Manufacturing Execution System, MES

Why Your MES Doesn't Justify the Expense: Part 2

Keith Barr
By Keith Barr
25 Oct 19

To make MES work for you, you'll need custom code. Creating and maintaining custom code costs a lot of money.  Whether you're writing the code or using a vendor's platform to write code specific to your environment, you're setting yourself up for ongoing expense beyond what you'll estimate. 


The True Cost of an MES

The total cost of ownership includes the purchase, as well as all the elements relating to code debt – whether you want to admit it or not.  There are also costs associated with use, administer, and having a place to run the solution.

When it comes to estimating the true cost of your MES, consider factors like:

The cost of a role. Consider the person/job role you dedicate to administering or maintaining. Even if considered part-time, the hours still cost the business and most applications require a semi-dedicated administrator, as well as those dedicated to maintain and update. Even enterprise solutions like SAP or Maximo require dedicated administrators. Your enterprise MES will as well.*

The servers/hardware.  You need hardware -- whether it's cycles, memory or storage from an existing machine, or you're buying a new set of servers. Both cost, and are usually right-sized to optimize costs, so adding your application is never free.

The number of licenses. Individual seats for the operating system, database, code authoring, APIs, 3rd party controls, etc. are all additional costs that are often overlooked.

Additional life cycle costs. These might include code control, educating users, rolling out changes, etc. All compile additional unseen costs to ownership.

Education. The education of the one who develops or configures the MES probably can't be calculated.  We often think our smartest folks know everything they need to, but without considerable industry exposure and experience, or the depth of resources of those developing applications for the market, it's unrealistic to expect them to provide the right solution or something that can scale across the disparate sites that make up most manufacturers.

           *any time you're running custom code and don't have a full-time administrator, you're posing a serious risk.

As you can see, there's a lot to consider when evaluating the true cost of an MES. This is why cloud solutions hold such appeal with successful plants. With a  cloud solution, maintaining the code falls to the vendor, allowing manufacturers to focus on what they do best: manufacturing.  


MES Is Dead. Long Live the Cloud!

The MES promise of being "all things" has too many hurdles to expect it will ever happen.

While specific instances of pilot projects or proof of concepts may demonstrate some success at a single site, scaling those to proliferate over the organization hasn't been done successfully. Subsets may have scaled, but often the knowledge required at the site, the disparate nature of the different plant environments, and the lack of understanding at the corporate level has provided a recipe for failure to scale. 

But sites may have an alternative that does allow them to achieve greater progress toward MES. Cloud solutions offer unique agility to enable this path, and can address the challenges above regarding cost of ownership and business risk.

With a cloud provider, they're serving and supporting many different types of customers and have to provide the ongoing support to assure their success. They also bring significant depth of functional knowledge to accommodate a wide variety of needs, especially in how to use their application's capabilities. A cloud provider:

  • knows what best practices are for the specific type of operation or manufacturer.
  • has broad expertise about how to use a software and how it can address specific business needs.
  • knows how to tailor it to assure reliability and availability.

Cloud Isn't an Alternative to Renting vs. Buying MES...

Let's clear up a common misconception: cloud isn't an alternative to rent vs. buy.  The real value is in adding functional expertise to your team.

Many companies are moving to cloud infrastructure because it alleviates the burden of maintaining the code AND gives them access to experts who understand how to use a given application within an environment. Benefits of a cloud provider include: 

Extensive knowledge. The cloud provider's resources know the application and the functional area they serve. They can provide invaluable guidance on what works and what doesn't before you spend time or money coding. 

One cost. The total cost of ownership includes all the intangibles you may not have visibility to (re: true cost of an MES), but are now in one price.

Collective experience. Cloud provider understand a lot of machines and environments and their collective experience could be literally hundreds of years.

When novices write code themselves, they actually don't know whether it's going to work to meet a business requirement nor can they interview enough people to address unique needs. This means learn as you go, which can contribute to delays in achieving any business value, as well as disrupting the business when things just plain don't work.

Most notably: The requirements never end. The ongoing education of the developer means they're continually figuring out something that has to be added or changed, so what started as a 3-6 month project is now an indefinite full-time job.

So Do You Really Need MES?

People think that they'll get the truth from machines; the future of MES proclaims that recipe management is achievable. But very few companies have actually achieved this. And those few examples are EXTREMELY costly. We're talking millions of dollars and 5+ years.

Most manufacturers understand that recipe management is a pipe dream and will never be a reality.
But what if you could achieve all of the same outcomes of MES without the need for costly machine integration?

Good news: You can.

Granting visibility to plant floor operations can give you all the data you need to improve efficiency and OA. 

A lot of the issues that impact production are beyond what the machine can tell you, anyway. MES/machine integration can only tell you whether a machine is running or not. A simple operation interface can accomplish this by determining whether a worker produces the right amount of parts in a given time frame.

So, you may not need an MES. Leveraging human intelligence and using a system that has some degree of situational awareness leads to more significant improvements.

IoT is becoming appealing because sensors and connection standards on plant floor is what MES has failed to do. Additionally, IoT a better solution because it's proliferated outside of manufacturing and we can understand what's going on with machines without an added layer of integration. 

Curious about how you can enjoy all the benefits of an MES but circumvent the costs? Schedule a demo with Leading 2 Lean today, and we'll show you how our proprietary cloud software is revolutionizing plant floors all over the globe. 

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