The 5 Layers of the Automation Pyramid and Manufacturing Operations Management

I spend a lot of time talking to people in the manufacturing world about SYSPRO’s manufacturing operations management (MOM) solution. Occasionally the person I’m talking to will frown and say: ‘We already spent a lot of money on an ERP, why do we need MOM as well?’ That’s when I start my ‘Automation 101’ lecture, watching them closely and poking them frequently, to make sure they don’t fall asleep.

Some of them, it turns out, have never even heard of the Automation Pyramid. Personally, I find that understanding the Automation Pyramid is foundational to most discussions about manufacturing technology, and the directions in which industry is evolving. In my opinion, if you don’t understand the Automation Pyramid, you’ll be at a disadvantage as Industry 4.0 and Cloud adoption continue to make changes in the way our factories are managed.

The Automation Pyramid Represents the Layers of Automation in a Typical Factory

The Automation Pyramid is a pictorial representation of the layers of automation within a typical factory, comprising five layers of integrated devices and technology. These layers are sometimes given different names, but the Pyramid I’m familiar with goes like this:

The 5 Layers of the Automation Pyramid and erp

Layer 5 – The Production Floor Layer 5

Let’s start at the bottom, on the production floor. This layer, or field, is made up of a wide variety of sensor devices and technologies, including:

  • Measuring instruments such as flow meters, level switches, proximity switches, etc. In short, anything that provides input by measuring variables on the production floor.
  • Actuators such as valves, pumps, and other instruments that keep variables such as flow, heat, and pressure within allowable parameters.
  • Communication protocols, which allow the Field layer to talk to the next layer up: Control.

Layer 4 – The Control or PCL Layer

The Control, or PCL layer, is the brain behind your shop floor processes. PCL stands for ‘programmable logic controller’, but when the processes involved are highly complex, the PCL may not be brainy enough. In that case, the PCLs are replaced by a ‘distributed control system’ (DCS). Devices in the Control level receive input from devices on the Field level and use that input to create output that controls the production process. For example, many manufacturing processes require stringent temperature control. A PID (proportional-integral-derivative), typically integrated into the PCL, uses input from Field-level sensors to monitor the heat around a set point, to maintain a constant temperature throughout the production process.

Layer 3 – The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems

The next layer up is where you find supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, as well as human-machine interfaces (HMI). In this layer, process data is monitored through user interfaces, and stored in databases. SCADA is typically used to control multiple machines in complex processes, including processes that involve multiple sites.

When I first encountered SCADA, I was a little confused – what was the real difference between the SCADA level and the Control level? Both levels receive input from the shop floor and return outputs to control processes. One difference is that SCADA is often used to refine or reset values at the Control level. For example, if your production process usually heats widgets at 400 degrees, SCADA can be used to change that value, perhaps to 500 degrees.

Layer 2 – The Planning Level Including MES and MOM

Finally, we get to the planning level of the pyramid. This, now, is my favorite level, because it contains the management execution system (MES). SYSPRO MOM, for example, monitors your entire manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished goods. This provides managers with real-time, 360-degree visibility, as well as highly-advanced tools for tracking important shop floor metrics, such as labour and equipment usage and performance, that can be used to optimize production efficiency and reduce or eliminate waste.

Layer 1 – The Management Decision Making Layer

The top layer, Management, is built around your company ERP, which gives company decision maker’s information from every level of the Automation Pyramid. Whereas MOM/MES monitors and controls a single plant, ERP provides monitoring, reporting, and control for entire corporations.

MOM and ERP are Distinct but Connected Entities

If it wasn’t before, perhaps it’s clear now, why MOM and ERP are distinct, but connected entities. MOM is the most effective tool in the manufacturing arsenal for fine-tuning shop floor production processes. Used to its full extent, SYSPRO MOM, now an integral part of SYSPRO, can dramatically improve operations management, and provided highly granular data to the ERP that can be used to inform upper-level management decisions.

In my next blog, we’re going to get down-and-dirty with SYSPRO MOM, and its specific benefits to the shop floor and production processes. We will also talk about the way that Industry 4.0, and the Cloud, are changing the shape of the Automation Pyramid.

SYSPRO MOM can help you improve operations with planning, scheduling, publishing, collecting, tracking and analyzing. Together with SYSPRO ERP Software, this Manufacturing Execution System (MES) offers a unique level of delivery, cost and quality control of manufacturing operations for job shop, batch production, production line, and mixed-mode environments.

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