Manufacturing execution systems help firms get better production visibility and plant-ERP connectivity to optimize the workforce, equipment and materials.
By Barry Elliott, Vice President Enterprise Accounts, Heavy Industries, Rockwell Automation
As in other industries, metals producers are challenged with delivering the right quality of product, in the right quantities, on time — all while managing production and energy costs, and maximizing productivity and plant capacity.
In addition, metals producers need to find ways to meet the evolving demands of the market (specifically automotive and defense), which is seeking better, lighter, stronger products. And, they need to meet these market 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, contextualized production visibility, metals producers can face all kinds of issues, including:
- Missed production and delivery targets.
- Traceability, genealogy and quality control problems.
- Error-prone and time-consuming manual recipe management.
- Unplanned downtime events.
- Lack of production flexibility.
MES for the Metals Industry
Many metals producers have been trying to address these challenges by creating home-grown solutions. But the problem with solutions like this is ongoing support, both for the technology itself and for the operation of it. When workers who know how to support the system move along, or the enabling technology becomes obsolete, these companies are forced to start from scratch.
A manufacturing execution system (MES) is a software application that integrates, tracks and manages intricate manufacturing systems on the production floor. The main goal of an MES is to help ensure effective implementation of activities within the manufacturing process. An 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, an MES typically resides as a level 3 application (ISA 95) — between Level 1 and 2 (controls and supervision) and level 4 (enterprise resource planning [ERP]/Business Systems). It connects the factory/mill floor systems with the ERP systems, and delivers six important functionalities required by metals operations:
1. Data Collection and Management, Manufacturing Intelligence. MESs bring 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.
An 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. An MES delivers productivity metrics such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and downtime analysis in context: by shift, by area and by production site, cross referenced with energy consumption. This allows 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.
An MES can create and store recipes, standardize operating procedures and synchronize order management directly with the ERP system. When new orders are received, the MES can interface with the ERP to manage production schedules, including quality and operational settings. An MES also can devise the most appropriate work orders — selecting the optimal sequence and executing those orders down to the plant floor. This means the right recipe set points are delivered straight to the control layer for automated and accurate recipe execution.
Quality Management. An MES serves up predesigned workflows and instructions, helping operators to stay within specified quality parameters. The system also can 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 minimize recurrent issues.
Track and Trace/Genealogy. An MES provides visibility from the raw material all the way through 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 also can be stored within the MES and then linked back to the ERP for material resource planning (MRP), sequencing of orders, and scheduling customer shipments.
Knowledge Management. Modern MES tools can house work instructions and procedures, which supports 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 the MES allows for simpler, safer and less disruptive new-employee onboarding.
End-to-end production visibility and better connectivity between the manufacturing control/supervision layer and the business/ERP layer can help metals 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.
Learn about how your company can benefit from an MES.
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