Many within manufacturing may have at least heard of a manufacturing execution system. But some will perhaps be unsure of exactly what they’re capable of, or how suitable they are for their business.
In our latest article, we take a look at the functions of a manufacturing execution system, and why they’re needed. We also explain some potential drawbacks that come with using them and highlight Manufacturing Software as a less expensive (and potentially better) option.
What is an MES and what does it do?
A manufacturing execution system (MES) is a software solution that is specifically designed to aid a manufacturer’s production processes. This includes any activity related to the transformation of raw materials into sellable goods. Manufacturers will use an MES to monitor the flow of materials through production with greater ease.
The system essentially ties all factory floor machinery (and any associated activity) together in a digital space. There’s a clue within its name, ‘execution’. The software assists with executing the appropriate tasks, so that manufacturers can create the products they need to.
What are the functions of an MES?
Manufacturing execution systems have a wide range of functionality that covers a variety of aspects. But there are eleven functions in particular that you would normally expect to find when using one:
An MES continuously collects and stores data as time goes on. This data can easily be accessed when it’s needed and can be analysed to improve production-related performance.
They allow you to track items throughout the product creation journey, from start to finish. This provides visibility of where each order currently sits, helping to remove any ambiguity. They also give manufacturers the ability to look back at previous production runs, which might be important if something goes wrong.
Manufacturers gain a view of their entire operation, including aspects like production planning and production scheduling. Seeing the bigger picture allows these businesses to ensure overall performance is good, and that they’re heading in the right direction.
There’s designated functionality for tracking any maintenance that needs to be carried out on key machinery or equipment. Regular maintenance can be scheduled for each machine at the appropriate time, reducing the chance that they will become faulty midway through production.
Labour can also be managed effectively, with employees being deployed at the best times, and fulfilling the roles that best suits their experience and expertise. Staff performance levels are monitored too.
Documents are stored digitally, in a centralised location. They are therefore easier to find and less likely to be lost. An employee may need to view a design before they can start their work. With an MES, documents can be sent to the relevant people, at the optimal time to aid with their obligations.
The software can monitor the performance of the production cycle too, using specified metrics to determine how well things are going. By highlighting weaknesses and inefficiencies, continuous tweaks can be made to make the operation more optimal as time goes on.
Dispatching production units
Manufacturers are equipped with more enhanced methods of communication, between the factory floor and other business areas that are involved in the process. Information is then on hand as and when it’s needed. For example, a work order could be transmitted to an employee to let them know they’re due to operate some machinery.
There are also designated quality control capabilities, which ensures strict standards are adhered to for finished goods. Products will need to hit certain criteria to be deemed passable, and deviations can be monitored to see if production went off course.
The processes that guide production can be managed more seamlessly too, with smart decisions around the route materials should take from one machine to the next. A digital system can better calculate the optimal path compared to an employee.
Not only are employees and labour managed, but resources are too. This includes keeping track of their condition, what their purpose is, and assigning them to the appropriate task accordingly.
Why is an MES needed?
More informed decisions
With the abundance of data within an MES, key operational decisions no longer have to be best guesses and can instead be made in an informed manner. Data can be harnessed from the entire supply chain, from the sourcing of materials, all the way through to the delivery of goods. Changes that are enforced as a result of these stats are more likely to have a positive impact, as they are based on sound and experiential information.
Using a single system for production-related activity gives transparency to your workforce. When they access the MES, they can see the production schedule, which includes when each task is taking place.
Factory floor workers subsequently become more aligned with one another, as they know when equipment is booked out, and who is responsible for what. This clarity leads to reduced costs and higher output, as there is less downtime and more efficient use of energy.
There are many variables involved in the manufacturing process. The ideal scenario is to gain as much control as possible, so that deviations don’t occur, and the desired outcomes are achieved. With traditional production methods, it’s very hard to account for every single moving part. But with software, the whole process should be mapped out, with far less forgotten, and most aspects planned for in advance.
Reduction of manual work
With far more repetitive actions being fulfilled by the software, employees can utilise their energy elsewhere, and focus on more creative and high-level tasks. By reducing the amount of manual work that takes place, you’re also decreasing the number of costly errors that occur throughout your business, as computers are far better at making complex calculations. Less paper is used as a result too which is better for the environment. And less time is spent sifting through endless physical records.
Better quality products
With production being enhanced in every regard, the end product is inevitably of a higher quality. The system allows manufacturers to adopt a proactive approach, meaning risks can be rooted out before they ever have a chance to harm their output. If a product fault is discovered, it’s far easier to identify the cause, as every step of production has been documented. The increase in efficiency leads to a faster turnaround too, meaning the quantity of produce can also be increased.
Improved customer satisfaction
When the sellable goods have fewer imperfections, and the order to delivery time is quick, customer satisfaction is likely to improve. Not only are promises being met, but these buyers are also getting better value for money. You can keep them in the loop during the whole process thanks to the clarity the system provides. And you may even be able to offer them better prices due to reduced costs. Their opinion of you ultimately dictates your reputational standing, as well as the number of sales you make.
Are manufacturing execution systems expensive?
It’s essential to look at the disadvantages of manufacturing execution systems too, as they’re not suitable for every business. Here are some potential drawbacks (that are particularly relevant for smaller companies):
Manufacturing Execution Systems are not typically cheap. There’s often a relatively large investment needed to implement the solution. And they normally require a substantial amount of upkeep too.
You arguably need a dedicated team just to maintain the system, which is another expense. There’s a chance you won’t notice the return on investment for a lengthy period of time (which is perhaps not feasible for a smaller manufacturer). And manufacturing SMEs may not actually be able to afford the system in the first place, as they tend to be tailored for larger businesses.
The implementation itself can be a hurdle for some companies, as it would normally be a drawn-out process, and a large-scale commitment. A lot of time and energy must be sacrificed during this process. And if there are unforeseen complications with the complex implementation, then it could take even longer.
The turbulence could prove to be too disruptive to some business’s operations, as the risks would perhaps be outweighing the eventual benefits. Growing manufacturers would ideally prefer to see quicker results to fuel their continued expansion.
Lack of suitability
An MES may actually have too much functionality for SMEs, meaning large parts of the system could go unused (which isn’t good value for money). The ideal scenario is to find a system that perfectly covers your needs and obligations (which will inevitably be a cheaper system too).
Also, manufacturing execution systems can sometimes be rigid by nature, with a lack of flexibility and customisation. It can be better to use a solution that bends to your needs, as opposed to having to change the way you work to fit a solution’s fixed structures.
How to avoid the costs of a manufacturing execution system
This is where manufacturing software enters the picture as a viable alternative. Manufacturing software still represents a significant change (for businesses that don’t already utilise software), but it is more suited to manufacturing SMEs in a number of ways.
They represent a cheaper option than an MES, and will generally have a shorter implementation process (making it possible to perceive the return on investment faster). They are perhaps smaller in scale comparatively, with more suitable functionality that will be used to the maximum.
At Advanced, our Manufacturing software solutions are designed to be scalable, meaning they can ramp up processes as a business’s operations get larger (and are therefore less likely to become obsolete when a manufacturer's business operations expand).
Our solutions are Cloud-based systems, ensuring users can work remotely. There’s no need for systems to be installed physically, as all access can be established via the Unternet. What's more, regular updates ensure the system should always be compliant with the latest legislative changes.
Manufacturing software arguably possesses a large portion of a manufacturing execution system’s capabilities, but in a more manageable and affordable manner. It has the added bonus of being a wider business management tool too, so it is not limited to matters of production. It has functions for accounting, e-commerce, contact management, payroll, stock control, and MRP.
If you’re looking to gain the benefits that come with a manufacturing execution system, but with fewer drawbacks, and in a less expensive fashion, then take a closer look at our Manufacturing software solutions.