Newer, flexible MES systems make plant floor adoption easier

The age old proverb “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” certainly applies to manufacturing. New techniques and methods of various processes continuously emerge, often labeled as “technology.” However, many technological developments simply don’t pay off. For those that gain common use as a manufacturing process, relative longevity is nearly assured.


The age old proverb “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” certainly applies to manufacturing. New techniques and methods of various processes continuously emerge, often labeled as “technology.”

However, many technological developments simply don’t pay off. For those that gain common use as a manufacturing process, relative longevity is nearly assured. So it goes with manufacturing execution systems %%MDASSML%% that layer of information processing that automates some portion of operation, line and plant management by using information gathered from plant, corporate, supplier and customer activity.

Today a new approach is emerging, which I will call the “next generation MES systems.” These flexible, out-of-the-box MES systems %%MDASSML%% now available from several sources %%MDASSML%% empower manufacturers to actively participate in applying the system to various manufacturing processes. The adoption of open standard infrastructure over the last 20 years, including TCP/IP, OPC and SQL, has increased the applicability of commercial systems.

Before this new trend emerged, automotive manufacturers have applied various information tools to the data available, using data collection mechanisms, databases, spreadsheets and other analytical tools to help increase productivity. In many other cases, simple methods have been used to the same end, such as Kanban cards and flow manufacturing models.

Simple methods, while not always applicable, have simple implementation and maintenance cost exposure. More sophisticated methods imply more complicated implementation and maintenance. Although positive results can be easily measured from the application of MES, such as higher productivity due to increased yield and reduced waste, the total cost of implementing and maintaining such systems remains elusive, and is often concealed in supporting staff and indirect supplier costs.

Using an incremental approach has been the traditional mode of introduction regarding MES systems throughout the automotive industry. Spot requirements dictate point solutions; therefore the lowest initial cost option has typically been applied. Whether driven by OEM requirements or internal control plans, limited processes and systems have been implemented to address required functionality.

Over time a “monster cat” has evolved %%MDASSML%% one that is difficult to skin in any way. The obstacle is most often a lack of flexibility %%MDASSML%% static linear functionality, unsupported point solutions, disparate code base, unavailable developers (internal or external), incompatible infrastructure and unaddressed new requirements. Interdependencies among ad-hoc purchased and developed systems have now handcuffed manufacturers. The next incremental point solution is either unattainable or far too costly.

That’s where this “next generation” MES system has emerged. The exponentially decreasing cost of information processing power and storage has finally brought adoption costs within reason. Homegrown, custom programmed, small scale point solutions are now losing favor in contrast to highly flexible, enterprise scaleable and broad based MES systems.

The cats therefore are migrating. Point solutions still exist, but manufacturers need to be aware of the pitfalls. In addition, attractive limited functionality can be obtained through extensions to corporate systems such as ERP, or extensions from the industrial controls layer.

However, these often require the same handcuffing customizations to solve the task at hand or communicate to existing systems.

Full-featured MES systems with a high degree of flexibility are becoming the solution of choice for automotive Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs with complex and sometimes conflicting requirement sets, such as single unit orders (mass customization), global execution, Six Sigma levels of quality, Lean manufacturing environments and precise delivery (packaging and timing).

To be sure, there are now even more ways to skin the MES cat; manufacturers must consider current applicability and future flexibility, the total cost of ownership and continuity of product and service.

Author Information
Gregory M. DeLaere is the founder, president and CEO of VIA Information Tools.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
Welding ergonomics, 2017 Salary Survey, and surge protection
2017 Top Plant winner, Best practices, Plant Engineering at 70, Top 10 stories of 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Setting internal automation standards
Knowing how and when to use parallel generators
PID controllers, Solar-powered SCADA, Using 80 GHz radar sensors

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me