The new SIMATIC IT Preactor APS solution is the single biggest change in terms of product structure since the company was first launched back in 1994. Barney Speller, SIMATIC IT Preactor’s product manager, outlined the main drivers behind the changes. “Over the years the needs of our client base have matured. Many users now have more IT systems in place, which means they require their APS (Advanced Planning & Scheduling) or FCS (Finite Capacity Scheduling) solutions to have the flexibility to work alongside, and in concert, with these systems in the most efficient way possible.”
In terms of planning, the new product portfolio comprises SIMATIC IT Preactor AP Ultimate, while on the scheduling side the company has introduced SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Standard, SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Professional and SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Ultimate.
Speller explained one of the key benefits of SIMATIC IT Preactor AP Ultimate used in a Make to Stock environment is that users can import current stock levels plus actual and forecast demand. “The software can then consider rough cut capacity, pack forward figures, target days of stock cover, manufacturing preferences, minimum/maximum re-order quantities, re-order multiples, product shelf life, etc. to propose an accurate and achievable MPS (Master Production Schedule),” he said.
Production capacity can be specified as a quantity, duration or weight and using the Preactor calendar system capacity can be varied over time. Speller pointed out that the capacity available then limits the production volume created in each period. “Once an initial MPS has been created, the data can be displayed as both stock profile graphs and capacity usage graphs,” he said.
In a ‘Make-to-Order’ environment, the stock levels of finished and/or intermediate items will not be part of the key process parameters, but there will still be the need to evaluate the effects of future demand changes on the manufacturing process.
“For example, for complex assemblies in the aerospace sector, each finished item may have a deep BoM and be made up of thousands of individual components,” said Speller “Many of those components are manufactured in-house and they share production capacity, so there is a complex relationship between manufacturing capacity and demand. When a change in demand occurs, whether that be in terms of quantity or delivery dates, there is a need to be able to quickly assess if it is possible to meet the new requirements.” Speller also pointed out that it is possible to import demand changes into SIMATIC IT Preactor AP and create a new ‘what if’ plan. “The planning BoM will be exploded and SIMATIC IT Preactor AP will show if there are any capacity issues. If there are issues, an acceptable MPS can be created by working interactively,” he said.
SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Standard uses order-based scheduling to which the user can apply a ranking or weighting in order to prioritise the orders. It schedules based on availability of resources, additional constraints and the materials required for the order. During the scheduling process Preactor AS Standard can take into account different operation run speeds on different resources, use sequence dependent changeover times based on operation attributes and allow overlaps and slack time between operations.
Speller points out that one of the key differentiators between of Preactor AS Standard and the higher level products is that it in Preactor AS Standard works at order level. “The scheduling rules that are supplied with it are all order-based, one-order-at-a time scheduling rules,” he said. “Therefore, it will rank the company’s order book and schedule the whole order, including all of the operations – one at a time, backwards or forwards – in accordance with the user’s scheduling preferences. The material constraints functionality also works at an order level, so the materials can be consumed at the beginning of the order and the material released at the end of the order.”
SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Professional has a number of additional schedule optimisation rules to deal with problems such as minimising changeover times, preferred sequencing and campaigning. Composite rules can also be built with Preactor’s workflow tool. At SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Professional level the user is also able to implement customer specific rules about how materials are consumed and visualise their assembly process from raw materials through to finished goods and sales orders in the Material Explorer. This shows a graphical view of the material dependencies as well as plots of stock levels over time. The user can see where shortages will occur and choose to keep them as a constraint or ignore them. In addition to this Preactor AS professional can model advanced resource constraints, such as rules about concurrent rule usage, and advanced inter-operation constraints including limits on the time between operations and how much operation times can be extended by.
Speller explained that SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Professional is more operation based than the Standard solution. “Users have the ability to start using some of the more complex resource-based scheduling rules that used only to be available at APS level,” he said. “In this way, users can now benefit from parallel loading and preferred sequence rules in order to minimise set-up times. SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Professional also works on a resource basis rather than undertaking one entire order at a time. Of course, due to the inherent flexibility of the system, any alternative operational model can be quickly put in place as the user sees fit.”
The top-of-the-range offering, SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Ultimate, includes a developer licence (SIMATIC IT Preactor Ultimate Access), which gives access to the full flexibility that is possible with a Preactor system. The database schema can be altered as required, including adding tables and fields, and via the Preactor programming interfaces it is possible to create custom scheduling rules to solve specific scheduling problems and create custom data manipulation tools for use with the Preactor workflow engine. As the SIMATIC IT Preactor Ultimate Access licence is a one-off purchase for a company, included in the price of the first Preactor Ultimate level system, this enables a cost effective multi-licensing programme for rolling out Preactor systems across multiple sites or scheduling environments.
Additionally, the SIMATIC IT Preactor AS Ultimate Viewer has been introduced to be linked to a Preactor AS Ultimate schedule.
The new products have been built to offer maximum flexibility and customisability across all different vertical market sectors. “Bringing in much of the configurability to the UI means operators can simply go into the system and rename fields as required in order to ensure they offer the very best fit for their own industry sector and their daily business and operational requirements,” explained Speller.
Most manufacturers are under pressure to reduce costs while producing more, in shorter delivery times. All this has to be accomplished without an accurate indication of future demand and with lower inventories. “By connecting SIMATIC IT Preactor planning & scheduling systems to their ERP and shop-floor data collection, companies are able to monitor the state of execution against plan and put in place effective Lean operations,” he said.
The Siemens advantage
Speller also spoke about the positive impact the acquisition by parent company Siemens has had. “Since the acquisition in June 2013, the investment in R&D has become considerably greater, and this has enabled us to accelerate our development process, bringing more features to the market more quickly. Our own already extensive group of partners is also being extended further due to the strength of Siemens’ worldwide partner network. We will increasingly be able to share our own technology development among the wider Siemens Group, while in turn being able to benefit from Siemens’ own developments. In addition we’re now part of the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) portfolio, which enables manufacturers to implement their strategy for the complete seamless digitalization of manufacturing operations.”
The Siemens’ MOM portfolio encompasses solutions to address: manufacturing execution systems, quality execution, SCADA and manufacturing intelligence with SIMATIC IT Preactor APS providing an excellent complement to the PLM/MOM software portfolio.
In summary, Speller commented. “The introduction of our new suite of products, our well-established and growing partner network and the full support of Siemens stands us in very good stead as a forward-looking company.”