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Buying a home is an exciting, life-changing event. Many of us won’t purchase anything larger in our lives.

As you search for a home, you have basic requirements for you and your family: a solid roof, a kitchen, some bedrooms, a living room, a couple bathrooms, some storage space, etc. You go into your search with basics in mind, and you purchase what you need.

As the years go by, your needs change as your family grows: a backyard fence to keep the new puppy safe, a pool for the kids, a basement upgrade for a work area, etc. You need more house than what you needed before.

Now, think of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) as a magic “house expansion tool,” that’s ready when you need to grow. Instead of buying system after system — a “basement upgrade” system, then a “backyard fencing” system, etc. — or moving to a different house altogether, you have one tool that makes all of these possible.

MES systems are power-packed with functionality, far more than most manufacturing professionals realize. And while they may not be “magic tools,” their modest investment can work magic throughout your entire company.

MES Pillars

Before we get to the top 10 functions of an MES system, it will be helpful to understand how each fits into one of three pillars of an MES system. We did cover all MES basics in a previous post, but here’s a quick recap.

  • Establishing a plan and staying on schedule. Input your production plan (shifts, times, goals); operators see real-time progress on dashboard graphics; it’s all fully accessible.
  • Enforcing a repeatable process. The key to long-term success is repeatability; assure your process (exactly as it’s defined) is followed time after time; that’s peace of mind.
  • Creating a rich data set for continuous improvement. Acting on captured data is vital to driving improvement; it’s easier to identify and solve hidden inefficiencies.

Now, let’s see how every MES function supports one or more of those pillars.

1. Operations/Detailed Sequencing

Employees, all employees, see production plans and production routing, ensuring everyone is on the same page; no more miscommunication and fewer operation-related errors.

Related Pillar: Establishing a plan and staying on schedule

2. Resource Allocation And Status

Fully know your resources: where they are, their condition, how much you have, and how they’re used in your production process.

Related Pillar: Establishing a plan and staying on schedule

3. Dispatching Production Unit

In real-time, manage flow of products throughout the plant as well as ensure production data is consistent, current, and accurate.

Related Pillar: Establishing a plan and staying on schedule

4. Performance Analysis

Data, and how it relates to your key performance indicators (KPIs), tell you if your production process is effective and show you areas for improvement.

Related Pillar: Creating a rich data set for continuous improvement

5. Process Management

Consistent production is impossible without full production traceability; management includes process routing and operational sequencing.

Related Pillar: Enforcing a repeatable process

6. Quality Management

Always be aware of quality deviations and exceptions to your manufacturing process; integrate it all directly into the MES system.

Related Pillars: Enforcing a repeatable process AND creating a rich data set for continuous improvement

7. Data Collection/Acquisition

Gather essential data, track it properly, and recall it whenever you need to implement an improved process or new initiative.

Related Pillar: Creating a rich data set for continuous improvement

8. Product Tracking And Genealogy

From raw material to assembly, track individual parts and/or batches along with all necessary manufacturing and quality control data.

Related Pillars: Enforcing a repeatable process AND creating a rich data set for continuous improvement

9. Labor Management

Know and track the skills and authorizations of employees, ensuring the right people are in the right places.

Related Pillars: Enforcing a repeatable process AND creating a rich data set for continuous improvement

10. Document Control

Give operators access to important process documents — instructions, plans, drawings, updates — whenever needed; place restrictions on production if documents are not reviewed.

Related Pillar: Enforcing a repeatable process

MES — It’s All About Growth

You may experience a production issue that requires a resolution, let’s say error-proofing, and the quicker it gets accomplished the better. Naturally, you search for software that addresses that need. You find it, and it sounds great!

That issue may well indeed be solved, but it will likely uncover other issues in your process that have to be studied and fixed. Now what? You search for another solution, invest in it, implement it, learn from it. Just like you did with the error-proofing issue. This could get exhausting (and expensive)!

Simply put, without an encompassing solution, you can’t scale up a system’s capabilities. A good MES system includes all of the 10 functions above, and it allows you to grow in whatever way your organization needs.

You can start small and handle your immediate-need issues. Then, when other opportunities for improvement or growth arise, you have the exact right system to handle them. You’ll find that an MES system boosts the efficiency of just about every department (quality, engineering, production, and more). When these teams get on board with an MES, they’ll also start to realize the many benefits of having a single system that coordinates everything together and drives plant efficiency.

More Than Meets The Eye

While all three pillars of an MES system are important, the one that jumps up and surprises new users most is the third, creating a rich data set for continuous improvement. When data is captured and evaluated properly, it gives you the power and confidence to transform your business away from traditional methods to digital processes.

What Industry 4.0 brings to manufacturing — connecting cyber and physical worlds, implementing artificial intelligence, using Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — is fundamental change to the factory floor and the entire organization. While younger generations are naturally more accepting and enthusiastic about working digitally, nearly anyone can quickly get up to speed with an MES system and enjoy its benefits.

Before having used an MES system, you can’t appreciate its capabilities, power, and potential to help an organization. However, once that first, immediate error-proofing problem is solved, the production data opens eyes and possibilities beyond what could have been imagined. Speed of change skyrockets, manufacturing agility jumps, and the momentum it creates propels you forward.

Organizations that install and implement an MES invariably discover unintended benefits of having the system. One is increasing the health and safety of employees (not one of the 10 functions above).

Here’s an example: a lift assist device accidentally dropped a piece of machinery it was moving. No one was hurt, the incident resulted in a 'near miss', and the health & safety team determined that safety pins weren’t used as per the device’s safety instructions.  They leveraged features in their MES system to show workers how the pins need to be installed and, in fact, they prevented the use of the lift assist  without it being done properly.

That brings us back to you as a homeowner. Let’s say you installed a new home security system. You and your family were fully taught how to use the system, but your highschooler was on a band trip to Italy and returned without any knowledge of the system. An MES solution (see “#10 Document Control” above) knows this, and won’t let Harry the highschooler use the system without instruction and passing tests that prove he’s capable.

No, you don’t purchase an MES system to improve health and safety, but it organically happens, along with culture shifts, relationship building, morale boosting, and so much more.

What About Current Systems?

If your organization does not yet use an MES, it’s likely you have a smaller system or two to handle certain problems. It works just fine, your people know it, it’s reliable, etc. So, how can the cost of a new MES be justified?

A system like the one you’re using may be stretching up, functioning similar to one part of what an MES system can do. But, that system will never be able to accomplish the 10 functions an MES can.

When an MES’s full power is used, and the entire company is united, any previous system will just be seen as limiting. Communication happens with those who need it when they need it, and an MES system keeps everyone interlocked with the process.

So, while it may initially be uncomfortable to change and upgrade to an MES solution, the benefits are huge, and you’ll feel a sense of relief when you see results roll in and processes improve.

You now know the 10 functions of an MES system, and we covered some surprising benefits, but do you know the four biggest benefits of an MES? Learn more by reading our guide, 4 BIG Benefits of an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) for Discrete Manufacturing; click the image below.

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