Manufacturing Execution Systems, or MES systems, or just MES, have been around for many, many years. The names have changed a few times and much of the technology has changed. Unfortunately, what seems to have stayed the same over the years are the mistakes that people make in implementing MES. The industries might change, the software might change, the technology has definitely changed, but unfortunately, the mistakes being made are the same.
There’s an entire class of mistakes that boils down to the question of what MES really is. Projects implement MES without a common definition of MES within the company or sometimes even within the project team. This is just part of the problem with MES because there actually is no universally accepted definition of MES. The best definition for MES is simply that MES is a class of computer-based systems that are focused on the execution of manufacturing processes.
But, that definition of MES means that MES can be just about anything anyone wants it to be. MES can be custom solutions. MES can be large software packages. MES can be small point solutions. MES can be extensions of a DCS or an HMI/SCADA. MES can be extensions of an ERP.
MES can be whatever someone wants it to be and that means that project teams can get in trouble very quickly with different people thinking that MES is different things. But, the remedy is simple. The project team has to understand that this is a potential problem and that it’s necessary to define MES in a way that works best for the company and for the project. And then, it’s important to let everyone know what the definition is and to make sure that everyone uses that definition.
Another common problem is a focus on the software features. This is especially common when a project is implementing an off-the-shelf MES package, particularly one of the large MES solutions. Everyone gets focused on the features of the software and what it does even to the point where MES gets defined by the software package and its features.
This is obviously putting the cart before the horse. The focus should always be on the business. What does the business need? What are the business processes? How does the software support the processes? How does the software support the business and add value to the business? It should never be about the features of the software. No matter how great the software features might be, the software is just a tool for the business to use and the focus should always be on meeting the needs of the business.
Along these same lines is another common problem and that’s where the business or the manufacturing process has to conform to the software – not the other way around. This is especially insidious in that it is often justified by making claims about the software incorporating “industry best practices.” This may be nothing but marketing hype. What it may really mean is that the software is inflexible and only works a certain way and the business must conform to the software because the software can’t be changed to match the business.
This is almost always bad. If the business process needs to be changed to make it better then change the business process and make it better. But, if the only reason that the business process is changing is to match the software package, then it’s probably the wrong decision. It probably means that the software package is wrong or the software package isn’t flexible enough. It rarely makes sense to change a good, stable, business process just to match a software package.
In the end, there’s lots of ways to implement MES and a lot of different things that MES can do to help the business. And that’s the key: MES should always be about the business. It should never be about the technology, the software, the features, or anything else. MES should always be about the business.
So, while there are lots of mistakes that people make when they’re implementing MES, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to keep making those same mistakes. Simply being aware of the potential mistakes, and staying focused on the business issues, will go a long way toward ensuring a successful project.
About the Author
John Clemons is MAVERICK’s director of manufacturing IT with more than 30 years of education and experience in technology engineering, product/service innovation, project management and consulting services for world-class manufacturing enterprises. John has experience in the food, beverage and consumer packaged goods (CPG) sectors; the oil, natural gas and alternative energy sectors and the chemical and petrochemical sectors. He is a champion of lean manufacturing, operational performance excellence, total quality and other paradigms that optimize productivity, efficiency and profitability. A frequent industry speaker, writer and co-author of Information Technology for Manufacturing: Reducing Costs and Expanding Capabilities, contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.