The manufacturing industry is experiencing a reinvigoration in using Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solutions as critical business tools. A part of this readoption is because MES packages are no longer what they used to be. With an explosion in the number of modules and options available, MES software has evolved into a sophisticated industry solution, both multi-faceted & technologically advanced. But without defined standards, potential customers are struggling to understand the wide variety of MES options available to them.
What is an MES?
An MES monitors and manages one’s operations and the work-in-progress of his/her plant floor. A good MES will offer reliable, two-way real-time data exchange between the machines and software to guide, trigger and report on plant activities. Ultimately, an MES supports real-time, proactive decision-making through operator support, planning and scheduling, resource management and accurate real-time production visibility. Some of the core functionalities that an MES could offer include:
Business activity monitoring
Use an event-based notification system to capture & evaluate data for proactive decision-making & timely corrective actions
Leverage the data collected by one’s MES to bring Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) data and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) reporting and analysis to the fingertips for informed decisions
Conform to strict industry requirements while maintaining all pertinent external and internal documents for complete control of one’s documents’ entire lifecycle. Make quicker, more informed decisions with workflow-based routing and approval tools.
Simplify and improve inventory transactions, from the warehouse to the production floor to the shipping dock for maximum accountability and total inventory control, including:
Barcoding and labelling
Easily scan materials as they go in and products as they go out for accurate inventory control, detailed lot traceability, complex labelling and flexible barcoding
Maintain lean inventory levels and manage all aspects of manufacturing demand with Material Requirements Planning (MRP) tools
Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO)
Establish a complete preventative maintenance programme for the machines, tools, auxiliary equipment, gages and more to eliminate scheduling conflicts and unexpected downtime
Planning and scheduling
Incorporate all of one’s scheduling requirements and objectives into one central engine that optimises the schedule and meets their lean business objectives
Manage critical quality aspects, such as audits, parts and equipment parameters trending out of specification and end-to-end part visibility, with a comprehensive quality management system
Statistical Process Control (SPC)
A subset of quality, SPC can allow companies to track, maintain, measure and perform calibrations to assure consistent quality and continually improve
Real-time process monitoring
Continuously measure equipment capability and co-relate process parameters to one’s products in real-time
Real-time production monitoring
Immediately track & report one’s results as parts are being made, including overall enterprise efficiency or specific work centre performance for ultimate shop floor control. Capture material and process traceability for one’s products.
Time and attendance
Streamline and track the clocking in/out of employees and relay labour reporting directly into one’s financial system
While purchasing an MES, what should one look for?
After reviewing the functionality above that an MES package can offer, the breadth of valuable information gathered from the shop floor is now understandable. So, it is time to begin researching MES software. On a grand scale, there are three main general attributes to consider when evaluating how an MES package compliments one’s business and tech requirements:
Quality of the software system
Fit to one’s industry-specific requirements
Flexibility to adapt to necessary changes in one’s processes
On a more singular level, how does one know which specific features they will need? What are some other key options that one should ensure an MES vendor offers to guarantee one is getting the best MES package available? In today’s MES world, manufacturers have a lot more choice when deciding what they want in their MES package. What was once designed to monitor a single class of machines can now manage an entire shop floor. When considering MES offerings, look at what comes standard with the core. Most MES packages are designed to work intimately together, so one needs a specific set of modules to allow for inventory, scheduling and production monitoring. But can one customise from there? Check out the variety of modules that are offered, paying particular attention to how far the system can reach and whether one is limited in the tools that are available for one. Companies/individuals certainly do not want to invest in an MES package, only to discover that the MES vendor does not offer the quality tools one needs and then find a separate quality vendor for it.
As mobile technology continues to pervade the manufacturing environment, consider the level of state-of-the-art technology that the MES software offers. Does the MES package deliver tools and options that interface with today’s new mobile technology? Can one perform SPC inspections on the fly? Scan inventory from the shop floor? Accept workflows and approve decisions from one’s smartphone? MES packages should be designed to keep up with the latest technology so that one’s company stays on the cutting edge.
MES software packages are used to operate as self-contained systems, but today are increasingly integrating with ERP software solutions. Good ERP integration occurs when the MES software compliments one’s ERP software. The two programs should integrate fluidly. One should be able to capture data in real-time and make decisions in real-time with all the critical information flowing easily back and forth between the two programs. Finally, one should consider the MES software’s ability to integrate at the machine level before making a selection. How will the MES package interface with one’s machines? Does it tie directly into the machine’s controller, PLCs or directly to sensors? How about one’s current Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)-based or Open Platform Communications (OPC)-based server system? How does it get that information back to the software for analysis and alerts? Can shop floor managers get visual aids, like machine status light sticks, to assist in the process? Before one embarks on selecting an MES vendor, be sure to define exactly what one is trying to achieve clearly. That way, companies won’t miss inquiring about a feature or module that is critical to their success when evaluating packages.
Why are people adopting MES?
Now convinced, one now understands that adding a standalone MES package to the factory floor will truly solve the challenges faced. But one has to convince management that it is worth the investment. So, why are people rapidly adopting MES? The answer lies in MES’ extensive Return on Investment (ROI). One has all this history in their ERP software. But it doesn’t help him/her make decisions based on what is happening on their shop floor right now. If time is money on the factory floor, ask the questions below regarding better management of resources and time. Figure out what the savings are worth to one’s company:
How much money can one’s company save if one eliminates unexpected machine downtime and dramatically improves the uptime of one’s valuable equipment?
___ # machine down hours × ____ machine cost/hour = $____ lost
How valuable is it to one’s scheduler to have one simple button to push and just a few minutes later have created the ideal schedule, taking into account priority orders, tooling conflicts, maintenance, inventory availability and shipping requirements?
__ Time spent creating the daily schedule now (vs five to seven minutes with a new MES)
How valuable will it be to know when a machine is down for scheduled maintenance? Even better, how valuable is it to have one’s machines properly maintained, so they don’t go down unexpectedly?
__ # of unexpected times one’s machines went down last year (or one does not know?)
Is one undercharging his/her customers? How much money can be saved by understanding the true actual cost and adjusting one’s standard cost charges? For example, what if $1.25/part is one’s actual cost of a product and $1.15/part is the standard cost one is charging. Who is eating that difference? Is the company even aware if they have variance?
And those are just the quantifiable questions. What about the savings that don’t have a monetary value assigned besides time, quality and customer satisfaction?
What is the value of being able to predict and detect deviations in equipment operating parameters and parts before they become quality issues? How many parts will one produce incorrectly before one can get to the potential root cause and develop corrective or preventative actions?
How valuable would it be to know the actual time (cost) it takes to make one’s product by having his/her operators accurately clock in and out of tasks?
How much money can one’s purchasing department save by being able to bulk purchase inventory materials accurately?
What is a 99% on-time shipping record worth, with no reshipments?
What is it worth to not have the FDA or NHTSA on one’s back as there is full product lifecycle traceability to meeting stringent compliance mandates?
These questions are just the beginning. So, many more savings can be uncovered with the right tools. Stop saying, “There has to be a better way.” An MES can offer a single, reliable version of the truth and provide a full orchestration of one’s resources. Company shop floors no longer need to remain isolated and disconnected from the top floor. With the advice given so far, begin researching standalone MES solutions today. One will be glad that he/she did.
Courtesy: Dassault Systèmes