The hype around digital transformation and new technology solutions for the manufacturing industry continues to increase. If you've heard of manufacturing execution systems (MES) but haven’t yet explored what it's all about, we’re here to help.
We’ve developed a blog series called MES 101, which will guide you in your exploration of this technology solution. In this first post, we'll answer three rudimentary, though certainly not simplistic, questions:
- What is an MES?
- How does an MES work?
- What's so big about data?
What is an MES?
We'll start with the basics, especially since putting a standard definition to MES is challenging, even for the experts. (MESA, the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association, has created an entire dictionary just to try to cover all the facets and functions that comprise an MES.)
As a brief definition, a manufacturing execution system is an innovative, interactive software program or application that delivers real-time visibility into shop floor data for the purpose of profitable decision-making in manufacturing facilities.
How does an MES work?
MES software is connected through various means to machines and equipment on the shop floor of your factory. This can be accomplished in multiple ways:
- PLC integration
- Ethernet or wireless connections
- Digital inputs and outputs through sensors wired into machinery
- Analog signals from legacy equipment
- Utilize machine interface protocols for process monitoring.
It's worth noting here that many so-called MES solution providers don't or can't connect their software to older, non-digital machines. Make sure you ask about this during your consideration phase! The best MES solution providers can connect to anything—literally.
You should not have to phase out or upgrade legacy machines in order to implement a manufacturing execution system.
If your chosen MES provider is worth its salt, you'll be able to optimize your older equipment and squeeze out every dime of productivity you can while that equipment is still running and serviceable!
What's so big about data?
You've hooked your machines up to MES software and you're getting data. Now what? What's the point? To put it simply, the more you know, the better you're able to decide what to do next.
First, assess your current situation. What steps do you take to ensure on-time shipment of high-quality product to your customers? Maybe you look at end-of-shift reports to figure out whether you made enough good parts to meet your deadline. But do you know how accurate those reports are? Have you ever experienced a discrepancy between what the report says and what you later learn actually occurred on the factory floor?
Next, identify the cause of the discrepancy. If your operators or shift supervisors are entering data by hand—on a clipboard or into a reporting program—your discrepancy is likely the result of human error. Carelessness, haste, misreading, typo... whatever the reason, intentional or not, the net effect is YOU making decisions based on inaccurate data.
Additionally, by shift's end, that manually recorded data is "old." What if you ran five hours of scrap? Wouldn't you rather have known about that before shift change?
The MES Solution You Need
With an effective MES in place, you have high-performing software and sensors to ease you and your employees out of the grind of already-obsolete manual data entry and into the satisfying reassurance of automation and real-time insight.
Kick off your clipboards and pencils, slip into an intuitive UX interface, and relax knowing that data is doing the heavy lifting for you. Close your eyes and imagine the refreshing sounds of all your shop floor machines running simultaneously at optimal speed and temperature. Take in the aroma of smooth production and well-oiled manufacturing processes.
Return the smiles of your operators who no longer have to pencil-push before they clock out.
Feel the weight of disgruntled customers melt away as they receive high-quality product, on time, every time. Sip the cool savings that flow into your bottom line now that you've reduced scrap rates and optimized machine up-time.
Unlike a dream vacation, with an MES you’ll never have to go back to your old life. You have arrived in paradise!
To see the next post in our MES 101 series and get more information about how an MES solution can benefit your business, subscribe to our blog!