As a cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution, a manufacturing execution system (MES) is the foundation for just about every smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and digital transformation endeavor.
Like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the MES supports a wide range of capabilities from data collection and analytics to enterprise resource planning (ERP) interfaces and manufacturing applications. The range of manufacturing applications is significant and includes order management, production management, line scheduling, quality management, material management, recipe management, performance tracking, enterprise manufacturing intelligence as well as extensive descriptive and diagnostic analytics.
For any MES to be highly effective, however, it must have several specific characteristics that will provide both significant capabilities and significant value. When considering different MES options, ask potential vendors about these key characteristics to understand if the MES can provide the foundation for smart manufacturing.
A highly effective MES must start with a comprehensive database to capture all the critical information from the shop floor. Essentially, every piece of data related to the manufacturing operations in the four walls of a plant from the receiving dock to the shipping dock needs a place in the database. That includes materials, suppliers, customers, processes, equipment, labor, quality, maintenance, deviations, incidents and everything else that is part of the manufacturing process.
The database must also be structured to support a wide variety of data. Some of the data will be time series data coming in frequently from the manufacturing processes. The MES database must include a historical component designed specifically to handle time series data. For event and transactional data, the MES database must include an object-based relational database that allows for easy access to the shop floor data. Additionally, the MES database needs to include a data lake or data warehouse component — possibly using a star schema — that supports historical data and a wide range of analyses.
The execution part of an MES must include orders, production, consumption, scheduling, quality, materials and recipes at a minimum. But it also must have built-in capability for ERP integration, plus integration with other information systems, along with the ability to integrate automation and control systems through the IIoT.
Enterprise manufacturing intelligence and performance tracking in the form of real-time dashboards and other displays should also be included in an MES. It must have both real-time and historical analytics in the form of descriptive and diagnostic analytics.
For companies who have multiple facilities, an MES should easily scale up to those facilities with hundreds of workers in them or scale down to those with very few workers. But there should be no difference in the capabilities as even the smallest facilities need a comprehensive solution.
A highly effective MES must work across a variety of physical architectures. Gone are the days when the systems reside at the manufacturing facility. An MES lets the IIoT do its job on-site while the MES resides in the cloud. In fact, different parts of the MES may reside in different parts of the cloud and the same is true for different parts of a database. MES applications — including transactions, dashboards and analytics — might very well be served up to different people all over the global enterprise.
An MES solution can't be custom, and it can't be a toolkit. It must be a configurable solution built on specific out-of-the-box applications and application templates. It must be easily configurable. Virtually every aspect of the MES system must be configurable. That includes screens, applications, dashboards, reports, analytics and more. There should be no custom code in an MES solution, just configurable out-of-the box applications and application templates.
In a smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 environment, manufacturing facilities change all the time — equipment is moved or added, processes are changed or added, and so on, all the time. The MES must be able to easily handle these changes. Whether its changes to the plant model, to the database model, to specific applications or to dashboards or analytics, MES must be flexible enough to handle these types of changes on a routine basis.
In the past, MES systems tended to function in certain ways and were targeted for specific industries. Although there are some specific requirements for certain industries (e.g., pharmaceutical industries), a highly effective MES must get beyond this paradigm. In an Industry 4.0 environment, manufacturing enterprises must adopt different manufacturing approaches to the point where traditional lines between process or batch manufacturing and discrete manufacturing are being blurred. Most everything is moving toward hybrid manufacturing with most companies adopting a wide variety of manufacturing techniques.
To be successful as an Industry 4.0 solution, an MES must be comprehensive, providing a complete set of functions, yet scalable down to the smallest facility. It must be powerful, supporting all the manufacturing functions, yet easily configurable across the board. It must provide significant capabilities and benefits while being extremely flexible to adapt to constant change in the manufacturing environment. Finally, it must support a wide range of distributed architectures, all based in the cloud. In doing so, the MES provides the smart foundation to build upon.
Ask potential vendors about whether a solution can provide these capabilities to see if it is a highly effective MES, which is the cornerstone of the fourth industrial revolution and the foundation for just about every smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and digital transformation endeavor.