Manufacturing Execution Systems [MES] is a software-based solution used in manufacturing to monitor and control production processes on manufacturing shop floor. The primary purpose of an MES system is to track, monitor and document in real time transformation of raw materials to finish goods at a manufacturing facility. Typical MES system core functionality is accepting and tracking data from manufacturing shop floor, running software processes on collected production data, document and link materials used in manufacturing. Provide availability of materials status to processes down stream by recording materials in up stream manufacturing stages.
Such a manufacturing approach helps management in data driven decision making to down stream processes in labour requirements and product delivery schedule by tracking movement of materials in real time. Another important feature of MES system is traceability from final product to various materials used in assembly of product which could be a critical requirement in most manufacturing industry. One of the major advantage MES systems is inventory optimization at various stages of manufacturing this helps forecast production activities. MES systems come in different flavours as they are not a single MES system in market that will be 100% compatible to a manufacturing process and will require customization both in design and software to match site requirements. A good MES system is one which has a flexible agile design and could be easily customized to meet site requirements.
Overall architecture of a typical MES system and its major processes is listed below:
Data Collection: Data forms a central source of MES system, these data could be from material used in various manufacturing stages, like item number, batch information, supplier data, unit quantity, operator credentials and location. Nonmanufacturing data could also be collected like equipment status condition, sensors, runtime hours of manufacturing equipment.
Data integration: This is the most challenging part within MES system implementation, data in various format needs to be integrated back to centralized server-based software system database. There are third party interfaces available to make data integration easier, but the approach is not without its own challenges. ControlSoft Canada plays an important role in data integration within various manufacturing facilities and have expertise working on data integration with various MES systems, data integration expertise requires a good engineering knowledge on manufacturing equipment data output stream, most of these systems are PLC – HMI – SCADA based system, hence requires a good knowledge on accessing various data output tags could be explore and validated to be the best candidate for data integration into MES systems.OPC interface is a common interface most MES integrators utilize to bring data back to MES database backend, ControlSoft Canada takes a step further with custom build service programs with integrated OPC driver making an online connection between systems on the floor and MES database backend seamless.
Data validation & verification [V&V] – quality control: V&V presence a vital role in quality control of data being transferred between production data and exchange information. Data transport modules are engaged with data validation process such as length verification, signal errors, cyclic error checking, communication loss. These are all third-party interfaces which MES system suppliers don’t directly supply and left to client implementations team to select appropriate data tunnels to get data in MES system.
Material and inventory management: Most important benefit of final MES system implementation, is having real time inventory status on materials required in different phases of manufacturing. System also assures that the correct material is available at the right time and in right quantities. Since the system keeps track of different processes to come on manufacturing shop floor.
Challenges for implementing an MES system:
Complex implementation: Selecting a right MES system for manufacturing facilities requires significant planning and design work and could be time consuming for the project team responsible for this assignment. Once a MES system is implemented on a centralized system, data integration into the MES backend database would be the most challenging task at hand, which can take few months to few years in getting fully integrated with existing manufacturing systems. To complete above important task requires to work closely with data integration team which has experience in data integration.
Data integration: will require to work closely with an integration team experience with PLC and HMI system, which possess a risk management controls, since this would require changing data output on a production manufacturing system. One good approach would be to hire a data integrator to customize a middle ware layer software to all production floor systems using build in technology such as OLE, OPC over network communication and saves data directly in MES system database via cloud interface.
Change management in operating procedures is not always easy and requires development of in time employees training program at various level with support when needed to avoid costly errors. Resistance to change from employees or stakeholders would pose challenges and delay MES system schedule implementation. Staff training and updates in standard operating procedures SOP will need to be completed.
Since MES system is normally installed on cloud or local company servers, this adds a security risk to maintain large set of sensitive production data. Facilities with large computer network design the IT side [office automation] of the computer network is isolated from OT side [manufacturing operational systems]. MES system data integration adds a layer / interface between the IT & OT and add additional load to network security.
The implementation team needs to prepare a comprehensive plan to overcome above challenges, remembering all transformation comes with its own list of challenges which needs to be addressed. A successful MES system implementation could add to great extend of manufacturing efficiency, increased productivity, control wastage better productivity yield and keep competitiveness in market. System helps tremendously in electronic format of record keeping on demand reporting is the way forward, management have access to real time overview of manufacturing production floor, much improved forecast product delivery schedule to clients help customers confidence and make customers stickier.
Overall, an Manufacturing Execution Systems implementation is a major technological / digital transformation for any manufacturing facility, current digital transformation within this industry is a cloud-based implementation, wherein all sensitive production data and actual software program are loaded in the cloud, hence the part of the security responsibilities of managing data is moved to cloud. Such an approach provides benefit to scalability, reduced computer network and hardware infrastructure cost, changes could be implemented at one centralized location. Such an approach provides mobile data accessibility and help in utilizing cloud based data analytics on production data easily.