Industrie 4.0 will have a major effect on MES, plant floor

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) are becoming less and less useful with the advent of Industrie 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing. Cyber-physical systems (CPS) and cyber-physical production systems (CPPS) can help guide a new kind of MES onto the plant floor.

By Francisco Almada Lobo July 6, 2016

Technology such as the cloud and 3-D printing are fuelling the 4th industrial revolution, also called Industrie 4.0, which is based on cyber-physical systems (CPS). Similar in many ways to the U.S. smart manufacturing system, Industrie 4.0 is focused on gaining real and measurable business benefits and is designed to change the basic business equation of manufacturing by improving agility, cost, quality, and speed all at once. Industrie 4.0 offers a great opportunity, but companies must have the correct plant floor software ready for it to succeed.

Because of that, Industrie 4.0 spells the end of current manufacturing execution 
systems (MES) as we know it. Right now, many MES providers are in denial. However, manufacturers deserve to understand what to look for as they develop their strategies and plans for this powerful future.   

This is largely a control engineering-style of challenge. As autonomous smart materials, products, and production systems become a marketplace on the plant floor, a traditional centralized UI-focused MES will not be effective. Not even for compliance, optimization and monitoring. Manufacturing software must respect that or the gains will not accrue as envisioned. 

Industrie 4.0 will change all aspects of the supply chain from companies to customers and the software used to produce the end product. Key technologies that reinforce Industrie 4.0 include embedded electronics, communication and computing, cloud, 3-D printing, mobile, advanced analytics, and community platforms. All of these new technologies mean automation is allowing virtual and real to converge into a CPS.

CPS are physical objects with embedded software and computing power and will incorporate self management capabilities after the introduction of Industrie 4.0 to the plant floor. Cyber-physical production systems (CPPS) is the production facility, which leverages different software enhanced machines, capacity and different configuration options. CPS is capable of autonomously exchanging information, triggering actions and controlling each other independently, thus allowing the shop floor to become a market place of capacity. Smart material and products (CPS) are service consumers and smart equipment and plants (CPPS) are service providers. The combination of CPS and CPPS is likely to trigger significant changes in manufacturing production and control, towards completely decentralized systems. 

There are numerous opportunities and challenges with this vision. At the heart of CPS and CPPS is the MES, which will continue to play an essential role in the manufacturing enterprise’s information technology (IT) landscape as it sits at the critical point where revenue-generating products come into being. MES provides a strong foundation around which manufacturers can build the Industrie 4.0 application.

However, Industrie 4.0 can not be implemented overnight, therefore there will be a transition period where MES gets updated alongside Industrie 4.0. A new generation of MES is required to cope with this. Some of the companies offering MES are making noise about Industrie 4.0 and how they support it. However, if the system cannot support cyber-physical systems, it is not appropriate for Industrie 4.0. Future MES systems must accommodate connectivity, mobile, cloud and advanced analytics. 

Right now, many MES providers are twisting the vision to fit the software they offer. It’s only natural for these providers to be in denial. Yet manufacturers deserve to understand what to look for as they develop their strategies and plans for this powerful future.

MES must move to a multi-agent like system to survive. Industrie 4.0 is inherently decentralized and highly automated; operations are dispersed over different systems. This allows for every product to be completely unique and have self management characteristics. MES will have the ability to run the whole factory floor without human operation. 

Instead of separate systems at each stage of production and the supply chain, MES will need to flow. Vertically and horizontally integrated information will allow the process to flow. CPS can make completely independent decisions therefore MES must use vertical integration to ensure all plant activities are visible, managed and measured. Horizontal integration is key in order for CPS and CPPS can consume MES to be truly modular so all functions and services.

As for connectivity, MES will require different apps, which will later be able to control equipment and eventually open the doors to augmented reality scenarios. MES of the future must also leverage cloud computing and advanced analytics. Advanced analytics is needed to understand the performance of the manufacturing process and to trigger actions in the plant as quick as possible. 

MES will remain a critical element in IT manufacturing, but it must cope with the advanced challenges of logical decentralization, cloud and advanced analytics, connectivity and mobile, vertical and horizontal integration. MES 4.0 will be a completely new generation of systems, which must be able to cope with all these unaccustomed challenges and shall allow companies, which adopt it, to gain a solid, yet flexible infrastructure for the big and long transformation that Industrie 4.0 actually is.

Francisco Almada Lobo is chief executive officer and co-founder of Critical Manufacturing. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

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Author Bio: Francisco Almada Lobo is CEO at Critical Manufacturing