MES Overview

Manufacturing Execution System Philosophy

Manufacturing Execution Systems are the operating system for your business. MES integrates all of your business systems with your production infrastructure giving you the information to optimize operations from the top floor to the shop floor. 

In a typical MES system customer orders from the ERP system are brought in front of your schedulers along with current inventory. The schedulers use this information to optimize the production schedule, fixing it a few days ahead of time so the plant has time to prepare materials. 

The production schedule pulls in raw material quantities, and alerts procurement when stock is running low. The warehouse crews are given pick lists and delivery times to ensure the plant has what it needs to produce. Operators run the plant with the SCADA system, and any slowdowns or stoppages are fed back to the scheduler to adjust future production runs.

As production runs are finished the system alerts shipping and receiving product is coming their way, along with all of the paperwork needed to get things into the warehouse or out the door.

MES is a force multiplier for your company. Giving people the information they need, when they need it, helping them make the right decisions and improving your business outcomes.

MES Building Blocks

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

OEE is a combination of factors used to give you a single number to monitor the health of your process. Using OEE you can prioritize maintenance, training, and material management activities to get the most out of your process without having to add new equipment or labor.

OEE is calculated by Downtime * Production Speed * Good Parts Produced  (OEE = A x P x Q), and can be tracked over time to help you monitor system functioning both in short term snapshots and long-term trends. We will dive deeper into each of these below.

Downtime

Ideally your equipment would run 24/7/365 and never stop producing parts. In reality you will suffer from a mixture of minor shutdowns, maintenance issues, and process upsets preventing production.

Tracking these events is critical to your operation. Knowing the frequency and duration of your downtime events will help you prioritize fixing issues, and give you better insight into your facility’s weaknesses.

The first step in tracking downtime is to understand why your equipment goes down. It can be mechanical or electrical issues, operator error, or machines up and down stream blocking or starving other machines of material.

Most systems will begin with a handful of common reason codes, E-Stop, Blocked, Starved, Maintenance, Other, and grow from there as the data needs to become more granular. These scenarios can easily be added to any PLC program to sort your downtime into actionable buckets. As knowledge of your process grows you can expand these to encompass your specific needs.

Downtime events are then turned into reports and dashboards to show you the most hurtful events, either by time, duration, or revenue impact, giving you the tools to fix the worst offenders first.

To learn more about Downtime Tracking check out our MES 101 post on Downtime.

Production Speed

Production Speed is the measure of how quickly you can produce material. If your process is designed to make 1000 units an hour and you are producing 800, you would be at 80% speed.

For most companies this metric is commonly increased in conjunction with reducing downtime. Less minor stoppages means the average production rates can be higher.

Once you have optimized your downtime, this Production Speed starts to have a greater impact on OEE. It can be more difficult to improve because we are all bound by the laws of physics, however there are many process improvements you can make to improve your speed.

This is usually not the first place people start their MES journey, however it quickly becomes important to go down this path and understand what controls you have over optimizing your operation.

Check out our post on Performance Management to see how to get the most out of your cycle time tracking.

Quality

Quality is a simple metric to define. It is the number of good parts you produce vs. the total number of parts you produce.

Measuring quality is relatively simple as well. Is it a good part, yes or no? Where quality gets complicated is when you start to implement systems to answer this question.

This is where tools like SPC and LIMS systems come into play. These help you define the samples you will take, how they will be analyzed, and how they will be stored. These samples then feed back into the MES system to give you a quality metric for your OEE calculations. We’ll dig deeper into these systems below.

We go deeper into the basics of quality management in our post on LIMS systems.

Scheduling

Another common first step into the world of MES is through production scheduling. Scheduling can be implemented by itself, or can complement the implementation of an OEE project giving you visibility into specific production orders, shifts, and personnel.

Production scheduling starts with pulling in the required orders from the ERP system. The first step is to compare the orders with inventory on hand to pull from stock where possible. From there, the true power of MES begins to take hold.

Scheduling systems can automatically generate a schedule based on configurable rules, giving your scheduler an optimal starting point. The scheduler can make any adjustments for last minute changes or material shortages, and automatically generate all of the production orders once they have planned the orders for the day.

The scheduling system handles the start and end times for batches, including changeover times. The plant control system feeds the real-time production data back into the schedule, allowing the scheduler to be alerted of any potential impacts to update future orders.

Scheduling allows you to lay down a solid foundation on which you can build a more productive operation.

Want to dig deeper into scheduling? Start with our machine scheduling post.

Statistical Process Control (SPC)

SPC combines your process data with your quality control data and gives you the analytical tools to make sense of it all. 

The first step in implementing SPC is to define your quality control samples. Typically this would come from an existing LIMS system, or any regular samples you already collect. Common examples include package weight or product purity, and can go as deep as you need.

When you collect the samples the data goes into a database and is then pulled into analytical tools alongside your process data. The system provides you with control limits and scenarios to alert you to quality trends. These can be basic min/max ranges, or complex algorithmic analysis tracking the number of increasing or decreasing samples.

If the samples are collected in real-time you can automatically adjust the process control tuning to improve quality during production, or you can analyze the data after the fact and make adjustments for future runs.

SPC impacts the bottom line by reducing your waste, scrap, and re-work. It helps you understand the causes of quality issues, and how to fix them.

SPC gives you a deeper understanding of how your process conditions affect quality.

Want to learn more about SPC? Check out the basics in our Acronyms Are Hard Series, or get more in depth with downtime tracking with our MES 101 Quality Management post.

Track and Trace

Track and Trace tracks raw materials through the production process and produces a comprehensive trace graph of production steps. For industries with regulated data collection like Food and Beverage, some Manufacturing, and Aerospace this is both necessary and valuable, and can help any facility better track their production.

Track and Trace relies on your ERP and warehousing systems to pull in raw material lot numbers as they are used, giving you complete visibility into all of the lots going into each production step. As these materials are combined, your internal lot numbers are generated and stored at each step.

The Trace graph will display all of this information in an easy to follow format, showing you a complete picture of your products.

This makes it very easy to pull up production orders in case of product recalls, or simply understanding what lot numbers contain which raw materials if you need to track down a quality issue.

Track and Trace is a powerful tool in the MES Toolbox, find out more by reaching out to us.

We go more in depth on Track and Trace in our post on the first step in a fully integrated supply chain.

Recipe Management

In conjunction with better production scheduling, a common next step is a recipe management system.

With recipes you can define a given set of setpoints for a particular product, ensuring the same conditions are used every time. If you are running new products ou can set up recipes to require approval before they can be run on the line, preventing unauthorized product from being produced.

Recipes can easily be integrated into a batching strategy, allowing you run multi-step production operations, and all of these runs can be tracked using the other MES tools giving you a complete picture of your plant.

Recipes can be as simple or as complex as you would like, and when you have recipes for your products, it simplifies the information operators need to enter to begin production runs. Some facilities who have implemented recipes have been able to run a few additional batches a day due to the savings in typing alone.

Recipes are a powerful component of MES system, and can unlock a lot of potential from your people and your process.

Learn more about recipe management in our Sepasoft Solved Recipe Management video.

On Deck Production Orders

For processes where you are running multiple products a day, one solution we have found to help reduce changeover times is using the concept of an on deck production order.

Just like in baseball, an on deck production order is simply the next one in line after the one currently running. Where it helps a manufacturing process is by having the operator set up the on deck production order so when the current order is wrapped up, it can either automatically be started if there aren’t any changeover requirements, or it can simplify the process of selecting the batch and starting it manually if there is a changeover.

It gives operations a view into what is currently running, and what is coming down the line, so they can be ahead of the curve in staging materials, labor, and equipment.

On Deck Production Orders are one of the powerful tricks we have found along the way, if you think it would be helpful at your facility, let us know and we can show you what it can do.

Integrations and Tie-In’s

Here are a few of the most common integrations that help our customers beginning their MES journey. Have something else in mind? Let us know!

ERP

One of the major integrations that companies look at is their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. ERP is the backbone of the business. It  includes customer information, inventory, Purchase Orders, Accounting, scheduling and more. 

Corso has successfully integrated with various off the shelf ERP’s including SAP, JD Edwards, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and SAGE. We’ve also worked with homegrown systems, so don’t feel left out if your’s isn’t listed. If you don’t have an ERP we can help make the best choice for your company. 

There are various ways we can integrate with ERP’s. Typically, we’ll work with your IT department to find the right solution. Typically we use some combination of web Services calls and database access. There are also supported solutions from some of our partners to easily integrate with standard ERP interfaces.

Why Would You What To Integrate Your ERP?

Because you want to use the information that you’ve painstakingly input into your ERP and not duplicate everything on the production side of the business. Most facilities that integrate with an ERP want to start with scheduling and/or inventory. This way we can make scheduling easier and more efficient.

Some facilities operate with a flexible number of operators. We can help schedule the operators for your optimal performance.

We normally set up automated production data pulls from the ERP, plus we can integrate pushing data back into your ERP. A fully integrated system will allow you to streamline data entry and provide full visualization of your process. Imagine sitting down and being able to instantly see your entire process from customer order to fulfillment. That is what an ERP integration can provide.

Want to know more about ERP’s?

Check out Acronyms Are Hard: ERP edition

Another benefit: we can help automate your company’s time cards!

LIMS

Does your company have a QC lab? Then you might have a LIMS, or Laboratory Information Management System.

LIMS features include workflow and data tracking, as well as the ability to exchange across interfaces, and are important for facilities that need to be completely sure that all of their information is up to date and will not be questioned by regulators. This data can be combined with process data using SPC to not only meet your regulatory requirements, but also improve your production yields.

There are many off the shelf LIMS systems, as well as homegrown or custom built options. We have worked with just about everything under the sun including building custom systems. If you don’t have a LIMS system and would benefit from one we can help you make a selection.

Why  Would You Want To Integrate Your LIMS?

To capture value from the quality data you are already collection. Integrating quality data with process control data is the basis of SPC. SPC is one of the best ways to analyze and understand how your process conditions affect quality.

Being able to correlate your lab testing along with your manufacturing environment is invaluable. Now if there is an issue, you can quickly and easily see all the information about those pieces. You can also track the materials back to the source and find any other pieces that need to be checked.

The visualization of your process will be much more complete once you have integrated your laboratory testing.

Learn more in our Acronyms Are Hard: LIMS edition!

Plus read about a custom LIMS solution Corso provided to an Oil and Gas facility.

Cameras

It seems like everything has a camera these days.

Many facilities are starting to use IP cameras to see their process in action. Operators can see an entire machine from the control room, and confined or otherwise dangerous locations can be on a monitor all the time.

Many of the platforms we use for MES integrations also support camera displays, some even record and store video. Combined with modern cameras utilizing MQTT motion alerts, you can get a complete picture of your process when something is out of the ordinary.

We also work with many companies who use temperature monitoring cameras, such as FLIR and Fluke. These can easily be used to generate images for reports, or can be integrated with your SPC and/or LIMS systems to correlate images with quality and process data. These cameras can also give you notifications if something is trending out of spec.

Beyond simply capturing images, it is also possible to run predictive analytics on the camera feeds to be able to preemptively predict failures or abnormal events.

Vision systems can provide insight into your process beyond the capabilities of operators. They can be used to optimize part layout on a pallet, increase cycle times by adjusting spacing on the line, or even be used for quality control testing of small parts, or for any parts at rapid speed.

Why Would You Want To Integrate Your Cameras?

Simply to see your process. Many facilities already have cameras that can be integrated.

Using relatively inexpensive cameras to provide better process visualization is a powerful tool.

Adding cameras for temperature monitoring, and more advanced vision systems can exponentially increase the productivity of your system.

We talk about this some in the Intelligent Automation Pyramid: Business Intelligence Systems.

System & Machine Login

Many facilities have some form of ID badge for their staff. These can be used along with some inexpensive hardware to allow operator login with a badge swipe. This can also be biometrics such as finger print or retina scan, or even NFC sensors in a phone.

Integrating automated logins into your MES and SCADA systems is an important step for a few reasons. First it removes the need to remember passwords and eliminates typing. This makes it easier for operators to login to the system, and easier for you to get away from every machine being run by “Operator”. This helps you get better granularity into who is running the system at any given time.

Second, it simplifies managing access to machines and settings. You can easily lock down recipes and setpoints requiring certain user rights to make adjustments, and you can tie your training records to your employees and prevent them from operating machines they aren’t qualified to operate.

Third it removes a step in the process when employees are hired or change roles. Their access can be tied into their training and badging process. No more with they need to go to the controls team to get access, they will have the access they need as they are entered into the badging system.

Why Would You Want To Integrate Your System & Machine Logins?

Integrating logins reduces issues with operators needing to remember passwords. It simplifies managing access to everything, and helps put you on the path of having the machines set and run at optimal setting, always.

Integrating these into your MES allow for Automating Your Time Cards from any location in your facility.

Additionally, you can use these integrations for easier Scheduling.

Barcode Printers & Scanners

Using barcodes as a way to reduce data entry requirements can be a powerful, transformative process for many facilities. Think about doing away with clipboards and writing down or reading complex part numbers and recipe codes. 

The simple alternative of creating barcodes, using your MES system to generate printouts on stickers, or etched directly into parts, and scanning things in instead of typing.

Regular barcodes, QR Codes, or any manner of complex bar code you can come up with can be integrated with any modern SCADA and MES system. You can even enter in SKUs from your suppliers and scan in raw material information, lot numbers, etc. using the same barcode system you use for your process.

Using barcodes can help eliminate mistakes and make everything move faster. It reduces operator fatigue and lets them focus on what they do best.

Why Would You Want To Integrate Your Barcode Printers & Scanners?

If you’re done with paper and want to do everything in a digital world, barcodes are for you.

Want to track things you couldn’t before? We have helped companies serialize every part before it goes out the door, integrating data into their customer facing systems to give a complete lifecycle of every part they sell. Using barcodes makes this easy.

Embrace the transformative process, and find efficiencies you didn’t know existed.

We talk about that in our Track and Trace post.

If you’re not sure whether a particular integration exists or can exist, the answer is probably YES and you should definitely ask us!

Software and Platforms

Still want more? Let’s talk software.

There are a lot of Software platform options for building an MES system. We have experience working extensively with a number of different platforms, and we’ve dabbled around with even more than that, because that’s what we do. We’ll touch on our top three favorite software platforms below, and if you have questions on others, we’d be happy to discuss more details.

Head hasn’t exploded yet from all the Manufacturing Execution System information? Great. So let’s talk software.

Inductive Automation’s Ignition

Inductive Automation has taken the industry by storm with their novel pricing strategy: charge one price. It’s a beautiful thought, and not needing to count clients, tags, or PLC’s makes it easy to figure out what you need. The list of customers is impressive and includes Tesla, Amazon, Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson and many more.

We have leveraged Ignition to produce some magnificent results. Corso is extremely proud to say that we are Premier Integrators and all of our controls engineers are Gold Certified in the latest versions of Ignition!

Read more about Inductive’s Ignition here.

Siemens WinCC Open Architecture

Siemens’ newest iteration of software has an Open Architecture flair. Happily, this allows for more customization and templating in the software than other versions, and clients specifically like the speed everything happens.

One of the conclusive reasons customers look at OA is because of the speed at which their process historian can collect data and the huge amount of data that the process historian can store. How huge? CERN, that place in Europe with the Large Hadron Collider that tries to create black holes? Yeah, they use OA.

The overall look and feel is very nice and many applications happily call OA their MES provider.

Corso is proud to be a Premier WinCC OA Integrator. We also completed the very first US-Based oil and gas project on OA.

Read more about WinCC OA here.

Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk

FactoryTalk is the king of the industry. Everyone likes to compare them to IBM of the 80’s and 90’s: no one ever gets fired for using FactoryTalk.

Historically, FactoryTalk has been a bit disjointed with their integration of purchased modules, but there are some interesting developments coming from them recently. Most people that look at FactoryTalk are facilities that use Rockwell Automation for hardware and are comfortable with Rockwell. Otherwise there are some people out there who have used FactoryTalk in the past and want to continue to use FactoryTalk, which is a totally valid reason.

We have a few FactoryTalk experts and we’ll get a few calls a year from people asking us to come in and save their integration or perform a migration for them because of our cross platform knowledge.  

Read more about FactoryTalk here.

Where to Start

What “getting started” looks like will depend on your project.  Reaching out to us, to start the conversation about MES, and looking at demos is a good series of first steps and is the easiest and quickest way to get the ball rolling. If you’re not ready to do that yet, check out some of our Case Studies and blog posts on MES and reach out soon.