December 27, 2023
The requirement to future-proof operations with automation and smart manufacturing is driving interest in manufacturing execution systems (MES). Organizations explore an MES when they are changing their ERP, looking to increase their asset utilization versus investing in a new production line, or their current solution cannot meet the company’s demands. However, while they agree that they need to future proof their operations with an MES and understand the many benefits of an MES, few know how to choose the right MES for their needs. To ensure that your organization chooses the right MES, there are key factors to consider.
Key Manufacturing Execution System (MES) evaluation factors
1. Primary factors to consider for your MES selection
An essential part of the selection process is to identify what exactly the MES will do. To this purpose, a good starting point is to use a model of plant operations, such as the ISA95 model.
- First, determine the current state, look at your application landscape, including your ERP. Consider if some of your current requirements could be better handled in the MES for more real-time visibility or to improve operators’ efficiency.
- Next, identify gaps, then define information you would want to manage in the MES and the data you will need to collect.
- Beyond immediate requirements, thinking ahead, consider which other shop floor activities could benefit from an MES extension to become paperless and offer real-time visibility.
To select vendors, make sure their solution can address your current needs as standard, i.e., without needing development. Find out if their solution offers potential for future desired extensions and how much of this is available out-of-the-box or through straightforward configuration.
2. Ensure MES capabilities align with your industry requirements
Each industry has its specific requirements. In discrete industries, some common requirements may include management of product variations, traceability of parts used and built, and complex assembly operations. In process industries, such as food processing, common requirements may include use of raw materials and ingredients based on use by dates, traceability, temperatures control, metal detection, packaging operations.
Shortlist vendors with a product that offers the right capabilities for your processes as standard and who can demonstrate experience implementing solutions in your industry. The MES solution should also support any industry standards you need to comply with, for example, ISO9001, IATF 16949, and FDA 21 CFR Part11.
3. Architecture and MES solution integration with your existing systems
MES is the middle layer between ERP and production equipment. Even if your organization is not going for the full “top floor to shop floor integration” at the start, make “connectivity” and ease of integration with your environment a priority, since full integration will deliver the highest value. Consider which of your lines, machines, metrology equipment and key applications such ERP or CMMS you will need to receive from / send data. Find out how easy it will be to build connections and how scalable the MES solution is; will it manage your volume of data and processes, especially as it grows over time?
For manufacturers with multiple production plants, two important questions will be on the standardization of processes across plants, and of the roll-out of the solution. Not all plants are the same, even when they produce identical products, processes can differ, so do the workforce and digital maturity. Consider how the MES solutions will address your needs for master data standardization as well as plant variations. Will roll-out be easy? How much disruption to your operations will it come with?
Another consideration is where the MES will be hosted. Are your operations 24/7? How critical is an MES to your process? Will you need the MES on-premise, or can it be in the cloud?
4. Evaluate the Manufacturing Execution System configurability and usability
From a day-to-day management perspective, it is important to consider an MES that is easy to maintain and adapt to production requirements. Will it be easy to perform basic system configurations such as adding new lines, new machines, or build reporting? It is best to ensure the solution provides configuration tools which can easily be leveraged by your teams without incurring any extra cost.
Equally important is the usability of the solution on the shop floor. Usability will ensure adoption, as it is key to the success of an MES project. For that reason, we recommend making usability part of your selection criteria.
Ask key questions like: How will it support operators’ activities? Will it give them more autonomy as well as guide them through the process to error-proof operations? Does the application offer a seamless experience across all functionalities? Is the application built for the shop floor? Is it compatible with touch screens? Are screens easily configurable to meet the specific needs of your operations?
5. Assess vendors implementation and support offering
Once you have shortlisted the possible MES solutions, spend time to understand how the vendors will plan to deliver the solution. Are they implementing the solution themselves or through third parties? What is their partner ecosystem? Will there be a single point of contact? What is their delivery methodology? Consider your own available internal capabilities and resources, and be realistic about how much additional support you may need from the vendor or their partners in the design and implementation phase. Considering the urgency of your need for the solution and the ROI (Return on Investment) expected, how quickly are they able to make the first line or plant go live? How fast could they roll out to more lines or plants? After go-live, who will deliver the support? Is multilingual support available?
While this is an extensive list, it is critical to find out how it will be implemented so you can realize the benefits as quickly as possible.
6. Vendor’s product strategy and emerging technologies
MES is a long-term investment which will enhance your automation and robotics investment. The large pull of data collected in an MES can enable the use of data in AI / ML, for example to implement predictive maintenance, optimize scheduling or reduce energy consumption.
Understand what the vendor’s vision is for their product. What is their investment plan in developing the product further? Does the MES functionality in combination with the vendor’s application eco-system provide you with a clear route to smart manufacturing and IIOT adoption?
7. Check MES system users’ feedback
Before making your final choice, consult reputable review websites like Gartner Peer Insights, to have a general feel for users’ views and seek customer references in your industry. If possible, arrange for a factory tour, you will not only see the solution in action, but users will also provide valuable insights on their implementation experience.
Select the best MES system today and for the future
To conclude, MES is a strategic investment. Selecting an MES system is in fact an essential step in your digital transformation and an MES can deliver many benefits in performance, quality, efficiency, and waste reduction. Ensuring you pick the right MES, consult advisory services to understand the market, be systematic in your approach to the above 7 dimensions to establish a pertinent vendors’ shortlist, and use tools such as balanced score cards to help you align vendors with the areas that carry the more weights in your final decision.