Modular MES Applications Provide a Path to Smart Manufacturing

Scale Operations with Modern MES Applications

Smart manufacturing is a hot topic around the world. Every day, OEMs are hearing about concepts such as connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and how they will change their lives.

Entering a new era of manufacturing, where there are opportunities, there are also challenges; manufacturers are eagerly looking for the right way to get started.

As more manufacturers migrate from disparate networks and “islands of automation” to a single, unified automation infrastructure, a modern manufacturing execution system (MES) will become all the more essential as the primary engine for collecting, aggregating and feeding data across an organization.

It also will become the gateway to a Connected Enterprise, data-driven operations, and improved productivity and profitability.

MES Modernization

The most successful solutions allow consumers to start small. For example, vendors offer lighting systems controlled remotely via smartphones. As a separate package, they might offer a smoke detector that integrates with the lighting system, so lights flash to visually alert people of a fire.

Mentioning the cost when purchased separately, these compatible components can be obtained for only a couple hundred dollars each. After users start to see value of the initial investment and have more money to spend, they can often easily integrate them into their homes’ digital platforms.

Now, that same basic principle is applicable for an MES. Rockwell Automation develops the fit-for-purpose software applications that allow manufacturers to begin connecting their plant floor or operations technology (OT) with their IT and enterprise systems - for less than a fraction of the cost of an entire MES.

The scalable, value-based applications in FactoryTalk® ProductionCentre® support multiple industries, helping manufacturers achieve operational excellence, increase the effectiveness of supply chain, adhere to regulatory compliance guidelines, and meet sustainability goals.

Fit-for-Purpose Modules

Manufacturers need to get the most out of the resources, and minimize waste and inefficiency to make operations more cost-effective.

The modularity of the applications allows OEMs to invest in the capability needed to support today’s key business Challenges, and keeps the door open for growth if a company wishes to expand into other solutions.

They also fill a gap for companies that do not have large MES infrastructures but need to improve areas from quality to yield to cost.

The modules have different key values and specifically address different operation and manufacturing challenges:

FactoryTalk Performance – Manufacturing facilities often lack visibility into real-time production performance and productivity data as well as a real overview of how a production order is progressing.

They need to know where real production losses are coming from, the reasons for stoppages, and what influence these will have on productivity. Brief stoppages are not usually tracked but can add up to a significant proportion of a firm’s productivity losses.

The Performance application assists manufacturing companies with factory efficiency and production improvement.

By providing visibility into operations performance, as well as malfunctions and their causes, manufacturers have direct visibility and can react faster to stoppages and slowdowns.

They can view the factory, its areas, and production lines in the context of production orders and the raw materials being processed. Everyone in the company can see an overview – tailored to their role – of when the order will be completed, based on the current speed and status of the production line.

This makes production processes more predictable and enables lean manufacturing as well as continuous improvements in equipment utilization.

Companies can achieve tighter coordination with maintenance processes, plan maintenance more accurately, and avoid additional downtime.

FactoryTalk Quality – Many factories are still working with disparate systems as well as manual and paper-based processes. These companies find it difficult and laborious to enforce workflow, collect and analyze the data and view it in its real-time. This exposes them to the risk that they may not be able to ensure consistent production quality – and this is why it is so important to digitalize information from the outset.

The Quality application allows manufacturers to define enterprise-wide quality measures for production processes in the form of generic recipes or tasks. These can then be reused and extended to different areas or locations.

For example, a frequent requirement in food production is that companies must implement and document specific quality criteria for a customer order. This documentation process is usually very time-consuming as it is mainly paper-based.

With the application, users can set the quality requirements as part of the configuration for the production order, so that the system implements and documents them itself. The various generic jobs, tasks, and recipes are then tailored to the materials or machine being used or to the production order requirements and provided as a task to be processed.

In this way, the necessary measures can be entered manually or automatically and the information digitalized as soon as it is created. The Quality application helps production facilities to deliver a timely, quality product, document the process in accordance with requirements, and react quickly to quality issues.

FactoryTalk Production – Manufacturers are challenged to optimize production processes, lower structured costs, improve productivity and achieve a near zero-inventory system. The Production application addresses the tasks associated with enforcing processes in manufacturing. It integrates with ERP and tracks the order and recipe parameters necessary for production.                                

To take an example from food manufacturing, facilities can track everything from the delivery of the ingredients through to the automatic manufacture of the order, including the actual amount of material used and the quantity of product produced.

These results are reported back automatically to the ERP system, providing a direct comparison with the quantities originally planned and allowing facilities to avoid leftover materials. All these steps need to be digitalized to make sure that they are traceable later on and enable consistent tracking. In this way, the Production application supports end-to-end production management within a facility, offering a vital platform for continuous improvement.

Implementing Scalable Plan

It is a full, quality-management solution, but future goals need to be kept top of mind because the real benefits lie in integration. Before beginning to build an MES system one application at a time, an integration plan must be in place to ensure all the pieces eventually connect.

The benefits increase exponentially once fit-for-purpose systems are talking to each other and utilizing data across systems. Without a plan, future MES integration becomes a challenge.

The first step in a standardization plan is selecting products and vendors that comply with ISA-95. This will allow OEMs to pick functionality from different vendors while ensuring the products work together.

The next step to consider is system design. For example, if manufacturer adds a production management application to a system that already has quality management, the data can then be pulled from several systems to improve operational procedures without the additional cost of data collection. So, start with applications that share similar context for the best insights.

A Big Plan with a Simple Start

Truly embracing the essence of the IoT movement, manufacturers can take a modular approach to connecting enterprises. They can implement an MES application at the machine or work area level – starting with a small pilot area, then add other applications to scale to an integrated MES as they realize ROI.

Rockwell Automation helps smart manufacturers leverage technologies, such as Software as a Service (SaaS) and industrial data centers. Emerging technologies such as cloud, scalable analytics, and IIOT can make it significantly easier to get started.

While the task of connecting systems seems daunting, there is now a simple starting point with an application-based approach. Before jumping in, have a plan in place. Foresight will save headaches in the future.

Automation Today

Automation Today Asia Pacific, quarterly magazine published by Rockwell Automation Inc. is designed to deliver the latest industrial automation & information technology trends, case studies & application stories, new products & features.