Scalable MES increases speed to smart manufacturing

June 13, 2017
Fit-for-purpose functionality and thin-client interfaces accelerate implementation time for manufacturing companies.

It’s a common dilemma. Manufacturing execution systems (MES) can help companies better understand their operations and get more out of their workforce, equipment and materials. However, traditional MES is often an all-in, enterprise-wide investment.

Manufacturers across industries and of all sizes grapple with tough challenges. They must balance production with cost and quality, manage a changing workforce, and learn to better access and put to use real-time data. All of this must be done while striving to reduce downtime and improve throughput.

More and more customers are eager to leverage MES and link business systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) with real-time, operational, plant-control systems.

In doing so, they create an information-driven manufacturing process that can help trigger actions or execute operations, activities, rules and more. And, now, there is more than one way to accomplish these goals.

Automotive manufacturer scales up

One such customer, Tata Motors, successfully upgraded an existing MES system at its plant in Pune, India. Plant managers and engineers at the automotive manufacturing facility recognized that their six-year-old MES was beginning to show symptoms of aging. They were facing system-availability issues stemming from sporadic server failures. If those continued or became worse, it would prove difficult to meet the high-availability expectations of users.

[sidebar id =1]

Tata Motors also needed consistent quality. They needed an MES system with automated, real-time, information-sharing capabilities through quality gates.

If a defect was detected, corrective actions needed to be taken quickly. They needed this to happen with automated alerts and traceable communications.

By transitioning to the FactoryTalk ProductionCentre MES from Rockwell Automation, the team strengthened operational consistencies and visibility for decision support within the plant. Plus, they could also help enable smart manufacturing by integrating three plants and standardizing communications, applications, processes and technology.

Start small to address specific challenges

Scalable MES solutions are flexible enough to sustain projects large and small. Unlike Tata Motors, many manufacturers are new to MES and are starting small to address specific manufacturing challenges like quality, machine performance or track/trace, and genealogy.

They’re implementing a scalable MES application at the machine or work area level, knowing that they can add other applications to scale to an integrated MES as they realize ROI.

These manufacturers are reducing the IT infrastructure costs typically associated with MES by implementing applications on thin clients. They add these applications to the existing framework to help protect their current investments while realizing additional benefits.

At the same time, they’re also taking advantage of information provided by smart assets. By connecting through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), this information is used to improve overall equipment operation and product quality, analyze data and comply with regulatory requirements.

Implementing scalable solutions

Before beginning to build an MES system one application at a time, an integration plan must be in place that ensures all the pieces eventually connect. The benefits increase exponentially once fit-for-purpose systems are talking to each other and utilizing data across systems.

For example, take a fit-for-purpose, quality-management application. Instead of modeling and applying a proof-of-concept solution thinly across an entire operation, a modular, quality-management application can be rolled out at the machine level. This offers specific, quality data collection and eliminates paper-based reporting.

The solution can alert a plant operator if a quality check is needed via laptop, tablet or smartphone. If the check fails, a configurable, escalation workflow drives operations into additional quality sampling and corrective action plans, creating the potential to salvage product still on the line. This also gives plant and operations managers insight into the total number of completed, suspected and wasted batches.

It’s a full, quality-management solution that can more quickly address the specific quality concerns in an operation and deliver ROI. However, without considering how quality management will connect with other focused applications in the future, integration challenges can pile up quickly. To ensure these scalable applications can evolve into a fully functioning MES, manufacturers need to plan:

  • Step One: In a standardization plan, it's key to select products and vendors that comply with ISA 95. This allows manufacturers to pick functionality from different vendors while ensuring the products work together. Just realize that cross-vendor integration will never be as smooth as single-vendor integration.
  • Step Two: Next is to consider system design. For example, if a production-management application is added to a system that already has quality management, data can be pulled from several systems to improve operational procedures without the additional cost of data collection. So, start with applications that share similar context for the best insights.

Many smart manufacturers are looking to their partners like Rockwell Automation to help them leverage technologies, such as Software as a Service and industrial data centers. Emerging technologies like cloud, scalable analytics and IIoT can make it significantly easier to get started.

At Rockwell Automation, we’re actively engaged with companies who are pushing the bar and investing in manufacturing intelligence and MES to gain competitive advantages and enhance their operations.

While the task of connecting systems seems daunting, there is now a simple starting point with an application-based approach. Before jumping in, have a plan in place. Foresight will save headaches in the future.

Download the full report: Highlights from Rockwell Automation 2017