"Today's manufacturers are under tremendous pressure to develop high-quality products quickly and cost-effectively," observes Mark Symonds, CEO of Plex Systems Inc., a provider of software solutions for manufacturing companies. "OEMs are paring their supplier lists and the flagging economy makes it a tough time to be in business at all, much less make money at it. So how can manufacturers operate profitably in an environment like this?"

One way, Symonds suggests, would be to adopt a manufacturing execution system (MES), which makes shop floor information available to the rest of a company, allowing them to respond more rapidly to changing requirements and conditions. Symonds offers the following five potential benefits of an MES:

  1. Reduce scrap and waste. Since setups tends to be quick and consistent, problems can be identified immediately and the process can be stopped, limiting the number of bad parts and wasted material, Symonds notes.
  2. Capture costs more precisely. With an MES, labor, scrap, downtime, tooling and other costs can be captured directly from the shop floor as they occur, Symonds says. This makes the information more reliable and actionable for pricing new work and renegotiating unprofitable business.
  3. Increase uptime. "It's really hard to make money if the machines aren't running," he says. "A modern MES will include integrated scheduling and maintenance. A job or part won't be scheduled unless the source inventory is available, the machine is properly maintained and the right tooling is ready."
  4. Reduce inventory. Get rid of just-in-case inventory, Symonds suggests, because inventory records are constantly updated with new production, scrap, non-conforming material, etc. With an MES, he says, purchasing, shipping and scheduling people will know what material is really on hand.
  5. Reduce "fire drill" costs. One manufacturer was able to idle three forklifts due to improved scheduling and visibility, he notes. "They no longer had to scramble to find material to keep a line running or to meet an emergency shipment. Their customer service and employee satisfaction also jumped dramatically."

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