Over decades of installing MES and MOM systems in multiple industries, I’m more than familiar with the enormous effort, investment and pain involved. To list just some of the complexities, an integrator like Factora is often dealing with equipment from multiple vendors, from multiple generations, with multiple applications, and with a considerable amount of investment in training as well — for users and support.
Today, the promises of IIoT and smart manufacturing are presented with an abundance of hype. Most manufacturers are unsure what promises to trust or go with — and at the same time are wary of being left behind.
When You Have a Solid Foundation, Keep It
Essentially MES focuses on:
- Schedule execution
- Recipe and batch tracking, etc.
This short list, of course, varies considerably based on the type of industry — e.g. process, discrete, hybrid. However, in sum, the capabilities of MES represent large investments in software, processes, training, change management, and equipment.
They also offer considerable rewards. It’s not something you want to walk away from.
IIoT Isn’t MES
IIoT is not an MES or MOM system — it does not replace MES.
IIoT can, however, surround-and-extend an MES. It can deliver additional functionality as well as increasing the value delivery of existing assets. Like MES, IIoT provides advances in visualization, but it also offers new opportunities in analytics, machine learning and augmented reality.
What Do We Mean by Surround-and-Extend?
What does surround-and-extend really mean? How exactly can IIoT extend your MES package?
With IIoT capabilities, you can:
- Extend data collection, with new wireless sensors and telemetry for remote or moving assets. New sensors can be connected direct-to-IIOT, rather than going through the control systems. Similarly, in the future, we’ll see only the measurements needed for the controls/historian/MES systems connected to them; the rest will go only to IIOT.
- Extend visualization capabilities, by surrounding and extending existing systems with integrated visual screen mashups of “things” that include existing MES, applications, sensors and cloud-based data. Extended visualization blends cloud data with on-premise system data.
- Extend analytics. Often LIMS are independent from MES. IIOT brings in data from LIMS for better analytics.
- Extend the availability of the data, through cloud aggregation, to remote teams, offices, or even suppliers and customers
- Extend the value of on-site data repositories with cloud analytics
- Extend the MES system into the supply chain. Linking WMS and MES systems can offer better information to both sets of users. Deliver line material when needed. Prepare in WH for changeovers.
- Extend by merging. Often sites have multiple MES systems, or historians, or DT management systems. IIOT brings them together.
- Extend the angles of insight given to applications with AR — take a look at a machine with your smartphone, and have process data overlaid on the machine as you walk the shop floor.
- Last but not least, APM systems often don’t have access to signals like flow rates, product, etc. IIoT can be extremely valuable for APM analytics.
Why Do You Care?
Three categories of business drivers should drive IIoT decisions:
- Pain: What must I do to stay in the game?
- Continuous improvement: What should I do to stay in the game?
- Opportunity: What can I do to get ahead of the competition?
IIoT can help with the time-to-value aspect of all three by building on the existing foundations you have, rather than needing to start anew. IIoT can surround and extend the existing infrastructure to address the business drivers above.
Given massive existing investments in physical, digital, and human resources — not to mention the pitfalls of radical change projects — the too-prevalent IIoT argument of rip-and-replace should R.I.P., ASAP.
Charles A. Horth is the CEO of Factora, a company of manufacturing consultants who use software to help factories achieve their full potential by raising the visibility of key information on the shop floor so that plant management, employees and company leadership can run more efficient manufacturing systems.