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Finding the Best MES Software: Is Your MES Worker-Centric?

By: Ben Baldwin

November 23, 2021

Finding the Best MES Software: Is Your MES Worker-Centric?

Finding the best MES software for your operation can be a daunting task. Many MES (Manufacturing Execution System) applications share similarities within their purpose, capabilities, and focus. And if that doesn’t complicate things enough, an MES can also share similarities with other programs such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA).

So how do you find the best MES software for your operation? Answering this question may be simpler than you think.

The answer lies with the people on your shop floor.

From discrete manufacturing to process manufacturing, people are integrated into every factor of production. That is why having an MES that focuses on the worker to some extent will gather the widest pool of data and make the greatest contribution to operational synchronization.

With the incredible capabilities of Industry 4.0 behind it, the Worker-Centric MES is surpassing the boundaries of the traditional Manufacturing Execution System.

Going Beyond the Traditional MES

best MES software

MES software is most commonly defined as a system that tracks and records the transformation of raw materials into complete products. But this definition can be a bit misleading as modern MES software does a lot more than this.

A better assessment would be to break down modern MES software into its function, scope, and purpose.

  • Function: The key function of MES software is to connect, monitor, and coordinate the manufacturing environment.
  • Scope: MES software will operate across multiple systems, machines, and people on an operational level.
  • Purpose: The main purpose of an MES is to harmonize the whole manufacturing operation and improve production efficiency, output, and reliability.

As the system is tracking the transformation of raw materials into complete products, it is also coordinating with other systems and people, making them much more efficient and reliable.

One of the key strengths of an MES is its ability to provide manufacturers with real-time knowledge about their operations. If you are looking for a system that can provide a complete breakdown of your facility’s performance and behavior, you’ll need your MES to communicate a wide variety of operational factors. This includes elements like:

  • Resource and inventory management
  • Quality control
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Labor/workforce management
  • Process learning and standardization

The best MES software is there for every step of your operation and gathers information from every factor of production and every worker involved. This enables you to obtain the most accurate information, gain a complete perspective, and make smart decisions for the future.

Finding the Best MES Software: The 3 Types of MES

What differentiates one MES from another is based on how it derives visibility from the elements in a given operation. You can often see the difference between two MES software by asking yourself two questions:

  1. How does the MES gain its information?
  2. What data points does it use to track the transformation of raw materials?

Identifying every Manufacturing Execution System with these two questions will help you decide if it is the best MES software for your organization. It’s all about finding the right source of data that is widespread, reliable, and tailored to your needs.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the following three categories of modern MES software and evaluate what factors of operation they target to gain knowledge and track material transformation.

ERP-Centric MES

Much like a traditional ERP, this type of MES is mainly focused on the materials, resources, and financial impact of manufacturing the end product. It will adequately track the transformation of raw materials into a finished product while relaying valuable information like inventory, material usage, and cost analysis to your other systems. To put it simply, the ERP-Centric MES will look at production in a linear direction -- from start to finish. But manufacturing is not always so simple. Though this MES will thoroughly tell you what it took to manufacture the end product, it lacks some visibility on how the operation took place. Manufacturing is not always linear and operations can rarely be summed up into an A to B formula.

In this way, manufacturers gain knowledge about how a process began and how it ended while missing most of the intermediary steps. This makes it harder to recognize issues or inefficiencies within a process or operation.

Machine-Centric MES

The machine-centric MES focuses specifically on the machine and equipment aspects of production. This includes factors like maintenance schedules, set-up, equipment temperature, and production speeds. This captured data enables manufacturers to monitor machine health and calibration in real-time. With equipment connected by IoT, a Machine-Centric MES helps machine maintenance to be predictive as opposed to preventative.

The issue with this MES is that it lacks the operational focus that most modern manufacturers need. Your operation is comprised of more than the actions of machines within a production line. Even within mass production of one specific item, there are still many processes that do not involve a machine.

However, your teams of people are an amazing source of process data and knowledge. From discrete to process manufacturing and from high volume environments to mixed-model environments, the best MES software needs to be able to work with more than machines and mass production models.

Worker-Centric MES

best MES software

The Worker-Centric MES derives visibility from the workers and the processes they are connected to. This system works well because your workers are at the core of every process and procedure. They transform the materials, operate the machines, and perform the procedures that create value.

The Worker-Centric MES lays down the foundation for a multi-directional and advanced data flow between workers, machines, and other systems like an ERP or CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) with its people-oriented approach. With an MES that engages every employee, you gain the unique insight, knowledge, and perspective of every person on the shop floor. This amounts to a massive amount of quality data specific to your operation and your workforce.

The Worker-Centric MES synchronizes the processing and tracking power of a computer system with the knowledge and experience of your workers.

Additionally, the Worker-Centric MES enables the greatest level of process control. Our work instruction software guides operators through their complex steps and gives them the right information at the right time. This enables the gathered knowledge to be targeted and applied to a specific purpose while gathering more information.

So while a process is being performed, users are maintaining best practices while the system automatically gathers data to make the process more efficient and productive.

Why is a Worker-Centric MES so Useful for Modern Manufacturing?

Within manufacturing, every action taken by a machine, system, or person generates useful and unique data. From mixing components, creating packaging, connecting wires, and tightening bolts with smart tools, every step of production and action taken is an opportunity to gain more knowledge about the current condition of your operation.

Every single action taken on a shop floor is connected to a worker.

Unlike other MES types, the Worker-Centric MES engages your employees and collects data from the people and the valuable actions they take. Acquiring data in this way gives a huge boost to the availability of information. With this increased flow of data comes an enhanced insight into the performance of the shop floor. With a greater source of knowledge, manufacturers can optimize their production and experience the following benefits:

  • Reduction in set-up time: Determine the optimal set-up procedures by gathering valuable information from your processes and people. Verify efficient practices by viewing performance in real-time.
  • Increased process standardization: With an MES that interacts with workers and guides them through their daily tasks, manufacturers gather data while maintaining standardization and adhering to best practices.
  • Increased machine uptime: If the right procedures are being followed and the right data is being collected, then maintaining machine health is that much easier. This results in your machines running better and longer without experiencing downtime.
  • Waste reduction: The more knowledge you have, the more each production silo can work together to waste less time and materials.
  • Enhanced inventory management: As materials are used and work is completed through the worker-centric MES, all inventory data is communicated to your other systems like ERPs. This enables your inventory to be updated in real-time as materials are used and products are completed.
  • Increased employee engagement: Since workers are the core of your operation, finding ways to engage your workers is one of the most effective tools to boost productivity. An engaged workforce is an empowered workforce
  • More effective continuous improvement: Greater visibility and increased employee engagement across your operations help you make the right decisions at the right time. This opens up the pathway for continuous improvement to become progressively more intuitive and effective.

Applying Knowledge with the Best MES Software

Applying knowledge

Here at VKS, we believe that knowledge is power. But it is also true that knowledge yields no power without proper application. That is to say, knowledge is only useful when applied to a specific purpose.

The Worker-Centric MES not only provides a firm basis for gathering data but also creates the avenues to apply this knowledge and continuously improve. So now that we’ve determined the best MES software for your operation, let’s briefly explore how applying this knowledge leads to continuous improvement and subsequently more knowledge.

With an MES system built into work instruction software, continuous improvement initiatives such as the DMAIC approach and Lean Manufacturing are enacted directly into the system that is already interacting with people and coordinating the functions of your operation.

As your MES gathers data from the current conditions of the operation, manufacturing initiatives are also flowing in the opposite direction back to the person on the shop floor through comprehensive work instructions. While the system is gathering data, your MES is also interacting and guiding the worker. This creates a dynamic process evolution where your best practices are responsive to your needs and always improving.

People Are at the Core of Every Operation

people manufacturing with the best MES software

VKS is a firm believer in focusing on the people that create value. Since workers are the core of any company, a Worker-Centric MES like VKS Enterprise gives modern manufacturers a superhighway of both widespread visibility into their operations and process management.

By optimizing manufacturing systems to primarily gather data and distribute knowledge with the people that create value, a full operational perspective and control are advantages that must be seized.

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