Subscribe and listen to AW’s podcast!
Subscribe and listen to the Automation World Gets Your Questions Answered podcast!
Listen Here

Determining Metrics for MES

Sam Russem with system integrator Grantek explains how MES software tracks key production metrics and how manufacturers should go about assessing their operations to figure out which metrics to track with MES software.

Transcript
David Greenfield, Automation World

0:14

Welcome to the automation world get your questions answered podcast where we connect with industry experts to get the answers you need about industrial automation technologies. You can find even more answers by subscribing to automation world at subscribeaw.com. I'm David Greenfield, editor in chief at automation world. And the question we'll be answering in this episode is how do you determine which key performance indicators or metrics to track with manufacturing execution system software? And joining me to answer this question is Sam Russem, with Grantek an industrial system integrator. So thanks for joining me, Sam.

 

Sam Russem

Hey, thanks for having me, David. Great to be on the podcast again.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

0:57

You know, let's just start by explaining how manufacturing execution system or manufacturing operations management software is used to track key production metrics.

 

Sam Russem

1:08

Yeah, so what good good place to start right? MES is really kind of great at calculating these production metrics, it's kind of cool, it checks all the boxes in a really nice way, right? I mean, to get and use these metrics, there's really three things you got to do, right, you got to get that source data, you need to do some computations on it, and kind of start to turn that into information with context. And then you got to get that out of the system and out to stakeholders. And we're gonna use that to make some decisions, right. So mes again, it can do each of those pieces, and it can do them in unique ways too. So when it comes to collecting data, your mes usually sits above your plant's control systems, it can talk to PLCs, SCADA historians, things like that in the factory. But it's also going to talk to things outside of the factory, it could talk to your ERP as your supply chain management systems and things like that. So it's good at getting all of this different data from all of these different systems. And then it does have all of the usually the infrastructure behind it to do some of those computations you're going to want to do also whether that be through database calls or inbuilt functions to the MES or writing your own custom code. And then that last steps, usually the easiest, actually, it's just kind of presenting this on some type of dashboard or some type of report that you can get out the door to all the stakeholders to go through and make decisions. So if you're wondering kind of where you can be calculating certain metrics that are that are tough for you to get today, an mes might be kind of that building block in that space where you should be building that. Thanks for explaining that, Sam,

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

2:43

you know, before we go any further deeper into, you know, this explanation here, you know, around this topic, you know, one thing I want to address are the two terms MES and MoM for manufacturing execution system, and manufacturing operations management. And those two terms are largely used interchangeably. But is there any real distinct difference between the two and your opinion? Or is it more of a vendor naming preference?

 

Sam Russem

3:10

Both of those are kind of correct, honestly. Um, so Yes, MES/MOM are used interchangeably all the time. And it took me a while kind of working in this space for free, we kind of need to kind of grasp the difference at first, I really just thought that in English, it was weird to call things MOM all the time when you were talking about manufacturing, but but really, my understanding is that it is more like so MOM manufacturing operations. Management's is like a function. It's a domain of places where you can do all sorts of things. Where MES, a manufacturing execution system is a type of software that helps you do manufacturing operations management. So I tried to work up a little analogy. This is the first time I'm trying this. Let me know if this applies or not. But it's kind of like mom is saying something like automobile transportation. And mez is something like cars, right? So automobile transportation is a big concept. It's about using motorized vehicles to get things from one place to another. Cars are a specific type of automation of automotive transportation, that is good at transporting small numbers of people, but not everything that solves your transportation problems as a car, you have buses, you have trucks, you have motorcycles, and they're each good at different things, right? Trucks are better at moving large amounts of cargo, motorcycles are better at taking a single person somewhere and having them look very cool when they do it. So there's all of these different kinds of types of things and types of systems that can solve a MOM problem. So again, in this context, there's all sorts of different pieces of software collections of software that can help improve your manufacturing operations management. MES is one of them. They're particularly good at things like that data selection, scheduling, collecting some of that data and kind of presenting those analytics. There's other more tailor made solutions that also help with operations management, things like your warehouse management systems, or your limbs systems or your maintenance management systems, right? These are all things that might not be necessarily a part of a mez piece of software, but are still helping you in that mom's space. So yes, they're used interchangeably all the time. Usually, when people are talking about mom, they're talking about MES systems as well. But there are other pieces of software that definitely help in that set in that domain.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

5:35

Okay, so in terms of our reference, what we're talking about today, with KPI and metrics, tracking, it applies equally to both or is it more in one area or the other?

 

Sam Russem

5:45

Yeah, good question. So I would actually say a lot of the beds, the mom, software's that we're talking about here, are going to have a lot of the properties of MES that I'm talking about that are valuable for it, right? They're just kind of tailor made for specific applications, again, that warehouse management systems are really good one, right? So if you're talking about principles of manufacturing, operations, management, inventory management is a huge and kind of complex area. And there's just pieces of software that are very specifically tailored to doing inventory management very well. And you can even imagine, argue that that is a form of mes software itself. It's all it's all a little academic.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

6:24

So I guess going forward, I'll just refer to it as MES since that's the tends to be the more commonly used acronym. Anyway, so getting back to the metrics issue, you know, what does MES software tell users about these metrics? You know, does it just track them and provide a historic historize view of the trends? Or can it provide insights based on its tracking of these metrics? Yep. You know, like, on what things to target or where to make improvements? Or does that require separate analytics types of software?

 

Sam Russem

6:57

that's the big opportunity. I feel like in MES, and where a lot of them are trying to get to. So if you look at a lot of what you're talking about here is kind of similar to metrics, maturity guidelines, right? Where a lot of analytics maturity models, they talk about how you start with kind of descriptive analytics, and then go to diagnostic and then predictive and then prescriptive, right, so each of those levels being a little bit more complex than the last. So any MES software worth its salt today is going to give you descriptive and diagnostic analytics. The question is which ones are going beyond that to do more predictive and prescriptive work as well. Some MES platforms are certainly kind of getting more into that space and doing more of that within their their ecosystem. But there are also a lot of other third party software's that might specialize in a certain type of predictive work, or are just a good tool set of other more powerful predictive tools that might be able to help you. I'm thinking about like predictive maintenance tools and things like that, right, they're using similar data that an mes could compute compute for you. But there are predictive maintenance tools that are using similar data to MES that are going to be very purpose built and very, very good at predicting those things. And you might not want to do something in your mes, if there's software that's out there that is good at it already. And then there's definitely plenty of AI/ML platforms, you can also layer on top of this, if you did want to get to something more powerful. And I gotta say also that like, we're not taking people out of the equation just yet, in most of these cases, right. So even if you do have some intelligence in these systems, that is giving you that that's really pointing you in the right direction and telling you what to fix, you usually do still need some human interaction to validate that decision, or to actually go through and do that work or make that change. I think that people are still rightfully cautious about a completely hands off approach for things like that.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

8:51

Hopefully, this is something that augments what people do, and helps direct them without having to spend the time trying to, you know, crunch all of this data that's, you know, almost impossible for humans to do in any sort of realistic amount of time. So, so getting back to the specific reader question behind this podcast is, you know, how should a manufacturer go about assessing their operations to figure out which key metrics they should be tracking with MES software?

 

Sam Russem

9:18

My take on it is that there's really kind of three schools of thought when you come to trying to find where you're going to start that MES journey, right? It's that you find your your biggest problems and complaints, and you go and try to tackle those. So you go and try to that's option one. Option two is you find those low hanging fruit to try to show that you can get something working. And three, which is a lot of kind of how I was trained a while back was really that you start with these overall business objectives, and then cascade your goals down to figure out what that MES and KPI strategy is going to be. I think that there's issues with all of these strategies in isolation, right? If you're If you're looking for the biggest problem, you're probably also finding the most complex problem, because if you could solve it, you would have solved it already, right? So that can really lead to a very complex design and expensive and risky implementation. On the other hand, if you go to the other extreme and take that lowest hanging fruit, sure, you might be able to show something, but you might not actually get any value out of it, right. And then what's the point, and business objectives like sounds like a really great starting point, and I wouldn't say it is probably the best practice. But what I've seen happen a lot of times is companies maybe without as strong of a strategic direction, or maybe don't have kind of that clear goal and business objectives laid out, it can really spiral into more of like a business management consulting activity, and you kind of get lost in in what you were trying to do in the first place. So I think it's probably pretty obvious what I'm trying to get to here, which is, I think that the right answer is a balance between these three, right, you want to find a problem that is really going to that people are complaining about, it's going to provide value, but not your hardest one, right. And you're going to want to make sure that this is all aligned to some type of overall business goal that you can set a goal post around, I want to reduce scrap by 10%, or increase throughput by 4%, or something like that, you should have some type of business metric that you're trying to do. And then you collect all your pain points and opportunities that can really drive that. And that's where you start to kind of build up where you might want to apply this MES technology to get started.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

11:26

One thing that I'm thinking about here, and this may be one of those, it depends kind of answers. Because absolutely, you know, because every MES piece of software is going to be different. You know, but once a user is determined which metrics they want to track, how is this typically implemented in the MES software? I guess, at a general, you know, high level?

 

Sam Russem

11:51

Yes. So actually, I'm gonna go back a little bit to kind of how I answered the first question, which is, I really kind of recommend breaking things out into three letter two to three layers, kind of like a model view controller type thing, if you're used to that type of programming terminology. But like, it's your connectivity, your compute and your display, right? Your connectivity piece, how do I get all of these data from all of these systems, that's going to change all the time, because you probably have lots of different systems that are going to want to get your data in different ways. So like, that needs to be its own core, because it's going to change at a different rates, and for different applications more than the other sides of things, then you have your compute. So once you've kind of modeled all of this data, hopefully you're bringing it in, and the common format. Now what you do with that data can become more standard. And when it gets to visualization, then you want things to be very standard, right? The more you can reuse, the better. So I do think you're gonna help to break into those ideas, how am I going to connect to all of this equipment? How am I going to get all of that data? And then who do I send it to? And I also think that as you break things down, that way, you'll kind of intentionally modularize your code to make it easier to kind of improve and change these things down the line as you do you need to roll out and expand.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

13:01

And speaking about changing things, you know, as you move forward, you know, how difficult is it to add or adjust the metrics that you track in MES? If adjustments do need to be made over time based on what you've learned?

 

Sam Russem

13:14

Yeah, well, if you follow what I just kind of described, hopefully not that bad. But it does, it can get messy all the time. I mean, there's plenty of times that I've walked into plants and other people that Grantek have walked into plants that have MES systems that have a lot of like hard coded data, right? So if you don't know, right, we're talking about hard coding something we're talking about, like when you code very specifically to a problem at hand, and not for flexibility and change in design in the future, like so people are gonna make a chart that shows you a temperature over time, but only works with this one temperature probe, and it won't translate over to other temperature probes and things like that. Right. So if you're designing your code with a proper modularity with that flexibility from the beginning, hopefully small changes are easy to implement. Of course, this is going to be an always depends type question. You know, if I'm riding a bicycle today, I'm not going to be able to turn it into a Ferrari tomorrow. But there's still work with small tweaks, we should be able to do it easy, easy, easily if it is well designed.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

14:14

So, you know, we've been talking about, you know, this, you know, this topic at a very high general level. But can you give some examples of customers that you've worked with on metric tracking via MES nd how that's benefitted their operations?

 

Sam Russem

14:28

Yeah, I do have a cool story about this. So um, you and I have talked about OEE on a couple of podcasts before so OEE is a metric that is pretty commonly calculated an mes layer, right? And you can always go back and listen to those podcasts if you want to hear all a lot of information about it, but high level for this conversation, right. OEE tells you how efficiently a line is running, how much you're utilizing it, and helps you break that down into availability, throughput and quality. So we had a customer that was facing a do I improve or by new decision they needed to increase the production capacity and production output of their plants? And they were didn't know, do I need to invest in installing an entirely new production line or couple of lines to meet that demand? Or am I able to change things on my existing processes of mining existing machines for a lower cost, then I'll still be able to hit those numbers. So we started that with an OEE calculation. Right? Okay, well, how efficiently are your current assets running, and we found that through that the throughput was pretty set just based on the nature of the process? Sure, if there was availability issues, the machines went down sometimes, but even if we fixed all of the downtime issues that wasn't going to get to them to their production numbers, it was really quality quality was the issue that we had. And if we could increase quality by a certain amount of points, for under a certain amount of dollars, it was pretty clear that they could just that there'll be a much more cost effective solution to make those improvements. So that actually led to another expansion of that MES system. So okay, if quality is the thing that we need to fix, we started adding in more SPC features, so that we could try to detect before would happen if a quality issue what was imminence? And then there were other things too, right. So I believe the manufacturer worked with some of their suppliers to get more consistent materials in the door. And they also changed some of their operating processes on the floor to make sure that people were coming by those machines more often and taking more corrective action. And in the end, thanks to the data that came out of these MES systems, they were able to hit those new production numbers without having to install a new line.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

16:38

So yeah, there was the ROI. So one last question, Sam, since we've been on the topic of mes here, you know, there's been a lot of talk for years now that MES software, you know, while not going away, of course, is probably likely to be absorbed as part of ERP systems, or maybe even larger SCADA/HMI systems. So based on your experience, you know, in industry with these systems, are you seeing this come to pass? Or do you think MES is always going to remain an independent software component,

 

Sam Russem

17:13

I honestly think that the landscape is changing to accommodate some of those options. But it's not going to replace the MES kind of software's that we know today, it's just getting more choice to people in the market. Right. So here, let me go over kind of a couple of examples of where we've kind of seen this before, kind of through SCADA and ERP. And some other options, too, that I think are interesting. So in that flattening the stack conversation that you and I had had, we talked about SCADA as doing more mes functionality, specifically, we were talking about inductive automations ignition SCADA, and how you can expand that to MES functions using the Sepasoft MES modules. It's a really cool option for people that have that ignition SCADA already, and maybe you want to dive into more mes use cases, but don't want to have to buy a big mes, they just maybe want to solve a couple of problems. Or they do kind of want to train people on a single ignition platform and not another MES platform. So it might not be as fully featured out of the box is dedicated MES software, but a really great way to expand your SCADA systems and start to get some of those gains. On the other hand, you have things like sap of the biggest ERP, at least in North America, right. And they have been adding mes like modules to their platform for years now, right, they do have a week, they do have SPC, they have em. And that's definitely all overlapping with mes software. The challenge with those is that they aren't in the plant most of the time, right. So there are systems that are owned and managed by it and corporate it they don't have systems in the plant. So that type of communication to get that plant level data is definitely possible, but it ends up usually being kind of expensive and more complex. Now, another approach that I do think is really interesting is what a company like Tulip is doing. So Tulip bills themselves as a next generation MES, and they're doing something unique and valuable in that they have this IoT app based philosophy where instead of paying an upfront fee for all of these MES features in a big piece of mes software, you design, implement and pay by the application, which makes it really easy to solve individual problems. For example, you need a GXP rated electronic batch record EBR system for a bio manufacturer. Traditionally, you might need to buy a fully fledged MES just to solve that ERP problem. And with Tulip you just deploy a single EDR app for much less complexity much easier to validate much lower code and cost point so so no, I don't think that the quote unquote traditional and the yes software I like your Aveva your production center your Plex, that's not going away anytime soon. But the markets expanding and that is offering new choices and new choices to customers. And that can help solve problems in different ways. And, and I think that's a really good thing.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

20:14

And I even heard it, the Aveva World event last week that even they're going with their abs, they're going modular with that. So you can buy the components of it, you know, via SAAS, or, you know, installed on premises, but they're going in that same mode to while they're still going to offer the full blown mes for those who want it for in its traditional format.

 

Sam Russem

20:34

Even if the softwares don't completely change the market and become the next Aveva or something like that. They are at least you know, these smaller companies are coming and doing more innovative things that then forces change from other players as well. Right. They're kind of setting new new ideas and precedent.

 

David Greenfield, Automation World

20:49

Exactly. All right. Well, thank you again for joining me for this podcast, Sam. And thanks of course to all our listeners. Please keep watching this space for more installments of automation world get your questions answered. And remember, you can find us online at automation world.com And subscribe to the print magazine at aubscribeaw.com to stay on top of the latest industrial automation technology insights, trends and news.

 

 

Test Your Machine Learning Smarts
Take Automation World's machine learning quiz to prove your knowledge!
Take Quiz
Test Your Machine Learning Smarts
Discover New Content
Access Automation World's free educational content library!
Unlock Learning Here
Discover New Content