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.
Quality is a critical component of any project. Automation integration projects are no exception. We've all heard about projects that deliver less than the expected results - what was designed on the front end was not necessarily what was delivered on the back end. Obviously, the goal is to go into the commissioning stages of a project with a high level of confidence that everything will perform as expected and function as designed. Here’s the secret: executing a rigorous quality testing plan is the key. Quality testing should be a fundamental practice for every integration project.
If you're wondering what a quality testing plan looks like – you’re in luck. The key components to integration project quality checking are:
1) Project Design Documents
A quality testing plan should begin with a solid set of design documents. Imagine trying to build a house without blueprints. It would be almost impossible to know if something is wrong with the house. There would be no design documents to check against.
In an integration project, the design documents might be detailed design specifications, schematics, data tables, etc. These design documents should capture the desired functionality of the system and serve as the roadmap for configuration of the integration project as well as the standard to which the various components of the system are tested.
It's important to note that often the first draft of the design documents is created early in the project before all variables are known. However, it is typical for the design of the system to change, even slightly, throughout the project execution. Therefore, it is critical that the design documents be treated as “living” documents and continuously updated.
2) Quality Checking Schedule
The frequency and timing for when a quality check should be executed during the project lifecycle varies by project. Often, there are several quality check events scheduled. Some projects will utilize a single quality check event to ensure quality before a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) or system release to the customer. Typically, it is a good idea to perform a quality check activity during the early stages of system configuration. Catching errors early on can be a great way to increase efficiency while reducing costs. In the end - regardless of many quality checks there may be - it is essential to perform the final quality check after all of the configuration has been completed.
3) Quality Checking Resource
It is critical that the person(s) performing the quality checking be unbiased. It's considered a best practice to use someone who was not intimate with the design or configuration of the system. The perspective from someone outside, who did not significantly contribute to the design or configuration can be fresh and insightful, often illuminating errors that would not have been seen by someone who has been immersed in the development of the system.
4) Quality Check Documentation/Process
During the quality checking it's important to have the latest copy of all applicable design documentation. These documents provide the standard to which the system will be tested.
Some additional tips:
Including these four steps in your next integration project will help to ensure a top quality project that always meets - and often exceeds - expectations.