How to Develop a Multi-site MES Template

Many manufacturing enterprises with more than one site face the disadvantages of a hodge-podge of systems.

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For example, they must maintain several interfaces and they depend upon employees who have knowledge of diverse, sometimes exotic, technologies. Moreover, they do not enjoy any economies of scale.

This situation changes if the plants use one and the same Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Then they invest only once in the selection, specification and building of the system, and reuse this in maybe tens of factories. A central competence center bundles the required knowledge and experience. The information is now standardized across the plants, so there’s a better basis for benchmarking the performance of factories, and also for exchanging knowledge about processes. And, of course, they’re in a much stronger position when bargaining on price with the supplier.

You may wonder, “Is it really possible to use one and the same MES? Our plants are not much alike…” Remember that, when your company started to use a central enterprise resource planning (ERP) system on all of its sites, you changed procedures. It was not the information system that adapted itself to the company’s usual way of working, but the other way around. For MES, this is a bit more complex. Of course it is possible to some extent to change procedures and workflows, but the physical production processes are a fact. You don’t rebuild a packaging line, just to make it fit the MES system. So again: Is it really possible to have one and the same MES for several plants?

Same, or not

If one plant bakes chips and the other produces yogurt, then it is not likely to be possible. But if a group of factories produces clay tiles and the other group produces concrete tiles, than there’s a great chance that it can be done. You can probably identify a few groups within your division that have the same characteristics when considering product families and processes. Do they execute batch processes, or discrete or continuous processes? Is the complexity more or less the same when comparing the number of runs a day, the amount of different product, or the degree of flexibility that is required? This way, you can group factories and analyze the differences and similarities of each group in more detail.

The first time that I had to develop a multi-site MES template, I went to all of the factories to interview key users about requirements and to describe the plants’ characteristics. Then I merged this information into one MES template. This can be done if only three or four factories are involved. But what if the division consists of more than 30 plants?

In the 30-plants project, we decided to establish a working group in which each of three groups of factories was represented by one plant manager. Furthermore, the group had an internal project leader, and also included the IT manager, a representative of the future internal MES competence center, an external MES consultant who wrote the documents and myself, leading the workshops and other meetings.

We planned two workshops of two days each in which the plant managers came together to describe the differences and similarities of the plants’ requirements, based on ISA95 models. The whole trajectory took seven weeks, from kick-off to the final acceptance by the steering committee. It was a tight schedule that we realized, thanks to the enthusiasm of the team members. They put other appointments aside in order to be present during the workshops. That is extremely important during such a project. People from different countries, with high functions and full agendas, have to build the template together. The success of the template highly depends on their involvement.

Bianca Scholten, bianca.scholten@task24.nl, is a Principal at IT integration firm TASK24, in The Netherlands, and a voting member of the ISA95 committee. Her book “The Road to Integration; A Guide to Applying the ISA-95 Standard in Practice,” is available at www.ISA.org.
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