The Case for the Integrated Shop Floor, with Microsoft Dynamics AX in Control

By: Dann Anthony Maurno, Assistant Editor

August 5, 2015


There’s value in machines delivering data to ERP. A machine can in effect tell you “I made 1000 parts today!” or “Something’s wrong, my defects are up to 10 and my average is 1,” or “I’m running hot. Grease me.”

The value rises with the ability to talk to the machine, telling it and its operator which job is top priority, about bill of materials (BOM) substitutions, and if preventive maintenance is due.

AXUG recently hosted a webinar for its premium members, presented by Ellipsis Solutions, to build the business case for bisynchronous (two-way) integrations between Dynamics AX and the shop floor.

The presenter emphasized that a bisynchronous integration requires three layers being 1) shop floor machinery, 2) a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), and 3) ERP, like Microsoft Dynamics AX. The ERP acts as the control center.

Behind much of the value is that single interface, and the much-sought “single version of the truth”; the Dynamics AX Master Data Tables is the sole source and repository of information. Also, that information flows both ways and in real time – such that an operator does not begin one job only to find that that job was not the priority, or finds out too late about a substitution in the BOM, and so forth.

ROI, grand scale and incremental

As the presenter described, ROI begins with the production and operational improvements you’d expect. Citing figures from a Memex Automation (an MES provider) customer survey, bisynchronous integration yields production improvements between 10 and 50% range; 10% operational improvement on average; 20 to 60% profit improvement, and an average ROI under three months.

But ROI is comprised of numerous individual improvements, including (among other gains):

  • Real-time machine visibility and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE numbers) including alerts, 2-5%
  • Operator productivity increases 1-10%
  • Downtime reduction by 3-8%
  • Minimize rejects 2-4%
  • Labor productivity tracking 3-6%

Behind many of those improvements are data processing integrity, with such data as part counts, run times, down time and reject counts by reason codes; and less reliance upon machine operator entry, saving them time and eliminating errors.

A surprise: quicker rollout of new products

Ellipsis has observed that product rollout is far quicker in cases of bisynchronous integration – which was a pleasant surprise. A new product involves new BOMs, configurations, workflows and the like, and the rollout is significantly quicker when all of that is managed in a single place – the Dynamics AX interface – versus in both the ERP and MES.

The advantages of a “single version of the truth” in AX

One-way data collection from machines usually requires reconciling planning and scheduling tools (the MES and Dynamics AX), the presenter explained. Shop floor machinery has no ability to listen, so there is a communications gap when, for example, BOMs or job orders are changed on the fly.

A true bi-synchronous integration allows for that single version of the truth, for example:

  • Real-time process monitoring from within the AX production planning and scheduling functionality, with the ability to change production schedules on the fly
  • Instant communications of BOMs and BOM revisions to the shop floor; there is only one BOM which resides in Dynamics AX that can be pushed out to the machine
  • Inventory management that automatically update with quantities produced and consumed. Raw material and finished good entries are made in real-time.
  • HR Time and Attendance with operator log in, time on machine and piece counts (when such a measurement affects compensation)

So, Dynamics AX is where production orders, scheduling, planning, inventory updates and BOMs reside. The AX system has the ability to schedule and release orders directly to shop floor systems, which in turn can report back on route or job card progress or deviations; picking and material use and reporting depletion.

Also true, with a single version of the truth, there becomes no need to integrate reports from third-party shop floor systems and financial reports; Dynamics AX is the source of data, and you can use it as the reporting engine or opt for a third-party tool.

Is Dynamics AX MES sufficient?

Recall that bisynchronous integration requires an MES interface. Dynamics AX offers MES, which is called Shop Floor Control in Dynamics AX 2009, and Manufacturing Execution System in Dynamics AX 2012.

The presenter observed that some Ellipsis customers find them too basic, requiring more data entry than leading third-party MES solutions like Wonderware or MERLIN. Surprisingly, a majority use custom solutions.

Whichever MES a manufacturer uses, all can serve as the integration layer between the shop floor and ERP, and the presenter observed that Dynamics AX is capable of extensive integration across its modules including finance and HR, maintenance, and scheduling.

The practicalities of machine age, licensing, beginning a project

The presenter emphasized that most older shop floor equipment can be retrofitted for bisynchronous communication. If a piece of equipment has a port to pull information, then a variety of manufacturers and partners provide cards to communicate with machines and convert data.

A single Dynamics AX enterprise user license is all that is required for the entire shop floor; each operator or piece of equipment does not require an additional license.

Finally, the presenter recommends starting with a single pilot line project. This not only gets a company’s IT or technology group used to working with this type of integration, but generates enthusiasm around the project.

About Dann Anthony Maurno

Dann Anthony Maurno is a seasoned business journalist who began his career as International Marketing Manager with Lilly Software, then moved on as a freelancer to write for such prestigious clients as CFO Magazine; Compliance Week;Manufacturing Business Technology; Decision Resources, Inc.; The Economist Intelligence Unit; and corporate clients such as Iron Mountain, Microsoft and SAP. He is the co-author of Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Supports Lean Initiatives(CRC/Productivity Press, 2010).

Dann can be reached at

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