What Kind of MES Do You Need?

Aug. 15, 2014
When considering what kind of manufacturing execution system (MES) your operations should have, you need to consider several factors related to technical and business needs, and particularly context.

When people ask me which manufacturing execution system (MES) they should get, I ask them what kind of MES they need. It’s an easy enough question, but the answer is likely a long one, with several things to think about related to technical requirements and business needs.

The most fundamental point in deciding what kind of MES someone needs is context. How does the MES fit into the architecture, and what is the MES supposed to do?

There’s always a context for the MES because there are always other systems already in place. Maybe it’s a DCS and maybe it’s an HMI/SCADA. Maybe it’s an ERP. Or maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, MES has to fit in well with the other pieces of the architecture. So in trying to decide what kind of MES is needed, ask the question, “How does the MES need to integrate with the other pieces of the architecture?”

The flip side of this coin is all about what the MES is supposed to do. This is often much more complicated than the architecture, and it gets more complicated when you start to understand everything that MES can potentially do. The issue here is to focus not on the MES itself but on what it’s supposed to do in the manufacturing operations. In this case, ask this question: “How does the MES need to drive manufacturing operations and influence behaviors in this specific setting?”

The overriding consideration is how MES is going to impact the business. What specific things can be done in a particular manufacturing setting to improve productivity? To improve capital effectiveness? To reduce rework? To reduce waste? To reduce costs? To increase first-pass quality? To increase yield and efficiency?

What you really need

MES is not a standalone or point solution. It must be part of a total system that’s easy to integrate and support in the overall existing systems architecture. It needs to work well with ERP, supply chain management and PLM systems.

We’re long past the point where manufacturing was disconnected from the business and from the supply chain. Manufacturing is an integral part of the business and the MES must be an integral part as well.

We have to have a single integrated architecture. This MES architecture needs to have several key characteristics:

  • Integrated data sources for analysis and transaction activity.
  • A consistent user interface for the plant floor.
  • Functionality to support the production side of the business.
  • A focus on more than just transactions or events—be sure you get forward-looking insights.

In the end, MES must be a solution that helps manufacturing become more flexible, react quickly, and be responsive to the demands of the real world. If MES can do these things, then it can be successful. That’s ultimately the kind of MES that you need.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than I can explain in a short column like this. But the main points are here. Stay focused on the business. Look at the requirements. Look at the architecture. Make sure the MES has a positive impact on the business.

That’s the kind of MES that you need—that every manufacturer or producer needs.

>>John Clemons is director of manufacturing IT for Maverick Technologies. He is on the MESA Americas Board of Directors, and is chair of the MESA Marketing Committee. He has been working in the field of manufacturing IT for more than 30 years, and is co-author of the book Information Technology for Manufacturing: Reducing Costs and Expanding Capabilities.

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