‘No MES Is a Good Thing,’ Said No Manufacturer Ever

Manufacturing operations management is a low-risk, high-value entry point to digital transformation, but not all companies are ready for MOM 4.0.

Would it surprise you to learn that 81 percent of industrial companies still don’t have a manufacturing execution system (MES) in place? Even before the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digital transformation, accuracy and consistency in manufacturing operations management (MOM) metrics depended on having at least some MES functionality in place. Fast forward to today and most operations executives agree that MES is a fundamental building block of a digitalized industrial enterprise. Some might even say it’s the keystone, along with enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI) and analytics.

According to our research, 16 percent of companies plan going to invest in MES soon. Those that invest now as a launchpad to digital transformation will pave the way in their company for digital excellence and in turn operational excellence—but only if they apply a proven strategy. Though the journey isn’t quick and there are many decisions to be made, there are five critical crossroads that require thoughtful choices. At any one of these five junctures, it’s not about choosing what the marketplace says is “right,” but rather about making the right decision for your organization.

The first crossroad is just that—understanding and focusing on what makes your organization unique. Specific industry, type of manufacturing (process, discrete, mix-mode) and service delivery style all influence choices about MES and therefore about digital transformation. Now is the time to note what kind of manufacturing process your company deploys (many have more than one) and the scope of automation—manual paper-based, semi-automated, HMI/SCADA, or perhaps full PLC or DCS control. Other key factors are size (number of plants, lines and products), which enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is used and how many are in place, and if the business systems are on premise or in the cloud. Essentially, you’ll want a clear picture of the current state of manufacturing IT.

The next crossroad is finding out who is leading the quest. A lot of companies have discovered the hard way that digital transformation must be an all-inclusive cross-functional effort. If digital transformation already has the CEO’s attention, or at least the support of senior corporate executives, there’s a very good chance that building the business case for MES and getting executive buy-in will be quick and easy. At this juncture, you’ll want to determine if there’s a digital transformation team, and who the members of it are. Also ask:

  • Who controls plant technology decisions?
  • Has the organization faced or dealt with IT/OT convergence?

The third crossroad is carefully assessing manufacturing operations maturity. While the first two factors establish a clear corporate-level view of groundwork that might need to happen leading up to a digital transformation effort, maturity has an impact on the organization’s ability to actually deliver on digital transformation. LNS Research has a framework of 46 best practices to assess MOM maturity; the number of best practices adopted indicates the maturity level.

  • 0 best practices = L1, ad hoc
  • 1-5 best practices = L2, controlled
  • 6-11 best practices = L3, harmonized
  • 12-19 best practices = L4, agile
  • 20+ best practices = L5, innovation leader

Crossroad number four is asking the question, “How do we do MOM today?” There are seven styles of MOM, beginning with no MOM and progressing to monolithic MOM, cloud-based MOM, distributed modular MOM, IIoT platform with some MOM apps, MOM apps on IIoT platform, and finally MOM 4.0. Each style is more sophisticated than the one before it, but not all industrial companies are ready for MOM 4.0. The right entry point and architecture for the company is what’s important, not which vendor can supply it.

Finally, the most complex crossroad is deciding which style of MOM is the right launch pad for digital transformation. Though MOM 4.0 might be the ultimate vision, it’s probably not the right jump-in point for any company today. MOM 4.0 is part of a fully digitalized, fully integrated enterprise with applications spanning business, customer facing and every operational requirement. It also spans all systems, processes and roles—from raw materials to finished goods, from operator to CEO, and from sensor to system. As digital transformation continues to emerge and mature, more vendors and hence more manufacturers will tread the path to MOM 4.0--today’s leaders should be looking toward a rich set of MOM apps on an IIoT platform.

Ultimately, MOM decisions aren’t just about technology—business indicators, goals and strategies should influence leaders to make the best digital transformation and MOM choices.

>>Diane Murray is a senior marketing and research associate with LNS Research. Her editorial and marketing efforts span the breadth of LNS coverage areas, including digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), along with manufacturing operations management (MOM), asset performance management (APM), quality management, and environment, health and safety (EHS).

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