Seeing Further: Using Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) to Improve Visibility

As independent enterprise technology consultants, we’re regularly called to guide project teams through technology evaluation, selection and implementation.  With a focus on business process improvement, our consultants are regularly out in the field guiding manufacturers and distributors that are challenged with managing the complexity of their operations.

A common theme running through these conversations is the need for improved visibility and transparency of information.

No matter the sector – industrial equipment manufacturers, metal fabricators, distributors – companies are hungry for real-time visibility into their entire operation to clearly see bottlenecks, adjust and improve productivity.

With access to more timely and accurate information, teams can use that data to take the needed action to improve decisions, and ultimately streamline business processes.

Driving Real Business Process Improvements

The pursuit for increased data access makes sense, especially as organizations look to enhance responsiveness and connection across the enterprise. Data visibility and transparency helps drive quality, minimize late shipments, reduce inventory, improve customer satisfaction and much more.

Yet even today, in the era of the connected enterprise and Industry 4.0,  many organizations are still handicapped by a variety of manual methods, standalone spreadsheets and other patchwork systems to track data.

These organizations are in a poor position to react to change, optimize business processes such as production planning, or to improve relationships with customers and supply chain partners.

Using MES to Improve Visibility

When it comes to data visibility, there’s work that needs to be done prior to a technology evaluation and selection – including those projects focusing on MES.

Before a project team begins their journey seeking transformation with an enterprise technology selection and implementation, we guide our clients to consider the concepts of KPIs and Performance Management.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the specific measurements and metrics that are relevant to your specific industry and production process.

Obviously, KPIs vary from business to business and industry to industry. The key to using KPIs effectively is to ensure that the metric reflects an organization’s processes and activities central to its current and desired future performance In order to improve, we must first be able to measure.

These KPIs are evident from an analysis of the current and desired future state of the organization. They should be aligned to the firm’s strategy, ensuring we’re measuring progress towards our objectives.

Real-World Success

As an example of increasing data visibility through strategic analysis of KPIs, a medium-sized industrial equipment manufacturer was challenged to ensure on-time delivery of goods to customers. They had no real-time visibility into shop floor activity, capacity or inventory levels to fulfill orders and equipment effectiveness.

Before any technology evaluation or selection could take place, the team started with a close look at the transactions that made up the individual business processes and where we could capture useful data at those points.

We advised the organization to focus on KPIs related to capacity, work in progress inventory, finished inventory, scrap, and downtime. At a first pass, this provided the visibility to inventory usage and position throughout the production process.

Once the metrics are defined and understood, the next step is determining where in the process they are relevant. For example, understanding overall scrap isn’t very helpful in a 10-step operation. However, if you understand which steps produce scrap, and under what conditions, the organization has a great shot at fixing those root causes and reducing the scrap issue.

With the advent of cheaper sensors, plant floor wi-fi networks and the like, we’ve seen a cost-effective option of retrofitting older machines with sensors that provide a wealth of information to a modern MES.  Even machines from the mid-20th century can be fitted with relatively affordable sensors to provide your MES with cycles, temperature, pressure, and so on.

By assessing the processes and identifying these metrics, the company was able to track what matters and improve performance in the areas that were most important. They quickly understood which operational steps were problematic.; Better yet, they could account for factors like temperature and pressure to ensure that each machine provided its optimal capacity.

The information didn’t only help in defining the machine and tooling setup parameters.  The information was later displayed in real time on production floor displays.  This allowed supervisors to see the relationship between cycle times, run times, and downtime, scrap, and stops.  They quickly identified the “sweet spot” for the various assets, or the point at which they provided optimal performance with limited cost of scrap or downtime.

In this case, the correct manufacturing performance metrics were well defined, understood and used to improve the operation of the organization and relationships with their customers.

In other examples, we’ve seen that not all systems all are geared for certain data like production machine output and effectiveness. For manufacturers where these KPIs are essential to operational improvements, it’s critical to evaluate MES systems that offer the best capabilities in these areas.

Being able to track data related to how machines are running, along with other real-time information, gives companies the ability to make informed decisions. Analyzing information from all angles with data from product lifecycles, production time, and quality control can greatly increase a company’s output and efficiencies.

Survey Findings

A recent survey sheds additional light on the importance of data visibility.

A research team from Mint Jutras conducted a survey of more than 300 manufacturers and distributors for Ultra Consultants, focusing on the success of their enterprise technology implementations in terms of return on investment (ROI).

The survey reviewed project goals and expectations, whether or not they were achieved, and why.

Survey respondents included companies ranging in size from $25 million to multi-billion dollars in annual revenues, and from recent implementations, as well as those that were more mature.

Of those surveyed, more than half said they met their goal of improved data visibility – which was a key objective of enterprise technology projects.

Survey Results-MES Visibility Improvements

Learn More

As we’ve seen in this case and others, the most successful organizations take the needed time and effort to assess key performance metrics that are meaningful to the type of business, function areas and users.

With that approach, evaluation and selection can begin on an enterprise technology project, including those teams looking to MES solutions to provide timely visibility.

You can learn more about these issues during an upcoming educational webinar. We’re joining forces with IQMS to present an informative webinar entitled Use MES to Grow and Stabilize Your Business taking place Thursday, August 8, 2019.   Among other topics, you’ll get a closer look at the importance of tracking KPIs and improving data visibility for improved decision making.  I hope you will join us then.