A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is a software system that connects computers and control systems to the manufacturing floor, and any data that is coming off of a production line. The ultimate goal of MES is to make certain that manufacturing procedures are executed successfully and in accordance with a company’s quality assurance and productivity goals. This is achieved by tracking, synthesizing, and analyzing real-time data about every aspect of a production operation in a way that management and shop workers can use to make improvements.
MES software helps by directing all the activities occurring within a production facility. It begins with all of the inputs: orders from customers, the Material Requirements Planning (MRP) system, the production line’s master schedule, or anything else needed to plan production. Employees then use these inputs to build the specified products in accordance with cost and quality requirements.
MES technology has gradually improved over time. Originally, it only consisted of manufacturing organizations using basic software applications to automate account tracking. As software has become cheaper to implement and easier to use, features expanded to include standard inventory management features, MRP, and other modules capable of managing the full production cycle.
The MES application began as simple data collection application, and evolved to contain abstract models and terminologies designed to exchange information between enterprise and manufacturing departments and centers.
After many decades of development, the standard necessary features of a MES began to take shape.
Currently, the basic function of a MES include:
Manufacturing job shops and production facilities are becoming increasingly complex as technology improves and customer needs become more demanding. Material and labor requirements can vary day to day. Scheduling processes must consider levels of variation that exceeds the ability of most planning systems to handle. A MES is specifically designed to account for this level of variation.
A classic challenge in achieving desired quality assurance in manufacturing is due to the vast sources of variation that can interfere with production or product quality. Variation sources can include:
Keeping track of each of these possible variations is complex. It is crucial that front-line shop personnel have the most updated information so they can make real-time decisions that impact production time and quality. A successful MES allows for immediate adjustment to variance by providing data to relevant workers as it arrives.
Just as critical is the ability for the MES to integrate with other systems. This eliminates errors from duplicate and redundant data entry, and allows the fastest possible updates, as all systems are updated the moment a single system is updated. This ensures that all personnel, from management down to front-line production workers, have the same information simultaneously.
For example, the moment that Procurement notes that a particular material delivery will be delayed, Inventory and other departments immediately understand the impact to their schedules and can adjust as best they can to the changes. This can result in more accurate projected delivery dates, optimized use of production staff, and other critical projections required by customers or internal stakeholders.
This extends directly to scheduling on the production floor. Inputs from Procurement, Inventory, and others can be synthesized to adjust workforce schedules or even individual tasks on the production line in real-time.
MES overlaps heavily with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Both are designed to help better integrate separate parts of the company, and they are often employed together for best results. ERP is often more focused on the underlying business needs such as revenue, free cash flow, accounts payable/receivable, etc, whereas MES is focused on the manufacturing processes that must occur to satisfy those business needs. Accordingly, they work well together.
The most robust MES systems are designed to include any and all critical functions performed on the production line, as well as before and after the line.
Critical MES operations include:
Of these, a crucial component is the choice of Scheduling Methods. Some MES Scheduling Methods to look for include:
At this point, operational excellence is a minimum requirement for manufacturers to remain competitive. If a manufacturer cannot consistently track defects, manage variability in material and labor requirements, or maintain delivery goals, it will struggle to compete globally. Through the use of a MES, a manufacturer should expect to see improvements in:
These functions are often separated into software modules. It is critical to understand which modules are necessary for your manufacturing process and to ensure that any MES you use offers these modules.
If you’ve been considering MES software for your small to mid-size manufacturing operation, give ProShop’s MES solution a try. Book a demo today to learn more.