Smart Manufacturing and the Continuing Need for MES

March 28, 2016
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that smart manufacturing is a replacement for manufacturing execution systems.

The phrase “smart manufacturing” has been heard everywhere this past year, and has become part of every discussion related to manufacturers’ need for a manufacturing execution system (MES) or manufacturing operations management (MOM). Some might be under the impression that smart manufacturing has done away with the need for MES to support the coordination of operations processes, but in my opinion that is not the case.

According to a recent white paper from MESA International, “Smart manufacturing is the endeavor to design, deploy, connect and manage enterprise manufacturing operations and systems that enable proactive management of the manufacturing enterprise through informed, timely (as close to real time as possible), in-depth decision execution.”

The focus of smart manufacturing, therefore, is about the availability of information allowing timely and correct decisions to optimize competitiveness. The scope of influence of the definition obviously goes beyond the simple production operations, and is interested instead in the company as a whole through the integration of strategic, commercial, organizational design, production and distribution processes. The creation of a homogenous, harmonious and totally interconnected entity is the great challenge of smart manufacturing.

In this context, MES/MOM systems constitute a fundamental base for every smart production solution. The MES architecture is typically pretty standard. It is an application that depends on a transactional database. The system always has a strong integration with both the field (receiving huge amounts of real-time atomic data) and with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (which provides aggregated information).

On the path from the production lines to the ERP system, the collected data are correlated and aggregated for availability to all operators involved in the control chain, enabling them to better manage the production process. An MES provides information on the efficiency of a machine, line or department to allow operators to minimize downtime or waste; analyzes the need for raw material of production areas to ensure that it is available when needed while minimizing inventory in warehouses; collects and processes information related to the use of raw materials in the production cycle to allow the management system to update the stock availability and correctly the calculate product cost; guarantees traceability and trackability to minimize the impact of any recall actions; and tracks the progress of production to optimize the use of the machines.

All this constitutes just one of the tools necessary to achieve the smart manufacturing goal cited above. Smart manufacturing is not an alternative to the MES for that reason, but also because MES is a technological system while smart manufacturing is an approach to production.

Smart manufacturing leans on MES as well as other technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), the cloud, analytics, mobile devices and customer supplier platforms to create an environment in which a company can be competitive, able to respond effectively. Smart manufacturing focuses on people, assets and processes, all of which must be coordinated with respect to diversity and requirements to achieve strategic business goals.

So it’s a serious mistake to think that hearing less about MES or MOM means that they are no longer needed or have been supplanted by other solutions. Today, more than ever, MES is a key strategy for organizational and technological growth that can guarantee the health or survival of an organization in a competitive environment that is much more dynamic than it has been in the past.

Luigi De Bernardini is CEO at Autoware, a Certified Control System Integrators Association member based in Vicenza, Italy. For more information about Autoware, visit the Autoware profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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