The idea of monetising sustainability catalysed the evolution of the triple bottom line into the sustainability ecosystem. These tenets, environmental compliance, communication and operational efficiency provide a measurable path forward that is supported by traditional business directives.
Increased productivity, reduced plant operating costs, reduction in work effort and enforced compliance to government regulation have always been drivers that justify investments in plant optimisations. Taken on its own, each business directive can be related back to more efficient use of necessary resources – energy, raw materials, human resources, information, and equipment – which relates back to a measure of efficiency. Taken together as an optimisation strategy, a solution’s capability to meet the immediate needs of the plant has a positive impact on business in the future – not only for the company, but for future generations as well.
Today’s manufacturing solutions have been built to improve operating cost structures including load curtailment and shedding, generator control, HVAC control, thermal plant control systems, chiller plant control systems and energy monitoring. These traditional uses for manufacturing solutions were not developed based on the current trend of sustainability. Viewed from a different perspective, however, these types of solutions provide energy conservation and control, building and plant automation and electrical energy management solutions. Further exploration of how these conventional systems – and others – meet the goals of sustainability is explored in the following sections:
Manufacturing Execution Systems: The MES concept has evolved for almost three decades from the development of advanced, computer information systems for manufacturing. In 2004, the global MES market crossed the billion-dollar mark, demonstrating the escalation in significance of MES to modern manufacturing operations. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) delivers information that enables optimisation of production activities from order launch to finished goods. Using current and accurate data, MES guides, initiates,responds to, and reports on plant activities as they occur. The resulting rapid response to changing conditions, coupled with a focus on reducing non value-added activities, drives effective plant operations and processes.
The conventional role of MES has been to support various plant floor activities such as scheduling, order release and execution, quality monitoring and data collection. To provide such functionality, an MES typically interfaces with the automation and control systems and the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is the software that manages business resources across the entire company. The capability of an MES to develop physical and logical links between the true business model and the manufacturing details creates the foundation of its power.
Overlap of sustainability and MES: Worldwide, manufacturers are in need of adopting sustainability practices into process operations. The industrial sector consumes massive amounts of raw materials annually and a greater portion of the global energy supply than the residential, commercial and transportation sectors combined. Such significant resource consumption makes the industrial sector perhaps the most important in terms of realising potential benefits from pursuing energy efficiency and sustainability measures. Sinc their inception, MES systems have been implemented to improve resource utilisation and efficiency. However, the final objectives of these implementations typically focus on plantspecific goals, such as reducing waste of valuable inputs andincreasing machine uptimes, or achieving competitive business advantage. Although these are powerful drivers, limiting MES systems to such narrow objectives fails to capture full utilisation benefits that these software systems make possible.
MES systems allow users not only to use fewer resources, but also to understand how those resources are being used throughout the production process. This is accomplished by providing “mission-critical information about production activities across the enterprise and supply chain via bidirectional communications .” This framework makes an MES ideal for improving resource utilisation – not only in terms of using less material, but also by providing better information on how those resources should be used. From this perspective, MES provides a system that is in place to help make the most efficient use of energy and raw materials and that is ready to execute before production orders are received.
A straightforward approach to achieving sustainability goals is through leveraging an existing MES’s functionality to manage raw materials and resources. Every industrial producer has different types of management needs for a variety of resources, such as energy, raw materials, water, air, gas, electricity and steam. Many manufacturers maintain a huge stock of raw materials and parts on hand of every kind needed to hedge against the risk of a shortage. This capital-intensive approach is the result of inadequate information and planning capabilities and can lead to waste due to materials expiring, energy for maintaining storage and other forms of inefficiencies. A preferable approach involves using an MES that allows customerspecific business roles, such as first-in firstout,Just-In-Time, Just-In-Sequence or expiration-date based prioritisation.
Automating process lines can make a significant impact on corporate responsibility initiatives to eliminate waste of resources. An MES system for advanced equipment management was installed at a US plant belonging to a large beverage company. Prior to the system’s implementation, the facility was experiencing equipment interruptions and bottlenecks resulting in significant losses to the plant’s asset optimisation and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which is a quantified measure of performance based on capacity, availability and quality. At the time, the facility used a pencil-and-paper-based system to collect line-performance data. The paper based system was replaced by an MES and integrated with an advanced supervisory control and data acquisition(SCADA) system. The integration of the control system and the MES yielded high-quality data about the line operational processes. With access to the previously unavailable information, the operation boosted its production efficiency by 6% across the plant
Gap analysis and recommendations
Just because MES systems can satisfy sustainability purposes does not mean that they are implemented with that intent in mind. In none of the cases reviewed were sustainability goals the reason for the use of an MES. Instead, corporate financial and production targets have remained the primary drivers behind MES implementations. Yet in the face of rising of energy costs, environmental-conscious consumers and increased environmental regulations, manufacturing companies are experiencing the need to pursue sustainability goals directly.
To adopt sustainability using the triple-bottom-line approach, manufacturers need sustainability goals distilled into comprehensive metrics. Accomplishing this requires translating standard manufacturing concepts into sustainability-related terms. For example, reducing manufacturing costs translates to reducing waste; optimising manufacturing agility translates to dynamic scheduling and ultimately to higher energy efficiency; adding traceability and regulatory compliance capabilities translate to higher quality products. In addition, all of these translations fall under the broader sustainability categories of environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social responsibility. Making these goals into meaningful metrics, however, requires plant-wide integration that allows disparate data points to be aggregated and analysed to become specific measures of quantifiable sustainability.
Meeting these demands in the long term will require that sustainability objectives are mapped into the existing structured methodology for developing MES requirements. Until then, it is clear that MESs have the capability to be used in the pursuit of sustainability goals with little or no modification. To better utilise this capability, manufacturing companies need to change their perspectives and roll sustainability goals into their MES functional requirements. ☐