Curbing MESsy Shop Floor State of Affairs - Part II

Part I of this blog series expanded on some of TEC's earlier articles about companies' need for better links between the plant ("blue collar trenches") and the enterprise ("white collar ivory tower"). It also pointed out the difficulties in achieving this idea. An obvious solution would be a tightly integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) package that would help manufacturers close the gap between the shop floor and the offices by gaining visibility into manufacturing operations, achieving shop floor control, managing product/process traceability, genealogy, and so on.

MES solutions that integrate seamlessly into existing enterprise applications thus connect manufacturing to the enterprise in order to:

  • Reduce costs and improve profits by collecting and communicating real-time manufacturing data throughout the product lifecycle; and

  • Closely control and continuously improve operations, quality, and visibility across facilities worldwide.

By standardizing the best practices of lean manufacturing, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and continuous process improvement (CPI), such solutions should provide a real-time framework that would unite capabilities like finite factory scheduling (constraints-based), operations, quality, safety, performance management (via analytics), and enterprise asset maintenance (EAM).

Plant-level execution systems have thus far largely been adopted by big companies in a big way.  The historic condition in this highly fragmented market was that offerings were too niche-oriented and offered by many small software companies.  A large enterprise would have to purchase many offerings and stitch them together to get a full solution. Today, however, comprehensive packaged factory solutions that are repeatable, scaleable, and transferable are changing that dynamic.

Some Shining Examples

Some good examples in this regard would be a rare few ERP vendors with native MES capabilities, starting with IQMS and its EnterpriseIQ suite [evaluate this product].  Mid-2008,  IQMS launched a new Automation Group to expand the interface capabilities of its EnterpriseIQ ERP system with manufacturing equipment on the shop floor.

Look for a separate article on IQMS down the track. In the meantime, you can find more information about the vendor here and in TEC’s earlier article entitled “Manufacturer's Nirvana -- Real-Time Actionable Information." Also, there is an informative Enterprise Systems Spectator’s blog post on IQMS here.

Solarsoft (formerly CMS Software [evaluate this product]) would be another good ERP-MES example following the acquisition of Mattec a couple of years ago. The upcoming Epicor 9 product, which represents a complete rewrite and convergence, on the basis of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0, of the selected best-of-breed functional concepts from the respective individual products (like Epicor Vantage [evaluate this product], Epicor Enterprise [evaluate this product], Epicor iScala [evaluate this product], and so on) will feature the native MES module. Of course, some functionality within Epicor 9 will be brand new, while some modules will represent embedded third-party products (unbeknownst to the customer).

Again, Forget Not About Oracle

Last but not least, Oracle delivered its own integrated MES-ERP-Supply Chain Management (SCM) offering within Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) release 12. This was in great part possible due to the vendor's existing manufacturing capabilities/modules (e.g, flow manufacturing, work-in-process [WIP], etc.) and many customer deployments in certain manufacturing industries.

More recently though, Oracle has been deeply involved in delivering its own integrated MES-ERP-Supply Chain Management (SCM) offering entitled Oracle Manufacturing Operations Center (OMOC, formerly Oracle Manufacturing Hub). Oracle hails this enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI, or operational intelligence, shop-floor integration, and real-time intelligence, for that matter) layer (based on the  Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition [OBIEE] architecture) as the foundation for continuous process improvement (CPI) in manufacturing operations.

While the initial generally available parts of this ambitious undertaking such as contextualization engine, manufacturing operations data model (based on the ISA-95 standard), and role-based dashboards, were recently launched, look for much more to come down the track. In the meantime, Oracle points out that MOC should not be confused with being:

A SaaSy ERP + MES Example

Plexus Systems deserves attention for offering broad and deep software as a service (SaaS) offering, with a zero-client footprint (i.e., web browser only) and subscription-based pricing. Contrary to ingrained beliefs that SaaS solutions are only suited for individual departments with limited functional footprints, the Plexus Online product features an impressively deep and broad range of features for industries like automotive or medical devices manufacturing.

In fact the Plexus Online solution map reveals not only a traditional ERP scope, but also SCM modules such as program management, supplier quality, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), lean replenishment and corrective actions. While Plexus Online (and any other product mentioned here for that matter) deserves a separate blog post, some of its MES capabilities worth mentioning here are: production scheduling, quality management, tooling, statistic process control (SPC), traceability, and costing (labor and material tracking).

Plexus has extensive manufacturing industry experience, since it was developed at an actual manufacturing plant, from 1989-1995. The company has been focused on manufacturing within industries like automotive, aerospace & defense (A&D), and industrial machinery since its founding. Plexus' initial on-premise offering was on Progress Software’s OpenEdge technology, but the SaaS rewrite in the early 2000s has leveraged the Microsoft .NET Framework technology.

Part III of this blog post will analyze the critical role of plant staff, and will also report on the current approaches and offerings from CDC Software and SAP. Your views, comments, opinions, etc. about any above-mentioned solution and abut the software category per se are welcome in the meantime.

We would also be interested in hearing about your experiences with these software solutions (if you are an existing user) or your general interest to evaluate these solutions as prospective customers.
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