right now, like I said, it’s just injection molding resins. And so when a production order comes across, it has that material in the bill of materials. It will automatically issue those web service calls as long as it’s been configured. And we have a little screen that shows which equipment is connected to which resin storage location. And that way again, there’s just less transactions with SAP here as well because they can just do it all from the interface.

I think… Like I said earlier, one of the goals of this project was to have one interface. This kind of reduces training costs, it also reduces licensing costs from the ERP. We don’t have to have ERP workstation licenses, but it’s also one interface to train all the operators on so they don’t have to go moving bins around in SAP. Because that’s the only time that that operator would ever interact with SAP would be for this one function. Whereas, they’re using the MES system a lot more frequently. So it’s something that they’re familiar and comfortable with already.

John Blalock (20:05):
And that has been a huge savings on licensing for the ERP. It’s saved us substantially there. It also… Again, when a user that logs in to the system, one system every day to do all that they have to do on the shop floor is a huge benefit. Other than now, anytime anything goes wrong, it’s because of MES. If they hadn’t received the material, MES has a problem even though it truly is on the ERP side. But it really… That’s where the shop floor lives.

Ryan Thompson (20:57):
What were the benefits of the system? Did we meet our goals? So I think we increased the accuracy of parts produced in raw materials inventory. All automatic transactions are seamless. People don’t even know they’re happening, which I think is the ultimate measure of success, is they don’t even notice that they’re doing anything different. They’re just running the machine and everything is happening in the background. The interface that handles transactions on the tub level, so we have traceability to that level. And like I said, we’re now handling hundreds of thousands of transactions and going back, this allows SiO2 to say to their customers, “Hey, we can trace raw materials to this level.” Which helps for FDA compliance, which is kind of beyond the scope of this presentation.

I think we have one easy-to-use interface that reduces training and takes advantage of the unlimited licensing model. So, John, I don’t know how many computers you have out there on the shop floor now on the order of 50 or 60.

John Blalock (21:54):
I’d even say a little bit higher than that. I’d say we’re getting really close to a hundred.

Ryan Thompson (22:00):
Like I said, we added a redundant server, but we haven’t done much else and we also haven’t had to pay any additional licensing fees. It’s just been the normal support that we pay to keep up-to-date and up-to-date on versioning.

And, I think this goes into the first point, so continuous improvement activities are now driven off of automatically collected data. And allows a really busy engineering and production team to be pointed in the right direction to know what issues to solve. Instead of, “Hey, this machine isn’t working.” We’re going to guess at the problems, or we’re going to guess which machine is the problem. We have hard data to back up where we should be spending our time.

John Blalock (22:41):
One thing on hitting here, Ryan, that I think is worth noting is it allows us to ensure that our product is made all the way around to the proper settings and requirements of manufacturing. We have to issue the right raw material because they have to scan in the right raw material. The power settings and wattages and everything is all… Automatically, it really makes it much more difficult to improperly produce a very technical product.

Ryan Thompson (23:29):
Absolutely. When you get to know the people at SiO2, they’ve been working 12 hours plus a day, 60, 80 sometimes a hundred-hour weeks over the past year and a half getting their products to market to help solve this COVID crisis. And so, all their people are extremely busy and if we can give them a tool that lets them prioritize their time and solve the most important problems in order, that’s been really helpful as well.

And with that, because their demand has increased, they’ve been bringing operation-level staff on board at a crazy pace to say that’s probably… It’s not an exaggeration. That’s not the word. An understatement is the word I was looking for there. But they’ve been onboarding people so quickly. But because an operator’s interaction with the MES system is loading the correct work order and pressing start, we’ve made it really, really easy to bring people on board and have them operate equipment seamlessly.

So that was all I had to say. I wanted to thank everyone for their time and for listening. And hope you enjoy the rest of Sepasoft Flexible MES conference.

Jesse Records (24:46):
All right. Thanks, Ryan, and thanks, John. I appreciate your time. Please join us for the rest of our conference and looking forward to speaking with you guys. If you want more information about Business Connector, the Web Services module or Interface for SAP, please reach out. We’d be happy to jump on a call with you and go over your requirements. All right. Thank you.

In the past, business systems integration involved a number of hurdles, including complex configurations and expensive middleware. In this session, Sepasoft will demonstrate how we’ve removed these potential barriers with our Business Connector Suite. Learn more about how the Business Connector Suite enables seamless integration between your enterprise systems and your Ignition-powered manufacturing floor. As part of the Business Connector Suite, the Sepasoft Business Connector allows for rapid and accurate communication with the Web Services Module, with full support for secure RESTful and SOAP communications.

Excited to learn more? Reach out to us to schedule a live demo today!


Jesse Records
MES Design Consultant

Ryan Thompson
Director of Client Success
Grantek Systems Integration

John Blalock
Vice President and Head of Information Technology
SiO2 Medical Material Sciences

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