I often have people ask me questions like “Which MES should we use?” or “What kind of MES should we get?” My short answer is always “What kind of MES do you need?” And that’s always the best place to start. What do you need? What are your requirements? What are the business needs?
And that usually starts a much longer discussion on MES in general and then gets into the nuts and bolts of what kind of MES they really need. There’s no short answer to this of course, but there are several things to think about. The most fundamental point in deciding what kind of MES someone needs is that the answer is always the context. How does the MES fit into the architecture and what is the MES supposed to do?
There’s always a context for the MES because there are always other systems already in place in manufacturing. Maybe it’s a DCS and maybe it’s an HMI/SCADA. Maybe it’s an ERP. Or, maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, the point is that MES has to fit in well with the other pieces of the architecture. So, in trying to decide what kind of MES is needed, ask the question: How does MES need to integrate with the other pieces of the architecture?
The flip side of this coin is all about what MES is supposed to do. This is often much more complicated that the architecture and it gets more complicated when you start to understand everything that MES can potentially do. But the issue here is the focus that’s needed not on the MES itself but on what it’s supposed to do in the manufacturing operation. So, in thinking about this, ask this question: How does MES need to drive manufacturing operations and influence behaviors in this specific setting?
The overriding consideration is how MES is going to impact the business. The kinds of questions to ask here are: What specific things can be done in this manufacturing setting to improve productivity and capital effectiveness? What can be done to reduce rework, waste and reduce costs? How can you increase first-pass quality, yield and efficiency?
To finish up, I’d like to provide just a few more thoughts on what kind of MES you really need. MES needs to work well with ERP and supply chain systems. We’re long past the point where manufacturing was disconnected from the business and from the supply chain. Manufacturing is an integral part of the business and MES must be an integral part as well. That means that we need MES that works well with ERP and supply chain systems.
We also need a single integrated architecture. MES is not a stand-alone solution. MES must be part of a total system that’s easy to integrate and support in the overall existing systems architecture. This MES architecture needs to have several key characteristics:
- Integrated data sources for analysis and transaction activity
- A consistent user interface for the plant floor
- Functionality to support the production side of the business
- A focus on more than just transactions or events, i.e. proactive production management
In the end, MES must be a solution that helps manufacturing become more flexible, react quickly and be responsive to the demands of the real world. If MES can do these things then MES can be successful. That’s ultimately the kind of MES that you need. So, think about these things when you ask the question “What kind of MES do we need?”
And, of course, there’s a lot more to it than can be explained in a short post like this. But the main points are here. Stay focused on the business. Look at the requirements. Look at the architecture. Make sure MES has a positive impact on the business. That’s the kind of MES that you need – that we all need.