Manufacturing Execution System: What is an MES?

Manufacturing Execution System: What is an MES?

The Manufacturing Execution System digitizes production data and is the control center for essential company systems. You need to know this about MES. […]

Confusing, complex and yet amazingly organized – if you go to modern production facilities, then the opaque organization of these companies often kills you. While the communication between the individual systems and machines has improved more and more in recent decades, the complexity of the systems has also grown more and more.

The organization of the complicated processes within the plants was also constantly optimized – a fact that can only be explained by overarching systems. This allows the productivity of plants to be guided and an overview of the complex processes to be kept. This is exactly what the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) does.

As the metaphorical brain of production, the MES is the central point of contact for obtaining detailed information from production. His tasks are closely linked to the role of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP for short). Hardly any production plant can still function today without an MES. The Manufacturing Execution system is just as relevant for a productive utilization of plant capacities as for the far-reaching planning of effective resource utilization and the fulfillment of orders.

In order to understand which task an MES takes on within a manufacturing company, it is first necessary to consider the overarching structure of modern companies. Processes within production always have the background that available raw materials and raw materials are used to process incoming orders and ultimately to provide the desired products. A biscuit factory receives raw materials such as flour, vegetable fats or sugar, which are stored within the ERP or already in the manufacturing execution system. At the same time, orders for the desired product are also received in the ERP – in this example, ready-packaged cookies.

In order to process the received orders, the available raw materials are now checked by the ERP and corresponding production orders are forwarded to the MES. The orders are already broken down to individual batches in the manufacturing Execution System – for example, for the export of cookies to different sales markets, combined with different packaging. The MES itself can then initiate the production of the biscuits depending on the areas (mixing, ovens, packaging), depending on the availability of the individual machines.

The MES can be understood as a central component of production, which oversees all parts of the system – in the example of the biscuit factory, for example, mixers, ovens, packaging lines, etc. – and therefore also plans the availability of the individual devices. If, for example, different mixers are available for the production of the biscuit dough, the MES can already make decisions, depending on the order situation, which mixer is suitable for the fulfillment of which orders.

As a control center, the MES is in some places in competition with the ERP. Especially with regard to the starting materials and the raw materials, the available materials can be noted in both systems. However, the level of detail in the manufacturing Execution System is higher when, for example, the compilation of small quantities as preparation as well as batch tracking in silos by batch mixtures and material properties are considered. This creates data for further production. Also, the exact planning of the mixers can already be done in the ERP – or just taken over by the MES, whereby more detailed knowledge lies here.

The ERP is used as a higher-level system for resource planning and is primarily used in e-commerce, HR and document management. The Manufacturing Execution System, on the other hand, is a system that is precisely tailored to the needs of production. This results in numerous advantages if as much information as possible about the MES is to be processed in the production environment. For example, raw materials can already be booked into the MES at the time of delivery in order to take production-relevant steps, such as quality controls, into account. In addition, the Manufacturing Execution System also offers a comprehensive possibility for the traceability of individual batches – a circumstance that is becoming increasingly relevant in certain industries, especially in the context of stricter regulations.

In addition to planning production capacities, another task of manufacturing execution systems is to collect and pass on data generated from production. Here again, a close data exchange between MES, ERP and the process control level (e.g. Supervisory Control and Data acquisition, SCADA for short) is crucial. In this way, the data obtained from production by the Manufacturing Execution System can be used elsewhere to optimize production and improve future planning.

In order to recognize the advantages of an MES for companies, one must imagine the consequences if a production had to do without such a system. Using the biscuit factory as an example, a confusing and complex situation would arise for the employees in production. The orders resulting from the ERP and recipes and processes generated via the SCADA would probably arrive in production via written form and be processed accordingly. Even before work on the mixer can begin, employees would have to note the corresponding batches of raw materials in a folder and also note in which mixer the processing process took place. A corresponding recording would then also have to take place for all other production processes, which would have to be supplemented at the same time with any waste and reworks – as dough that is returned to the original process.

The overview of all production data provided by the MES becomes particularly obvious if a supplier, for example, would complain about a salt delivery. In this case, the employees would have to trace from the collected files and folders which of the cookies produced were made with the appropriate salt. A process that would take a few minutes with the help of the Manufacturing Execution System would take several days or weeks without the system. Especially in highly regulated industries, such as drug manufacturing, immense damage can quickly occur here.

The MES as a central control instrument in production will become even more important in the coming years. In particular, the generated production data creates opportunities to use new technology. Since, as a metaphorical brain, it digitizes the process sequences in production within a certain predefined framework and can thus provide crucial information for employees, AR applications for the exchange and maintenance of crucial parts of the plant, for example, are possible.

In addition, the manufacturing Execution System will become an even more intelligent component of production in the future. It is conceivable, for example, to use algorithms for additional process optimization and to optimize plant utilization, or to optimize the response to unforeseen difficulties with regard to material, quality, processes or personnel.

*Uwe Küppers is Manager Consulting Services at Kalypso EMEA: A Rockwell Automation company.

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