Do You Need an MES Platform?
What is MES? It stands for manufacturing execution system, and is a computerized system that allows manufacturers to track, control, and document processes--from raw materials to finished goods. Being able to manage these processes can greatly improve operational performance on the plant floor.
Manufacturing has been on the MES journey now for over twenty years. Many companies started with big ideas for MES, believing that it was going to revolutionize their plants to provide more automation and visibility. MESA (the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) attempted to define MES by listing 11 functions of an MES. This was merged with the Purdue Reference Model in 2000 by the ANSI/ISA-95 standard.
The model spans many functions, and this is perhaps where MES is set up to fail. While MES can help improve OEE, it is not the "silver bullet" that was promised from the start.
There may be a more simple approach to getting the majority of the benefit that many manufacturers are looking for from MES without the cost and complexity of a full blown MES implementation.
At a high level, MES benefits deliver on three core elements well:
MES focuses solely on the equipment and assumes that all problems around manufacturing execution can be solved through sensors and PLC software. In reality, this is a factor, but only accounts for a portion of the operational availability (OA) gap in manufacturing. It neglects to incorporate other critical abnormality management elements such as:
In theory, a MES Platform is designed to define capabilities for managing every element of the shop floor. But it's fallen short.
We've been told that MES can do it all. With enough time and money, it probably could. Of course, we've never come across a plant with unlimited resources.
In addition, due to the climate of global competition, manufacturers have been forced to narrow the MES scope because most implementations have taken many years and millions of dollars. In cases where they eventually do pull the trigger, they typically have portions implemented on the machine side, but the scope has been narrowed so much that they resort back to manual methods for many execution processes never delivered by MES.
Points to Consider when looking to purchase an MES Tracking System:
Part of the complexity is often due to the fact that many manufacturers have a growing list of SKUs with shrinking IT support staff. This creates a conflict between the ongoing support of MES and other competing IT projects. We’re not saying implementing MES can’t or shouldn't be done, but you should know what it will accomplish and what it won’t.
Historically, machines were operated by people who monitored production and performed visual inspections to maintain quality. They identified the manual adjustments necessary to restore the process back to a controlled situation.
This was during a time when it wasn’t uncommon to have multi-decade veteran employees who performed the same jobs their entire career. In today’s environment, workers and jobs change with much greater frequency, making it difficult to maintain consistency in productivity and scrap control.
As manufacturing processes have become more automated and sophisticated, the ability to remove variance and mistake-proof processes has been critical in increasing productivity, reducing scrap, and minimizing wasteful over production. This is accomplished by automatically adjusting for variation of product attributes and machine parameters, such as:
By building this functionality into the process, you thereby have a standard to measure against. This gives you the ability to know when the process has drifted out of normal operating conditions and notify the operator that a problem has occurred.
These capabilities can be very valuable, especially if you are highly regulated and the risk of error can be costly or even catastrophic.
However as mentioned above, many companies aren't in that boat. Some don’t have machines with PLCs, or primarily use hand tools for assembly. Others may have these things, but they are currently using paper to manage items such as recipe and trace. These manufacturers don’t want to spend years and millions of dollars on a complex MES, but still want to evolve into a digital factory.
An MES platform comes up short by only identifying and surfacing problems. What you need is a standardized approach that allows you to focus on systemic issues and resolve problems.
Often, there is no system in place to manage the follow-up and corrective actions, therefore the ball is often dropped and companies struggle to close the loop on common problems in their facilities. This puts additional burden on your key resources, as they are constantly fighting recurring plant floor issues.
Real-world example: Cars are getting more and more sophisticated every day, but they still rely on the operator. The computer in the car can tell you that the air in your tires is low, but it can't tell you that the tires aren't wearing evenly because you have a bad shock. Often, trying to use sensors to capture everything is just not cost-effective. Thinking you will eliminate the driver from the equation at this point is really just crazy.
It’s important to first know what your problems are. It's not unusual to find that many companies struggle with common problems like:
Often there are as many as two hundred processes and subprocesses in manufacturing, many of which are managed with manual methods such as paper, radios, and post-it notes.
Let's say OEE for your plant is at 65%. If you were to break out the 35% difference between where you are and 100%, how much of the opportunity can be solved by MES?
Often, putting processes and software in place to help bridge the gaps outside the basics of machine control can deliver huge gains without breaking the bank. Putting all of your eggs in the MES basket may leave you wanting more when you don't get the improvements you had hoped for. This is why we see the promise of MES failing in most organizations.
Maybe you still need a full-blown MES platform, maybe you don’t. Either way, the good news is you have options. Manufacturing is really about creating an efficient, consistent, and repeatable process.
Not only the actual manufacturing process but also all of the sub- and micro-processes that support the value-added process. Do yourself a favor—understand the process gaps in your facility and determine which of them has the greatest impact on your bottom line.
Successful companies can bridge a significant portion of that OEE gap by focusing on abnormality management. This means that anywhere a problem is likely to occur, they implement a closed loop digital system like L2L’s CloudDISPATCH to streamline and solve problems at all levels. The good news is that CouldDISPATCH can integrate with every major MES solution in the market
In order to achieve your objectives, you may still find it necessary to implement an MES solution. There is a wide array of companies available to provide this service, or you may have chosen to build it yourself. It’s becoming more cost-effective to outsource as companies have been deploying MES for a while now. It’s critical, however, to be clear on what you’ll be able to achieve vs. a promise that can’t be fulfilled.
You should now have a better understanding of what MES can deliver, and what MES often promises, but fails to deliver. Many leading companies are achieving the efficiency they need through L2L’s Lean Execution System (LES). This way, they’re able to identify their biggest problems, and put digital processes in place to solve them, realizing significant improvements.
There are four main aspects of the business that manufacturers have to deal with on the floor every day: Man, materials, machine, and methods.
If you feel you need an MES solution, and maybe you do, as they're very good at monitoring machines and material, then just focus the activities on those two aspects for better success.
When it comes to machines, a good MES solution controls the settings or the parameters of the equipment like the fill rate and the speed.
Next would be the material control aspect of MES. Meaning the components to build the product, the traceability of the lot numbers and/or the serial numbers of those components that go into making the product, from the raw components to the final product.
So, with that being said, it's very costly and time consuming to build an MES system, especially if you want it to control the whole plant. However, sometimes they're very much required by your customers and needed for the traceability of the product.
An MES can only notify you of the problems related to machines. Our research has shown that these machine related issues typically represent 15% or less of the total issues that occur on the plant floor. With this in mind, the much greater opportunity to drive improvement lies beyond MES. The opportunity to solve the other 85% of your issues is not only critical, but is also extremely valuable. Oftentimes, the lowest hanging fruit is found among the other 85%.
Therefore the smartest approach for many manufacturers is to deploy an LES first.
An LES allows you to achieve improvements in productivity by standardizing the responses to issues, and creating a closed loop on resolving them.
Additionally, an LES provides the continuous improvement foundation on which the MES can sit. And an LES extends MES capabilities for driving improvement. For example:
The good news is that while you have problems every day that need to be solved, you also have the people to help solve those problems. Problems equal opportunities and opportunities are where you become more efficient. The way you choose to manage those problems is how you gain a competitive edge.
The more quickly you can identify those problems (opportunities) and manage the actions around solving the problems, the more efficient you become and the more money you save.
A good Lean Execution System (LES) system like L2L will help in your problem solving efforts by helping you:
Manufacturers are looking to increase productivity. They can achieve this objective by consistently identifying and solving costly problems, and by managing the methods and people to build a continuous improvement culture.
LES allows them to do this with a fraction of the time commitment and resources that it takes to deploy and manage an MES implementation. As a result, many companies are either adding an LES as their worker interface on the plant floor, or deploying LES before MES to gain the quickest competitive advantage.
With an off-the-shelf LES cloud solution (Like L2L), the ability to be more agile is becoming a more cost effective alternative. L2L can be deployed and running in your plant in as little as 4-6 weeks.
The terms MES and MOM are very often used interchangeably. While they are both similar concepts, they are not identical. MOM stands for “Manufacturing Operations Management,” and can be defined as a collection of systems for managing end-to-end manufacturing processes with a view to optimizing efficiency. MOM refers to the overarching system or systems in your facility that encompass scheduling, dispatching, maintenance, skills management as well as the functions of MES. In contrast, MES is simply a part of the solution and is rarely the all-encompassing software needed in your facility.
In simple terms, think of it this way: MES (Manufacturing Execution System) + LES (Lean Execution System) = Lean MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management). Combined they offer a comprehensive solution to both the machine issues related to track and trace, recipe management, process control, etc., and all of the human actions/responses to the abnormalities that happen every day on the plant floor.