Every industry needs to deliver the right quality of product, in the right quantities and at the right time – all while managing production and energy costs, and maximising productivity and plant capacity. On top of that, metals producers must meet the evolving demands of the market (automotive and defence), providing better, lighter, stronger products. And they must meet these demands in ways that differentiate them from their competition.
It’s a lot to tackle. Without the right tools and technologies in place to enable real-time, contextualised production visibility, metals producers can face all kinds of issues. Such issues include missed production and delivery targets, traceability, genealogy and quality control problems, error-prone and time-consuming manual recipe management, unplanned downtime events, and lack of production flexibility.
Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) for the Metals Industry
Many metals producers have been trying to address these challenges by creating home-grown solutions. But the issue with home-grown solutions is ongoing support: both for the technology itself and for the operation of it. When the workers who know how to support the system move along, or the enabling technology becomes obsolete, these companies are forced to start from scratch.
MES is a software application that integrates, tracks, and manages intricate manufacturing systems on the production floor. The main goal of MES is to achieve effective execution of activities within the manufacturing process. MES can help metals producers determine how best to deliver the right product, at the right time, created from the most cost-effective and appropriate raw materials.
MES: Six Applications for Metals
In a metal operation, MES typically resides as a Level 3 application (ISA 95) – between Level 1 and 2 (controls and supervision) and Level 4 (ERP / Business Systems). It connects the factory or mill floor systems with the ERP systems, and delivers six important functionalities required by metals operations:
1. Data Collection and Management – Manufacturing Intelligence
MES brings together business, energy, production, and logistics data by connecting disparate sources – equipment, control systems, applications, and databases. This consolidated data helps metals producers identify production bottlenecks through dynamic and mobile dashboards, production trend reporting, and other relevant real-time performance information. MES also links the mill floor to the ERP systems. This means that an order sent through MES delivers production reports directly to the ERP, which is then populated with the corresponding material consumption, quality, and process information.
2. Performance Management
MES delivers productivity metrics, such as overall equipment effectiveness and downtime analysis, in context: by shift, by area, and by production site, cross referenced with energy consumption. This allows metals producers to pinpoint productivity issues and identify specific cost-reduction opportunities.
3. Recipe and Order Management
Many metals producers still develop and enter alloy or fabrication recipes and workflows manually, using physical documents. Individual operators often record this information in ‘black books’. The trouble is, manual storage and entry is time-consuming, tedious work. It’s also prone to errors. MES can create and store recipes, standardise operating procedures, and synchronise order management directly with the ERP system. When new orders are received, MES can interface with the ERP to manage production schedules, including quality and operational settings. MES can also devise the most appropriate work orders – selecting the optimal sequence and executing those orders down to the plant floor. This means the right recipe setpoints are delivered straight to the control layer for automated and accurate recipe execution.
4. Quality Management
MES serves up pre-designed workflows and instructions, helping operators to stay within specified quality parameters. MES can also collect data from various quality checkpoints and send hold codes or production alerts if products don’t match the desired quality. It’s also possible to better track scrap, helping users to understand why products were scrapped so they can minimise recurrent issues.
5. Track and Trace / Genealogy
MES provides visibility from the raw material to the end product by tracking lot and piece-level inventory, work-in-progress inventory, materials on hold, and finished goods waiting to be shipped. Product traceability through heat numbers or lot numbers, provides historical information for individual pieces of metal, including their manufacturing origin. This information can also be stored within MES and linked back to the ERP for material resource planning, sequencing of orders, and scheduling of customer shipments.
6. Knowledge Management
Modern MES tools can house work instructions and procedures, which enables production consistency regardless of who operates the system. Like many other industries, the metals industry is in the midst of a large-scale workforce transition, as older workers are retiring and taking their knowledge with them. Storing instructions and procedures within MES allows for simpler, safer, and less disruptive new employee onboarding.
Modernising Metals Management
With the help of MES, metals producers can improve production visibility and achieve better connectivity between the manufacturing control/supervision layer and the business/ERP layer. This, in turn, can help such companies get more out of their workforce, equipment, and materials.
Metals producers are ideally positioned to implement MES as they shift to meet evolving market needs, incorporate new equipment and technologies, and address changing workforce dynamics.