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Understanding the proper way of implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) in the context of Industry 4.0 is important to gain the most benefits. By Sascha Graef, MPDV Asia

An increasing demand for a state-of-the-art Manufacturing Execution System (MES) for Industry 4.0 clearly manifests itself. The functions and properties an MES system must have are detailed in the VDI guideline 5600. But is that relevant for Industry 4.0? The Future Concept MES 4.0 casts a light on the issue.

Recommended action in order to prepare for Industry 4.0 could be: ‘Introduce an MES!’ But which one? Which properties and functions must an MES have in order to be a central information and data platform?

VDI 5600 Guideline – Relevance For Industry 4.0

Looking into relevant standards like the VDI guideline 5600 (VDI = Association of German Engineers), published in 2007,  gives an indication that apart from a wide range of functions, basic features like ‘Horizontal Integration’ and ‘Real-time Capability’ must be guaranteed. This also applies to industry 4.0. Therefore, MES systems already play an essential role in the practical implementation of Industry 4.0.

Status Quo

Current MES market reviews show that the market is quite diversified but only a few systems fulfil the requirements of the VDI 5600 guideline. Many systems have already implemented online capability but make sacrifices in their functional range and their horizontal integration. Many suppliers only partly cover the tasks and must supplement other functions with external products from partners. More and more suppliers extend their own portfolio of functions which verifies the relevance of VDI 5600. Avoiding interfaces, which is an essential requirement for horizontal integration, is normally not covered by increasing the number of functions. MES HYDRA by MDPV shows that it is possible to have horizontal integration with a full range of functions.

‘Everything Under One Roof’: Horizontal Integration

For the Future Concept MES 4.0 ‘Horizontal Integration’ is connecting all functions and data across the value chain and covering all tasks of an MES. Essential characteristics of the horizontal integration are avoiding interfaces and the modular structure of an overall system.

It goes to show that in the workplace order postings (BDE) as well as quality inspections (CAQ) are carried out in the same shop floor collection terminal. Ideally, both functions are represented in comparable dialogues. This makes it easier for the operator as the modules operates on the same basis. The operator saves time as there is no need to go to a specific inspection station.

It also makes it simpler for the administration of an MES system if the modules come from one software house. This is especially illustrated when the software is maintained and is considerably important concerning the life cycle management. Typically, using complex software systems not only small updates and error corrections routinely occur but also release and version changes. Thereby core software changes are also carried out. A horizontally integrated system can be used after a version change instantly as the modules and the functions are linked. This means the customer has time and cost savings.

Horizontal integration is a requirement for the modular structure of an MES solution. That eases the successive introduction of the system which is significant for medium-sized companies. Also, users can decide for themselves which functions are sufficient for their application case and can align their selection to their requirements. The software can be extended at any time. No matter which manufacturing processes are presented by the MES in any culture or country, a modular, horizontally integrated MES solution fulfils all the requirements.

Despite that fact, several supplier campaigns with ‘Industry 4.0 compliant’ products. If it is envisaged to use the system in the long term, horizontal integration is essential.

Further Exploit Data: Correlating Evaluations

Especially relevant for Industry 4.0 is that systems, incorporating integrative management, can process and evaluate data across all areas. The more complex manufacturing environments are the more significant correlating evaluations are in order to observe and operate processes efficiently. Only context-relating correlation of data can supply valuable information and therefore knowledge. Only by collecting comprehensive knowledge, processes can be optimised. This, in turn, is an important requirement to stay competitive – especially considering Industry 4.0.

Here are some examples from real life:

Keeping On Top Of Energy Costs

In times of ever increasing energy costs and complex cost relief models, manufacturing companies need tools to collect and evaluate energy consumption. An integrated MES can correlate energy data with other information from production, ie: processed orders or machine status. Instantly energy intensive production steps or energy-guzzling machine are detected. Optimised planning like avoiding peak times is one of the principal activities. In order to achieve the requested integrated solution relevant data from all areas must be linked.

Quality Made By MES

The product quality is also significant in the era of Industry 4.0. By using an integrated MES inspection plans can be created simultaneously to production orders. When logging an order at the shop floor terminal the equivalent inspection order is instantly available. After a defined interval (based on time or cycle) due inspections are automatically identified and displayed on the shop floor terminal. Automatically collected quantities and the machine status can be evaluated. To further increase automation of quality inspection, collected process data can be used (ie: temperature, pressure, flow velocity…) which are now available if machines are connected. Therefore, quality levels improve.

Preventive Maintenance

An MES solution manages all production resources in one system containing apart from machinery also tools and other production aids. A common database can plan and evaluate all resources across all sectors. Planning an order in the shop floor scheduling, it is straight away apparent which tools are available or if the tool needs maintenance during utilisation period. The central collection of cycles and utilisation times enables preventative and needs-orientated maintenance. Therefore, utilisation of tools increases and idle times are reduced.

From Planning To Controlling

Systems, organised in a decentralised manner like required for Industry 4.0, require standards and to a certain extent planning or controlling. Direct connection to the shop floor enables to switch from true planning to a precisely accurate production control. Unforeseen events are detected instantly and the responsible members of staff can react in real time. If a machine breaks down, the graphical planning module in the MES system checks if there are alternatives available and how it affects the orders overall. The fully integrated MES solution can, apart from planning availability of tools and machines, also make allowances for resources like personnel, material stocks and energy consumption. Transparency achieved with the system safeguards the ability to react in production.

Prospects: The Future Is Here

The future vision, illustrated by Industry 4.0, seems to be more tangible with the realisation of the Future Concept MES 4.0. Growing networks which are presented by the horizontal integration of the MES environment, central data retention and the correctness of data are increasingly in the focus of production IT. Technical innovations ensure that obstacles are not insurmountable and successively disappear. Technical progress is unstoppable and therefore, the number of self-regulating systems at work is rising. An unrestricted access to relevant data is more important than ever. This goes to show that a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is not only suitable to support Industry 4.0 but a necessary requirement. It is also necessary for an MES to comply with the VDI 5600 guideline – completely. Remember not every system offered on the market is worthy being called an MES.

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