Enterprise resource planning software, known as (ERP) brought about one of the first revolutions in manufacturing efficiency. However, ERP does not cover those manual-intensive operations that take place on the plant-floor. The plant floor is riddled with inefficient practices that both waste time and money and slow down productivity.
In today’s tough market place, and with growing competition and reducing profit margins, it has become essential for businesses to improve their manufacturing processes and to widen the application of so called ‘lean principles’ to the plant floor. ERP has made some inroads into the area of manufacturing operations, including order management, inventory management, works scheduling, materials planning, cost control and reporting, but as ERP was not designed to address the needs of the plant-floor itself, it has not and cannot, answer the challenge of making the plant floor as efficient as needed.
With ERP not being able to cover the needs of manufacturing businesses they have been forced to introduce a number of ‘work arounds’ so that the essential data that flows to, from and around the shop-floor can be managed and processed. These include
– Mountains of (unnecessary) paperwork
– Manual processes Buy Products Directly From Manufacturers
– Excel Spreadsheets
– Ad-hoc (often inefficient), custom-built applications
These and workarounds like them are directly opposite to the integrated business system approach (that is ERP) and compromise all the benefits delivered by the lean manufacturing culture. This lack of integration between the ERP systems and the plant-floor causes a ‘disconnect’ that costs the business both time and money, and in extreme circumstances could lead to the loss of business too, as more efficient operators steal their trade by producing goods faster, if not cheaper.
Without a proper Manufacturing Execution Software system, information relating to production schedules and engineering changes are often communicated slowly to operators, which in turn results in delays and wasteful errors. Other the other hand, data flows back to management on paper, these forms having then to be read and most often then re-keyed into the ERP Industrial Engineering Tools system, with all the wasted time and potential for errors that this entails. The problems for business are also exacerbated by the fact that the managers of the business cannot see what is happening on the plant-floor in ‘real time’ thus making it difficult, if not impossible to react quickly to changing conditions and thus to identify potential problems.
The Cry of the Financial Controller
Financial controllers of many businesses have been heard to cry something like:- “We need to find ways to reduce direct and indirect manufacturing costs so that we can maximize profits”
There are two main ways to keep costs down and maximize profitability, these being to reduce the time spent on all non value added activities and the other to reduce material waste.
One way is to reduce the time spent by plant-floor operators and personnel in the supporting of the functions that manage the vast amounts of data required to support the manufacturing process. In many cases organizations still rely on paper to transport this vital data. ‘Paper’ in this case including routing cards, schedules, work instructions & drawings, inspection records and many other items.
A MES system provides for a completely paperless plant floor environment using touch screen based Workstation interfaces. The data that is required by the operators is delivered electronically to the operators in the context, that is just for the process and product variant that they are working on at the moment. Data flows back from the shop-floor via these very same touchscreens and bar code scanners.
This efficient environment allows more time to be spent producing products, rather than managing, coordinating and interpreting paper-based data. As more time is spent on production, less time is wasted and thus manufacturing costs are reduced.
Besides this obvious improvement, staff are more motivated as they are provided with up to date work-instructions and all the visual aids and revision control information they need them and not later when it is too late and time has been wasted.
These improvements result in less material waste, better motivated and thus more efficient staff, and more importantly more products are manufactured right first time.
This is just one way that MES can help a manufacturing business become more efficient, other ways will be related in this series of articles on MES.

By master