Advanced manufacturing faces constant profitability and growth challenges. Maintaining a competitive advantage and profitability can only happen with a continuous commitment to operational excellence. A global furniture manufacturer based in Holland, Michigan, has turned to CICS APIs to enable automation of their business, manufacturing and distribution systems. The result is a dramatic reduction in the cost and risk of their manufacturing process, career growth of their employees, and ongoing technological innovation in a core area of their business. Leveraging HostBridge integration technology and expertise, this client achieved these goals within six months of their initial conversation with HostBridge.

At-a-Glance

The challenge: Streamline key manufacturing workflows to increase profitability and competitiveness.

  • Integration between the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and back-end CICS applications containing order data was rudimentary. This created inefficient sequencing of finished pieces for packaging and distribution.
  • A senior IS business process analyst recognized that an API could create better integration between the automated manufacturing lines and back-end CICS applications to eliminate the inefficiencies and produce immediate savings of $100,000.
  • The IS team didn’t have the tools or expertise to create CICS APIs. They were planning a 300-hour rewrite of the complex CICS application screen as an alternative to solving their integration problem. This approach was high-risk as the application had not been modified in several years.

The solution: API-based Integration to Automated Manufacturing Line

  • Integration between the automated laminate line control systems, packaging and core ERP business applications was required. An API-based, loosely coupled, approach was chosen to balance a high degree of automation with lower implementation risk.
  • The IS team anticipated 300 hours of development effort over about 4-6 weeks. Instead, it was able to leverage the HostBridge JavaScript Engine (HB.js) to create and implement a production-grade API interface. The effort took only about 20 hours of effort, less than 10 percent of the original estimate.
  • No changes to the core CICS applications were required.
  • The new API interface is creating an immediate impact through the roll-out of a fully automated manufacturing and packaging process.

The benefits: Better margins and higher throughput with HostBridge-enabled CICS APIs

  • Full integration between business, manufacturing and packaging systems now removes about three effort days from the daily manufacturing process, improving the bottom line for each order fulfilled.
  • Automated end-to-end workflow, powered by API-enabled integration, increased the overall manufacturing throughput.
  • HostBridge-based API integration allows building additional interfaces on-demand, faster and more effectively. Using APIs allows the automation to scale to other product lines and manufacturing subsystems.

Background

A Holland, MI, based furniture manufacturer with annual sales of $2B has a long term vision of success and support for its clients, members and communities. Delivering on this vision requires ongoing innovation to make core business processes available. This manufacturer leverages state-of-the art manufacturing facilities, processes, and technology to maintain competitiveness. At the same time, it emphasizes providing career and income advancement for everyone, including manufacturing floor employees.

The need for robust and unattended integration between manufacturing, packaging and business systems is mission-critical. A fully integrated workflow allows for optimal labor utilization, increases the profitability, and facilitates a highly scalable manufacturing process. For this reason, systems automation is one of the key components to success in this or any advanced manufacturing environment.

Key Driver

The use of an automated manufacturing line in the client’s laminates plant drove the need for better integration between the 3TEC MES software that runs the line and the manufacturing order system running in CICS. The preexisting integration was rudimentary, resulting in a process gap as finished products came off the line. The packaging and distributing of finished products was inefficient because the integration between systems didn’t recognize some orders as bulk-pack and others as single-pack.  Customers might receive their order for multiple products in various packaging configurations rather than a single, bulk-package. The inefficiency frustrated line employees who were powerless to change the process. It also increased costs for packaging, shipping, and handling.

The client’s IT team recognized that using an API to integrate the automation line with the CICS order system would create the flexibility and efficiency the process required. has decided to create an API based integration between the participating systems. API integration allows for a loosely coupled automation, a process where there are minimal, if any, changes made to the participating systems, but information exchange is possible without human interaction. Furthermore, changes are possible on either side of an API, even full replacement, without a need to change or fully re-test the entire workflow.

API Solution

The project team’s initial estimate to develop and test the CICS API was 300 hours spanning about two months. By using the HostBridge JavaScript Engine, a System Z CICS-native API solution, the team completed the project in about 20 hours spanning 2 weeks, or about 10 percent of the original estimate. The API built for this business process facilitates more efficient manufacturing workflow and serves as an enterprise “pivot point.” Any HostBridge-created CICS API functions at the data logic, not the technology, level. Because of this, the APIs fully isolate any individual system changes or even migrations, from the rest of the end-to-end workflow. This is an advantageous API design, which will simplify any future efforts necessary to upgrade, replace or change any of the systems that participate in the manufacturing and distribution workflow.

In this use case, the API created a pivot point between existing plant floor and back office manufacturing systems while at the same time fully automating the materials-to-box workflow. With this HostBridge business level API in place, the user is able to upgrade or replace either side of this process without disruption or the need to change any other systems. This approach creates a high level of agility at virtually no risk to stability of the manufacturing process.

Implementing CICS APIs with HostBridge is also increasing this manufacturer’s IT delivery efficiency by reducing duration and effort. Using the HostBridge JavaScript Engine for API creation, the IT group is able to accelerate their API project schedule, while substantially lowering the risk of any system upgrade, change or replacement decision.  These benefits, however significant, are a smaller part of the picture when compared to operational gains from API-enabled automation.

Benefits

By deploying new APIs, this client is realizing manufacturing line efficiency improvements estimated at two days of effort per week of manufacturing. In addition to this efficiency gain, the fully automated manufacturing and packaging line can now deliver 20 percent higher output at this new, lower cost per work-order.

The effective API design strategy, built on the HostBridge platform, allows this client to engage in a broader API strategy with other systems, scaling up automation efforts without significant increases in IT expense.

Finally, this client is ideally positioned to move forward with select system upgrade and migration processes on an accelerated schedule, reducing down-time risk and without the need for wholesale end-to-end system replacements.