Manufacturing Execution System • November 30, 2018

MES is the Foundation for Digital Manufacturing

There is a lot of hype around manufacturing technology these days–machine learning, smart robots, digital twins, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT)–everybody is talking about them. But none of these technologies can be considered fully mature. Each may eventually revolutionize manufacturing, but it isn’t happening this year. That revolution isn’t likely to happen for many more years, yet their marketers insinuate that their appearance means that MES is dead. The reality is that MES will be around for a long time to come. It will likely be enhanced by these technologies, but none of them can take over the essential functions of MES.

The Relationship Between IoT, Digital Manufacturing and MES

The same type of thinking applies to digital manufacturing. IoT vendors try to say that their solution is digital manufacturing. This is a fallacy. IoT systems do bring increased visibility to the enterprise. They also facilitate benefits like real-time energy monitoring, advance warning of equipment failure, and the prediction of trends. While that can be a real bonus when it comes to asset performance management and condition-based maintenance, none of these things can replace MES.

Some vendors even make the ridiculous claim that their systems are MES lite. They may improve visibility and automation, but you can’t build an airplane or helicopter with them. They lack the manufacturing capabilities that are essential to MES.

So how can digital manufacturing be realized? The master data management and transactional core of MES is the key. This makes it possible to pass data from PLM into MES and back again, from ERP into MES and back again, from any IoT system into MES and back again. No matter what technology is involved, MES will always lie at the center.

The point missed in efforts to negate MES is the word “manufacturing.” IoT, machine learning, digital twins, behavioral analytics, asset management – these are all wonderful technologies. But they are NOT systems that conduct manufacturing execution. When you move out of design and engineering into the real world of manufacturing, only MES has the framework that allows you to transmit information into a digital twin and keep it updated.

Key Elements of Digital Manufacturing

But the digital twin is only one aspect of digital manufacturing. The key elements are digital representation of products and processes, and a platform that can support the digital thread, digitized workflows, comprehensive integration, and feedback on process performance. That isn’t far removed from current-day MES. All that is lacking is end-to-end digitization.

Yes, every link in the manufacturing value chain can be transformed by digital manufacturing. New sources of revenue can be unlocked by improving operational effectiveness and fast-tracking product innovation. All this can be achieved through the application of digital technologies to manufacturing. It is all about having the right information, at the right place, at the right time.
The goal is to link disparate systems and span processes across all departments and functions within the value chain. By doing so, the entire product lifecycle is impacted – from design to production to servicing of the product. Each stakeholder gains quicker access to more accurate data to improve process efficiency and heighten the quality of organizational decision-making.

Boeing, for example, developed its 777 and 787 airframes using all-virtual design, cutting time to market by more than 50 percent.

Digital Manufacturing and the Digital Thread

Digital manufacturing, though, requires complete integration between PLM, ERP, MES, shop floor applications, and equipment to enable the exchange of product-related information between digital design and physical manufacturing execution. A formal framework known as a digital thread must be woven from one side of the manufacturing enterprise to the other. It enables analysis of data throughout the product lifecycle, transforming it into actionable information. The digital thread integrates as-designed requirements, validation and inspection records, as-built data, as-flown data, and as-maintained data.

Smart, connected products can also send customer data to product managers to help anticipate demand and maintenance needs. The result is better design. By involving customers and supply chain partners during the entire product lifecycle, requirements can be fulfilled faster and with far fewer iterations.
Some areas of aerospace & defense (A&D) are already deploying digital tools to integrate their supply networks. Boeing, for example, developed its 777 and 787 airframes using all-virtual design, cutting time to market by more than 50 percent.

Anyone laying out a strategy for digital manufacturing, then, should be wary of being distracted by the great many bells and whistles being dangled by vendors of non-core functions. These could all be great features, but they all rely on a firm foundation – and that can only come from a digitized MES system that can orchestrate the entire supply chain and unite the digital thread.

iBase-t software solutions facilitate the digital thread for complex discrete manufacturers by filling in the gaps that between PLM, ERP, MES, and other enterprise systems. iBase-t Digital Manufacturing Platform integrates engineering and business systems to establish the Real-Time Integrated Digital Manufacturing Enterprise.

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