The New MES: Backbone of Industry 4.0

This blog post is based on an excerpt from our white paper, The New MES: Backbone of Industry 4.0; Moving from Concept to Implementation with Industry 4.0. It can be accessed in full here.

Industry 4.0, the fourth Industrial Revolution, is the promise to manufacturing companies of lower costs, higher quality, faster processing with theoretical ‘lots of one.’ It is a marketplace, where smart products and smart equipment can interact autonomously for dynamic optimization on the fly.

For most companies approaching Industry 4.0 (or Digital Transformation) it’s a concept and the way and means to implement is not clear. While testing new technologies, updating strategies, and creating a new approach to production and supply chain operations, there’s one critical piece companies must address—a new, modern Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that’s Industry 4.0-ready.

The new MES has characteristics that make it Industry 4.0-ready:

  • It’s service-oriented and modular. It is ready to process IoT data, including event and locations, as well as integrate with augmented reality
  • It’s equipped to provide complete plant-wide context for operations data, so it is ready for use with big data and analytics
  • It can run on, and support, any version of mobile and cloud
  • Its capabilities include brokering connections between autonomous products and equipment on the shop floor ‘marketplace’

So although MES itself is a decades-old software category, it’s proven to be the backbone of Industry 4.0 with important upgrades in connectivity, functionality and integration.

What’s so different about Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is the amalgam of new technologies, strategies and production methodologies that created the step change in industrialization. As new pressures face manufacturers—improve speed, lower costs, meet mass customization demands; there will be fewer high volume (mass) products and more low volume, ‘unit of one’ products. This affects changeovers (faster), quality (next to zero defects), price/margins (pressure to maintain) and customer requirements (more exacting and demanding to meet their competitive pressures).

Current/legacy manufacturing systems and automation approaches were not designed for this paradigm. They cannot deliver these types of results in the face of constant and rapid change. Margins, cycle times and quality all suffer in the face of greater mix and complexity.

How does Industry 4.0 enable companies to meet these pressures while outperforming competitors? By delivering more data and intelligence.

Data is delivered through IoT devices, collecting data at unprecedented frequencies from vastly distributed touch points, creating valuable, timely and granular information for oversight and decision-making. Data includes machine learning, which can improve asset management and yield management by using sophisticated algorithms to analyze historical data for continuous process tuning, enabling very fast decision making based on predictive analytics. 

Intelligence underlies the new behavior of products, equipment and the shop floor, which become self-configuring and self-optimizing. Using AI, they can complete complex tasks more efficiently: less time, least cost, with the highest quality. Industry 4.0 creates a dynamic ‘marketplace’ that is both efficient and effective at making exactly what’s needed, in the fastest and cheapest way possible.

The New MES for Industry 4.0

Not every MES is Industry 4.0-ready. As you can see from the table below, the Industry 4.0 vision calls out five specific areas of capabilities:

Industry 4.0 requires characteristics that many current
MES do not have, so manufacturing IT must evaluate carefully.
  1. Connectivity/sensing/mobile: handling sensor, location and device data via IIoT while providing additional MES context.
  2. Cloud/advanced analytics: making sense out of the mass of data in the plant, whether from the enterprise, via mobile, IIoT or from big data.
  3. Decentralization: managing and controlling the state of smart products and tools via IIoT connectivity.
  4. Vertical integration: ensuring bi-lateral integration: from the MES into controls/automation layer and into the enterprise apps such as ERP.
  5. Horizontal integration: ensuring that the plant is a transparent, integrated and predictable part of the supply chain, eventually to interact as a ‘smart factory’ within a global marketplace.

Taken as a whole, these characteristics comprise the ‘new MES.’ It’s designed for complexity, to withstand constant change, facilitate collaboration and integrate with smart sensors, devices, equipment and supply chains.

Let’s now address each of these five differentiators:

1. Connectivity and Mobile

The implications of IIoT for MES go far beyond connection to the internet and display on mobile devices. MES becomes the orchestration layer central to a dynamic marketplace. This changes MES’s core being of guiding, monitoring and recording production activities into a facilitator for determining low cost routing, and plant-wide operations optimization.

At any time, the platform must be able to monitor the devices for status and communicate bi-directionally to make it part of the high level workflows of the new MES. Examples of new workflows could be:

  • Measuring values every ‘x’ seconds and feed them into a database where more contextual data is added, before sending to a big data analytics engine
  • Collecting the average of every 10 data points, then send on request as part of an engineering data collection activity for material track out
  • Increasing the frequency of measurements every time the underlying process breaches control limits
  • Restarting and running self-calibration routines after ‘Y’ number of measurements, or on special instance if there is an out of spec value noted

Mobility for MES is expanded, from simply device presentation to newer, richer user interfaces that are more agile and intuitive. These interfaces must allow operators doing repetitive tasks to be more efficient by presenting information as they need it. The interfaces also need to deliver intelligence, supporting higher-value work and critical decision making. That means the visual indicators have to be specific to the hosting device—the workstation, but also to the combination of step, equipment and product being made.

The business benefits derived include building products faster, more reliably, at higher quality, with optimized labor utilization. People in the operation will gain a faster, deeper understanding of status for decision-making while needing to do less to control it.

 2. Cloud and Advanced Analytics

The hesitancy to move MES to the cloud had to do with responsiveness for decision making. As more intelligence is coming from IIoT, versus hardwired in-plant automation networks, this argument vanishes. Other network issues (latency, reliability, security) are actively being addressed.

The hybrid cloud model (using both public and private hosting) allows the most critical data to stay on-premises, at the edge. Data may also be fed to a public cloud where machine learning algorithms reside, executed by simple software in the IoT sensors.

One of the clear benefits of the cloud is the ability to temporarily use massive amounts of computing power to process advanced analytics. Clearly, the MES will need an Operational Data Store (ODS) from which reports are run, and to send data to a data warehouse at the enterprise level. This ODS concept is not new. What’s different is using the cloud to export selected views from the MES or enterprise analytics out to big data structures.

These big data structures split up data sets for enterprise-scale big data analytics to execute efficiently in the cloud. Specific to the ‘New MES’ is the ability to create time-based exports to a big data structure that allows the production context to be fully captured. Without that expanded context, production data will have minimal value to the enterprise.

In the production arena, adding analytics to connected and mobile capabilities enables predictive and preventative maintenance, as well as quality, performance and manufacturing improvements to emerge. For example, when analytics show the output of one run, the system can automatically optimize the subsequent runs.

The business benefits of the cloud include smooth and constant software upgrades—critical for manufacturing software such as MES, which for many high technology facilities is risky and difficult to replace. This eliminates the ‘spaghetti code’ prevalent in many companies, where patches and temporary fixes are used to shore up older MES products.

The higher capacity, elasticity and cost effectiveness of the cloud to run data analytics is a strong business benefit. This allows predictive measures to manage shifting business realities, using Machine Learning for tuning to keep pace with constant changes in products and processes. Moving into predictive and prescriptive analytics can continuously update the MES models to enhance throughput, quality, yields and uptime.

3. Decentralization to Oversee the Marketplace

The shop floor marketplace is a central concept to Industry 4.0, providing autonomous decision-making about processing routes to match the actual situation at any given moment. Making this shift is essential to reach the ‘lots of one’ higher mix and maintain the speed and cost effectivity of longer runs.

MES can act as a broker agent to allocate or bind a piece of equipment to manufacture a product in two ways: scheduling and dispatching.

  • In scheduling, the system pre-determines which products go with which equipment, at which time to meet plant-wide and business-based criteria, such as equipment utilization targets or customer-requested delivery times.
  • Dispatching is based on local context to minimize bottlenecks, using rules like FIFO. It often focuses on MES data about status and availability of equipment, lines or other resources.

Optimizing a shop floor for one-off production would be nearly impossible without marketplace dispatching. This is not a trivial endeavor, and the best way to address is for rules to be performed as part of a callable ‘external’ service that can run inside the MES, or in an external system. Instead of pushing one way from the MES to the production workstations, it is a bilateral, dynamic flow of information.

The marketplace is one of the key components that make Industry 4.0 so compelling for business. Determining the best path through the plant will help with utilization and throughput time. As each piece of equipment (or factory) can theoretically ‘bid’ to work on products based on their current, real-time status, products (using the MES) can negotiate the fastest, lowest cost, and most reliable option for routing themselves.

Genealogy is not new for MES, but in a future scenario where operations are also physically decentralized, the genealogy could be written directly in the IoT device and be readable from the product itself at any time during or after manufacturing. This can extend supply chain efficiencies to include better customer service, for example field technicians in the medical device, avionics, automotive or other electronics industries.

4. Vertical Integration

MES has always been the intermediary layer between the automation systems and business applications. What’s new is with IoT everywhere—both in the shop floor marketplace and in the supply chain and products in the field—there are many new data flows available to acquire and integrate.

As decentralized activities take place the MES must ensure it updates the full context for analysis and transactions in all relevant systems. An Industry 4.0-ready MES needs to have a dynamic workflow system capable of orchestrating processes through calls to the capabilities of any functioning/participating module.

Workflow rules can be stored in a database, ready to serve the MES services as they orchestrate data from equipment to the enterprise and extended supply chain.

The business benefits of this integration? It ensures that the simple ‘shop floor to top floor’ business processes run more smoothly, with the ever-changing shop floor marketplace as the central entity.

Take sampling plans for quality; these plans define a specific measurement/procedure that must happen for every ‘X’ lots through a given piece of equipment. It performs SPC measurements and engage predictive asset maintenance if a consecutive group of readings trend high or low.

The key is that the MES capabilities don’t depend on complex integration, installation and implementation. The core MES functionality can expand to accommodate maintenance, scheduling, quality and support the constant stream of new and uniquely-configured products to make the speed and cost visions of Industry 4.0 a reality.

5. Horizontal Integration

Industry 4.0 is broader than the plant, or even the enterprise. It’s where the end-to-end supply chain or value network of a company can be better synchronized. The resultant shop floor marketplace can be replicated at the supply chain levels, with plants and lines bidding on the work as well.

To accomplish, the MES must have complete information readily available about current and upcoming status. It feeds this information not only across the enterprise, but out to suppliers, contract manufacturers and distribution partners to match the Industry 4.0 vision of a ‘smart supply chain.’

This requires the new MES to have a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and modular functionality. Exposing services that present current information on the dynamic state of production in a secure format that other systems can accept is crucial for this smart supply chain.

The MES can also provide visibility into a complete 3D representation of all objects in the facility, at any given time, with status. This essentially is the digital twin of the dynamic production process.

The business benefit? The faster information travels in the supply chain, the more effectively partners can work together. Today, plant operations information is either dated, or strongly guarded. Coming from the IIoT-enabled shop floor marketplace, companies will be able to access and filter information for each trading partner, as well as show the current state in near-real-time with down to the item granularity, if they so desire.

As products in the field report back issues, it can help to troubleshoot production processes and materials issues farther upstream. It also permits better customer service to those who may have received affected products.

Supply chain analytics will reach new levels in this Industry 4.0 scenario. With the emergence of Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS), factories can theoretically bid on either the complete production of a product, or on a specific production step. This specialization can drive efficiencies in production, reducing costs and honing the supply chain.

The New MES Fosters Industry 4.0 Benefits

Industry 4.0 demands new technologies to bring the vision forward. The ‘New MES’ itself is laden with new technologies and concepts as we’ve discussed above. It’s especially relevant for those innovation-driven industries with complex processes.

The benefits are:

  • Personalized Products. Perhaps the number one driver for Industry 4.0 is a move to mass customization, or ‘lots of one.’ The new MES is the orchestrator for the shop floor and supply chain marketplaces.
  • Low Costs. The goal of Industry 4.0 is to continue the trend to lower production costs even with lots of one. Lean concepts, combined with increasing automation, have created lower costs for years. Adding Industry 4.0 technologies, including AR, robots, IIoT, mobile and cloud all help reduce the need for people to do repetitive work.
  • Speedy Demand Response. An advantage of producing smaller lot sizes is the ability to respond to demand quickly and accurately, with minimal inventory carrying costs. It’s also a foundation of lean manufacturing. The shop floor marketplace enables this scenario, with the MES critical to both the marketplace functioning and the supply chain partners coordinated.
  • Perfect Quality. MES has always supported quality functionally and through a workflow engine bounded by rules and logic. Industry 4.0 means that each personalized or configured product may have a different set of specifications and processes. The New MES dynamic workflow engine and its rules enable quality assurance, even with these product variations. It also coordinates with supply chain partners to feed relevant information on quality as necessary.
  • Rapid New Product Introduction. Innovation-driven companies must successfully bring new designs through the entire lifecycle through production and distribution smoothly. The New MES enables by delivering production context to the dramatically increased amount of data available with smart products. R&D has more clarity from past and current products performance as they work on new product designs.
  • Better Decisions. An advantage of Industry 4.0 is the ability to use advanced analytics to drive better decision making. Predictive/prescriptive analytics are the future, and they would be crippled without the context provided by MES. Getting a temperature reading from a sensor means little without the information on what’s being produced, what recipe is used and what the specifications are of the sensor.

Bottom Line

Companies are moving to Industry 4.0 to alleviate some of the pressures that their operations feel today. The effective utilization of Industry 4.0 technologies, including cloud, mobile, IIoT, big data/analytics drives operations optimization and support the new industrial marketplace.

The ‘New MES’ is designed to support, orchestrate and provide context and optimization to all of these new approaches and technologies. It’s truly the manifestation and backbone of Industry 4.0.

David Morais
davidmorais@criticalmanufacturing.com

Pre-Sales Manager at Critical Manufacturing

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