The Fourth Industrial Revolution is based, above all, on automation and real-time analytics. It combines robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G connectivity, industrial IoT, digital twins, augmented reality, cloud computing and big data, among other innovations. They all work towards the same goal: operational efficiency. MES (manufacturing execution system) is one of the technologies that make up Industry 4.0. And like all the others, it contributes to providing intelligence to factories, to the digital transformation of industrial companies.
What are MES systems?
MES systems were born in the 1990s and gained momentum with the advance of Cyber-Physical Systems (combining hardware and software). Implementing these platforms or software makes it possible to make the leap from manual to digital and move towards an intelligent manufacturing plant. Roughly speaking, their aim is to monitor and control production processes in order to optimise them. In this way, production increases and costs decrease at the same time.
As a way to digitise the manufacturing plant, this type of software guides the different phases (planning, monitoring, execution, supervision, etc.). In each of these phases, it collects data (from each machine) and analyses all the variables in real time, generating reports. In other words, to facilitate digital management, it monitors the entire production life cycle. For example, it detects failures at different stages, such as production stoppages, bottlenecks, human error or inadequate traceability, among many others. This improves performance and optimises production control. Data is automatically captured in the MES system via sensors and connected devices.
Cloud-based MES software platforms are gaining traction
While free or very low-cost versions of MES software are available, they typically involve a considerable investment to adapt to the requirements and needs of the factory. However, this money is quickly recouped. The amount to be spent on this system will depend very much on the size of the company and the degree of complexity required. The smaller the company, the more simplicity and less functionality it needs, so the standard platform (usually paid for on a monthly fee basis) may be sufficient.
In addition to the software platform, the implementation of MES systems is supported by a technical infrastructure: a local server in-house, in the cloud or in hybrid form and a local area network (LAN) to transmit and exchange data, and devices for the operators. The implementation also includes training employees in the system. The cloud and hybrid MES model prevails over the physical model because of the advantages of this technology. The main ones are:
- Integral accessibility: as it is online, it can be accessed from anywhere, by several people with the corresponding authorisation.
- Scalability and flexibility: it supports any expansion without the need for a new architecture and the possibility of reacting quickly to adapt to changes.
- Faster implementation: no time-consuming installation processes are required.
- Lower cost: by saving on system and hardware implementation on site.
- Faster decision making: data is updated in real time and is immediately accessible to managers.
MES integration with ERP solutions
To improve the manufacturing process and jump on the Industry 4.0 bandwagon, MES systems must work in conjunction with enterprise resource planning solutions, known as ERP. This software enables centralised manufacturing management. The two platforms complement each other and work together as two layers to help plan, manage and track the various manufacturing activities. The MES toolset is a subcategory within an ERP system, usually integrated into it.
ERP tools provide control over business-centric operations. Thus, it optimises the communication flow in all departments and provides financial, inventory, project, accounting, sales, customer relationship, human capital management… The use of manufacturing execution system tools together with ERP tools streamlines manufacturing. While the MES system provides detailed information of what is happening in the manufacturing plant in real time, while ERP acts as the “central nervous system” of a company.
Advantages of the MES system in a factory
- Ensures effective execution of manufacturing operations.
- Improves production throughput.
- Reduces downtime and unnecessary costs.
- Provides greater efficiency through better management.
- High productivity with savings in operating time and lower costs.
- Improves the quality of the final product (avoiding defective products).
- Minimises inventory and keeps it at optimum levels.
- Provides accurate and reliable information.
- Streamlines communication between people, systems and operations.
- Reduces waste and increases sustainability (provides paperless manufacturing).
- Facilitates predictive maintenance.
- Helps make fact-based operational and strategic decisions.
- Provides full visibility and control of the manufacturing process in real time.