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Manufacturing execution systems (MES) manage operations on the shop floors of factories. Some MES support a single class of machine; others are designed to oversee operations on the entire floor. We wrote this buyers guide to explain MES technologies and assist buyers in making a selection.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
“If you build it, they will come,” is not a quote about manufacturing, but the concept is related. MES software manages operations on the shop floor. The scope of MES can vary from scheduling a small set of critical machines to managing the entire fabricating operation for a manufacturer. In all but a handful of cases currently, the MES does not directly control a machine but rather tracks the work-in-progress on the shop floor.
MES is a subset of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and executes the plan determined by the manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system. The functions of MES programs include: compiling a bill of materials, resource management and scheduling, preparing and dispatching production orders, preparing work-in-progress (WIP) reports, and tracking production lots. Advanced systems will also have a product definition library with revision history and can report on production status to an ERP. In contrast, an MRP system sets the production schedule, determines the make versus buy list, and determines inventory requirements.
The MES is responsible for scheduling and tracking each step of the production phase of a particular job. It prints out the bill of materials that the operator will require and production steps to complete at each phase. It repeats this process for each operator and each step until a particular job is complete.
MES is not generally effected by a manufacturer's mode, be it make to stock (MTS), assemble to stock (ATS), assemble to order (ATO), make to order (MTO), or engineer to order (ETO). This is because by the time the MES is invoked, the parts and schedule are already set, usually by the MRP system.
MESes are generally installed on-premises, but cloud-based solutions are becoming available. In most businesses, one of the reasons for having a cloud-based system is the reduced initial cost for equipment. This is not necessarily true for manufacturing; if the system has just a few users then they are usually located in the same facility and it is just as easy to link them to each other as it is to give them access to the Internet. If it is a large implementation, the expense is in creating a robust network and acquiring suitable fixed and mobile workstations. The incremental cost difference between having a server for the software is generally minimal. Instead, the benefit of cloud-based systems is the reduced cost for system management; the servers are out of the shop floor environment, can be backed-up and replicated automatically, and do not have to be maintained by trained on-site personnel.
The first step in evaluating MES software, you’ll need to determine what type of buyer you are. Over 90% of software buyers fall into one of these three groups:
|This type of buyer...||Should evaluate these systems|
|Enterprise resource planning suite buyer||Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP, Sage|
|Departmental buyer||Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor, SYSPRO, Casco|
|Small manufacturer||E-Z-MRP, ECi, Exact, Fishbowl|
Consider the following market trends when you evaluate MES systems:
One of the big issues with implementing MES is the possibility it will be rejected by the shop floor personnel. Some workers find the method and amount of information collected intrusive. This can become a contract issue in a unionized shop. The best defense is to use a phased-in implementation coupled with training that emphasizes the benefits to workers.