"Going Green" Isn't Easy, but MES Can Help

MES Can Help Achieve All Sorts of Good Things, Including Helping Companies Reach Their Sustainability Goals

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This article was printed in CONTROL's July 2009 edition.

Globalization, increasing environmental compliance requirements and supply chain cost pressures are forcing more and more companies to examine sustainability and corporate social responsibility programs and solutions. For many companies, "going green" is no longer a buzzword, but an important business imperative that can lower costs and provide a competitive advantage. Manufacturing execution systems (MES) can be a crucial tool to reach that imperative.

Sustainability 101

Twenty years after the United Nations took up the challenge of sustainability, it appears that the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report on sustainability (http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm), "Our Common Future," has become mainstream reading among leading multinational firms, such as Abbot Labs, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dow Chemical, DuPont, GE, General Mills, Merck, Potash Corp., Suncor Energy and a whole lot more.

Of course, each company puts its own spin on what sustainability means, but it really comes down to action in the area where the environment, money and people converge. (See Figure 1)

About 10 years ago, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS, http://www.bms.com) conducted a company-wide environmental impact analysis. "We have followed up with targeted initiatives worldwide to reduce energy and water consumption, wastewater, non-hazardous waste, offsite hazardous waste disposal and air emissions of greenhouse gases, acid gases and other chemicals," explains Susan Voigt, BMS vice-president for environment, health and safety.

About that same time, Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine (CRO, http://www.thecro.com/) issued its first "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list. What makes this list noteworthy is that it is based entirely on publicly available information, including non-secure websites, government and regulatory sources, investment publications and non-government databases. That means the list's sources are public places accessible to anyone researching Russell 1000 companies.

In 2009 CRO awarded its "Best Corporate Citizen" top spot to Bristol-Myers Squibb. In doing so, CRO credited BMS for making strides in changing its environmental impact on the world, including improving its carbon footprint by surpassing its target of a 10% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 and creating a U.S. Green Building Council certified biologics facility in Devens, Mass.

Innovative approach

BMS engineer Brian Chviruk says, "When Bristol-Myers Squibb committed to constructing its Devens, Mass., Large Scale Cell Culture (LCSS) biologics manufacturing facility, it also committed to the pursuit of the U.S. Green Building Councils Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification (www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CategoryID=19 or http://tinyurl.com/ax9px), which recognizes site development, water savings, energy-efficient materials selection and indoor environmental quality."

Chviruk explained that BMS engineers viewed the company's LCSS commitment as an opportunity to implement one of the truly innovative ideas they had been discussing ever since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began encouraging the use of risk-based approaches to advance good manufacturing practices. Their innovative idea? Apply MES technologies to help develop a highly integrated, paperless plant designed to achieve:

  • Highly automated and tightly integrated electronic production and laboratory batch records; 
  • Batch releases by exception; Application of a science- and risk-based approach to validation;
  • Implementation of an open-office environment designed to maximize collaboration within and across functional groups; and
  • Contributions to BMS' Sustainability 2010 Goals.

(Learn more about BMS' innovative use of MES at www.controlglobal.com/0906_chviruk.html)

Management in a Box

What made BMS engineers think MES could help them achieve their sustainability goals? Probably the evolving and flexible nature of this collection of applications described in the past by some wags as an acronym in search of a market. That snark is over time losing some of its bite.

The term MES first appeared in the early 90s to define thinly integrated point solutions for production work order and inventory tracking with some quality and scheduling capabilities. Since then, work by several organizations have evolved early MES models in several directions and introduced new terms, however MES remains the term of choice.

Layered between business systems and plant floor control systems MES's primary purpose is to help manage production scheduling and sequencing, but 21st -century MES is not a single application. Today's MES solutions are assembled from robust, highly integrated software modules designed to address the needs of four key production management areas: quality and compliance, information integration, operational optimization and resource management. (See Figure 2) It's not hard to see how a robust MES system could support BMS' sustainability goals.

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