What is MES System? Part #2


Michael Ford, Sr. Director Emerging Industry Strategy, Aegis Software

A Deeper Dive Into MES Systems

MES has many different meanings in terms of scope, what it includes, what it does not include etc. Most MES systems are created for maximum reach across industries, supporting various industry segments. In a few instances, some features may be irrelevant while in other instances they may be critical. others are critical. There may never be a universal standardization of MES, defining what it must contain or what it is expected to include. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and other technological advances constantly evolve, changing the discussion around this matter. Current expectations for MES are to lessen the amount of operator support required and also to decrease interruptions and delays for data acquisition and process control by connecting bi-directionally with automated equipment. In order to gain visibility and control of possible disruptions during final assembly production, MES should provide the single digital platform to connect these different areas.

Factory Dependencies

Production processes are often designed to focus on the main production schedule delivering completed products to customers. The notion is that any interruption in the production schedule would jeopardize the on-time delivery performance, and this should never happen. If these interruptions were to occur, they would result in diminished productivity and risk the possibility of late completion, which would increase the cost for the operation by requiring excess finished goods stock. Final production completely relies on everything being prepared perfectly ahead of time, preferably on a “Just In Time” (JIT) basis such that it is available when needed- and not any time prior. Key dependency considerations to keep in mind include material preparation, engineering data, management of key tools and resources, as well as people. MES tracks both the current and planned production as well as up-to-date production progress. The order for material provisions and resource utilization can then be predicted, which enables MES to manage these resources to be in line with the final production requirements. MES can also fine-tune the final production schedule if resource capabilities are being exceeded. Therefore, MES operates in a live environment working in multiple areas at the same time and with many varying types of data, basically in a “big data” environment. The design and scope of the software determine how much value and range MES provides. Basic examples will calculate and determine requirements needed, then monitor performance progress. More advanced MES systems will manage significant attributes of the dependent areas, improving the benefits regarding automation, management and traceability.

MES Internal Supply-Chain Management

In order for production to be successful materials are critical. The absence of even insignificant part such as the correct cable or resistor, which in themselves have minimal cost, can impede production completion and perhaps should not even be started. Therefore, MES needs to treat every individual material as critical. ERP tracks materials simply by part number and quantity “on-site”, beginning from arrival of the raw material through to work-order completion, which is basically multiplying the products made, by the material counts in the Bill of Materials (BOM). Many ERP systems support material inventory by location however this is unreliable, due to it requiring extensive manual material counting and data entry at busy times. Almost always, the ERP view of materials is different from the physical situation, due to spoilage and other unaccounted losses. These inaccuracies and inability to locate materials when needed result in the need to adjust the ERP causing frequent, costly, and disruptive stock-checks. A basic MES system helps to provide the knowledge of materials movements, though the ERP system will continue to frequently make bad planning decisions based on incorrect assumptions of available material, which risks creating schedules that are unattainable. Advanced MES systems will fully control materials. This begins with materials being identified uniquely, either individually for essential components and sub-assemblies, or by carrier for bulk materials such as reels of SMT parts in electronics manufacturing. MES will then create and manage logistics tasks for materials operators by allocating storage locations and then dispersing materials throughout the factory, including warehouses, local stock areas and delivery to consumption locations. Mobile terminals scan materials in and out of locations and are a great way to have MES functionality wherever needed. Kanban, and JIT delivery are Lean principles which are the best principles to drive material movement requirements and are based on the predicted need for materials at the point of consumption. MES has complete visibility of the current and near-term intended schedule and provides live feedback about progress from the production processes by knowing the quantity of each material required for production. More advanced MES systems will also collect spoilage data and consumption data, that can then maintain near-perfect material inventory control and when shared back to ERP can improve the decisions made by ERP. Advanced facets of materials, such as storage environment requirements, baking cycles for moisture sensitive materials, obsolete and expired, and substitute materials against the approved BOM can also be managed by more advanced MES systems.

“Internal” material shortages are eliminated by MES technologies ensuring that a lack of materials never causes a disruption in production. A 75% reduction in bloated stock inventories a 30% reduction in material logistics, a 50% reduction in warehouse space and other savings for example related to production space and number of carriers required (such as feeders for SMT materials) are some additional benefits. The purchase of an advanced MES system for many can be justified by the potential savings in material related costs alone.

Engineering Data Management

Displaying electronic documentation at production processes is one task of a modern MES solution. As more processes become automated, such documentation is steered towards the setup of the process, while the automation follows a designated set of instructions. Software provided by the machine vendor usually formats and optimizes these instructions. However, the design of the product and local BOM provide the engineering data in which the instructions are derived. Dependent upon process capabilities and throughput metrics MES engineering systems divide the conversion of design and BOM data, and assignment of work to complete a product between the numerous automated and manual processes. Without such a tool, an engineer has to read in design data from several different formats, confirm data consistency, adjust the data depending on local BOM changes, and then manually divide the data out to the various production systems based on their experience and knowledge. In the case of complex manufacturing like electronics, this process can usually take several days. Unfortunately, this process essentially has engineering deciding the production configuration with which to make each product in advance, with very little flexibility. In today’s dynamic high-mix environment, this process is not sustainable. Digital product-models created by leveraging advanced MES systems takes data in electronic format from design and BOM, which automatically converts and assigns work based on engineering preferences, taking minutes instead of days. Depending on the actual condition of production and demand at the time, the ability to efficiently generate process data on demand enables the MES planning function to decide which is the best configuration to use for each product. Considerable improvement in asset utilization and productivity is a result of more adaptable planning. Lead times throughout the product hierarchy of sub-assemblies, optimizing execution considering all available configurations, changeover times, as well as product grouping strategies will be taken into consideration by The MES planning function. This Lean approach to planning is performed in hours or days not weeks or months. This amount of flexibility provides a step-change in the modern factory’s ability to respond to changes in customer demand, being able to smoothly make changes across a high-mix of products, all while keeping the highest utilization without producing excess finished goods stock. This practice can return a production improvement anywhere between 20% and 50%. This fixes the conventional problem of sharply declining productivity while product mix increases, leading to increased costs and investment which exists without MES, or with only a basic MES.

In the 3rd and final part of this "What is MES?" blog series, we will continue to explore areas of MES management, including quality, key resources, and maintenance, as well as reviewing the key aspects to keep in mind when beginning a MES introduction or upgrade.

Click here to read Part 1 of the 3 "What is MES?" Series Blog Post

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