What Does IIoT Mean for MES?

Jan. 8, 2018
The Industrial Internet of Things is a productivity enabler and a complement to your existing manufacturing execution system, not a replacement.

Manufacturers, vendors and service providers are working diligently to understand the net impact of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

IIoT is disrupting manufacturing, starting with existing systems, and this is spurring initiatives, pilots and studies around the world. Though IIoT is a step toward the future, it does beg the question for many manufacturers: “What about the manufacturing execution system (MES) that I have today?”

It’s important to note that the MES is one part of the process, people and systems triangle of productivity. IIoT is a net productivity enabler and a complement, rather than a substitute, to MES. In fact, MES has been notoriously costly to implement with long execution schedules. However, we have seen where smart devices and cloud-based systems allow manufacturers to stand up line downtime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) within days without substantial investments—costing less than a monthly luxury car payment. These IIoT smart devices can even enable machines that are not network-connected or do not include a programmable logic controller (PLC).

This progress coincides with a greater demand for return on assets (productivity). On-demand customization, in response to increased competition, has drastically changed how manufacturers are thinking about their lines and plants. This is only one example of changing customer trends resulting in higher productivity demands.

This shift in productivity disrupts all three aspects—people, processes and systems—through the application of available technology. The catalyst for this improvement is access to data, a lot of data, in a steady and consistent manner. The MES layer is intended to accumulate and provide this data.

Here are three scenarios that show the gaps that can be filled to positively impact productivity:

  • System scenario: “I would like to get access to my plant data, but it’s too expensive with my current system.” —Discrete Manufacturer
  • People scenario: “I am getting data from all my equipment. I like how it’s presented, but it’s stale and I don’t trust it. Data seems to be manipulated before it’s reported up.” —Beverage Packager
  • Process scenario: “For every 10 process parameters, only one equipment parameter is logged.” —Process Automation Manager

The gaps in these scenarios exist in varying degrees across MES installations, and this is precisely where IIoT comes into play to expand the capabilities of MES rather than replace it. Technological progress enabling IIoT ranges anywhere from smarter sensors and actuators to more reliable cloud infrastructures. IIoT in this sense is less of a disruptor and more of a sign of progress along the continuum of technology.

To answer the initial question (“What about the MES that I have today?”), it is important to realize that it is less about substituting and more about complementing the MES with IIoT.

Call to action:

  1. Shift the conversation around MES to a constantly evolving system comprised of many technologies rather than a standalone application.
  2. Engage with the IIoT ecosystem to test technologies that can increment the MES.
  3. Test IIoT applications for measurable gains in productivity across people, processes and systems. Potential areas include:
    • OEE
    • Personnel management
    • Inventory management

A properly implemented MES can bridge the world of corporate IT and connect it to the near real-time world of automated operational technologies. To learn more about how to deliver ROI and improve your bottom line with an effective MES, download this white paper.

Chanakya Gupta is business development manager at Avid Solutions Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avid Solutions, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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