Manufacturing Execution Systems Explained

Humans have continually striven to improve upon the tools and processes they’ve developed throughout history to make the tasks for which they’re used easier and more efficient. This has led to developing inventions and improvements that have become integral to human society. Manufacturing automation has also undergone such a transformation in smart factories. One key tool that has helped manufacturers attain higher productivity levels is the manufacturing execution system (MES), which ties together automated systems within industrial settings.

The modern MES evolved from the software applications used by manufacturers in the 1970s, which initially just helped automate accounting. These systems were further developed to provide inventory management capabilities and custom automation. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, planning and control of materials used to make products were incorporated into the software and standardizations of product definitions. Today’s MES has become an essential IT system that continues to develop and evolve to make processes within modern manufacturing increasingly more productive and efficient.

What is an MES?

An MES brings automation engineering to the factory floor, utilizing an inclusive software system that scrutinizes, traces, records, and manages the processes used to fabricate goods, from raw form to finished product. The MES provides decision-makers, from floor supervisors to C-level executives, with the necessary data they need to optimize production. Doing so also contributes greatly to a manufacturer’s productivity and profits.

An MES is especially important in aerospace, biotechnology, defense, food and beverage, medical, pharmaceutical, and other highly regulated industries. The information captured by an MES during production allows manufacturers to trace compliance to these industries’ strict regulations. Such software systems also ensure that manufactured products are safe and will work as designed while providing documentation to make recalls easier.

Over time, the MES has modernized to become more than an unassuming application for data collection to its central role in manufacturing automation. While it still helps stakeholders manage product definitions during production and across a product’s lifecycle, a modern MES does much more. It now operates as a real-time monitoring system that can control multiple production elements, including feedback via insights, tracking employees, quality assurance, ordering and transport, machine maintenance, and support services.

MES Features

Several standards and features have developed over the years concerning what an MES should do and how it should function. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed models and standard terminologies in the mid-1990s to assist with exchanging a company’s MES and other business software. The ANSI’s modeling included functions that assisted maintenance, quality control, scheduling, sequencing, and other manufacturing activities. These have evolved with international models and standards that look at what manufacturing activities an MES should monitor.

Custom automation, Manufacturing automation, Automation engineering

Typically, these central roles will include: 

  • Product definitions: Depending on the product being manufactured, these definitions help manufacturers clarify how a product is made, including raw materials, resources, and recipes needed for production. These definitions help manufacturers manage their products throughout their lifecycle.
  • Resource management: This often includes evaluating, communicating, and cataloging resource data to prepare the execution of production orders so that necessary resources for production are readily available.
  • Organizing production processes: This helps determine processes’ timetables, including scheduling work orders to meet production goals. Modern manufacturing typically does this with help from enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. However, it can be done with other specialized scheduling and planning systems that optimize the use of resources for production. 
  • Transmitting production orders: Though this depends on what’s being produced and the manufacturing processes involved, it generally entails the distribution of work orders, manufacturing runs, and batches to allow production lines to react appropriately to unanticipated events or conditions.
  • Fulfilling production orders: Process control systems often execute production orders, and an MES can often check whether resources are available and transmit this information to other systems.
  • Gathering production data: This involves assembling, storing, and utilizing data in a relational database or data historian, which should include data concerning equipment status, manufacturing processes, production logs, and specific materials used.
  • Analysis of production performance: Using the raw data collected about current production status involves creating useful information – often via insights – that allows manufacturers to evaluate recent production performance indicators, including the effectiveness of equipment and processes.
  • Tracking and tracing production: Allowing the retrieval and registry of relevant information, this feature provides a complete history of the equipment, lots and orders used during production; this is particularly important for the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

The MES is becoming vital to smart manufacturing due to the convergence of several new technologies. Automation has given manufacturers the tools necessary to make their factories more productive, with technology developing in a way that creates new possibilities for many industries. Manufacturing automation, engineering cloud computing, data analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), smart sensors, and other technologies in factory settings have given manufacturers a whole new range of capabilities.

MES Benefits

Implementing a modern MES involves allowing manufacturers to easily revamp their operations to overcome common challenges. Through the tracking of huge amounts of production and operational data, manufacturers are given real-time insights that allow them to optimize production and reduce expenses.

Benefits of MES include: 

  • Decreasing inventory by maintaining records of materials used in production to aid with their purchase and shipping so that enough is always on hand; allows manufacturers to reduce expenses for storage, transport, and inventory monitoring.
  • Eliminating the need for paperwork and cutting costs while reducing the chance of human error.
  • Enhancing collaboration along the supply chain by ensuring suppliers have accurate information available so they can align their products and services to better support manufacturing processes.
  • Helping manufacturers maintain compliance by lowering the risk of recalls or adversity with regulatory agencies due to issues with product quality.
  • Improving quality control and management by driving efficiency and reducing errors throughout the production process.
  • Increasing uptime by helping manufacturers generate production schedules that balance resources like staffing, raw materials, and equipment to maximize production.
  • Providing relevant information via user interfaces to operators to spot real-time issues that may inhibit production.
  • Quickly creating accurate insights that help manufacturers optimize their operations.
  • Reducing downtime by integrating maintenance schedules so that they cause limited disruption. 
  • Reducing production costs by abbreviating the time it takes to fabricate goods.
  • Refining quality control by transmitting data in real-time to resolve production issues immediately, thus decreasing wastage and overproduction.
  • Speeding decision-making by generating data from the factory floor in real time and making it available immediately to decision-makers.
  • Tracking the production cycle, an MES utilizes data gathered throughout the manufacturing process to improve regulatory compliance.

Additionally, a modern MES should be cloud-based. This removes much of the burden of supplying on-premise IT systems, which require intensive investment in hardware and software. With a cloud-based MES, manufacturers can quickly scale up or down production when necessary. Cloud applications also assist with system upgrades and maintenance, providing current security patches to protect against cybersecurity risks and making production easier to manage.

Please contact our experts at EAM Inc. today to learn more about manufacturing execution systems!