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Next-Gen MES Connect OT and IT in the Smart Factory

Smart Factory, IIoT

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) have been in use for ages. Traditionally, these resource-driven, monolithic systems support specific functions such as human resources, quality assurance, and supply chain management. But today’s MES have a lot more ground to cover. On the path to digital transformation, the smart factory is generating reams of data on the operational technology (OT) side. When harnessed, that information can power applications such as predictive maintenance and quality control—for more agile and streamlined processes.

With a new world of data emerging, manufacturers need MES solutions that offer a broad range of functionality and integrate easily with other enterprise systems, such as ERP and warehouse management.

To gain more value from these new streams of operational data, MES are evolving to marry OT and IT data in fully transparent systems. Manufacturers benefit from having an open software platform that allows them to use third-party apps and add capabilities such as augmented reality and predictive maintenance.

With this level of flexibility, they can tailor an MES to their needs by choosing—or creating—apps that solve a wide variety of challenges, from machine monitoring to production control, and order management.

Transparency Yields Smart-Factory Efficiency

A multifunctional MES can greatly reduce material waste, save energy, and increase productivity. For example, a Germany-based manufacturer of sanitary peripherals for water taps needed to coordinate its entire process from casting and polishing the metal taps to assembling them with additional plastic parts.

The company produces every component and manages several production sites, so it must coordinate not only the steps of production and packaging but also manage supplies and inventory. Production sites are scattered all over Germany and beyond, and have to be synchronized to streamline production.

Accurate planning across all processes, so everything flowed together in the right timeframe, was an essential requirement. To make it a reality, the manufacturer worked with MPDV Mikrolab GmbH, a leader in IT systems for manufacturers, to deploy MES HYDRA X.

The solution provides a variety of manufacturing applications (mApps) to track each production step and the time it takes to complete them (Video 1). For example, managers use an app to create digital twin models of the production process, while shop floor workers have access to apps that provide operator guidance and assembly control. There’s also an app specifically for tracking and tracing materials while they’re in transit, another for managing inventory in each facility or warehouse, and one that monitors the packaging process.

Video 1. mApps can master specific smart-factory use cases. (Source: MPDV Mikrolab)

Teams enter and combine data across the system, which is accessible at several levels of management. “Workers on the shop floor, supervisors, controllers, data analysts, and HR professionals all have easy access through a mobile app or web-based interface,” says Markus Diesner, Marketing Specialist Products at MPDV. Data input comes from both humans and digital sensors.

With that data, they can estimate when an order will be finished.

“Everything is in one plan and one system,” says Diesner. The solution also tracks quality throughout the process and triggers production of more raw materials at the beginning of the process to compensate for any defective pieces detected along the way. “It’s all about efficiency—and you can only attain efficiency when you have transparency between systems and processes,” Diesner says.

A multifunctional #MES can greatly reduce material waste, save energy, and increase productivity. @MPDV_gmbh via @insightdottech

Full-Service Integration and Support

Manufacturers can integrate the solution with their existing systems, such as the ERP and warehouse management system (WMS), creating a greater transparency that helps drive efficiency. Adding interfaces allows them to connect disparate systems to retrieve data and send directions.

“For example, a company can connect directly to the WMS and tell it that the process will need material, or that there is excess material that must be transported to the stock,” Diesner says. “This can be done without going through the ERP system, saving time and effort.”

The Hydra X platform is certified to run on Intel® processor-based gateways such as the Dell Technologies Edge Gateway 5000 Series. “We benefit from Intel’s broad product portfolio for servers, clients, and edge devices,” says Diesner. “And our customers profit from the stability of the whole system.”

Along with its software platform, MPDV provides upfront consulting, deployment, and ongoing support services to help companies craft their own version of Industry 4.0.

As manufacturing facilities becomes smart factories, MES will evolve alongside them. “As these systems continue to develop, the interoperability of apps will become more and more important,” Diesner says. “Companies will have the freedom to customize the system to fit their needs even more than they can today, picking and choosing aspects from different developers. The philosophy of getting an all-in-one solution from a single provider will become a thing of the past.”

About the Author

Jessica Leigh Brown is a writer focused on applications of IoT and emerging technologies in education. As a freelance journalist, her work has appeared in more than a dozen trade and consumer magazines, and she enjoys working with top technology companies to create content such as white papers and case studies.

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