Current MES systems only represent a preliminary stage of development toward the goal of intelligently controlled production processes, according to Paul Hurst of P4A, the UK distributor for FELTEN Production Intelligence software. “MES systems need to adopt a holistic and process-oriented approach,” says Hurst. “This represents an evolutionary advancement, one which releases production management from its isolated self-image and associated performance limitations, enabling significantly higher levels of production efficiency to be achieved.”
For reasons of economic security, Hurst’s recommendation for companies that are still without MES systems, or solutions for machine and production data collection (MDC/PDC), is to forego the use of classic systems. “Because the future clearly belongs to PI-oriented solutions, a focus on outdated MES philosophies carries with it a high investment risk,” he says.
So what exactly are the problems with current generations of MES systems; and how can these be overcome with a PI solutions approach? The problems fall into seven key categories, according to Paul Hurst, they are: The role of humans is neglected; Too isolated a perspective; A technical and system focus that is too strong; Rigid instead of flexible process guidance; Extensively isolated planning and control processes; Sufficient KPI control is not possible; No intrinsic administrative optimisation methods are provided.
“Many automation strategies fail to consider that humans, as the keepers of intelligence, know-how; or take account of the fact that experience with processes, can never be completely replaced by technology,” asserts Hurst. “Instead of achieving a balance between technology and humans, MES systems have caused the pendulum to swing predominantly towards automation and let the human factor, with its potential to increase productivity, fade into the background.
In the field, production management is typically looked at in isolation, without consideration of the environment and its specific conditions. MES systems have actually reinforced this focus, because even with the requirement of integration into ERP systems, these systems were not designed from a holistic perspective.
The actual potential for productivity increases lie within the processes, but current MES strategies are dominated by a technical focus. And because a logical process focus is missing, current optimisation possibilities can only be insufficiently employed.
An additional problem with the conventional MES approach is the drive to maximise process automation. Due to changes in the markets, however, companies are being forced to achieve higher flexibility in their processes. Thus, there is a need for solutions that ensure a needs-based coexistence between automated and manual processes. Insufficient control flexibility causes excessively static conditions, particularly if there is significant planning complexity, with a high number of products and production steps while, at the same time, short-term disposition decisions must be made.
If we stop for a moment and consider, then the reality is that production and business activities in a company are mostly in separate worlds, even though they may depend on each other. Due to their lack of process focus, conventional MES systems are not able to support the need for integration of business and production processes with continuous planning and control data. In addition, MES-based production management only considers optimisation options after-the-fact. Moreover, the KPI approaches used have insufficient evaluation depth. However, it is necessary to have real-time monitoring using intelligent analysis and control tools, so that productivity obstacles can be identified quicker, more precisely, and for more-targeted improvement measures.”
The final problem with current MES systems as identified by Felton is that, in their basic premise, conventional MES systems do not seek to improve the production management environment.
Such a limitation does not fit with the requirements of companies anymore, because productivity can be greatly influenced by operating parameters. Therefore, a supplemental holistic management concept, such as Total Productive Management (TPM), must be included in the production management strategy.
Holistic approach differentiates Production Intelligence
The holistic approach of FELTEN’s Production Intelligence solution differentiates itself significantly from conventional MES products, by moving away from the very isolated view of the planning and control processes that these products typically offer. PI makes way for the true integration of business and production processes, which are uniformly controlled by characteristic values. By doing so, performance potentials can be increased in a more targeted and comprehensive manner. At the same time, the technological advances of the PILOT products ensure that companies can create their workflows according to individual demand and that they can change their workflows in a matter of minutes. This results in an optimum ratio between automation and flexibility for each process.
Werner Felten, CEO of FELTEN, describes the problem this way: “Despite their integration into ERP and other infrastructure systems, conventional methods for production management have always worked with a very limited focus. This is a significant limitation in exhausting the possibilities for increasing productivity.” “The processes are the real capital in production management, because they don’t just determine the relationship between quality and quantity in the output; they also determine the economic efficiency. Until now, processes were not given enough attention because of a strong technical focus. As the first product strategy for production management, the PILOT Suite, in conjunction with the PI framework, completely fulfils the holistic requirements of production intelligence and, therefore, we are a significant step ahead in the market.”
Products4Automation (P4A) is a specialist supplier of new and innovative software and hardware solutions to the UK market. Product ranges available from P4A include the latest touch-screen HMI’s and flat panel PCs, SCADA software and plug-ins, a wide range of SCADA enabled hardware, Alarm plug-in software for large automation systems, and a full range of Production Intelligence software solutions.