What is a Manufacturing Execution System? | Hitachi Vantara
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Manufacturing Execution Systems

What is a manufacturing execution system?

Applications that track and document the transformation of raw material through a production pipeline to finished products are known as manufacturing execution systems, or MES. These systems notably monitor and track the production lifecycle, while other applications will handle aspects of the product life cycle. The production lifecycle is typically contained to shop floor operations, where manufacturing is ongoing. In today's modern, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) world, MES integrates through IIoT with devices, like sensors, instruments, robots, machines, and other networked devices.

The main purpose of an MES is to enhance the management and control features for administrators and leverage automation to optimize production. Beyond this, supplying its data and analysis, MES can integrate with several other systems at various levels, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, used to supply top level resource planning analysis, or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), used to help manage industrial processes controls and data in larger operations.

Manufacturing execution system (MES) vs. enterprise resource planning (ERP) software

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software are not alternatives for each other. Simplistically, an ERP manages stocks, while an MES manages the pipeline from raw materials to manufactured goods. Three main points differentiate ERP systems from MES systems:

  • Functionally ERP and MES fill complementary but different roles within the manufacturing plant. While ERP focuses on overall quantitative analysis and scheduling, the MES focuses on the shop floor operations.
  • Because their functional domains are different, both ERP and MES integrate into the larger plant system differently. ERPs are top level, and draw their data from other application sources, like CRMs. MES integrates directly in the machines and devices used in the industrial line, or through IIoT.
  • Data captured in time is another difference. MES are real-time, collecting data directly from devices and machines. ERPs will perform periodic data analysis, drawing from multiple sources across the business to generate hourly, monthly, quarterly reports and more.

More detailed key distinctions between ERPs and MES functionality include:

  • ERP systems mostly address pre-production issues as well as post-production analysis, with may entail
    • Product strategy
    • Reference product information
    • Production demand
    • Master data
    • Bills of materials (BOMs)
    • Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
    • Change orders
    • Inventories
  • Contrastingly, manufacturing execution systems must have the capacity to anticipate, align and adjust production and business parameters in real-time. MES also manage the data generated during and just after production, such as:
    • Resource usage (labor, equipment, materials)
    • Order and work-in-progress (WIP) status
    • As-built genealogy yields
    • Time events
    • Machine throughput
  • The complementary nature of MES and ERP functionality allows manufacturing companies to integrate these systems and reap numerous benefits:
    • Increased overall equipment efficiency (OEE)
    • Reduced cycle times
    • Reduced data entry
    • Data consistency
    • Leaner manufacturing
    • More on-time delivery

MES and industrial IOT

Some confusion develops around the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and manufacturing execution systems. MES applications have been in use since the 1990s, and in the wave of modern industrial smart technology adoption, IIoT has become synonymous with industrial automation, and Industry 4.0, spurring the notion that MES has been replaced. To clarify, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) work together to provide a complete picture of a manufacturer’s floor operations.

For many business benefits, data analysis has been recognized as a fundamental requirement in modern manufacturing. For instance, to perform tasks like root cause analysis, large quantities of data are needed. IIoT gathers much of this data, like contextual details from devices, sensors, machines and controllers. The MES combines the data from IIoT with its own context, like customer details, orders, products, recipes, billings, etc., to complete the total picture of operations within the wall of the factory.

While both IIoT and MES collect data, the MES, in conjunction with team members, owns the domain of analysis and determination of situational changes in the ongoing manufacturing process. This means, installing just an IIoT will provide a communications backbone between and among devices, but it will not include the analytical brain to compile the context.

IIOT and IOT platforms vs. MES platform

IoT (Internet of Things) platforms layer multiple technologies that provision and manage connected devices on an IoT network. IoT platforms are somewhat associated with consumer products, like those found in smart homes.

Operating in industrial settings, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) platforms function similarly to IoT platforms, but with more advanced features. The advanced features serve the specific needs of an industry. For shipping and physical storage, this may come in the form of robots that move products around a warehouse. Industrial cases are highly complex, with thousands to millions of connected devices that require powerful and robust platforms to effectively manage them.

MES platforms can be imagined as a layer on top of IoT and IIoT platforms. This layer, while not a management layer, effectively extends the information analytics pipeline that can be connected from the device on the shop floor up through business insights and decision making applications. In advanced cases like IIoT, decisions can be automatically relayed to shop floor devices for corrective actions, changes in scheduling, anticipation of materials, etc.

Why do MES need IIOT platforms?

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are brought together under the popular umbrella term Industry 4.0. IIoT is essentially the foundation of all smart manufacturing. Acting as a backbone, IIoT makes it possible for sensors, devices, machines, robots, controllers, databases, and information systems to communicate between each other. Because of this, IIoT was thought to replace MES as a device facing system. MES has not been replaced, instead, it has embraced IIoT and now adds much greater value as a data context system.

MES integrates with IIoT to improve data analysis, and root-cause analysis. IIoT collects data from sensors, devices, robots, controllers, etc., and provides that data to the MES which, possibly linked to other data systems like ERP, can add greater context to the IIoT data. By analyzing device data with details on customers, orders, bills of materials, etc. a complete and useful picture of data can be created.

This data context is important in the manufacturing environment where orders, materials, schedules, and more can rapidly change. Manufacturing teams rely on MES to make sense of and error-proof data through rules enforcement. This means that if a specific quantity of material is to be used, only that amount is allotted. Same goes for equipment, the types of tasks, and in what order. While the IIoT collects data on these processes, the manufacturing execution systems ensures their accuracy.

Benefits of manufacturing execution system

Manufacturing execution systems are complex applications that help manufacturers improve visibility into their operations as well as enhance their ability to control and manage them. Several other key and incidental benefits stem from these systems.

  • Improved Management And Control — MES enhances visibility into the entire production lifecycle, while adding controls and analysis, ultimately improving quality.
  • Automated Regulatory Compliance — Compliance is complex to maintain. Leveraging compute and automation functions at the point of work, namely the plant floor, and integrating into the larger company systems, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms, off loads that work from humans to machines, making data organization easier. Organized data means compliance becomes manageable and turns from a burden into a strength.
  • Fast And Accurate Reporting — High level leadership, concerned with business level issues, needs to look at a different analysis than those in operations, who need details of the factory line. MES systems are able to analyze data for digestion at multiple levels, feeding the right information to the right users.
  • Increased Visibility And Efficiency — MES platforms provide centralized dashboards with relevant real-time information about factory floor operations. Operational visibility reveals inefficiencies like where there are bottlenecks, and identifies incidents as they happen.
  • Reduced System Costs — From operational visibility stems costs transparencies where direct intervention can have positive impacts on the bottom line.
  • Improved MES Supply Chain Collaboration — Integrating MES into inline supply chain information systems enables data sharing that can contribute to greater supply chain efficiencies. Further, as value chain and supply chain entities grow in cooperation, greater value can be passed down to customers.

Manufacturing execution systems software

The core features found in manufacturing execution systems (MES) software help companies improve the quality and productivity of their production lines. MES core areas include resource allocation, shop floor management, production scheduling, production monitoring, data collection and analysis. Within these areas, MES systems must be able to perform the following functions.

  • Build schedules and execute production plans
  • Effectively allocate human and material resources
  • Provide information about plans and task details to shop floor workers during production
  • Visualize shop floor layout, workstations, and equipment
  • Visually monitor in real-time the movements of materials and personnel on the shop floor
  • Track equipment performance through SCADA system integrations
  • Assist identifying potential production bottlenecks and issues
  • Present reports, dashboards, and analytics and track output, utilization, and performance

Software that is related to MES include:

  • ERP Systems
  • CAD & PLM Software
  • Quality Management Systems (QMS)
  • Asset Management Software
  • Supply Chain Management Software (SCM)
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