What is Smart MES?
A Smart Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is a system that executes, monitors, tracks and reports on operations on the plant floor in real-time. In essence, for manufacturers, it means that multiple aspects of manufacturing planning and operations can integrate seamlessly, at all times.
What are the Benefits of Smart MES?
As you can imagine, there are many benefits that Smart MES can offer to a business, especially when it comes to helping companies to better understand their operations and get more out of their workforce, equipment and materials. In my opinion, there are three key benefits that Smart MES brings.
Firstly, by enhancing the quality output and minimising waste, companies can maximise their resource utilisation. With Smart MES in place, manufacturers can gain far better control of their resources, drive equipment improvements and maintenance, and maximise the company’s achievement of sustainability goals – most notably, reducing its carbon footprint.
The second is helping companies to achieve operational excellence. Through these Smart MES systems, manufacturers can improve asset efficiency by leveraging assets such as materials, machinery efficiency, manpower, and more. In doing so, companies can increase yield while reducing losses and improving quality, without affecting delivery times.
The final benefit would be improving supply chain effectiveness. By collecting production data at a faster and more accurate rate, operators can quickly and easily recognise potential security risks and operational issues – ones that would otherwise create bottlenecks in a process. Instead, manufacturers can reduce the impact of such deviations, increasing the overall supply chain efficiency.
In short, with operational intelligence such as Smart MES in place from the plant floor to management level, everyone involved will be given the visibility, insight, and support that they need to make decisions faster and manage the business better.
How Important is Smart MES, and What Effect Has COVID Had on its Significance in Manufacturing?
With customers demanding traceability more than ever in the face of COVID-19 and regulatory requirements become more stringent every day, companies are now facing significant pressures across all industries.
As a result, we have certainly seen more and more customers eager to leverage MES and link their business systems with real-time, operational, plant-control systems. In doing so, they create an information-driven manufacturing process that can help trigger actions or execute operations, rules and more.
This capability has become increasingly vital to coping with unpredictable demand levels and global supply chain disruptions – two factors that have been creating extreme pressure for a multitude of industries over the last year. Certainly, these technologies were already becoming more popular with manufacturers, but the COVID-19 crisis has prompted a sense of urgency to implement these smart processes.
What are the Challenges of Implementing Smart MES solutions?
I think the initial challenge is the broad range of various Smart MES solutions that are available for companies to choose from and implement. In this aspect, manufacturers can find it a challenging or daunting task to choose an affordable system that works best for the company and its operations.
Manufacturers grapple with challenges like balancing production with cost and quality, managing a changing workforce, and accessing real-time data - all while striving to reduce downtime and improve output. It can appear difficult to find the best solution to achieve all of this.
There can be a lot of options to choose from and some solutions are even customised to a specific production process. For example, at Rockwell Automation, our FactoryTalk® PharmaSuite is the leading MES solution developed specifically for the Life Sciences industry, whereas FactoryTalk® AutoSuite is developed specifically for the Automotive industry, and FactoryTalk® CPGSuite covers Consumer Packaged Goods. So, it’s important that companies looking to implement Smart MES are working with those best positioned to help find the right solution for their unique needs and their specific industry.
What Are the Best Practices for Implementing Smart MES Capabilities?
There are several things to keep in mind when investing in Smart MES applications. Firstly, many smart manufacturers are starting small. As an initial step, they address specific manufacturing challenges like quality, machine performance or track and trace capabilities.
Rather than at a plant level, they are instead implementing an MES application solution at the machine or work area level, knowing that they can build on this and further integrate MES into the process when the return on investment becomes evident. As an initial step for manufacturers, it is certainly best practice to identify exactly where improvement can be made to a process and achieve it at an affordable cost.
The second area of best practice, one that I feel is particularly important, is determining a clear action plan for the project with all involved in the implementation process. Looking beyond the technology to determining who has the authority to change a process, or who is responsible for maintenance, is a vital step in successfully managing an important process like this.
Finally, I recommend establishing an overview of the current state of operations before Smart MES is implemented. When the newly implemented system is up and running, you want to be able to compare and calculate the exact benefit of the implementation, in terms of quality, output, cost-savings and more. This is extremely helpful in showcasing the return on investment a company is gaining, particularly for manufacturers hoping to expand their Smart MES operations further.