By Joe Staub, Intelligent Manufacturing

The heart of your plant’s manufacturing operations is the manufacturing execution system (MES). If the heart is not performing like it once did though, then it may be time to consider intervention. Below are 10 warning signs that it is time to either get a new manufacturing execution system or give it some much-needed attention and updates.

1) Neglected maintenance or obsolescence. 

Did you take the age-old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” a little too far? If your current MES is years behind the latest update, then it is time to ditch the saying and consider implementing a new MES. An outdated MES forces you to live with known bugs, causes compatibility issues, exposes you to security risks, and prevents you from taking advantage of the latest technology advancements and industry best practices.

2) Loss of local knowledge (i.e. your “champion” or knowledgeable users are

Many organizations have that one person who is the “go to” expert for their MES. Everyone relies on them for troubleshooting, questions, etc. But what happens when that person leaves the organization? If your current MES doesn’t have a champion or you are struggling to find a new one, then you should consider implementing an MES that does not require one expert. Modern systems are intuitive and user-friendly so employees from the shop floor to management can take control and benefit from the system.

3) Mergers and acquisitions make integration with new plants difficult
or impossible.

As your business grows, your MES should too. If your current MES does not have the ability to network/integrate with an existing infrastructure (whether it is ERP or production equipment), it is preventing growth and scalability. A modern MES is flexible to support new and old technology and adapts to diverse manufacturing environments.

4) System performance is preventing growth. 

Can you check off any of these characteristics of your MES?

  • Slow to respond
  • Dwindling capacity
  • More limitations than capabilities

If you can check any of these then you should take that as a sign that it is time to say goodbye. New manufacturing execution systems are designed for performance and scalability. They leverage the latest hardware and software to quickly perform control and monitoring functions, visualize results, annunciate real-time alarms and present production metrics as actionable data.

5) Cannot leverage new technology. 

Technology always advances to make things better, faster and cheaper, but you can’t take advantage of these technologies because your current MES is based on outdated and restrictive technologies. As technology ages, it becomes harder to keep operational and integrate with new technologies. It also places your production at risk for unplanned downtime.

6) Unable to meet changing customer requirements. 

Production quantities ramp up and dwindle down. Parts go through engineering revisions. The production process changes. There are more demands for detailed data to provide production insight and support root cause analysis.

These are foreign concepts to traditional systems which are usually hardcoded with custom solutions. Modern MES systems leverage a webpage to configure and support it. They are user-configurable so the plant can address these ever-changing demands.

7) Not flexible or adaptable to manufacturing methodologies. 

Traditionally, manufacturers custom build MESs to the product they’re producing and the method of manufacturing. Does your organization use different MESs for different environments? Does your current solution support sequenced and batch style production? How about conveyed verses cell style manufacturing?

New manufacturing execution systems include all the flexibility necessary to adapt to these diverse requirements in a single solution. New MESs can adapt to sequenced or batch production and be integrated across the organization so you can easily move resources as the production demand ebbs and flows.

8) Implementing workarounds to accomplish tasks. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to change operational processes. A traditional hard-coded MES forces you to perform workarounds which can introduce holes in the process and lead to miss-built or non-conforming parts. Modern systems enable the plant to make changes on the fly so the control and monitoring plan achieves the behavior you intended without sacrificing the product being produced.

9) Difficulty collecting the right data. 

Traditionally, data collection was a hard-coded feature. Today, organizations benefit from collecting many data points and often change what data they collect based on results they are achieving. Traditional systems are difficult to add more data items to and can cause the system to slow down, making it more prohibitive than helpful. 

If this is your MES, what would be better is a system that makes it easy to add data (one that leverages an easily-accessible database, not an OPC). This way, data collection is not a bottleneck for your organization.

10) Cannot easily report collected data. 

To follow my prior point, an outdated MES only presents data in rigid pre-determined formats. So, what happens when you need to look at data in a different light, or cross-reference and incorporate new data items? It simply cannot be done which causes a lack of production insight and difficulty producing a root cause analysis. A modern MES has flexible reporting that users can modify to be contextual to the viewer.

If your plant is seeing the signs, consider calling on a partner to help you explore a new manufacturing execution system. It’s important that your MES is not a weak point in your organization.


About the Author: I take care of everything from soup to nuts in Pyramid Solutions’ Intelligent Manufacturing line of business. I have been a Pyramidian for almost 20 years, so I oversee everything from sales to technical support. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family.