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Let’s listen in during your latest annual checkup with your doctor (don’t worry; it doesn’t get weird). The post-exam discussion goes like this:

Doc: “My advice to you is to be healthier.”
You: “That’s it?”
Doc: “Well, there are many new advancements in health and wonderful discoveries to improve health. Everyone’s writing about them.”
You: “What should I do? More exercise? Better diet? Take supplements?”
Doc: “Just go be healthier.”

Hopefully, your doctor isn’t that vague, but it brings up a good point regarding ongoing changes in manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 is here! Are you taking healthy steps to embrace it, or are you hiding your head in the sand? One thing’s for certain, you can’t escape the hype. Oh, the hype! So many opinions, so many paths, so many blog articles (this one is different, I promise).

Like your health, you know that Industry 4.0 is vital, and you need to address it soon so your quick-adapting competitors don’t crush you. But the hype has your brain spinning and may have your company’s leadership searching for answers.

So, here are the basics of Industry 4.0 as well as a look at how a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) could be the perfect tool to boost your organization’s long-term health.

Industry 4.0 — Basics And Roadblocks

What makes the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) different from the previous three is how quickly it’s spreading. That’s due mostly to its basic nature: it connects digital technology to manufacturing strategies, including the relationship between humans and machines.

Devices and equipment are networked with software applications. Interconnected sensors gather data. And many advanced technologies are now commonplace: artificial intelligence (AI), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), internet connectivity, robotics, data analytics, and on and on.

All those advancements sound great, but you have manufacturing processes in place and they’re making you money. Now, Industry 4.0 comes along with all its hype, “big picture” thinking, and advanced technologies. It’s no wonder the most common thing we hear from customers is, “Where do I start?

Getting off the ground can be the toughest move of all. Companies can spend a lot of time strategizing, planning, meeting, considering, etc. Don’t let it drag you down! What you really need is a list of tangible steps that lead to results. Now! You can realize immediate benefits and not have to wait years for Industry 4.0 strategies to be implemented.

The Right MES Can Precede An Industry 4.0 Solution

All of this has fundamentally changed the relationship between worker and machine on the factory floor and throughout an organization. That’s exactly where an MES really shines.

An MES solution is:

  • Inexpensive — especially when compared to other manufacturing investments
  • Smart — MES communicates with all the equipment you currently have
  • Flexible — it helps you transition into Industry 4.0, leveraging technology you currently have
  • Easy and Quick — installation takes weeks, not years (like an ERP system)

Relating it back to our doctor visit from earlier, an MES solution is like constantly knowing your calorie intake, cholesterol count, blood sugar level, etc., and always next to you is a nutritionist, a cardiologist, a personal trainer, and…well, an entire health care system, providing information to help you make healthy decisions.

An MES goes beyond sample-based knowledge like this, however, to provide an understanding of every data point, a completely rich data set.

Now, you may already have an MES solution that you’re not fully utilizing, like having a Fitbit that just sits in a drawer. However, the right MES (that is a key, the right MES) used correctly helps you so much every day that you’ll never neglect it. In fact, it can be a key to launching Industry 4.0 in your company.

The Driving Forces Of Industry 4.0: Data, Cloud Computing, IIoT

As previously mentioned, today’s factories have manufacturing processes in place with deployments of automation and software assets performing business-critical applications. The problem is, these were not designed with an Industry 4.0 mindset.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to decommission what currently meets your needs, but you can make changes over time to move in a different direction. Industry 4.0 is a data-hungry model, and while great strides have been made to leverage current data, complete shifts cannot be made overnight.

You start with capturing large amounts of valuable data, much of which you can quickly act on with the right system in place. Also, with Industry 4.0, the foundational principles of lean don’t go away. The data actually lets you take the principles to the next frontier of productivity gains.

Today’s incumbent automation and software solutions are almost always on-premise. Yet, you can align with a vision of cloud computing, embrace Industry 4.0, and keep your data and operations secure. Your quickest way forward is to implement an MES solution that supports your Industry 4.0 aspirations.

Most of today’s manufacturers use Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies on some level, and they’re seeing operational efficiency increases and product quality improvements. However, many systems haven’t kept up with evolving technologies and are not ready for Industry 4.0.

Here’s a quick fact about an MES solution: In a manufacturing facility, more than 80% of the people who walk through the door every day interact with the MES. That’s right, all operators, process engineers, production management, scheduling pros, and maintenance personnel use an MES for part, if not all, of their responsibilities. Plus, management relies on the MES for accurate reporting of all activities.

All these user groups are either generating or consuming the tremendous data sets within an MES. What kind of data is in play?

An MES solution controls and constantly shares data with:

  • Production plans and scheduling
  • Complete product data set (everything that happens to a product with data to prove it)
  • Complete manufacturing data set (everything to do with operators, stations, and lines)
  • Manufacturing KPIs
  • All automation data with OPC Unified Architecture
  • ERP and PLM systems via web service APIs

Why Get An MES Now, Before Full Industry 4.0 Implementation? 

If you’re going to take steps toward a data-hungry model, an MES solution checks the boxes. But Industry 4.0 is not only about data, it’s about sharing and distributing it. That’s why selecting an infrastructure to support it is just as important, yet there’s never been more options, and confusion, about infrastructure.

Going with a cloud option is all the rage, and for good reason. However a large percentage of organizations prefer the control and trusted security of on-premise solutions. It’s best to get over this hurdle at your own pace and corporate comfort, and the best MES solution is one that supports all the options with a common code base.

An MES can be deployed on-premise, in private corporate data centers, on private clouds, or through any of today’s cloud vendors. Even if your IT directions shift over time, the features and functionality of your MES — the ones all your people rely on to be effective — remain intact.

With advances in cloud solutions, it’s possible to collect and store data in incredible quantities, yet its affordability makes it accessible for businesses to use. Because it controls the richest data set in a factory, an MES is already aligned with Industry 4.0, whenever that may happen in your plant.

By the time your leadership decides on an Industry 4.0 strategy, you’ll have data to share immediately that fully describes your manufacturing operations.

How quickly can you get going? The right MES solution can be deployed very fast, especially if there are cloud options, which allow you to experience the power without a long-term commitment.

Once solutions are set up, generally within 4-6 weeks, you start realizing benefits on Day 1.  This is also when you start generating a rich data set, your first milestone in your Industry 4.0 journey. The benefits continue from there, and by Day 30 your data set is rich enough to start applying analytics for improvement.

So, take the first step of your Industry 4.0 journey with confidence by installing and implementing an MES. It cuts through hype and confusion, establishing a proven, powerful, and healthy tool that will seamlessly integrate with any solution to come.

Does an MES sound interesting? We hope so! Learn more about what an MES solution does and how to select the right one. Read our guide, MES for Discrete Manufacturers; just click on the image below.

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