MES Stands for Most Expensive System

Our understanding that the PM-SCADA Production Intelligence product from German manufacturing software vendor Felten Group took a big SCADA approach to MES suffered something of a knock at last month's U.K. launch of the latest version, when it became clear that one of its major features was that it wasn't SCADA at all. Confused? You bet. So much so that if newly launched Products4Automation (P4A)'s Paul Hurst does nothing else for Felten, with whom he's partnering in launching the software suite into the U.K., he's already done them a huge favour by persuading them to drop any mention of SCADA or, for that matter, of MES and rename the suite PILOT.

With that self-inflicted wound neatly bound up, Werner Felten, CEO of the eponymous company, was able to explain that PILOT had been developed to overcome the perceived limitations of conventional SCADA and MES based approaches to process management, the latter being in his view simply an acronym for Most Expensive System. "With conventional MES you need a big suite in order to achieve a small solution," he told journalists at the Brands Hatch presentation. "With Pilot you can start with small modules at small prices and so achieve a fast payback."

Key to PILOT's approach, says Felten, is that it overlaps the automation and MES layers of the conventional plant model, while also providing integration with the enterprise layer for those who require it. PILOT is positioned where "Production intelligence meets business intelligence," the aim being to combine "the functional part of SCADA and MES systems, but developed so that it is so flexible and easy to configure that it can be applied to virtually any process situation."

Felten's criticism of conventional MES offerings is that they tend to give users an isolated view of the individual elements of their processes and, specifically, make little or no provision for the integration of manual processes. "When we try to do everything on an automated system we lose flexibility," he says. "It's important to keep people in the loop - no machine is as flexible as people." To illustrate the point, and its importance in the current difficult economic circumstances, he cites the case of a particular automotive plant which has found that it is unable to reduce production by more than 7% without major investment.
To achieve that flexibility and facilitate the creation of systems which can be readily adapted to the needs of existing processes, workflows and working practices, PILOT comprises a series of modules and tools which can be used either individually or in isolation. These include PILOT BDE for operational and process data acquisition, PILOT WDS for weigh and dispensing and the self-explanatory PILOT MES, each of which comes with its own individual function modules and can be integrated into a framework together with a range of Production Intelligence tools. The resultant flexibility allows the same approach to be applied economically to a single production line with a single PC or HMI or a complete facility with integration with on the one hand, SCADA systems and, on the other, ERP.

Felten believes that a major weakness of many MES offerings is the limitations they impose on the user's own processes. "The processes are the real capital in production management because they don't just determine the relationship between quality and quantity in the output, they also determine the economic efficiency," he says. In his view the processes themselves have been given insufficient attention because of an over emphasis on technology. "Suitable software solutions are important, but they must focus on the process."

[subhed] Common Experience
Hurst and Felten share a common experience in having previously handled Citect in their respective home markets, and it's his experience of trying to sell Citect's Ampla MES package that has convinced Hurst that PILOT is well-suited to the U.K. market. He's particularly focused on the developing needs of medium-scale food and beverage manufacturers with turnovers in the £5-million to £10-million range. Regulatory compliance imposes increasingly sophisticated traceability requirements, but they almost certainly can't afford full scale ERP. "The beauty of Pilot," he says," is that it is easy to put it into an existing plant."

Previous versions of the Felten software already boast some 10,000 installations worldwide with the user base including such multinationals as Bieresdorf – Nivea to you and me, Boehringer Ingelheim, Symrise, Sensient and Texas Instruments. Hurst is now looking for systems integrators in the UK willing to handle PILOT alongside his automation products and, hence, build on the three installations already scheduled for the U.K. in 2010. "Production intelligence," he says, "belongs with production people."

Last month's Brands Hatch event was billed as the launch of Felten's PILOT suite, but it would have been more than surprising if Paul Hurst hadn't slipped in a plug for P4A's own range of offerings. Of these arguably the most interesting is the Monitouch range of HMIs from Japanese manufacturer Hakko Electronics. Hurst explained that he's twice tried to take SCADA down into the HMI market, once with Intellution and once with Citect, but in his view neither was entirely successful. With Monitouch the approach is from the other end. "It offers many of the features of a SCADA package on an HMI with the added expandability that the software will run both on the dedicated terminal and on any manufacturer's PC, so we have an HMI with a client-server architecture which will also connect to PILOT."

What's more, says Hurst, it's significantly cheaper than conventional SCADA. "SCADA systems have always looked very expensive, particularly to smaller users. They'll say ‘Great software, but I only use 20% of it.' Monitouch starts at just £1400."

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