May 16, 2020

Manufacturing execution systems and the human factor

5 min
Manufacturing execution systems and the human factor
In an age of increasing technological sophistication in manufacturing processes, human beings are the most important and valuable resource a company pos...

In an age of increasing technological sophistication in manufacturing processes, human beings are the most important and valuable resource a company possesses. It is still this human element that dictates true operational efficiency – that is, if it can be optimally integrated into a business’ production practices.

A manufacturing business will often measure its efficiency output by using a metric such as OEE – Overall Equipment Effectiveness. To maximise OEE and reveal hidden capacities, a business should use a number of real time Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for evaluation: quantities produced, lead times, quality and substandard goods, and periods of disruption.

However, to actually gain any meaningful insight into these factors, a suitable Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is required. But how can a business leverage additional benefits from their MES? Reporting and evaluation is one thing, but MES solutions that can fundamentally enhance a business’ production efficiency and output is another.

Unfortunately, many current MES systems focus on automated data collection and are difficult and unintuitive to use. Data entry is a challenge, can be complicated and systems are often neglected as a result – running production and hitting targets is king on the shop floor, and systems that impinge on day-to-day activities are quickly cast aside. As a result, OEE metrics are not available in real time and there is no overall visualisation of performance.

All of these factors can leave hard-working staff feeling disillusioned and ineffective when seemingly obvious problems from the factory floor remain unsolved because they are not effectively communicated to or actioned by decision makers.

Fortunately, there is an alternative approach to MES at hand, and one that truly adds value to and enhances operating performance. 

Incorporating People into Processes

Effective MES software directly involves production personnel. It is not about simply having staff to oversee the production processes, performing simple repetitive tasks in a continuous cycle; it is about empowering these staff with MES solutions that put the spotlight on them, their abilities and their personal performance levels.

This approach is known as ‘human MES’. With the human MES approach, everyone within a company – from the factory floor through to mid and senior level management – can contribute their expertise to the benefit of production and, ultimately, profitability.

In factories, it is the people that know ‘their’ machines best, and the people who are best positioned to inform management on work cycle improvements. Businesses should treat this expertise with the value it deserves.

The best human MES solution gets operators involved from the start and makes it easy to use the system. The software can automatically collect and collate all the data acquired from the production process and visualise it on a web-based platform that helps staff address every performance indicator from every machine and process.

The information will be available to factory floor staff in real time through easy-to-use terminals, which can allow operators to monitor current efficiency by calling up relevant KPIs at the touch of a button. It provides instant staff motivation, enabling them to see if they are hitting targets, whilst allowing them to monitor production schedules and immediately disclose or act upon any errors or disruptions that are causing downtime or quality defects.

This removes any morale-sapping doubts that result from a lack of transparency between the factory floor and management. Not only that, it gives staff the personal satisfaction of knowing that actions they have taken have made a genuine difference to the company – and that they are being noticed by their supervisors.

Production Efficiency = Cost Efficiency

Many manufacturing plants are faced with spiralling costs and increasing competition. Even marginal improvements in their production efficiency can yield substantial financial gain. A business could face any number of problems, or even problems they don’t yet know exist: a need to improve production yields, reduce overtime caused by machine downtime, or avoid unnecessary capital expenditure to increase plant capacity they may not know already exists but is hidden from the view of the key decision makers.

All of these must be considered whilst maintaining the ability to satisfy customer demand. But making these improvements is rarely achieved through gut instinct. In such a competitive environment, taking a chance with such an approach can leave a business in dire straits and reversing these punts can be incredibly difficult.

That is where the successful combination of people and technology really comes to fruition. If adopting a purpose-built human MES solution could drive efficiency by even just five to 10 percent – which could equate to savings of hundreds of thousands of pounds – then why wouldn’t you consider it?

More than Software

A human MES solution is designed to be more than just a software system. It is designed to encourage a more holistic approach to refining manufacturing processes – achieved by encouraging communication and operational optimisation based on intelligence obtained through the integration of man and machine.

The system gives employees the opportunity to incorporate their knowledge and experience into an IT-supported platform that educates and motivates them. Happy, motivated employees plus sophisticated, tailored software. The final result? Efficiency, profitability and business longevity.

Often, a business without such an optimised solution does not realise the gains that can be achieved or the problems that currently exist. By contacting a specialised provider of unique MES software, your business could be outperforming the competition with its own human MES solution in as little as six to eight weeks – including full software implementation and intensive staff training.  With such a short implementation cycle and a focus on the human element of the project, benefits and return on investment are rapidly realised, alongside ensuring a sustainable model for self-sufficient operational excellence.

James Wood, Director, Factory & Activplant Product Lines at Aptea, a leading provider of CRM, ERP and Supply Chain software for businesses


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Jun 8, 2021

IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery

Elise Leise
3 min
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims that while markets are rising and manufacturing is coming back, it’ll push for global immunisation

After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022

Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery. 

Lingering Concerns Over COVID

Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high. 

Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery? 

IMF: Current Boom Could Falter

Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”. 

Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”. 

Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.

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