MES enables the connected worker to soar

June 15, 2022

“When people on the shop floor don’t have access to the information they need, they don’t make good decisions.” Rockwell Automation’s John Clemons discussed the important role that manufacturing execution systems play in keeping connected workers at the top of their game.

While presenting to an audience that had, for the most part, flown here to Orlando for ROKLive, John Clemons used a fitting analogy during his presentation entitled “MES: The Cornerstone for the Connected Factory Worker.”

He asked us to picture the trust we put in airline pilots. We hand them the keys to the aircraft assuming that they are trained, skilled, smart and motivated to fly the multi-million-dollar planes properly.

“It’s the same thing as entrusting your multi-million-dollar manufacturing facility to your workers,” said the manufacturing execution systems (MES) solution consultant for Rockwell Automation. “You’re asking them to ‘fly’ your plant and you want them highly skilled, properly trained and motivated to do what you need them to do—make products, make money, get results.”

As manufacturing environments grow more complex and connected, and as workers within those facilities grow more demanding of smart approaches to doing their work, the tools, training and motivation at play are evolving. The humans are digitally transforming along with the hardware and software (but only if approached properly).

And central to success in this change are the manufacturing execution systems that connect people to every facet of manufacturing operations, optimizing processes and creating truly connected factory workers.

Clemons explained that he’s “been doing MES way longer than it’s been called MES.” Over the past few decades he’s witnessed the expansion of elements that fall under that MES banner, now encompassing the entire manufacturing process, from the receiving dock to the shipping dock, involving all of the people, all of the processes, the maintenance, the materials and more. “The difference is that, today, MES is all about having to track everything, to be able to reconstruct what is happening with your manufacturing. If you get a call from a customer with a problem, you can go back to the database and see everything about the product.”

It's heady stuff, this MES. Multi-faceted and constantly changing. But for this presentation, the consultant narrowed his focus on that people component—the workers interacting with the integrated suite of applications that comprise an MES in modern, fully connected capacities. While the technology within MES may be cool, he stressed, it requires people to make it work. Smart, trained, motivated people. (Think airplane pilots.) 

“When people on the shop floor don’t have access to the information they need, they don’t make good decisions,” said Clemons. “They are uninformed. They are not driven by data. They get frustrated, and then safety becomes a concern. Having an inefficient, ineffective workforce costs you more than just wasted hours. It can limit your business potential.” 

So how does MES remedy that?

In short, by providing modern workers with their modern needs. These include universal dashboards with aligned key performance indicators (KPIs). Worker-mobility technology that enables team members to stay connected as they move throughout facilities performing tasks. Augmented and virtual-reality tools that, among other benefits, speed training for new hires and multiply the capabilities of every worker via pooled knowledge.

Collectively, these tools build a modern work environment that attracts new workers with a safe and technologically advanced workspace, which is particularly important during the ongoing (never-ending?) manufacturing labor shortage. These tools improve the employment value proposition by offering team members devices they demand to work with (think smartphones and tablets). This, of course, necessitates a robust high-speed digital infrastructure that can support and secure these smart devices.  

And those connected workers, simply put, work better. They rely on predictive information to inform their decisions. They easily access remote support from peers in the factory next door or the sister facility on the other side of the globe. Connected workers pull up on-demand instructions and location-based information, which prevents mistakes. They access real-time process information, which boosts first-pass yield rates and overall equipment effectiveness. Digital record-keeping replaces inefficient paper processes. Satisfied workers show up for work and perform.

“The connected worker has an improved ability to get things done safer, faster, more efficiently,” summed Clemons, adding this peculiar aspect—ultimately these workforces don’t care about the larger manufacturing execution system organizing all of these optimizations. Nor do they care about the details of, say, any enterprise resource planning setups.

“That should all be in the background,” said Clemons. “They just want solutions geared for them that allow them to do their jobs.”

Put another way, solutions that enable these manufacturing pilots to soar.

Get the best of ROKLive 2022

The editors of Control, Control Design and Smart Industry are reporting live from ROKLive 2022 in Orlando, Florida, to bring you the latest news and insights from the event. When the event comes to a close, the best, most important coverage will be compiled into a report by the editors. 

Register now to pre-order the report and be among the first to receive it in your inbox.