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CSIA Guest Blogger

MES and Competitiveness

Manufacturers around the world are grappling with the loss of operational knowledge that occurs when the older generation hangs up the clipboard and retires. To address this, manufacturing execution systems need to expand to cover more broadly defined operations.
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Generational changes in business affect not only the top management. All corporate levels are impacted, undermining the integrity of production processes, the ability to optimize them and sometimes even compromising the ability of the company to exist.

If, in the past, competition took place mainly on the basis of the product’s features, companies now also have to compete on the business model of the organization and its processes, regardless of whether they are a production, distribution or management firm. The quality of the product, while still being a key element, is not sufficient to gain or maintain market share on its own. If the company, as a whole, has the ability to move in a more or less coordinated way and adapt to the changing needs of the market, that ability equally determines the competitiveness of the product.

For this reason, traditional MES systems, i.e., those focused on the support of production management, are often less effective today than in the past. In fact, they are focused, as the name suggests, on ensuring that production process take place in the most correct and effective possible way, not covering the wider needs of "operations" as a whole.

If the company, as a whole, has the ability to move in a more or less coordinated way and adapt to the changing needs of the market, this ability equally determines the competitiveness of the product.

This is why the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association International (MESA) evolved the term MES into manufacturing operations management (MOM) — including in it the management of all the business and coordination processes that characterize the entire production departments of each company.

In this context, two tools already known in the business, are beginning to be adopted in manufacturing to fill the gaps suffered by traditional MES. What I am referring to here are "business process management" solutions that, in production, become "manufacturing process management" and "business intelligence" that becomes "manufacturing intelligence".

Beyond the change of nomenclature, these solutions need a substantial transformation to allow them to manage information and processes characterized by "real time" information that is much more specific and adapted to the needs of the operations staff that has different characteristics than management.

The process management solutions allow business processes to be modeled in a “simple” way, ensuring that they are carried out properly and appropriately monitored. This has a triple meaning: In the first place is a key element to ensure product consistency and compliance with regulations. In the second instance, these solutions allow the company to measure and analyze the efficiency of its organizational processes—to identify bottlenecks and take the necessary actions to improve them to reduce costs and improve competitiveness. Third, you can convert people's experience with organizing activities into corporate assets, structured and formalized in such a way as to be guaranteed even in the change of human resources.

This requirement is certainly not new. What’s new is the need to do so in a flexible manner, adapting their processes quickly to the demands imposed by the market and adapting with the same speed all the control tools.

Manufacturing intelligence solutions must get the necessary information to support decisions made daily to keep the production process competitive and aligned with business goals. Again, this is not a new problem; what's new is the need to update this information in "real time" in order to speed up the decision-making process. What once could be done with a weekly report today often requires an intra-day reporting basis to take account of changes both in the conditions of production processes and in business strategies that are much more volatile than once.

For these reasons, a combination of these instruments complementing a traditional MES system becomes a competitive element that is particularly effective and often essential to support the competitiveness of the company. They allow the automation of decision making and coordination of resources, in addition to providing the basis for more complex information that is of greater strategic value.

Luigi De Bernardini is chief executive officer of Autoware, a Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy. 

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