Next-Gen MES Technology

July 15, 2017
A recent ARC/Automation World survey shows that—whether implemented in the cloud or more traditionally—manufacturing execution systems continue to be critical for achieving objectives.

Manufacturing execution systems (MESs) can help manufacturers and other industrial organizations reduce costs while improving operations, collaboration, asset management, workflow and safety.

Specific MES functionality can vary significantly, depending upon the supplier and industry focus. Many of the newer MES applications are integrated solutions that include quality management and traceability, regulatory compliance documentation, planning and scheduling, energy management, and manufacturing intelligence and analytics, in addition to workflow enforcement and cloud capabilities.

ARC Advisory Group research indicates that MES technology usage continues to increase at a rate faster than automation in general. This is largely due to the technology’s ability to help optimize production for operational excellence. Manufacturers continue to focus on driving waste out of their operations by eliminating silos, simplifying and improving workflows, integrating advanced analytics, adding pervasive visualization, and standardizing technologies and processes. Whether implemented in the cloud or in a more traditional on-premise manner, MES continues to be a critical technology for achieving those objectives.

ARC/Automation World MES survey

Early this year, ARC conducted a survey in conjunction with Automation World to assess the current state of MES adoption. Most qualified respondents (we filtered out suppliers) had more than 10 years of MES experience. We further filtered out those without direct experience with the technology.

Top 10 applications

The 10 most-used MES applications (in descending order), according to the survey, are:

  • Reporting, including digital dashboards, KPIs and other reports
  • Production management
  • Quality system
  • Inventory management
  • Material management
  • Batch management
  • Scheduling and planning
  • Performance management and accounting
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Time and labor management

Reporting is the most important function for most companies. For those still operating in silos, getting the right information into the right hands can be time-consuming, and MES can make immense improvements. Overall productivity, cycle times and yield improvements are achieved using MES. One respondent said that MES is their “oxygen.”

Top 5 MES applications by value

MES continues to grow because users continue to see value from their implementations. Some respondents mentioned that they see a lot of benefits from process quality and traceability.

According to the respondents, the top five applications for MES are:

  • Production management
  • Quality management
  • Planning and scheduling
  • Batch management
  • Workflow management/electronic work instructions

Next-gen MES applications

Next-gen MES applications involve IT/OT/ET convergence, predictive analytics, cloud and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) deployments. About 42 percent of respondents have some cloud deployments. MES cloud deployment adoption varies by industry application and company because some industries see issues such as bandwidth, latency, IP and security as potential challenges. Once these issues are resolved, with newer technologies such as edge devices, ARC believes that cloud usage for MES will grow substantially.

ARC parsed the survey results into all cloud deployments vs. cloud deployment in oil and gas, petrochemical and chemical industries. Not surprisingly, we found that most cloud deployments in the latter industries employ private and hybrid clouds, but not public cloud computing. In other industries, such as the food and automotive industries and others in which it’s critical to collaborate with external partners, public cloud adoption is more prevalent.

End users have reduced costs just by using better visualization tools that enable the workface to obtain and understand information better. According to survey respondents, predictive analytics are being integrated into some MES solutions with immense benefits. A few users are adding virtual reality capabilities to be able to simulate process behaviors for new processes or products and prevent potential bottlenecks. Other new capabilities will be integrated into MES applications or provided as part of an MES solution.

ARC recommendations

MES is a valuable operations and production technology that will be integrated into companies’ digital transformation. ARC recommends the following actions for owner-operators and other technology users:

  • Implement MES applications that provide the most value and ROI first and initially do so in smaller pilot projects.
  • Assuming adequate benefits and ROI have been determined, extend the deployments as appropriate across the plant, sites and enterprise.
  • Use templates to roll out solutions across multiple plant sites and other operations across the enterprise to obtain the most value.
  • Excellent reporting and visualization capabilities are critical.
  • Use advanced analytics to enable faster insights.
  • Be sure that corporate management is aware of the benefits gained from using MES and support implementations.

ARC's latest market research on MES for Process Industries explores these trends and drivers in more detail and includes information on the leading suppliers to this market.

>>Janice Abel, [email protected], is principal consultant at ARC Advisory Group.

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