About 15 years ago, when I started working on production management system implementations, I was forced to use some roundabout expression to avoid saying “MES.” The client did not have the slightest idea of what MES – manufacturing execution system – meant. He already had some difficulties in managing production processes manually, and the idea of entrusting the management of production to an IT solution frightened him.
But times have changed and now the term MES has become customary to identify a set of industrial information technologies, replicated and implemented in ways that support the production management and execution. However, market needs have also evolved. The concept of an MES system, as described by AMR Research in 1992 as “the execution level of production applications that exist between the control systems and the enterprise to provide visibility and control functionality” and evolved by MESA in 1997 to identify systems that provide solutions to optimize production activities from order launch to finished products – does not include all the features and functionality that a system must have to allow a company to produce in a safe, efficient and flexible way.
For this reason, MESA began to develop the term MOM – manufacturing operations management – in the second half of the last decade. MOM includes the management of the processes that regulate and coordinate the operations functioning. It is therefore a broader intervention spectrum that goes beyond the technical execution of the production and is aimed to organizational aspects with greater attention.
The discussion of whether to continue to talk about MES or whether it is also necessary to evolve the language and extend the use of the word MOM may seem academic and, in some ways, it is. But there is an important aspect that makes this difference between these systems relevant. As mentioned before, a MOM system extends its range to the management and coordination of the processes that govern the operations. This is a very human aspect of the problem, in the sense that these processes are typically managed by the workforce that businesses rely on to ensure that the entire production process is carried out smoothly in a coordinated and efficient way.
However, the skilled and experienced workforce that is able to govern these processes based on experience is aging rapidly, and companies must deal with this trend. A significant proportion of the workforce in almost all industries is, in fact, expected to retire in the next decade, giving way to colleagues who have had different and less stable career paths, thus less opportunity to gain experience from keeping the same role for a long period.
For this reason, we are witnessing a depletion of the knowledge and ability to manage the organizational processes of production, which instead are becoming increasingly critical in a highly variable market. Precisely because of this, the adoption of IT systems that can support these processes by computer and ensure compliance with the company’s best practices, the flexibility to respond quickly to market inputs, and provide leanness and speed are essential.
As a result, it may be necessary to start talking more about MOM than MES.
Luigi De Bernardini is chief executive officer of Autoware, a Certified Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy. Learn more about Autoware on the Industrial Automation Exchange by CSIA.