Industry 4.0 • December 16, 2020

MES, ERP & PLM Integration: A Blueprint for Success

A Blueprint for Better MES Integration

The digital transformation that underlies Industry 4.0 relies on capturing contextual data and aggregating it in such a way to improve decision support and operational excellence. This process can be achieved through the concept of the Digital Thread, or as iBase-t is now advocating, the weaving of Digital Cloth, which can be used to create and maintain Digital Twins and other virtual visualizations of the production process to optimize operations performance. This is the reason why manufacturers are investing in upgrading their Manufacturing Execution System as a blueprint for better MES integration.

There really is only one way to effectively create a Digital Thread that spans the lifecycle of a product from conception through design and manufacturing and into the field and throughout its operational life. You must tie together all of the information that each of your IT and OT systems generate and use. This is best achieved by seamlessly integrating the data associated with operations (MES) with design (PLM) and business systems of record (ERP) applications. What results is better MES integration across your digital enterprise. 

When it comes to the shop floor and manufacturing operations the three systems that must be tightly integrated are:

  • Product Lifecycle Management: The system where the product design and configuration information are maintained.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning: The system where financial data, inventory, and customer data is maintained and where business management tends to look to assess day-to-day business operations, as a system of record.
  • Manufacturing Execution System: The system where operational instructions are defined, maintained, and executed, and where as-built data on product content, quality, and genealogy is maintained.

It is only by weaving the information from each of these systems into a single view can a business create the necessary holistic view of the product and the process by which it was created. Unfortunately, these three systems, PLM, ERP, and MES, by their very focus, have very different orientations so such integration requires forethought and a well-designed integration blueprint.

With Integration, “How” is as Important as “What”

PLM systems are product-centric so have an information model based on product design and parametric data, but not necessarily on how that product should be built. An ERP system, on the other hand, is designed to be transaction- and record-centric to properly track costs, inventory levels, and ultimately provide support for accounting month-end and year-end reporting. An MES system is operationally centric. Consequently, it must deal with real-time or near real-time information that is collected contextually. The moment an out-of-specification or out-of-plan process occurs, time is critical to act upon this information and make quick changes to stop small problems from becoming serious issues. The act of integrating all this data is not trivial. To do so seamlessly is even more difficult. 

Two Strategies for Better MES Integration: APIs and Data Standards

The MES industry is moving towards greater reliance upon using open APIs to capture and disseminate data with far greater efficiency and speed. This was a big driving force behind iBase-t’s move to a microservices architecture with its latest iSeries product launch.

Read more about the Solumina iSeries launch

This industry shift is also explaining why standards have become so important.  

Almost every manufacturer has a different supplier for their PLM, MES and ERP systems, many even having multiple suppliers in each area. Some may use design and engineering software from one supplier while using a product data management and engineering collaboration platform from another. 

Similarly, manufacturers may need to integrate a time and attendance application from one company into the HR components of their ERP platform, supplied by yet another firm. There may even be a need to tie to multiple ERP and PLM applications, even within a single facility! Trying to create bespoke point-to-point integrations with an ever-evolving technology footprint is just not practical. Standards are the only way to overcome this challenge.

Fortunately, the Aerospace, Defense, and many other manufacturing industries have recognized this need and developed a rich set of standards that can help overcome these challenges. Some of the key ones are:

  • OAGIS: An XML interoperability standard governing the exchange of electronic data between business systems (learn more here)
  • JSON: A JavaScript object notation standard for lightweight data exchange (learn more here)
  • Swagger: A method for defining, designing, and documenting Application Program Interfaces or APIs (learn more here

How iBase-t Approaches MES Integration with Solumina iSeries

iBase-t has long recognized the need for our customers to evolve their application portfolios while preserving their investment in our solutions. Therefore, we have and will continue to support these and other industry standards. Our recent expansion of open APIs with Solumina iSeries reinforces this commitment. By doing so, we provide our customers with the greatest flexibility and sustained configurability while maintaining the ability to deploy iBase-t solutions quickly. This is particularly a keen focus of mine, given that my role is all about ensuring that the products we provide can effectively integrate with not only our own solution portfolio but also with other third-party applications. 

If you have any questions I have not addressed in this post, feel free to reach out by posting a comment below, and I’ll be sure to respond.  

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