In November, iBASEt hosted another educational webinar presented by Jan Snoeij, as part of a continuing series we have been working together on this year. For this webcast, Picking the Right MES, the topic of conversation was focused on why not all Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are the same. Your needs will vary. So too should your MES. While this topic should come as no surprise, there are still many providers who continue to suggest that their MES is a “jack of all trades” and will work in any environment. This simply isn’t true.
To start, those operating in a high volume, low complexity environment will be more focused on asset utilization and speed of throughput. Alternatively, those operating in a lower volume, highly complex environment, will be more concerned about ensuring that every product is manufactured perfectly at the highest quality level throughout the entire build cycle. In theses instances, it is very important to have quality integrated into each process.
After Jan completed his presentation, several questions were raised that are shared below – plus a couple others we didn’t have time to include. We hope this information is helpful with your decision process to pick the right MES that is based your unique business requirements.
We are considering developing our own MES – What are some possible risks & challenges you see with this approach?
If you choose this strategy, then you don’t make use of all the experience a vendor has captured over the many years they have been in business. This shortfall and knowledge gap applies not only to the business rules for your industry, but also to the technology that is available to implement and manage such a solution. Think about it. Vendors get feedback from each of the different customers they work with. Over time, this adds up to a lot of information that goes into each of their solutions, based on the industries they serve best. Choosing a strategy to “re-create the wheel,” will most likely cost much more, potentially will take longer to create and deploy, and will tie up more resources less efficiency over a longer period of time, for a much lower chance of success.
Should you consider IIoT offerings when preparing an MES RFP?
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is something I like very much in that it adds much additional value to an MES. Adding new data from these systems is good. Especially those operating with older, legacy equipment that can’t connect to in the traditional way. Here, the IIoT can create a lot of additional value, even without interfering with the controls of that equipment, which is great. Sometimes you see an IIoT provider trying to make something out of all the data being collected. But, you know, that’s already existing. That is an MES. So, it isn’t either or, but how to use an IIoT and an MES solution together as a best practice.
Are ERP offers MES solutions, and if so, what questions should we be asking them?
You should ask an ERP vendor the same questions that you would ask an MES vendor. The issue is whether an ERP operator can address your issues with their solution. As a repeat to the presentation I made back in July, if you try to buy everything from one vendor, then it is quite likely that some parts of their Suite are good, but others will be “less ok.” In these situations, you might not have all the right functionalities you require. Here it is critical that each stakeholder in your business has an opportunity to evaluate each solution’s capabilities rather than just one department choosing an enterprise solution without considering all department requirements.
If a robust ERP with advanced data collection is in a plant, is an MES still needed?
Yes. As an example, if you look at the real-time nature of ERP, then it is quite less. The timeframe an ERP works is typically weeks, days, or maybe a shift. ERPs were designed to operate at that level. On the shop floor, however, you need real-time visibility to make quick decisions. ERP decision support is much more latent. The data structure in ERP is configured in such a way it can only report on this data in an aggregate form vs. an MES that can provide much better visibility to it, in context, as it is collected.
And I am not sure if maintenance agreements are available 24/7 to operations on the shop floor with typical ERP solution providers. You should check to see if it is even offered. MES solutions have more of a focus on supporting operations. ERP is basically customer oriented, so has a financial base. Normally, we don’t talk about money that much on the shop floor. Here, it is more about what happens on the shop floor, as it happens, to keep us informed. This way we can correct what is required as it happens. I don’t see that happening with ERP. This is something you need to consider.
What are the benefits of an OOTB MES vs. a toolkit MES that must be configured?
It is difficult to provide a generic answer to this question. If you have an Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) solution that is a perfect match to your requirements, then it can do the job very well. A 100% match doesn’t exist, but if you can find an 80-90% or more match, then you have a great option. On the other hand, if an MES toolkit only has elemental building blocks, then you will have to do too much, such as coding, which is something I am not very fond of. Something in-between might be ideal, with existing building blocks that exist already that can then be easily configured to your workflow by just clicking on a few buttons, then that might be the best of both worlds. The key is that these building blocks must be sufficiently advanced already. If not, then any kind of toolkit is going to take too much effort to deploy and maintain over time.
For business continuity purposes, can we ask the MES vendor about if it can work for at least a shift if the ERP is down?
I think it is a great question to ask. Business continuity is very important and if your ERP is down. e.g. for maintenance or for any other reason, then you should be able to continue producing. If you create the split between ERP and MES in the right way, you normally should be able to keep on producing even when ERP is not available (for a while). The production orders for the next day or days (maybe up to a week sometimes) that were initially scheduled in ERP are send to MES. However, there are other aspects you need to look at, e.g. can I get the raw (and other) materials from my warehouse to the machine and workplaces at the shopfloor without ERP? What happens to my finished goods? Can I put them in my finished goods warehouse and update ERP later? Ask the MES vendor about their best practices. The MES vendor has likely supported other customers who have the same challenges.
How do you ensure that a MES software accommodates the optimal process, rather than a COTS solution designed for a range of industries that could require a custom process to accommodate the software (resulting in sub-optimization)?
First, you need to know what ways of working are crucial for your success. Quite a few processes can be performed in multiple ways without a significant influence on the bottom line. But not all! These unique and very important processes or ways of working should be supported exactly in the way you want. During the selection process, you should check if the MES solution can deliver specific support with a scenario (or test case). So, evaluate the software (not the slideware)! If the MES does not support the scenario well enough, then you drop it from your short list. Note: this support should be delivered by standard or relatively simple configured functionality. So, fully customized functionality is normally not acceptable.
Gordon Benzie has 20+ years of leadership experience in marketing and communication roles. This knowledge was gained while working at software solution providers focused on driving digital transformation across industrial operations. As an avid technologist, Gordon has a deep understanding of how today’s technologies are improving manufacturing processes within discrete, hybrid, and process industries. Follow Gordon on LinkedIn.