A Tale of Three Clients and Their Journeys to MES

MES implementation can take many routes, with some more successful than others. In this article, we follow three different clients and discover how their early MES implementation steps led to success or setbacks down the line.

Tim Gellner, Systems Integration Consultant, Rockwell Automation
Tim Gellner, Systems Integration Consultant, Rockwell Automation

This is a short story about three clients, each in the early stages of an MES (manufacturing execution system) implementation. These clients are in different businesses, but their production processes and shop floor equipment are very similar. They each employ CNC machines and other related equipment to produce their respective products, and each client has plans to connect that equipment to the MES to provide an automated means of gathering critical production data that is, at present, either being recorded manually or not at all. 

While each of the three clients face differing challenges in getting their production equipment connected, they each have chosen a different approach to achieve it. 

Client #1

This client has tens of machines from which they want to gather data. The machines range in age from 10 to 30+ years old, over half of which fall into the latter category. They have data interfaces to the newer machines and collect a limited amount of data from them. Their approach to the integration and the MES implementation was to eat the elephant in one bite. They assumed that all of the machines could be connected and integrated into the MES as they were, and therefore made no concerted attempt to validate the assumption leading up to the MES engagement. This approach proved to be problematic in that it became necessary to perform a detailed survey of the machines to determine if a data interface could be accomplished in the older machines. The client will have the ability to access machine production data via OPC on the newer machines. For the older machines they are limited to hardwired I/O connections to the controllers which provide running, stopped, and trouble indications to a small PLC which the MES can access. This additional exercise delayed the MES definition phase of the project and added cost.    

Client #2

The second client has fewer machines that generally fall into the 20 years old and newer category. This client is also adding new machines to their facility. They currently do not have an automated means of gathering data from the machines they have; they rely on manual collection of production data. They knew up front that they needed production data from their machines to support the MES project. They also knew that it made sense to break up the MES implementation into three phases—essentially a crawl, walk, run approach. The decision was made that as part of the first phase, we would conduct a proof of concept of machine connectivity on a small cross section of their machines. Once the interfaces were proven, the remainder of the machines could be brought online in the second phase of the project.    

Client #3

The third client is primarily installing new equipment. They knew that they would need to get data from the machines for the MES implementation and, based on that knowledge, they engaged early with both the OEMs and the MES team to determine how best to get the interfaces defined. This early engagement resulted in machines being delivered to the facility with an essentially plug-and-play data interface preconfigured by the OEMs.

The takeaway from these stories is that, regardless of the approach taken to machine connectivity, it can always be done to one degree or another. The client’s conditions, expectations, and assumptions play a large part in easing the pain and cost of implementation of a MES/IIoT application.

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