Almost all companies have a business system that handles high-level information such as production orders. And almost all companies have control automation such as PLCs that handle low-level tasks such as running the process. Broadly speaking, Manufacturing Execution System (MES) functions are those that fill the gaps between the business system and the process automation systems, and only a small minority of companies fill all those gaps well.
IPACT has been providing manufacturing execution systems to our customers for our entire 25+ years in existence. The tools have certainly changed, as have the “lingo” and acronyms, but the goals remain the same. MES areas of functionality include:
- Product Track and Trace. This is the ability of the system, in real time, to track WIP through the line or plant and associate material in intermediate steps with a work order for finished goods, as well as the raw materials it came from. This basic function is common to almost all MES systems.
- Product Genealogy. This is the ability of the system to go back into history, after a product has been produced, and associate it with the raw materials, equipment, process variable measurements, and in some cases personnel that produced it. The classic case for using genealogy is for an internal or external product recall, for example when a certain lot of the raw materials turns out to not meet specifications, or a certain machine was not performing properly. However, just about any kind of study of finished products will benefit greatly from having genealogy available.
- Inventory Management. For some customers, especially those that have a “just-in-time” supply system for their plants, real-time inventory tracking is very important. The MES system is the key component for this, sometimes keeping up the inventory database itself, sometimes transacting inventory data with the business system where the database is kept.
- Quality Management. This function goes hand-in-hand with track and trace and genealogy. Because the MES is tracking all material that goes through the line or plant, and associating it with orders and equipment, it is the natural place to associate quality measurements with the product, and make those available to operators and management both on a real-time basis (e.g. SPC charts), and on a historical basis as well.
- Performance Analysis. Sometimes placed in its own category separate from MES, performance analyis is the real-time monitoring of key performance indicators, and reacting to them. Typically this is implemented as downtime performance monitoring, on lines as a whole and the individual pieces of equipment that they are made from, and from this the computation of OEE.
IPACT offers a complete range of MES services to our customers, including user requirements, functional specification, design, implementation, testing, commissioning, and post-commissioning support. The “up front” user requirements and functional specification are especially critical for a MES system, and we work very closely with our customers during these phases to insure that the desired functionality of the MES system is documented in detail before proceeding with implementation.
Another key part of insuring MES success that differentiates IPACT from our competitors is the complete simulation that we do of the plant environment. This includes the business system and the lower level systems (e.g. PLCs) that the MES communicates with, as well as simulting the actual process and material flows. This complete simulation environment allows us to stress test the MES system running at many times normal production speeds, for example. It also allows our customers to train on the MES, with the simulation providing a very good replication of how the plant will actually behave in “real life”.