Human life is a constant pursuit of perfection. There are plenty of examples of this, be it the sporting competition or the accumulation of more and more knowledge. Industrial production is also constantly working on optimizing machine performance in order to always be one step ahead of the competition. […]
Modern developments such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or the Connected Enterprise have pushed the boundaries of what is possible and brought a perfected production process within reach for companies. Above all, data and communication are this essential component and the most important means to achieve a completely smooth operation. The benefits that this can bring for companies are manifold. Reduced downtimes, mitigating the shortage of skilled workers or increased flexibility and quality in production are just a few examples that enable good networking and the use of a comprehensive Manufacturing Execution System (MES) within industrial plants.
MES: Three letters with outstanding meaning
In order to achieve all these benefits quickly, manufacturing companies need a modern MES solution that helps them turn generated data into added value. In the meantime, MES is to be understood as more than an overflow of different systems that promote an exchange of information and data within a plant. In the course of the digitization of processes in industrial systems, more and more data is generated from the actual production process. This includes performance data of individual machines, production figures, data on environmental influences, as well as information about individual parts of a system that should be exchanged.
Before digitization offered the possibility of simple data processing, the data generated in the system, such as the number of end products produced, were often recorded manually in tables and lists. A corresponding exchange of machine data took place in an analogous way and when employees left a company, valuable knowledge about machines accumulated over decades was often lost. With modern systems, on the other hand, all information about a plant and the associated machines can be stored, contextualized and managed in a central location.
Increased flexibility and higher quality
Especially in production processes where the quality of the product depends on a variety of different factors – this is often the case, for example, in food or beverage production – quality improvement can be achieved through the use of data analysis. If, for example, the humidity, temperature and changes in pressure due to weather fluctuations in a factory are taken into account in the production of yeast dough, modern modules that are also connected to an MES can make appropriate adjustments in production elsewhere or give instructions to employees. In this way, a constant level of quality can be achieved, even if external conditions would make this difficult.
In addition, modern MES offer additional flexibility for companies. In particular, because such solutions are scalable in most cases, they can be implemented by small companies as well as large corporations. Adaptation to growing or shrinking production conditions, for example due to seasonal fluctuations, is easily possible. Even if a new location of the company is opened, it can be easily integrated into the existing infrastructure and data environment. The same applies to new production lines within a site.
Data analysis allows a look into the future
Few incidents within a factory are more expensive than unplanned downtime and outages. Especially in large plants with a high energy demand, an unplanned failure and the associated time to resume regular operation can quickly cause enormous costs. But even with small production lines, failures are annoying for operators. By evaluating all relevant data from a factory, operators are also guaranteed greater flexibility in terms of downtime.
Thus, with accurate data analysis by an MES, the power loss of individual conveyor carts within a plant can be noticed directly. Using methods such as predictive or prescriptive maintenance, the MES can ultimately plan the necessary maintenance work in such a way that the costs remain as low as possible and take place at a time that is favorable for the entire plant structure. Of course, this does not only apply to conveyor trolleys. Key figures of all installed parts, which require regular maintenance, can be analyzed by modern data models and statements can be made about the expected remaining mileage.
Transfer and collection of Knowledge
The latest possibilities of comprehensive MES also include the possibilities offered by technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. Particularly important aspects in which these modern technologies can help are the education and training of workers. The increasing shortage of skilled workers and the retirement of long-standing and experienced employees mean a challenge for many industrial companies that should not be underestimated. FactoryTalk innovation Suite allows, for example, the inclusion of detailed instructions by experienced staff, which can be created in the exchange of individual parts of a system. With the help of augmented reality glasses, such instructions enable knowledge transfer between generations of employees and prevent the loss of specialist knowledge. In addition, the possibilities of augmented reality provide detailed information and insights into key performance indicators for machines, make safety zones visible and distribute work instructions worldwide in real time.
More perfect production through data flow without limits
Keeping track of your own production can be difficult in times of immense amounts of data. In particular, the increasing networking makes it necessary for companies to rely on solutions that not only provide a short-term remedy in the data thicket. Above all, MES solutions can help, which not only cover individual application areas, but are also characterized by their scalability, comprehensive advantages for key figures in production and, last but not least, by simple knowledge transfer among employees. For decision-makers and those responsible, however, these systems ultimately mean one thing above all: that the production process is somewhat more perfect and balanced.
*Ashkan Ashouriha is Product Business Manager, EMEA Region, IIoT & Digital Engineering at Rockwell Automation.