Why and How to Use Production Process Management

Why and How to Use Production Process Management (PPM) in Smart Manufacturing

By Michael McClellan, CSI

Business processes in today’s typical manufacturing environment is, at best, full of information gaps.  Within the major enterprise level systems such as ERP or PLM most processes are based or focused on departmental issues which means the processes are not cross-functional.

Production Process Management (PPM) is the missing link that supports the digital enterprise. PPM is a specialized workflow version of Business Process Management (BPM) that describes the concept of applying process design and management tools to the areas of manufacturing plant and supply chain activities within and across the extended enterprise.


Business processes, especially those that connect to the plant floor, operate based on the horizontal and sequential needs to produce products. But, it has been difficult to include all necessary data management into one fully integrated package.

One example is in a Human Resources application within ERP.  Employment history, wage administration, performance reviews, etc. are all covered in fine detail. However, when the MES needs to confirm training qualifications at a workstation, the manual integration or “sneaker net” must take over. The other option is to have the IT department build a significant, custom application.


A key objective of Smart Manufacturing or digital transformation is addressing the need to eliminate process gaps including manual steps like searching for information across various electronic systems.  This is a formidable task to say the least.

The problem, as we all know, is the physical weaving of digital process data through each of the electronic or manual processes across the extended enterprise.  The historical record of attempting to do this with systems integration software coding techniques has caused much more grief than satisfaction.  So, other than wishing for a better world, how can manufacturing be different? 

  • Standards—There is significant effort being made to develop and promote standard methods, interfaces and technologies to exchange information between software applications.
  • New applications—new applications are being developed that address specific operations niches such as inventory movement or energy management or environmental management concerns.
  • Process management—a rapidly growing vendor market segment is providing new tools to assist in planning, modeling, inventorying and managing your business and production processes.
  • Process execution—the past few years have seen substantial growth in the use of workflow and business process management software systems.  These approaches will greatly enhance information management techniques on the plant floor.


The newer concepts of Workflow and Process Management focus on supporting the business process rather than on the features and functions of siloed applications.  A workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity enabled by the systematic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information. These methodologies retrieve and provide data elements from their source as necessary to accomplish work.

One example is the retrieval and display of work instructions to an assembly station.  This action may require information from many sources but the key perspectives here are the delivery to the workstation, focus on the business process, and focus on what is necessary to support each step in that process. Workflow information management techniques were originally developed in the nineties and have enjoyed extensive application success in a wide variety of business applications including the plant floor.


Business Process Management is an approach that is based on workflow ideas but has a substantially broader toolset.  BPM has enjoyed extensive success since the mid 2000s particularly in high volume processes found in administrative industries such as insurance and finance.

As mentioned at the start of this article, Production Process Management (PPM) is a specialized version of BPM describing the concept of applying process design and management tools to the areas of manufacturing plant and supply chain activities within and across the extended enterprise.

Processes are designed to follow chronological steps of how you want to run the business by connecting and supporting predefined, sequenced events with the correct information in a role-based form for the intended user. A process may be fully electronic, fully or partially manual, or a hybrid of the two. One key requirement is that the process is specific to, and configurable to fit, the given business requirement and provides an easy path for revision and improvement.

There are significant advantages supported by this process-centric approach to information management and some examples of what might be possible are listed.

  1. Separate data from the application and invert the historical manufacturing paradigm by bringing the data to the application instead of the application to the data.
  2. Provide actionable data, trust and visibility across the supply/value chain.
  3. Manage orchestration of standardized decision workflows based on structured adaption and autonomy.
  4. Deploy applications that can share data, data that can share applications and applications that can connect to applications to achieve horizontal enterprise views and actions.
  5. Build applications that cross different time constraints and seams, including the supply/value chain.
  6. Provide applications that do not lose control of state.
  7. An enterprise level platform to manage and support applications/processes that can be company-wide standards yet specific to the existing local plant information system infrastructure.
  8. Build information tools that can differentiate company performance and provide a competitive advantage through operational and information management techniques.
  9. Easy to understand applications/processes that can evolve to solve changing business needs.
  10. Information management concepts that allow operational processes to be company owned intellectual property.
  11. An information management infrastructure that is easier to manage, less costly and more supportive of users.
  12. Computer driven processes that can be supported by manual involvement, fully automatic or a combination of either.

The concept of using a process-centric approach to support production is a key element of digitizing the plant floor to support Smart Manufacturing. It creates a completely new understanding of enterprise-wide information management — an area fraught with high IT cost, wide information gaps and much buyer angst.

The new process view gives manufacturers a wider horizon to think strategically using information to build and maintain a competitive advantage wholly based on how they want to run the business. The view is top down and strategic. Response and global maneuverability are the issues, not data collection or equipment efficiency. The executed process is the unit of automation. How processes are defined and managed is the tactical stroke that supports the enterprise strategy.

Manufacturing is best managed at the process level.  Processes span end-to-end across functions, departments, sites and capabilities, are highly dynamic and must easily be updated to ensure manufacturing systems remain agile to business changes.  This must not only be extended across the value chain in a horizontal dimension, but also taken deeper to drill down to the specific details that support each step of production activity with appropriate role-based information.

The future perspective will be much less based on the functions within an application, and much more on how information from any resource can best support the user’s business and production processes.  To paraphrase an old political adage from a few years ago—“it’s all about the process.”