By Tadeusz Dyduch, VP of Innovation at Andea.
Implementing an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) can be an enormous undertaking as, in many cases, the system serves as a bridge between the shop floor and the management and is directly intervened in the production processes. MES projects can also be quite expensive due to high software and implementation costs.
They can also be risky due to the complexity that is unknown at the beginning of the project. The good news is that with the advent of the new architecture, it is now possible to implement cloud-based applications that can deliver value on your shop floor much cheaper and faster.
Some of the main reasons why production companies invest in MES-class solutions are to increase the effectiveness of manufacturing, improve quality, and, most of all – reduce variability in the manufacturing processes. Reducing the number of defects and events that cause downtime and inferior products provides enormous benefits to both the manufacturer and the end consumer.
However, many companies still hesitate to implement MES, mainly due to the initial high cost of implementing the solution and getting it embedded in the manufacturing process. Many times, the high costs are due to process variations between lines and locations. That is understandable as what makes a manufacturer great is its ability to adapt and change to the customer's needs, which is essential in today's global market. However, there is always a common denominator — for example, the need to track machine and production line performance.
Manufacturers can get up and running much faster by deploying ready-to-use manufacturing applications that meet these common needs, rather than trying to go ‘big bang’ and develop functionality which will cover a wide array of production processes. These can be off-the-shelf applications or custom-developed apps designed to fulfil specific needs.
The key is to make sure that these applications can be integrated. That will provide a solid foundation for deploying a solution that can control and monitor the end-to-end process. In the future, the company can implement additional applications for other manufacturing areas that require improvement. This approach can deliver benefits much faster, and deploying these applications in the cloud has four main advantages listed below.
Less expensive & more cost-effective
The implementation of a comprehensive MES system in multiple plants often requires the involvement of many individuals and significant upfront software, hardware, and implementation investments. There are also some other indirect costs like 'shadow IT' at the local production sites providing IT support and lost time spent on training and testing. The annual software maintenance costs, often between 18 to 25% of the software cost, should also not be forgotten. Then there is also a need to complete technical upgrades, typically done every two to five years.
Upgrade costs can be high, especially for complex systems, which means that very often, companies end up in a situation where their initial project costs can double after a few years of using the solution. Deploying cloud-based SaaS solutions helps to significantly decrease the upfront costs and lower TCO by eliminating costs related to installing and maintaining infrastructure. The monthly subscription fees typically cover these costs and include regular upgrades.
Another change in the market is to move away from paying for software products upfront to a "pay and use" pricing model. That allows manufacturers to pay only for what they use and have a predictable future pricing. Additionally, there is no need to spend vast amounts of money upfront before any value from the solution can be realised.
Easier to implement and roll-out
Traditionally, global MES implementations take between 9-12 months to complete in the first pilot production site. Subsequent roll-outs can take anywhere from 1-3 months. Implementation of a modular cloud-based solution, using pre-built applications, can be done in a few weeks. The time required to roll-out the solution at another production facility can be measured in days. Deploying function-specific applications has other advantages, like the fact that companies can quickly validate if the deployed application delivered the desired results and use this information when deciding on further development and deployment investments.
The world in which manufacturers operate is getting smaller and more competitive. Manufacturers nowadays need to be more agile and adapt to the various markets around the globe. To keep up with these changes, manufacturers expect their MES providers to offer solutions that can quickly adapt to the everchanging landscape of their business. The time to extend the current functionality or deploy it to new production sites needs to be measured in days vs. months.
Manufacturo is an excellent example of a solution that offers both off-the-shelf applications and an unlimited ability to develop new tailored applications. A modular approach allows for customised apps to be created in a matter of weeks and instantly deployed to multiple locations since it is a cloud-based solution.
Think smartphone and app store concept, where you buy and install applications that you need. If you can't find an application that meets your needs, you can have someone develop it.
More effective on a global scale
Many companies struggle with effectively using the data generated by their systems used in different geographies. It is not easy for them to consolidate and compare data from the local sites. Here, cloud-based solutions offer another edge. For example, in Manufacturo, there is no need to pull data from the local sites as, by default, the data is stored in one central environment. The data can then be analysed to try to identify trends and potential improvement areas. The apps can also be deployed within the supplier network to help evaluate performance and quality.
The manufacturing industry is undergoing a profound transformation. The emergence of technologies like IoT, 3D printing, Augmented Reality, or Machine Learning offers endless possibilities, and if used correctly, can give manufacturers a competitive edge. Together, these new technical capabilities will help drive new revenue, bring in more profits, drive efficiency, and help improve customer satisfaction.
The manufacturing software needs to be able to keep with these trends. It needs to be flexible, scalable, and offer the latest technical capabilities. The manufacturers must have access to manufacturing software that can support these new technologies today so that they can harness it to drive the digital transformation of tomorrow.