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It’s manufacturing quiz time! Answer a simple “yes” or “no” to these questions:

  • Do you know how long it takes to make your product from start to finish?
  • Can you accurately predict when your next product shipment will be ready?
  • Do you know if you occasionally ship defective products?
  • Have you been able to increase production output?
  • Can you answer all customer questions about the products you sent them?
  • Is everyone within your plant striving to achieve the same goal?

If you answered “no” to ANY of the questions (which most companies do), you’ll likely benefit from an MES, or Manufacturing Execution System.

But, before we dive into the details of MES, let’s talk about you.

Do You Need an MES and Not Even Know It?

You know your plant better than anyone. That doesn’t mean you know everything. You just know a lot. And, you’d likely admit that your process isn’t perfect.

Perhaps too many defects are causing costly issues down the road, and you need an error-proofing solution. Or maybe your solution should be an Andon system to alert operators/managers of problems in real time.

First off, congratulations on recognizing there’s room for improvement and trying to apply a solution in the best way you know. But how much do you really know?

Nearly always, the implementation of a solution uncovers other layers; additional issues that require attention. For instance, you successfully implemented an error-proofing solution, but what’s next? Now you want that error-proofing solution to interface with your ERP system. I hope you saw that coming.

So, you don’t know what you don’t know … yet. An MES solution uncovers the big picture and the small details. Just one thing to keep in mind as we dig into the benefits of MES: having an experienced MES partner to lean on can be a huge help; someone who has seen situations just like yours and who has guided companies in your position.

What Is an MES and How Does It Work?

Many companies still enter data manually or share work instructions on paper. Most of them, however, know there’s a better way to organize the mass of activity happening on the plant floor.

MES provides visibility to that activity as well as the underlying data, uses that data to improve how that activity is done, and makes it repeatable. It connects multiple sites, integrates with equipment, and raises the effectiveness of business applications all to better optimize operations.

The 3 Pillars of an MES:

  1. Establishing a plan and staying on schedule. The system takes your input — production shifts/times, production goals, etc. — and calculates your TAKT time. Operators see real-time progress on dashboard graphics, knowing the progress at every moment.
  2. Enforcing a repeatable process. Knowing your process is being followed exactly as defined provides ultimate peace of mind. Every step, from fastening to product routing, is nailed just as you defined it time after time.
  3. Creating a rich data set. Capturing data is one thing; being able to act on that data is really the key to driving improvement initiatives. Use your business intelligence platform, explore your data set, and identify and solve your hidden inefficiencies.

All three of these MES pillars are used to help you reach productivity and quality goals by:

  • Solving production scheduling challenges
  • Discovering and sharing your best operators’ insights
  • Uncovering inefficiencies in your process and fixing them
  • Reducing the exhausting task of putting out fires
  • Establishing a continuous improvement philosophy
  • Increasing operator engagement and dedication

How do you know if you need an MES solution? First, you probably need one if your company manufactures something. Second, think back to the opening quiz; did you answer “no” to any question?

Okay, so you’re a candidate. However, it’s important to understand that not every MES is right for every industry. The only way to get the full benefit of an MES system is to match the right one to the right environment, or vertical.

This may have been tough in the past when it was a challenge to interface various systems. Modern software shares information seamlessly, so that’s not usually an issue.

Today, the bigger question is how to integrate an MES into a company’s culture. As you’ll see, introducing an MES system isn’t as simple as kicking it off during a staff meeting and letting it roll.

MES is a Holistic Solution

MES isn’t a stop-gap, quick-fix, or miracle solution (although it can seem magical at times). It’s really a system for digitally transforming your entire facility’s manufacturing execution.

You need to explore how an MES implementation will influence your established processes and how those processes may change. That requires upfront thought about change management within your organization. MES software is powerful and dynamic, yet it needs everyone to be on board to make it effective.

Start small. A truly valuable MES system can handle complex data, many working parts, and has capabilities you can grow into, but it’s okay to start small. Begin with a specific goal; say, increasing visibility of work order processing time.

With that accomplished, you can more fully utilize the core components of an MES:

  • Scheduling; work order releasing
  • Error-proofing
  • Increasing visibility
  • Sharing data with your ERP system

By now, you might be thinking an MES system has some similarities to an ERP system. Why not stretch an ERP system into performing MES functions?

While both systems have an influence on the manufacturing process, an MES is designed for handling complex production processes with full integration into your automation and plant floor hardware. ERP, on the other hand, is designed for business operations and handling a different level of information. So, an MES is a holistic discipline that can be seen as the glue between planning/logistics and operations/process control.

Similar to how an ERP can’t be stretched down, an automation system can’t effectively be expanded up into the MES layer. Stretching a system like that simply doesn’t provide the capabilities you’re going to need.

Win the High-Stakes Manufacturing Game

There’s a lot riding on your manufacturing execution. Taking full advantage of this digital transformation can vault you forward in meeting your manufacturing challenges.

Just as you’re in your industry for the long-haul, the right MES solution provider is with you for long-term success. The best providers go beyond impressive software to offer capable and meaningful services, support, and guidance all along the way, including internal change management, a key to a successful MES solution.

Any reputable software solution is continuously evolving, and MES systems are no different (be wary if they’re not!) When you’re choosing an MES solution provider, it’s important to know there’s a product roadmap in place. You should be confident that you’ll have access to new features and methodologies as the system evolves.

Take a minute to go back to the top of this article and review the quiz. With the right MES solution, you’ll be answering “yes” to all of those questions and analyzing your manufacturing through a new lens.

You’ll be able to successfully manage the massive amount of activity happening on the shop floor, and you’ll be confident that as you grow, the right MES solution will be there to support your manufacturing needs.

Ready to learn more about what an MES system does and how to choose one? Read our guide, MES for Discrete Manufacturers, which covers an MES’s big four benefits: productivity, quality, problem solving, and inventory reduction. It’s a great followup to this article.

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