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It’s 2020, and most manufacturers are in a dogfight.

Stopping and starting due to a global pandemic. Supply chain chaos. Choosing how to deploy precious capital funds. Maximizing automation. Finding and keeping a reliable workforce

Yet, even with all of today’s challenges, nothing is stopping the momentum of Industry 4.0. Manufacturers need to address it soon so quick-adapting competitors don’t grab the advantage.

We’ve talked about how digital transformation has to be truly transformative, shifting how an organization approaches and uses technology. But, what technology?

Let’s dig into two digital enterprise options: ERP (enterprise resource planning) and MES (manufacturing execution system).

NOTE: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series comparing digital enterprise software solutions. In Part 2, we’ll compare MES solutions and PLM (product lifecycle management).

ERP — known and trusted technology

Imagine for a moment that you are a VP of Production/Engineering at a successful manufacturing company (perhaps you actually are). You have many things demanding your attention. One of the most vital is the decision you have to make regarding technology.

You understand that to thrive, a modern company needs to navigate true digital transformation, building a digital enterprise that meets all of your manufacturing needs. Getting your technology right can ensure long-term productivity and profitability.

One surely familiar option is enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software. This is one of the most widely-used softwares across many industries (a multi-billion-dollar industry), with the ability to manage, store, and use data — helping complete many daily business activities: accounting, payroll, procurement, purchase orders, project and risk management, and supply chain operations.

One database — a single source of truth — helps ensure that all pertinent information used across the enterprise is based on common definitions and user experiences. The information flow, both internal and external, happens in real-time, making sure vital data is accessible by key stakeholders who need it.

Think of ERP as the great integrator. People, processes, and technologies across one enterprise are united, and everyone can feel confident that business data is correct and complete. It’s no surprise that use of ERP systems has skyrocketed in the past decade.

The biggest question facing ERP is this: Is it really ready to handle everything that Industry 4.0 may throw a manufacturer’s way?

MES — new (powerful) kid on the block

ERPs sound pretty impressive. What more could you want? Well, some manufacturers want much, much more. If you could really see the mass of activity happening on the plant floor as well as capture the underlying product and manufacturing data, you can improve how that activity is done and make it repeatable.

OK, manufacturing execution systems (MES) may not be “new,” but recent advancements — especially within high-end solutions — put them squarely in the conversation with ERPs. Why? The “3 Pillars of an MES” helps explain it.

  1. Establishing a plan and staying on schedule. The system takes input — production shifts and times, production goals, etc. — and calculates TAKT time. Your ERP won’t do that, and your ERP won’t allow your operators to see real-time progress against your daily production goals.
  2. Enforcing a repeatable process. Know that a manufacturing process is being followed properly. Every step, from fastening to product routing, is executed as it’s defined, time after time.
  3. Creating a rich data set. The MES captures your product and manufacturing data sets; items that your ERP is not well suited for. Use those data sets to identify and solve your hidden inefficiencies.

Although an MES is a holistic solution, providing 360-degree visibility into production processes, it’s not right for every industry. The system must be matched to the right environment, or vertical, and then interfaced with your ERP (usually seamless with modern systems).

That’s right, this doesn’t have to be an “either-or” decision. An MES can share data with an existing ERP system. That alone validates its readiness for Industry 4.0 and digital transformation. 

So, why not stretch an ERP system into performing MES functions?

  • An ERP is designed for business operations and handling a specific level of information
  • An MES is designed for handling complex production processes with full integration into automation and plant floor hardware

We understand the pressure is on to select the best technology, and all of the stats and opinions can be confusing. If you’d like to talk about these options, or even arrange an MES demo, please contact us.

Want a quick look at three top digital enterprise systems? Get your copy of our infographic, The Digital Enterprise — ERP vs. PLM vs. MES. Just click the button below!

The Digital Enterprise — ERP vs. PLM vs. MES

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