Smart manufacturing, MES, automation make good business sense
Understand how automation and MES can be the foundation and first step in smart manufacturing and digital transformation.
- Recipes typically involve multiple steps, most of which must be executed in order, and which can only be started when the previous steps have been successfully completed. MES and automation and control systems work together to ensure the steps are executed properly and completely before moving on to the next step.
- Using MES as a foundation, AI and advanced analytics can be used to build predictive and prescriptive analytics, which are used to orchestrate and optimize the entire manufacturing operations.
- Properly deploying an MES can result in reductions in material and labor costs, productivity and batch yield increases and reduction in material waste.
- Using MES to provide capabilities for Bills of materials (BOMs), error proofing, QA testing and component optimization provides significant benefits not possible any other way.
- BOMs define the materials and quantities that are required to make a product. Getting this information off paper and into an MES can vastly improve efficiency.
- In addition to eliminating the paper and executing the BOMs, recipes and work instructions automatically, MES and automation allow for the entire manufacturing process to be error-proofed.
When talking about smart manufacturing or industry 4.0, industry news tends to center on technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins and digital threads, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cobots and additive manufacturing. But where do automation and control systems fit in? Where do manufacturing execution systems (MES) fit in? What key roles do these systems play in the smart manufacturing world? Can automation and MES really be the foundation and first step in smart manufacturing and digital transformation?
To answer these questions, let’s look at smart manufacturing and how automation and MES can be the first step. In doing so, we can get a practical understanding of how smart manufacturing operates and discover why it makes good business sense. The following examples apply to a wide range of process, discrete and hybrid industries, and are a great way to get started with smart manufacturing and digital transformation using automation and MES as the foundation.
BOMs, Recipes and Work Instructions
Bills of materials (BOMs) define the materials and quantities that are required to make a product. Recipes define the specific steps and setpoints to be used. Work instructions provide specifications, drawings, methods, procedures and the like to be used in manufacturing processes. All told, this is a lot of information, and if it’s on paper, it’s on a lot of paper.
Getting this information off paper and into an MES makes a lot of sense. Tightly integrating MES and automation makes even more sense. Together these systems make the management, dissemination, usage and execution of BOMs, recipes and work instructions so much easier and faster, making the information available to the right people when and where they need it, all while eliminating the manual errors common with using paper documents.
MES provides the BOM and recipe to automation, which uses that information to execute the recipe and consume the specified materials and quantities. Algorithms in both MES and automation allow for material adjustments, substitute materials and even manual addition of materials, as necessary. Altogether MES and automation eliminate the paper-based documents and the potential for manual errors.
With MES and automation as the foundation, the tie-in to the next generation of smart manufacturing technologies is the next step. The IIoT is used to disseminate and collect information from devices throughout the plant. AR/VR tools are used to provide augmented reality-based interactive work instructions to the operators. AI is used to analyze the data collection, drill down to the root causes, and optimize the operations and materials. It starts with MES and automation as the foundation and grows with the new technologies of smart manufacturing.
Error proofing: MES, automation, controls can help
In addition to eliminating the paper and executing the BOMs, recipes and work instructions automatically, MES and automation allow for the entire manufacturing process to be error-proofed. Errors occur not only via paper-based processes, but via any processes that are manually executed.
Recipes typically involve multiple steps, most of which must be executed in order, and which can only be started when the previous steps have been successfully completed. MES and automation and control systems work together to ensure the steps are executed properly and completely before moving on to the next step.
Errors arise when steps are skipped, executed out of sequence or simply not completed. It is especially easy for errors to creep in when steps are completed by different people at different places in manufacturing operations. For example, one person at a weighing location performs the weighing processes for the materials, while another person at a batch tank performs the addition and mixing processes, while yet another person at a quality assurance (QA) lab performs the quality analyses. Getting these steps executed properly and in sequence, ensuring that one step is complete before the next one starts is extremely difficult. But this synchronous execution is exactly what MES is all about and is why MES and automation working together makes so much sense.
Now let’s discuss the tie-in to next-generation smart manufacturing technologies. The IIoT is the key technology used to collect data in real time, so that the status and results of each individual step is available to everyone immediately. Digital threads connect the various steps from the many locations throughout the plant. Digital twins collect detailed information on the operation of the equipment. AI and advanced analytics are used to build predictive and prescriptive analytics, which are used to orchestrate and optimize the entire manufacturing operation. Again, it starts with MES and automation as the foundation and grows with the new technologies of smart manufacturing.
QA testing enabled by data collection, certification, signatures
To elaborate further on the QA testing aspect, think about all the different types of testing that might be performed and how that testing is typically interwoven into the execution of a manufacturing process. For many types of products, combinations of on-line, at-line, near-line and lab-based testing are used throughout the manufacturing processes. This means several different testing locations are required, each with many different types of testing equipment and several different people performing the tests.
At the same time, these tests are required at different points in the manufacturing process, such that the process shouldn’t advance to the next step unless the tests from the previous step are completed. The entire manufacturing process is not done until all the tests have been completed successfully and the certifications and signatures are all in place.
Together with automation, MES executes the steps in the manufacturing process and collects the data from the various locations and devices where the tests are performed. MES interlocks with automation to ensure that all steps are completed successfully, and the next steps are not started until the preceding steps are completed. The result is all steps critical to quality control are completed properly and in sequence, all required data is collected, and the product certifications with signatures are completed in full, as required.
In this instance, the IIoT becomes an even bigger player in support of automation and MES. There is so much data to be collected from so many different devices throughout the facility that the IIoT is really the only answer. Likewise, this is where analytics and AI also become even bigger players as they analyze all that device data to provide quick and insightful results pointing directly to the problem to help solve it before it escalates.
Component optimization, smart manufacturing, analytics
Component optimization combines the ideas described above into a very advanced and very integrated capability. Material adjustments need to be made to products or batches based on the QA testing results. The idea isn’t simply to start adding more materials until a specific level is reached, but to optimize the materials so that the least amount of materials is added—and hence the least cost—to achieve the desired results. Optimization gets even more complicated when multiple levels of testing and multiple levels of material additions are required at different points in the manufacturing process.
The only way to achieve real optimization is through some advanced capabilities of MES and automation in conjunction with smart manufacturing tools like AI and advanced analytics. AI algorithms, tied into MES, are used to perform least cost calculations, which are used to recommend the specific materials to be added.
To make this work, MES must have the required QA test results from every step in the process, and automation must be set up to accurately measure specific material additions to very tight tolerances. And these AI algorithms and integrated MES and automation processes must be built such that they converge quickly to a least-cost solution because most processes have a limited number of possible additions available in the master recipe.
Advanced analytics must be used to analyze these very large data sets and their interrelationships to understand the underlying trends, see the root causes, and get insights into potential problems long before they become problems. But the payoff here is tremendous, knowing that each product or each batch is made with the lowest cost materials possible while still meeting the defined product specifications.
The benefits of integrating MES and automation
The benefits of MES and automation working together as the foundation, with smart manufacturing technologies tightly integrated, are tremendous. Using MES, automation, and smart manufacturing to provide capabilities for BOMs and recipes, error proofing, QA testing and component optimization provides significant benefits not possible any other way. Material costs are reduced, labor costs are reduced, productivity is increased, batch yield is increased, material waste is reduced, scrap and rework are reduced, and first-pass quality is increased. All by tightly integrating MES, automation and smart manufacturing, and using them to provide new capabilities focused on these key elements of the manufacturing processes.
MES, automation: Significant and immediate payback
All the new smart manufacturing industry 4.0 technologies are extremely cool and do some wonderful things. AI, the IIoT, AR/VR, and many other technologies all have their place in modern manufacturing operations. But they need a foundation. MES and automation are that foundation. MES and automation are the starting points for smart manufacturing. Using them to focus on the basics like BOMs and recipes, error proofing, QA testing and component optimization makes a whole lot of business sense, and has significant and immediate payback, creating new capabilities and providing significant impact within your manufacturing operations.
John Clemons, Rockwell Automation, MES solution consultant. Garrett Clemons, Rockwell Automation, MES consultant. Edited by David Miller, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, email@example.com.
Keywords: MES, BOM
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