For at least two decades, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) have been the workhorse of the factory floor, coordinating activities in all parts of production from tracking inventory to managing quality control. It may have started small—managing one production line—then perhaps one plant. Over the years, we’ve seen MES evolve into a mature, sophisticated system that can manage multiple worldwide facilities. The value of its data collection and visibility into manufacturing processes has earned MES the title of a strategic global system.
With such importance to manufacturing operations, shouldn’t MES have a place next to the enterprise systems too? Yes, it should. And it finally does, it seems.
The 3rd annual survey on the business value of MES applications by Gartner and the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) reveals a new mindset. The majority of respondents (57%) indicated that their MES investments are enterprise-focused as opposed to the single site/one-off purchases of the past.
Investing in the future for long-term value was the key concept to emerge from the 2014 survey of 112 MES practitioners, along with these three themes:
- Acceptance of MES as part of an organization’s overall manufacturing strategy
- A move toward cloud-based MES deployments
- The creation of a Center of Excellence (COE) to connect MES investments with desired business outcomes
Perhaps some of these points—a move toward the cloud, specifically—seem improbable. The security of the factory is the main concern. It’s a valid concern. But the technology to protect mission critical data is available. It just has to be factored into the strategic plan. Meanwhile, plant managers are reaching a greater comfort level with the cloud.
While 52% of respondents of the Gartner / MESA survey say today their MES deployments are on-premise at each site, in two years that number is expected to drop to 28%. By then, 21% of companies will deploy MES in a hybrid cloud set up, in which the applications are hosted in the cloud externally, but the database remains on-premise for reporting, KPIs, and continuous process improvement initiatives.
MES in the Public Cloud?
Another 4% of respondents are planning to move MES to the public cloud by 2017.
Did you just gasp in horror? Moving MES to the public cloud isn’t that scary. The cloud is a mysterious and highly misunderstood technology platform that is actually quite reliable and safe. Let’s face it; we’ve all been taking advantage of shared storage for quite some time in the form of MSN Hotmail or Yahoo mail. In addition, companies like Google and Apple have built their business in the cloud. And, there are ways to keep your space in the cloud private while the connection back to the enterprise remains highly secure.
Going forward, utilizing cloud technology just makes good business sense according to Gartner, from this latest report:
“The rapid deployment and quick value creation that improve flexibility and reduce costs make virtualization and remote hosting major motivational factors for cloud computing. Furthermore, migration toward the cloud could help alleviate some of the reported talent and skills obstacles to MES—most notably, internal resourcing and personnel issues and the availability/quality of implementation resources (both internal and external).”
Center of Excellence (COE) Plays a Pivotal Role
Of course, once an application starts to span the organization, there needs to be best practices and policies in place, which is why 39% of the survey respondents are moving to an MES COE that will align with the IT COE (which 50% of respondents say they will have in the near future) to focus on finding, developing, and sustaining standard processes. MES Centers of Excellence can drive life cycle governance for MES programs and accelerate benefits realization, Gartner says.
To that end, the long-term value manufacturers seek from an enterprise MES include: Improving quality, increasing visibility across the network, enforcing best practices; reducing cycle times/lead times, increasing asset utilization, and improving employee decision-making, cash flow, and regulatory compliance, among other things—like modernizing the IT infrastructure.
The bottom line is, MES is shedding the image of a stereotypical closed factory floor system and taking its rightful place alongside ERP and other enterprise systems. From here on in, the sky’s the limit for MES, which is breaking out of the factory four walls and becoming a strategic business tool.
If you liked this article, here are others that might be of interest:
- The Rise of Manufacturing Enterprise Systems
- Five Indicators When it Might be Time for a new Manufacturing Execution System
- Making Sense of Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence