At beginning of June 2008, I had a briefing with Gordon Benzie, Public & Analyst Relations Director, and Jean-Luc Delcuvellerie, Director of MES Product Management, Apriso.
Apriso were founded in 1992 as a spin-off from Teledyne when the latter won a contract from the US Navy for integration of their AS400s to their production lines. Since that time, Apriso has designed a second-generation solution around the concept of adaptive manufacturing, in which manufacturers adopt systems and processes that provide the agility required for extended business models and continuous improvement initiatives, while also reducing risk by maintaining strict controls over process and quality. They categorise their solution as an "adaptive operations execution platform and application suite," branded as FlexNet. They have an impressive customer base of 170 of the world's largest manufacturing organizations, in 41 countries with over 650 installations. Customers include General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Becton Dickinson, Honeywell, L'Oreal, BAT, Novelis and Essilor. Apriso divide their partners into 3 categories:
- Global Consulting: these include all the big names such as Accenture, Cap Gemini, Tata and Wipro
- Deployment: these are experts in developing and implementing repeatable, industry or regional-specific, line of business solutions built on Apriso's Operations Execution platform
- Technology: these are software and hardware vendors that complement Apriso's OES products, and include IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP
While the FlexNet platform is classified in most product reviews as an MES (Manufacturing Execution System), it actually does much more than most of these products. The key to the difference is best summarized in the following 3 key attributes of FlexNet:
- Business Process Management Suite: this is a BPMS product that provides the ability to configure manufacturing processes with little or no customisation. The Suite includes configurable dashboards, an XML-based integration broker and full lifecycle management of manufacturing processes spanning global operations.
- Unified Data Model: functionality is based on a manufacturing unified data model, which covers master, transaction and historic data. Each FlexNet application has bee built on top of this model to aid configuration. There is seamless integration and synchronisation with ERP Master Data.
- Service Oriented Architecture: the second generation of Apriso was built according to a SOA, allowing functionality to participate in end-to-end business workflows involving not just FlexNet, but other external systems such as ERP, SCM, PLM, and shop-floor control and data acquisition (SCADA).
The Global Manufacturing Suite is built on the FlexNet platform. Three separate but integrated FlexNet modules act as an integration layer to support global operations:
- Global Process Manager: besides being a BPMS engine, this module manages FlexNet configurations to ensure synchronization with all instances of FlexNet in your distributed manufacturing computing environment.
- Global Production Manager: Tracks and traces materials and products across your enterprise and those of your suppliers and contract manufacturers.
- Global Performance Manager: Built on a KPI analytics engine, provides visibility into production status, product attributes, SPC and Quality for resources, material, labour and machines, both locally and across multiple locations.
Apriso has introduced additional optional modules covering Labour, Quality Management, Warehouse Management, Production and Maintenance.
Apriso has developed an approach to global implementations that support organisations that have multi-site installation requirements. Their approach is called a Core Deployment Program. It consists of ERP best practices approach for a distributed application environment. Applying an 80/20 rule, Apriso services consultants work with the customer to identify roughly 80% of consistent business processes that apply to each of the manufacturing environments. Once this ‘Core' blueprint is established, it then becomes a standardised profile to be packaged and deployed throughout the organisation. The remaining 20% of customized local processes are incorporated by local staff, Apriso services professionals, or one of their many global solutions providers to address an individual plant's needs.
So here we have an MES with a difference. Better yet, as Apriso calls it, an OES. Besides the flexibility provided through the use of good architectural base with an enterprise data model, SOA design approach and a BPMS engine, we have a company that is providing application modules for warehouse management, production, quality management plus integration to the major ERP packages. Put this with a good partner network and there is definitely something for manufacturing organisations to consider when looking at MES, QMS or WMS for the next decade.