Manufacturing Visibility Achieved
Until recently, manufacturing execution systems (MESs) were essentially confined to the plant floor and largely unnoticed. For reasons technological, cultural, and economic, however, MESs are no longer able to hide away and simply do their jobs. These systems may just be the key to survival for manufacturing mired in an economic downturn not seen for generations.
|Integrated MESs allow plant-floor operators to capture data, execute recipes, and measure performance.|
This class of software successfully collects data, executes recipes, and tracks products from raw materials to finished goods. “Initially, an MES focused on database functions and on setting up and executing production recipes,” says Ted Thayer, automation systems product manager, Bosch Rexroth Corp. “It has become a system that enables visibility on the plant/operations floor at a time when manufacturing needs that real-time data more and more.”
MESs are finally beginning to move to where they need to be, says Thayer, “by plugging into the ERP [enterprise resource planning] system, which is what they really need to do.” Sham Afzalpurkar, president and CEO of Performix agrees: “The planning takes place in the ERP, but the ERP cannot execute instructions on the plant floor. It doesn’t have the level of granularity required. The MES does, and is actually extending the functionality of the ERP.”
Several factors are influencing this growth of interoperability and integration:
Systems and operations have matured. The transition to client/server systems enables the connection of disparate elements and puts critical data in front of the end user. Open ERP systems are strengthening the role of the MES by increasing integration points.
IT has assumed responsibility for coordinating ERP and MES integration. Converging manufacturing and IT operations are bringing combined expertise to new applications and procedures.
Service oriented architectures (SOAs) are enabling enterprise integration and interoperability. Tools such as Microsoft’s BizTalk ( www.microsoft.com ), SAP’s NetWeaver ( www.sap.com ), and IBM’s WebSphere ( www.ibm.com ) are fostering connections between business systems and ERP.
Evolving regulations such as the International Society of Automation’s S95 (Manufacturing Enterprise Systems Standards) and S99 (Manufacturing and Control Systems Security) standards, and developing OMAC (Organization for Machine Automation and Control, www.omac.org ) standards, are helping to establish best practices for data exchange and data assembly at the plant floor level.
Internet capabilities are facilitating manufacturing’s global presence. The Web is oblivious to time zones and geographic distances, enabling interfaces that would otherwise have been much more difficult.
One way MES functionality is expanding is by establishing itself as a critical element in what has come to be called operations management. Sheila Kester, general manager of operations management software for GE Fanuc, defines this umbrella as covering three functions: execution, enterprise manufacturing information (EMI), and quality and compliance. “Operations management concepts apply context to data,” she explains. They include activities that keep operators, supervisors, and analysts informed about what is happening on the plant floor and with quality and compliance functions, as well as performing recordkeeping to prove a product has been made according to specification.”
|By displaying real-time data and interacting with business systems, MES dashboards act as enterprise reporting mechanisms.|
A broader perspective
Performix’ Afzalpurkar has a similar view. “Many companies put in ERPs in the 1980s and ’90s, and then followed them up with supply chain planning tools,” he observes. “What most of them missed was that you can have the best supply chain planning possible, but if you cannot react and respond to what is happening on the shop floor, you’re system is of little value. Your operation is only as good as its ability to connect to the shop floor and execute as demand changes in the supply chain. The need to get the full benefit of the investment is driving companies now to embrace operations management and MES.”
Today, mature operations management makes plant functions more responsive, and MESs are the enabling technology that provides corporate visibility to the plant floor, stresses Maryanne Steidinger, MES products manager for Wonderware. “Companies must continue to invest in systems that allow them to do more with less, and that’s what the MES does. Manufacturers may not have enough money to build new plants or add new lines or employees, but they can make the existing infrastructure and equipment work smarter.”
|Studies confirm the blurring of cultural lines between business and operations.|
A time for retraining
Although understanding MES technology is important, ultimately, a successful installation is about economics and culture. “We have to close the gap culturally, monetarily, and technologically,” says Alison Smith, vice president of marketing strategy and research for MES vendor AspenTech.
“At this point, we don’t have a lot of people who can hold the enterprise picture, the systems picture, and the detailed process picture in their heads at the same time,” says Smith. “IT doesn’t always understand what goes on at the plant level. Production has operated as an isolated entity for too long. We’re in a very interesting re-training sequence today. Manufacturing groups have been drawing apart for the last decade, and now we need them to come together very quickly. That is a tall order.”
Darren Riley, market development manager for Rockwell Automation, concurs. “Disconnects between operations and business exist. More standards are needed, and they are slow in coming,” he says, pointing to a lack of alignment between operational metrics, and financial, business, and performance metrics. “This is a cultural issue…not a technological one. Without tight couplings between the MES and the business systems, there are no empirical data in the business system on which to base decisions. You need an MES for that.”
|During batch creation, the operator can modify parameters before loading that particular batch.|
Among other cultural factors is an aging workforce that actually may accelerate the adoption of MES, says Kester. Too many retirees with too much institutional knowledge will not be replaced, and companies will need to find a way to capture that lost knowledge. Smith concurs, calling it “the ‘grey2K issue’. We’re losing a lot of expertise. It’s our next new crisis. We need to be more efficient and we are losing the people who can help us do that.”
The astonishing economic changes of the last three years have put unprecedented pressure on manufacturers to cut costs and boost efficiency. “We’ve seen tremendous price increases in commodities and raw materials,” says Kester, “only so much of which can be passed along to consumers. The only choice manufacturers have is to reduce the cost of making product, and this is what MES and operations management are all about.”
MES implementation tips
MES implementation is neither simple nor quick. First define your expectations, advises Ted Thayer, automation systems product manager for Bosch Rexroth Corp. “Learn about MES systems before you start. Know what an MES is and what it can do for you before you start. Know what you expect the system to achieve.”
Second, consider a gradual approach to system implementation. “Although some companies choose to do it all at once, a step-by-step approach is really better,” says Maryanne Steidinger, MES products manager for Wonderware. “Implement one area at a time; refine it, then move ahead. Benefits will be more readily apparent.” And the ROI will be faster, often between six months and two years.
To achieve success with an MES, Steidinger advises the following:
Understand why you’re buying it;
Allow all stakeholders to offer input;
Engage the support of all stakeholders;
Obtain adequate technical help, including a consultant or integrator, if required; and
Do due diligence: make sure the vendor you select can capture your needs now and in the future.
Make sure your system is customizable, but limit code-based changes. Warns Sheila Kester, general manager of operations management software for GE Fanuc, “Too many code-based modifications make it difficult, even impossible, to upgrade the MES because too much has changed. Strive instead for configuration changes that leave the core code untouched, but allow the system to be molded to meet your plant’s needs.”
Don’t ignore security issues. “The plant floor just might be the weakest link in the security chain,” says Thayer. “Often, we don’t pay enough attention to the networks on the shop floor, which are very vulnerable. They are a potential back door into the facility.”
Consider applying ISA S95 to facilitate system integration. “S95 puts some structure around what might otherwise seem to be unstructured, nebulous, and out of control,” says Alison Smith, vice president of marketing strategy and research for AspenTech. “The biggest mistake we see is companies assuming which systems will do what before they do their mapping. The best tool we’ve found to help get everyone speaking the same language is S95.”
“The biggest mistake we see is companies assuming which systems will do what before they do their mapping. The best tool we’ve found to help get everyone speaking the same language is S95.”
|Jeanine Katzel is a contributing editor to Control Engineering. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org|