Inside Smart Factory

Mastering the digital future of manufacturing with MES


Smart production control system in Industry 4.0

According to the VDMA, the digitalisation of value creation processes is the basis for Industry 4.0, so it is important to use the new opportunities and technologies profitably and take the right steps towards future-proof digital manufacturing.

An MES creates the digital link from ERP systems to the operative manufacturing units and thus makes an important contribution on the way to digital manufacturing.

In the past, with a smaller number of variants and automation, a manufacturing company could manage the detailed planning manually, often relying on many years of experience of the employees. “Today, this is no longer possible in most cases: small batch sizes increase complexity, and the sensors in the production lines generate a wealth of data that humans alone can no longer manage,” says University Professor Dr Alfred Taudes, Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, Department of Information Processing and Process Management, Institute of Production Management, on the raison d’être of the MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems). “An MES not only supports employees in detailed planning, but also serves as an information mediator between the machine and the PPS system (production planning and control system) in the areas of quality and employee management,” says Taudes. Today, modern MES solutions go a good deal further in the context of mega trends such as Industry 4.0, AI, machine learning, cloud, digitalisation or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things).

For Dipl.-Ing. Bernhard Falkner, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Industrie Informatik GmbH, this clearly means: “The MES is clearly the leading system in the production-related world. Accordingly, it is important for an MES provider to take a close look at technologies such as AI, machine learning, cloud, digitalisation and IIoT and to interpret what is necessary for this in order to then implement it if necessary.”


MES is the foundation of the smart factory

Competitive MES manufacturers should therefore not just follow these hotspots, but look deeply into the market themselves and seriously address the requirements of their clientele. On this basis, future visions and technologies can then be shaped, Falkner continues. He knows how to correctly classify the importance of the technologies mentioned above: “All of them have their raison d’être and make a valuable contribution to the ‘Smart Factory’. However, an MES not only helps with this Smart Factory, it also provides the basis. The first step is taken with data acquisition and subsequent interpretation and processing – and that is precisely our responsibility as an MES provider.”

Forward-looking MES solutions such as cronetwork from Industrie Informatik therefore not only support these trends, but also help companies in a very concrete way to implement their digital strategy.

The VDMA itself also describes the important function of the MES in the current situation in the white paper ‘MES and Industry 4.0’: “Modern MES solutions help companies in the mechanical and plant engineering sector to implement digitalisation. On the one hand, process integration and transparency are pronounced in their own production, but on the other hand, integrative data acquisition and processing is also effectively implemented at the end users of machines and plants.


ERP, MES & Co: Demarcations are being softened

For university professor Alfred Taudes, these mega-trends even increase the need for MES systems and also bring new requirements for such systems:

Cyber-physical systems generate unprecedented amounts of data that need to be processed in a timely manner as well as held for analysis purposes. Modern MES solutions therefore apply methods such as AI or machine learning to improve planning accuracy.

Univ. Prof. Dr. Alfred Taudes
Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien

Taudes goes one step further: “With an IIoT-based Industry 4.0 production, classic programme planning and work preparation will become completely obsolete with batch size 1.”

It is indisputable that an MES is now omnipresent on the shop floor, i.e. the place of value creation within production, and in all related processes. Demarcations are being softened: in the sense of the best-of-breed approach, each of the areas has a core discipline. “The MES now takes on even more tasks: from PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) the detailing of work planning and the production process, from automation the cross-machine communication, in interaction with IIoT parts of the data generation or also data storage,” CTO Falkner describes his view of a modern MES.

For Alfred Taudes, the MES also continues to be the link between ERP and execution: “With increasing digitalisation of production, however, ERP functions such as forecasting or programme planning are taking a back seat, as intelligent manufacturing systems can autonomously recognise and process variants.” But according to Bernhard Falkner, it is still necessary to separate at this point: “If an ERP takes care of the commercial agendas, the MES remains the leader in manufacturing today and also in the future. The MES controls the production process at an increasingly detailed level.”

But this requires more information than an ERP can provide in the routing. Therefore, an MES must offer possibilities for refining the production flow. An integrative approach allows even more intensive cooperation between the two systems, from which the user can benefit in the end.


From predictive analytics to predictive maintenance

A functionality that contemporary MES solutions have long offered takes on a whole new meaning in the IIoT environment: predictive maintenance. A paper by the consulting firm Deloitte talks about ‘data analytics’: The IIoT provides a precise picture of the actual state in terms of data technology. Algorithms, Big Data applications and AI recognise certain patterns in this information. This provides predictions about expected conditions and future trends. According to Deloitte, data analytics with hypothesis-driven models generates important insights from this. Business activities thus generate the data that, through analysis, can again lead to actionable insights, new decisions and perhaps even new business activities.

University professor and production management specialist Taudes speaks here of predictive analytics: “By means of predictive analytics, manufacturing companies today can use sensor-generated data volumes sensibly for better planning. A more precise forecast of the reject rate, for example, leads to improved capacity utilisation, adherence to schedules and lower stock levels.” Taudes describes how in an MES like cronetwork the existing data can be used meaningfully in the context of predictive analytics: “The records made in the past in the MES on rejects, machine failure, malfunctions and product quality in the respective environment (machine, personnel, environment, material, order and time) provide information about constellations in which these problems occur more frequently by using suitable methods. These patterns are applied in predicting quality metrics in future planning.”


All applications on a 360-degree manufacturing platform

In this context, the results of a recent SAP study on the greatest incentives for possible IIoT scenarios in manufacturing companies are very interesting: increasing productivity, shortening set-up times, reducing energy costs, increasing the runtime of machines with predictive maintenance and manufacturing more cost-effectively are the all-important IIoT adjusting screws. It is therefore important to use the new possibilities and technologies of the IIoT profitably and to take the right steps towards future-proof digital manufacturing. Industrie Informatik CTO Falkner concludes by showing a possible future of competitive MES solutions with cronetworld: “Our new and forward-looking Manufacturing Execution Platform cronetworld enables the merging and orchestration of all (production) relevant software systems, technologies and applications into a 360-degree manufacturing platform. The basis for this is an open interface and communication level that enables peripheral and third-party systems to be connected.”


Published: (Technik und Wirtschaft für die deutsche Industrie), author Dietmar Poll, 14 August, 2020

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