Managing a private label manufacturing portfolio can be challenging, and those challenges are only amplified as the portfolio grows to multiple products and divisions. One consistent challenge facing the managers of such portfolios is determining the level of capital infusion the holdings require to maintain and expand operations.
Protecting operations and new product support are the highest priorities to provide investor returns. However, beyond those most obvious requirements, the process gets quite a bit more complicated, and throughput analysis helps to place all these familial competitors on the same plane. It becomes quite important that teams who lack detailed knowledge of all the sites’ operations can still make fair decisions on a level playing field across disparate sites and divisions, all with unique manufacturing operations and equipment vintages. Boiling down their operations to the most basic components is critical.
One major US-based private label food manufacturer knows this process quite well. With 35+ manufacturing sites that make snack foods, beverages, baked goods, breakfast foods, and candy products, the company is quite used to this measurement exercise. In 2021, it sought to streamline this effort via technology and implement an online system that takes much of the legwork out of collecting of information from sites, compiling these data, and establishing site rankings. Rather than a one-time manual accounting effort each year, the vision was to have an online system based on its SAP management suite.
This manufacturer determined that tools within SAP’s Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII) application would be perfect. (MII is an SAP application for synchronizing manufacturing operations with both back-office business processes and standardized data. It functions as a data hub between SAP ERP and operational applications.) The only hitch was now configuring the plant sites to provide good information.
This is where my systems integration team stepped in to keep the project moving and help the manufacturer tie all information flowing from disparate manufacturing operations into the common MII system in a standard format. The manufacturer established the protocol at a small set of its closest held, most capable facilities. Once that pilot proved successful, it then shared the concept with our team and turned them loose at the subsequent sites. Armed with an understanding of the desired end results, our team visited the affected sites and returned information on how to achieve this at each location. Some of the sites had been in this manufacturer’s portfolio for an extended time and shared a similar setup of machinery standards as well as some legacy plant data collection system components. However, many had been purchased at different times from different prior owners and had neither of those advantages.
The next step was to develop an implementation strategy for each of the requested sites. Where the manufacturer had good information and access to systems’ PLC controllers, we connected in and derived the signals. In sites that were complicated by older hardware, non-standard controllers, or non-accessible controller code, our team developed a “sidecar” system that deployed a new concentrator PLC that connected into required machine signals via piggyback connection. In all cases, whether deployed in existing or new PLCs, the emphasis was on using both existing signals wherever possible and using standardized code so that all the collection efforts reflect a common methodology and connection style into MII. This signal data is connected to financial data that exists in the SAP system and the result is accurate, real-time information about the value of operations.
In addition to the machine signal work, our team worked together with the manufacturer’s corporate IT team to implement the required network topologies so that the data collection system didn’t impede operations in any way. Segregated networks were deployed and data collection switches were added inside uplink racks so that there was a route for data to take to reach the MII.
The result of this effort is a standardized, level system from which corporate supply chain managers, analysts, and accountants can view information and make informed decisions about where they should focus attention in the form of capital. Managers at this manufacturing company now watch in real-time as all financial inputs are measured against output and an ongoing grade is generated for each site and, often, each line within those sites. The new system is currently being expanded to the balance of the manufacturing sites, and its data capabilities are already being expanded to provide additional details for ancillary data applications.