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As seen in Automation World, manufacturers, vendors, and service providers are working diligently to understand the net impact of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
IIoT is disrupting manufacturing, starting with existing systems, and this is spurring initiatives, pilots, and studies across the world. While IIoT is a step in the future, it does beg the question for many manufacturers, “What about the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that I have today?”
Its important to note that the MES is one part of the process, people and systems triangle of productivity. IIoT is a net productivity enabler and a complement, rather than a substitute, to MES. In fact, MES have been notoriously costly to implement with long execution schedules. However, we have seen where smart devices and cloud-based systems allow manufacturers to stand up line downtime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) within days without substantial investments - costing less than a monthly luxury car payment. These IIoT smart devices can even enable machines that are not network connected or include a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
This progress coincides with a greater demand for return on assets (productivity). On demand customization, in response to increased competition, has drastically changed how manufacturers are thinking about their lines and plants. This is only one example of changing customer trends resulting in higher productivity demands.
This shift in productivity disrupts all three aspects: people, processes, and systems, through the application of available technology. The catalyst for this improvement is access to data, a lot of data, in a steady and consistent manner. The MES layer is intended to accumulate and provide this data.
“I would like to get access to my plant data, but its too expensive with my current system.” – Discrete Manufacturer
“I am getting data from all my equipment. I like how it’s presented. But, it’s stale and I don’t trust it. Data seems to be manipulated before it’s reported up.” – Beverage Packager
“For every 10 process parameters, only one equipment parameter is logged.” – Process Automation Manager
These scenarios show the gaps that can be filled to positively impact productivity. These gaps exist in varying degrees across MES installations and this is precisely where IIoT comes into play to expand the capabilities of MES rather than replace it. Technological progress enabling IIoT ranges anywhere from smarter sensors and actors, to more reliable cloud infrastructures. IIoT in this sense is less of a disruptor, and more of a sign of progress along the continuum of technology.
To answer the initial question of “What about the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that I have today?” - it is important to realize that it is less about substituting and more about complementing the MES with IIoT.
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A properly-implemented MES can bridge the world of corporate IT and connect it to the near real-time world of automated operational technologies.
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As seen in Automation World, the idea that your company can gain a significant leg up on the competition by implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is over. If your plant is not already reducing waste, identifying bottlenecks, and coordinating data across the corporation, then you are behind the curve and playing catch up.
Over the past 30 years, advancements and improvements have been made to the simple concepts contained within the general term MES. Many dedicated applications have been developed and many companies solely dedicated to providing MES production process solutions have sprung up.
In addition to a general surge in MES concepts and technologies, there have been efforts to drive segment specific MES application targeted to industry specific needs:
Of course, those are only a few of the industries. Most, if not all, of the heavy players in these industries have been involved in these technologies for years. However, many companies and industries have not stayed up-to-date on adopting new technologies and strategies and several of them are no longer in business or are not thriving.
One example of an industry that did not take improving technology into consideration is the American newspaper industry. Managing editors at newspapers across the country likely cringed when Craigslist showed up on the scene with a dynamic, ever-changing classified section that was online and free. A major source of income for most newspapers went away in a matter of years. Very few newsprint organizations developed even a simple counter to this threat before it was too late. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about local newspapers across the country that folded because of the advances in technology in these and other areas.
Another example is the American auto industry in the 1970’s and early 80s. With a focus on consistency, detailed engineering, and quality control - the Japanese took away the U.S. auto market from local manufacturers. It took decades for domestic car makers to recover. Many are still feeling the effects of not being prepared and forward-looking.
With new technologies like machine learning for predictive maintenance, IoT sensors, and other cutting edge technologies just beginning to enter the manufacturing space, those companies that are poised to take the next strategic leap forward are those that have already embraced and adopted the concepts of MES/MOM (manufacturing operations management) and advanced data solutions like dashboarding of integrated system data.
With the introduction of MES in the early 1990’s, the concepts and solutions have had plenty of time to saturate through various manufacturing spaces as diverse as food and beverage through pharma to pulp and paper.
It's hard to name one major manufacturing software vendor that does not have some flavor of MES/MOM offering. Rockwell has Production Centre, Wonderware has MES Operations and Performance, Emerson has Syncade, and so forth.
The manufacturers that have embraced and adopted some version of these solutions are the ones that are prepared to pivot to address market forces and customer demands as well as move into the future and adopt higher end new and improved solutions.
Surprisingly, technology is the easiest sector to research for companies that missed the boat. Many companies either ignored or adopted new concepts and strategies in their marketplace too late. They paid heavily for not being prepared. If you’re interested, a simple Geographic Information System (GIS) for “Companies that Missed the Boat” returns over a million results.
With operating margins shrinking and the continuous quest for the best deal, it’s important to protect your company from ending up like the familiar example of the mom-and-pop family business staring at the groundbreaking for a big box store in the neighborhood.
The key is to find your company’s niche or method of reducing cost or improving efficiency and then creating a solid data foundation to build on.
Systems Integrators like Avid can help companies to catch up to the competition and surpass them using solid proven data acquisition/MES solutions and implementing advanced data analytics and business intelligence answers. The time to act is now.
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Many companies continue to have limited visibility into the operational details at different plants at different times, severely limiting their ability to maximize plant output. A Manufacturing Execution System (MES), can alleviate this pain point by helping you streamline many aspects of production planning. As an example, consider a company that uses a centralized enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to take customer orders, but doesn’t use an effective MES production process in its plants.
When the company receives a product order, it goes into the automated ERP system, but the ERP doesn’t provide comprehensive data about each plant’s current availability. Instead, someone from the corporate office has to look into this on a case-by-case basis. Once the order has been transferred to the appropriate plant’s production system, the plant supervisor must determine how and when to work it into the schedule. Without an MES, it’s difficult for supervisors to maintain an accurate picture of what’s being produced on which line at any given time. As a result, it becomes challenging to schedule each new order.
An MES automated work order system addresses these challenges by eliminating the duplicate work of creating work orders on both the ERP and production systems. In the process, it reduces the opportunity for human error, such as keying in an incorrect work order number. It also allows plant operators to modify and share the schedule in near real-time, which reduces the need for in-person communication and frees both corporate and plant employees up to do more value-added tasks. Automated work orders support better coordination across multiple locations by making it easier to roll out new schedule methodologies, while also minimizing the amount of retraining or coordination that’s required at the line level.
Automated work order systems also enable more efficient shop floor communication. Typically, the production schedule is created first thing in the morning and then revised manually throughout the day. By the time you’re on your third or fourth revision, it’s nearly impossible to be sure everyone has the same information.
With an MES, a supervisor can get a clear picture of the plant’s current capabilities, including time or resource requirements and available lines. He can look at a week’s worth of orders in the ERP system and then set work order priorities in the MES accordingly. An operator can then go into the system, review the orders and priorities, and get to work. As an added benefit, automated work order systems increase accountability for both supervisors and operators. By allowing for efficient investigations into incidents, they minimize the amount of time spent interviewing personnel regarding what actions they did or did not take.
The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) has defined a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) and expected improvement ranges that are useful in determining the effectiveness of MES implementations. You can evaluate automated work orders and multiple location coordination in terms of how successful a plant was in meeting the deadline for a scheduled order. According to MESA, an MES typically generates a 3.5% improvement in the adherence to schedule KPI. Improved shop floor communication can be evaluated in terms of process variability, a measure of how repeatable a process is. On average, you can expect a 5-10% reduction in process variability after implementing an MES.
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As seen in Automation World, in today’s world there are many variables that can drive an organization to investigate the viability of implementing a manufacturing execution system or MES. One of the more important things that can be overlooked or discounted in the larger effort to evaluate and plan is the value of a true pilot or proof of concept strategy.
It’s tempting to focus on the whole picture when it comes to connectivity between plant floor and enterprise resource planning or ERP, or the evaluation and definition of processes, material flows, and quality strategies. However, attempting to map out and design a comprehensive solution from square one can often end up moving into a spiral of scope change, re-design, enhancements, and retrofits as you start to roll the solution across multiple locations.
By spending the time and money up front to fully understand the variables involved, your MES implementation will benefit dramatically.
Here are several things to consider before you begin:
A single plant, area, or line implementation can help you design and roll out a more comprehensive solution and limit cost and complexity during further, wide reaching implementations.
Project Examples and Considerations
While working with a client that was implementing a comprehensive MES solution integrated with SAP software and encompassing multiple sites, we found that performing comprehensive process mapping at each site before the design phase allowed us to identify not only the core functions required across all plants, but let us plan for and adopt design considerations for processes that would not be active in the solution until several facilities were already online.
After the initial design and build, an implementation was performed at a single site and the solution was given several months to burn in during normal operation.
By taking this step, we were able to make some significant changes based on real world observations of the impact on operators, plant management, and the solution itself.
One of the significant design considerations that underwent an overhaul during this burn in process was the re-organization of data storage. The initial strategy for storing manually ascribed data was to use out of the box methods provided by the software vendor. This system used a generic table structure to store this type of data and relied heavily on keys and look-ups. During the burn in phase, various departments and users experienced difficulty using this data. After some additional design sessions, the client agreed that a method incorporating standardized custom tables would offer the same supportability they required, while also allowing for enough flexibility to accommodate all users.
Other modifications identified during the burn in phase:
This activity did not completely halt the addition of enhancements and scope change as the solution matured during the roll-out, but it did help to reduce the number and overall impact of those changes.
This is just one example of how a pilot or proof of concept strategy using a thin slice on the front end, versus the big bang of jumping right in without adequate preparation and study, made a difference in the amount of time needed to complete the project and the successful outcomes on the back end.