The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Cloud and smart devices are bringing a new era in manufacturing. Creating a ‘Smart Factory’ or ‘Industry 4.0’ production model, they offer a way for the electronics industry to stay ahead of the curve, producing increasingly sophisticated devices with greater efficiency and reliability than ever before. Does this mean a move away from manufacturing execution systems (MES) to a production model that only uses the IIoT? Are MES redundant in this new manufacturing age? If MES is selected, does that mean systems will not use the power of IIoT?
The answer to all these questions is ‘No’. In fact, the answer to whether you should choose IIoT or MES is that, to get the best efficiency, agility and quality from your production facilities, you should have both.
The IIoT is a way to the future. It enables digitalization of pretty much everything to create a smart shop floor. It uses machine learning and Big Data technology, bringing together plant-wide sensor data, connecting smart devices, and integrating machine-to-machine communications and automation technology. Combining benefits of automation and information systems, it uses advanced analytics to provide new insights into production processes. Having distributed intelligence throughout the shop floor enables a dynamic workflow, increasing the agility and efficiency of production operations. The technology is there and waiting and, for use with sophisticated, intelligent equipment, it appears to offer a quick return on investment for the future. Why then would you need an MES?
The IIoT connects and leverages the benefits of existing technologies. It can offer a quick return and its ability to traverse technologies means it is a long-term solution. Its infinite connection potential means that all machines, products and materials can be added not just from a single factory but through a global supply chain. Realizing the full benefits that the IIoT offers, however, may not be so easy.
Traditional MES, acting as a centralized monolith between the ERP and plant automation do not necessarily fit with the use of distributed intelligence and the IIoT. The era for this type of system is coming to an end. A new breed of modern MES, however, offers significant benefits to manufacturers and works alongside the IIoT.
Having IIoT connection capabilities within the MES takes smart manufacturing to the next level. While a sophisticated IIoT platform can provide data aggregation, visualization and analysis, its bottom-up approach means it does not see the wider picture. This leaves a plant vulnerable to sub-optimum performance and blinkered to the effect any process or product changes, intended to improve performance, have on other parts of the factory. Adding an MES that is designed to work within the IIoT environment adds context and end-to-end process connection and management. MES also enables organization, standardization, enforcement of quality processes and business-wide rules, and clearer visibility of what is happening across the supply chain. The MES acts from the top down and, as such, provides a more strategic layer to production systems.
Following are some of the specific functionalities, working across people, processes and machines, an Industry 4.0 MES provides that an IIoT platform alone cannot:
Collaboration: The MES provides a common information system, not only throughout plant operations, but also across multiple facilities and third-party suppliers. This means that data is always up to date and always consistent, enabling people or groups to work collaboratively, share data and learn from each other’s experiences.
Enforcement: Throughout a business there are many different processes and procedures. Whether manual or automatic operations, machine or human-driven, an MES can control all of these and ensure policies, rules and procedures are carried out correctly. An IIoT platform alone is not aware of the full breadth of operational activities covering engineering, sales, quality, personnel training, logistics, etc.
Orchestration: Although separate apps on an IIoT platform can carry out the functions required for smart production, an MES stitches all these separate pieces together to better optimize plant and operational outcomes. This orchestration of all operations within the MES brings new levels of efficiency and insight into production activities.
Context: Although the IIoT can use sensor data and machine learning algorithms to detect or even sometimes predict anomalies or failures in production systems, an MES takes this capability to a new level. It can add more context to a situation, applying data from previous process steps, information about equipment calibration, and more in-depth data about specific products, equipment or recipes. This added intelligence not only provides greater visibility and awareness of operations, but also helps prevent faulty analysis and provides greater opportunity for process improvement.
Digital Twin: The MES for the future includes a complete digital twin of the plant and its processes. This twin can be used as a framework for dynamic activities between devices. Value-add and non-value-add production steps and processes can be identified to help further tune production efficiency. With connected data about supply chain and business results, the digital twin creates an environment whereby the plant can be fully optimized and business goals met. The digital twin also helps facilitate faster process introduction by providing rapid feedback and detailed information about production steps.
Standardization: A dynamic IIoT environment can make standardization hard to achieve. Having an MES alongside, however, enables workflows and processes to be rolled out easily and consistently. With machine learning and the added context provided by the MES, best practices can be clearly identified and adopted to help increase engineering efficiency and enhance production performance.
The future-ready MES provides these capabilities and more to the IIoT environment. It makes sure the IIoT is ready to make the best use of people, processes and machines. It also enables the integration of legacy systems or areas of production that do not have distributed intelligence. As such, it provides a pathway to move from the old ways of manufacturing to new, smarter ones at a pace and level to suit present and changing business needs.
Alongside a new era in manufacturing, there is a new era for MES. Centralized, legacy MES platforms are a thing of the past. However the MES of the future is based on decentralized logic and designed to take an IIoT production environment to new levels of efficiency.
The future-ready MES is highly adaptable and configurable to specific and changing business needs. It enforces, monitors and helps continually improve existing manufacturing processes in a dynamic production environment. It adds value to data by providing additional context. It also enables intelligent products and equipment to work together with older ones in a progressively smarter factory.
Ultimately, the use of the IIoT is one of the biggest leaps forward in manufacturing technology for many years. The benefits it offers are so huge, they simply cannot be ignored. The next generation of MES is very much designed to realize these benefits, enabling and optimizing the transition to an IIoT environment.
Should you choose IIoT or MES? The clear answer is the best return on investment lies in choosing the IIoT and the right MES.