Manufacturing Excellence: The MES Evolution

Sept. 21, 2015
As the manufacturing industry adapts to technological and economic change, the role of manufacturing execution systems must change with it. Two factors currently influencing MES applications are mobility and the influx of a new workforce.

Standard MES (manufacturing execution system) functionality involves taking data from production devices, centralizing the data, processing it, and then producing information in real-time for visualization and review by operators and management. Beyond replacing the spreadsheets and paper notes that have long been used in manufacturing to track production, MES has also become a connecting element between the shop floor and ERP systems.

But this description of MES is a historical view of the technology. With the manufacturing industry changing rapidly due to economic reasons and technological advances, the question now is: Where is MES heading?

Recently, I learned some interesting new ideas during the “Manufacturing Excellence: The Evolution of MES" event held at the Autoware office in Milan. The event was designed to bring together diverse perspectives on MES to help better understand where MES technology is headed.

Two presentations in particular stood out for me: CosterTecnologie Speciali's presentation about applying mobile technology to MES in a pharmaceutical and cosmetic packaging operation, and A-27’s (Emmi Group) presentation about using MES to design a complete operations change at two food production plants.

Speaking about mobile technology use with MES, Eva Pagani, plant manager of Coster Tecnologie Speciali, said, "For about a year and a half we have been using mobile technology in our MES. We are satisfied with the solution, because it makes the system more flexible. We have several production machines operated by a few people and the use of tablets to replace traditional kiosks in the facility makes the work for these operators more ergonomic and reduces our licensing costs.”

Supporting Pagani’s sentiments about mobile technology use, the recent Global CEO Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that 81 percentof CEOs believet hat the use of mobile technologies will be “critical to the future of their business.“

Throughout the event, one thing became clear: MES will become increasingly flexible and begin to address issues not just within the four walls of a manufacturing facility, but across the entire supply chain.

Speaking at the event about the evolution of MES and its wider applications across industry supply chains, Luigi DeBernardini, CEO of Autoware, said, "In 1997, the concept of MES was defined by MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) as systems used to optimize production activities from order to finished product, but not covering all the features and functionality that a system must have to allow a company to produce safely, effectively and flexibly. For thisr eason, MESA, in the second half of the past decade, introduced the term MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management), including the processes that regulate and coordinate operations.”

Operations include the human aspect of manufacturing, meaning that businesses rely on the workforce to ensure that the entire production process is carried out in a coordinated and efficient way. However, a significant percentage of the workforce in almost all industries is expected to retire in the next decade, giving way to colleagues who have had different and less stable professional paths and who, as a result, have had less opportunity to gain full manufacturing operations experience. The adoption of systems that can support this new workforce, ensuring compliance with corporate best practices, as well as the necessary speed and flexibility to respond quickly to the market, becomes crucial to balance the future evolution of the manufacturing labor force.

Emanuele Sindoni, IT and organization director of A-27 Spa, sees these workforce factors as the key driver behind how he manages the use of MES at A-27 Spa. "What we want to do is to put MES at the center of the company, i.e., handling all production and related services,” he said.

Arianna Conte is marketing manager at Autoware, a certified member of Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) based in Vicenza, Italy. For more information about Autoware, visit the Autoware profile on CSIA’s Industrial Automation Exchange.

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