A manufacturing execution system (MES) is a framework for setting up automated control over the manufacturing process, as a flexible and unified system. It covers the entire manufacturing workflow from the moment you receive a work order up to the final product and its certification. The core idea of MES is to help a business with the certifications of the products. And certification proves the quality of your product, the safety of use, and compliance with the standards. 

How MES helps businesses

Straight off the bat, what is a manufacturing execution system? MES manufacturing execution system is not a single solution that can be designed by custom software development vendors, think of it more as a box of tools. It includes not just technical tools, but also procedures, regulations, approaches, documentation, experts, and more that improve the efficiency of manufacturing run and certification of products in your unique business. MES is scalable and grows with your business as you acquire and add new capabilities. So, how do you benefit from implementing a custom MES for your manufacturing facility to secure proper certification? Let us find out in the following article.

Your business is unique, and so should be your MES

Your manufacturing execution system (MES) will never be the same as that of your competitors as each business is unique and so is your MES. So, the answer to that question would depend on whom you ask. Your MES will include a unique set of tools, documentation, experts, reports, applications, and other things that are tailored to match the needs of your business. 

There is a common backbone in each MES that helps the manufacturing execution system experts initiate the development. 

The Core Four pillars of the MES and what they mean for your business

Each MES manufacturing execution system is unique. However, there are four pillars that are present in almost every type of MES. These are essential structural parts of the system that ensure a stable, transparent, and iterative manufacturing process.

  1. Work order: you need to manufacture something for your clients according to their requirements. Orders could specify quality and quantity requirements, technical specifications, priority, and other additional characteristics of the product.
  2. Scheduling: based on work orders, you can schedule and prioritize the manufacturing of different products or parts of products. You need to define what to manufacture and when to manufacture it. Scheduling is iterative and can be changed according to your needs. It defines the priority of the work orders and the speed at which the orders will be fulfilled.
  3. Overall equipment efficiency: this is a framework that allows you to choose the right type of technology to fulfill the work orders while complying with local and global manufacturing standards. If your product needs ISO certification, your MES has to be set up in accordance with a specific ISO standard. Your MES vendor will help you integrate documentation templates that can be used to check compliance with said certification standard. It can also help you choose specific technologies and manufacturing processes that allow for the manufacturing of ISO-compliant products. Once you have the templates, you can integrate them into your process, tune the scheduling, and manufacture ISO-compliant products.
  4. Downtime tracking: comparing the planned manufacturing output and actual output within a certain period of time. Downtime tracking allows you to see and analyze lags in the manufacturing run as well as possible bottlenecks and then make iterations in your scheduling. It helps you identify problem areas and respond to them to increase the efficiency and quality of the process. 

Core four of MES

The Core Four is the basis of the manufacturing execution MES and often plays its part in the manufacturing software development process, but certain types of manufacturers do not really need all four. For instance, some companies might not require work orders and scheduling as they can be handled within the ERP, but there’s no way for the MES to function without the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) and downtime tracking. Basically, that’s the core idea of the MES manufacturing execution system – to provide you with a framework for managing the manufacturing process and ensuring its compliance with the standards relevant to your markets.

The MES development lifecycle that delivers the intended results

The development of the MES manufacturing execution system happens in stages, just like any custom software development project. N-iX experts adhere to a development life cycle that ensures consistent delivery of successful MES projects. Here are the steps we would follow on a typical MES development project:

1. Discovery

The first step of the process is product discovery, during which we discuss your business needs, define the problems and limitations that affect your manufacturing process, map out the goals you need to achieve, and specify all the possible aspects of your future MES. This also includes the certification standards you must comply with.

2. Technical and commercial proposal 

Based on the gathered information, documentation, and your requirements, we formulate a technical and commercial proposal. It will include a Software Architecture Description, a document that outlines the process of setting up your manufacturing execution system software, the structure of the MES as a whole, and all of its specifications.

3. Plannning and scheduling

Based on your work orders and output goals, we will come up with the Scheduling for your manufacturing process. This step already provides us with the basis for the MES and allows us to make considerable progress on the development cycle. 

4. Set up of the architecture team 

The expert team of architects plays a critical role in the analysis of your internal processes, documents, products you deliver, the equipment you use, the teams you work with, and all the various aspects of your manufacturing process. Based on their analysis, the team of architects creates the manufacturing execution system software design description. The MES software design description is basically a set of ideas that can be elaborated upon, developed, and implemented.

Based on these ideas, the architects will form three functional teams:

  • The development team whose goal is to take business ideas and decompose them into so-called stories. These stories will be then broken down into sprints during which the developers will be working on the project’s milestones;
  • The quality assurance team works parallel to the development team but with a slight lag. The goal of the software QA and testing team is to check whatever the developers have been working on and make sure it functions as intended. 
  • The DevOps team takes care of the traceability between each layer of the industrial process: Cloud, ERP, MES, SCADA, and PLC. They set up the whole process and make sure it runs smoothly.

5. Delivery of manufacturing process

The final stage and the ultimate delivery of the entire development life cycle is the manufacturing process itself. What you get is a fully functional, predictable, flexible, and easily certifiable industrial process from the moment you receive the work order to the moment the product gets out of your facility. 

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The variety of options and complexity of choice: what kind of MES do you need?

As said, your MES is as unique as your company, so it’s impossible to tell which of the manufacturing execution system MES capabilities your business needs without a thorough analysis. You need to also remember that each of the Core Four pillars may include or rely on a wide variety of tools, data sets, documentation, software, and other features that may or may not be relevant to your specific case.

The data sets you use, the amount of equipment and material you process, the number of people on the assembly line, the capacity of your ERP, the certifications you need, and much more will all determine the shape and form of your MES. That is exactly why you need a reliable manufacturing execution system software partner who can analyze the needs of your business and set up effective and relevant MES for your company.

Compliance, expertise, and knowledge: how reliable partnership helps your product’s success

The most important thing here is certification compliance. Any product that is not compliant with local or global standards can become subject to legal action in case anything goes wrong. This is especially relevant for the products that can directly influence the user’s quality of life. An example from the automotive industry: a gearbox in a vehicle must be certified since any malfunctions in such an essential component might result in a potentially life-threatening situation. In such a case, the manufacturer will receive a dramatic reputational blow and suffer legal actions that might result in critical financial losses and even the loss of business with their clients. Certification not only ensures the quality of your product, but it also protects your business from legal actions, saving your reputation and money.

For that reason, your MES must be built according to a specific standard. Let’s say you want to manufacture a kind of product that must be compliant with ISO 9001. It means that your entire manufacturing process has to comply with that standard – anything, from the equipment you use and up to the assembly line team set up must be set in accordance with ISO 9001. That is where you will need a partner who has a profound knowledge and understanding of said standard and can set your MES up in accordance with it.

Expand the capabilities of your team or build MES from scratch

Building a manufacturing execution system compliant with all the relevant standards is a fairly complicated task. You will require profound industry knowledge, technology expertise, an in-depth understanding of manufacturing standards, and more. If you lack the necessary expertise, there are two options N-iX offers:

  • Custom MES development: we can handle the entire process of developing your manufacturing execution system and deliver a reliable and iterative manufacturing run from scratch. Our experts will analyze your business needs, specifications, and limitations. They will schedule the manufacturing run, develop the documentation for certification, and set the process up according to the relevant standards.
  • Extended team: if you already have a team of experts working on your MES, our team may assist with its most complicated parts. Our team extension services can help you handle each individual part of the project including documentation preparation.

The N-iX MES development best practices and how to make it work right

Each original manufacturer or Tier-1 supplier must comply with certain regulations (such as ISO in the EU and the US), and each product must be manufactured according to a certain standard. You need a partner who knows everything about these standards to ensure the successful certification of the products you put out. 

N-iX offers you the expertise to analyze your business needs, regional compliance standards, and possible limitations that might influence your manufacturing. Based on that analysis, we make the following steps:

  • Pick the right set of tools: manufacturing standards encompass each aspect of the process, including the used tools. Depending on the product you manufacture, you will need to use a specific set of tools for it to be certified, and our team of MES manufacturing execution system specialists will select the right tools for your case.
  • Prepare documentation: each step of the process must be properly documented for successful certification. We need to know exactly how each step of the process is going to be handled, and the documentation helps with that.
  • Suggest the optimal team setup: even the composition of the teams working in the manufacturing facility has to adhere to the standards. N-iX can help you define the right composition of the working team to match the requirements.
  • Set up the MES: we will help you set up the entire manufacturing process as the final delivery of our cooperation. Our experts will make set up the whole process according to the required standards helping you with the certification while maintaining the integrity of manufacturing. The manufacturing execution system setup will not just guarantee certification, it will also cut the cost of manufacturing by reducing the downtimes and ensuring proper scheduling.

Final thoughts: achieve predictability, scalability, and simplicity of certification with MES

So, what is a manufacturing execution system and why do you need it? MES is a wide framework of tools, processes, documentation, and all the other aspects of the manufacturing process that is bound to improve the efficiency of workflow and ease the certification process. The core benefits of the manufacturing execution system are:

  • Predictability of results: a manufacturing execution system gives you a 360-degree view of your manufacturing process, equipment efficiency, schedules, work orders, downtimes, and all the other factors that may influence the efficiency of the workflows. With high predictability of results, you will meet the deadlines and use the exact amount of materials you need avoiding failures and excessive spending.
  • Flexibility: you can reset your manufacturing process to meet the new requirements and changing standards with relative ease. MES experts will help you rearrange the workflows with minimal downtimes.
  • Ease of certification: setting up your manufacturing according to the relevant standards cuts the problem with certification for your products. You will be able to easily certify your product without spending too much time and money.

Remember, if your product is not certified, you will have a hard time selling it. If you fail to meet the deadlines due to poor scheduling, you will suffer reputational and financial losses. And if you do not track the bottlenecks, you will lose manufacturing efficiency, and as a result, money.

Here at N-iX, we build custom manufacturing execution systems that match the needs of our clients while maintaining the integrity of the manufacturing process and standard compliance. We choose tools, frameworks, certification criteria, documentation, equipment, and team setups for your specific case, and guarantee that all of that functions as a robust but flexible process.

 

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N-iX Staff
Dmytro Humennyi
Ph.D. in robotics and automatic control, associate professor. Project Manager

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