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$4,000 database module links the factory direct to the boardroom

29 July, 2007

Mitsubishi has developed a database module that fits into a control rack or operator terminal and communicates directly with a company’s business information systems, integrating these systems more reliably and at a lower cost than has been possible before. According to Jeff Whiting, Mitsubishi’s commercial communications manager in the UK, the development represents "a phenomenal move forward in the way that information becomes available across the whole network up to the boardroom level".

Mitsubishi MES module

The development will allow control engineers to configure factory-to-boardroom communications without needing IT specialists. It also cuts out a layer of complexity and costs usually involved in linking the two environments. Instead of a PC gateway costing up to £10,000 ($20,000) to configure and install, the new MES (manufacturing execution system) module costs less than £2,000 ($4,000).

Mitsubishi has also teamed up with the British software developer Gemba Systems to offer a companion tracking and reporting package that provides real-time and historical reports on OEE (operational equipment efficiency) and many other production parameters such as downtime, planning, and shift performance.

The MES module is available for Mitsubishi’s iQ control platform and for its graphic operator terminals. The module gathers data from the process and transfers it to management-level IT systems using standard SQL server technology. Scripts are generated automatically and the module backs up the data automatically onto CompactFlash memory cards, minimising the risk of downtime.

The data transfer is either event-driven or on-demand: it can either be sent automatically when something changes in the process being monitored; or requested on a timed or demand basis. The link between the shopfloor and management levels is bidirectional, allowing the MES module to receive data such as new production requirements or recipes.

The operator terminal version has protocols for most major PLC systems, allowing it to gather and store data from various controllers from different suppliers.

The MX4-Business tracking and reporting software is based on Gemba’s OEE Impact modular software which is installed at more than 1,000 sites around the world, with customers including Bosch, BP, Caterpillar, Eaton, and Pfizer. The graphical software offers a choice or more than 300 real-time and historical production reports covering areas such as quality, alarms, and personnel performance. "The preconfigured software gives the benefits of OEE almost immediately," says Whiting.

Together the database module and the software offer "a level of intelligence that has not been seen before, at a much lower cost than has been possible before," he adds.

Although systems for linking the shopfloor to the boardroom have been available before, they have been "so expensive that they are outside the league of most manufacturers," Whiting suggests. "Previously you needed IT experts to get information to the MD’s PC. That’s all gone now – a good process engineer can ensure that data from the darkest part of the plant reaches the MD’s desk."

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