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You may understand the benefits of an MES (Manufacturing Execution System): establishing a plan and staying on schedule, enforcing a repeatable process, creating a rich data set. They all help you reach productivity and quality goals and make better decisions moving forward.

One benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating an MES is its flexibility. This is especially important when enforcing a repeatable process, which is the foundation for any reputable manufacturer.

This article explores why flexibility is vital in an MES and what to look for when evaluating a system.

Rebalancing the Line — Reasons and Repercussions

Even with a repeatable process as the goal, changes happen and tasks need to move from one station to another. A manufacturing line must be ready to shift when needed, perhaps moving a tool from one line to another.

This “rebalancing of the line” could end up one of two ways. 1) The MES requires additional input and programming from the MES supplier, slowing down manufacturing and adding costs, or 2) The top-end MES solution’s flexibility and adaptability allows the manufacturer to make changes on their own and manage the change.

The best MES’s are not “set and forget it” solutions; they shift right along with the line’s needs, providing the same valuable benefits they always do.

It doesn’t take long to think of reasons why a manufacturing change may require an MES to be flexible:

  • Continuous Improvement Cycle — When an inefficiency is discovered in the process, a change is needed. For example, Station 1 becomes too busy and slows down the line. After studying MES data, it’s determined that some work content would be better suited for Station 2, so a shift is made to improve the entire cycle. Of course, that shift will be analyzed using data to ensure it was the right move and that quality was upheld.
  • Demand Changes — For whatever reason, Product A sees a spike in demand by consumers. Even though Product B still sells well, the line requires some rebalancing of work to keep up with demand for Product A and remain as productive as possible.

These changes are simple if the MES is equipped to do it. But not all are.

Here’s an example. At Company XYZ, an MES is hardcoded and programmed for each station (let’s say 1, 2, and 3) during setup, and it all works well. A month later, the customer requests that a tool be moved from Station 1 to 3, which requires the MES supplier to quote what it takes for their programmer to recode that work content move.

Company XYZ is understandably frustrated about having to spend the money and time for what seems like a simple shift. Modern MES solutions allow end-users to make those changes on their own without having to be a PLC programmer or having in-depth knowledge of Java, etc.

The Right Training Creates the Right Flexibility

As easy-to-use and powerful as modern MES solutions are, they still require training to unlock their full flexibility and effectiveness.

From very basic to advanced training, a team from the MES supplier should teach a manufacturer’s various departments (operations, engineering, supervisors, etc.) how to operate the MES for their particular needs. This could take a few hours or several days, depending on the depth of learning required by each department.

Basics include:

  • Adding a user
  • Creating a schedule
  • Running reports
  • Managing and enforcing a repeatable process
  • Moving process steps from one station to another

Advanced training is a continuation of what’s covered in the basics but with more depth. Again, not everyone needs complete training — modules are usually tailored to and broken up by specific departments or responsibilities — yet each manufacturer’s MES experts will need complete training to fully take advantage of an MES’s flexibility.

As we previously covered, the presence and longevity of COVID-19 has elevated the importance of an MES’s flexibility even higher. During a time of uncertainty, the right MES helps communicate new health and safety procedures, track compliance, handle operational ramp up challenges after a shutdown, smooth new operator onboarding, adjust schedules, deal with cash flow and budgetary stress, and even continue your digital transformation.

Meeting Configurability on Demand

Scheduling is key in manufacturing. The entire crew knows that X units are to be manufactured in a certain order and are due by the end of the shift. If one piece is damaged near the end of the line and is scrapped, it needs to be reinserted into the process, potentially throwing off the goal.

These “hot jobs” are seamless if the proper MES is in place. The line switches over to that piece to rebuild it immediately, automatically reordering the list. That level of adaptability is so valuable when a reliable plan is established, a schedule is set, and a critical deadline looms.

Similarly, once post-training MES proficiency is established by the manufacturer, the ability now exists to add a reminder at a station (or all stations) at will, within seconds. An MES’s web-based functionality lets a manager add or remove a step checklist, operator required procedure, or quality control alert on the fly. When it’s no longer an issue, simply delete it.

And just remember, any change, large or small, is tracked and recorded in the product history. Having traceability through an MES records a clear product data record for future reference.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously interested in manufacturing success. Not only does PINpoint V5 MES Software do everything you’ve just read about (and more), we’ve also written a guide to help you. A Smoother Road to Manufacturing Success covers five common pain points of ineffective manufacturing and shows how an MES could be the solution to solve them all. Click below and get your copy.

Manufacturing Pain Points Guide

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