While IIoT and Industry 4.0 are hot topics, Critical Manufacturing’s top 3 white paper downloads show them as # 2 and # 3 respectively. The most relevant topic for our readers was … MES replacement!

Surprised? It might seem like a parallel issue and even a reheated subject. No question, the essential MES replacement techniques have been around for a few years.

So why the great interest? Because MES is both the most important prerequisite and the greatest inhibitor for the implementation of an Industry 4.0 digital transformation program in manufacturing.


Let’s start with “MES is a must”

Cap Gemini’s “Smart Factories @ Scale” survey showed a set of very important points when it comes to the success of the Industry 4.0 initiatives:

  1. MES is the #1 technology in terms of being widely implemented and having high perceived potential benefits
  2. Investments in Industry 4.0 have been incredibly high; more than two-thirds having on going initiatives
  3. Only 14% call their initiatives a success and 68% are struggling or say it is too early to comment
  4. 62% have no MES/ SCADA

(More information here: https://blog.criticalmanufacturing.avitamina.pt/10-numbers-on-smart-manufacturing/)

This basically confirms what we know of Industry 4.0: it requires a well-defined and strategic approach to digital transformation. For those lacking it, there’s no possible success.

But more than that, it shows the importance of MES as the backbone of an Industry 4.0 strategy. It is the holistic application and platform that maps the main processes – both physical and business processes. -a It is also the system that all other technologies can plug into, like IIoT, mobile apps, augmented reality, data analytics, digital twin, etc.

Without such a backbone, there’s no consistent master data, there’s no orchestration and there’s no additional context across solutions. In this scenario, they become nothing other than dispersed solutions, potentially fixing specific problems, but not contributing to the main vision of an integrated smart factory.

(This is actually the topic of our #2 and #3 most downloaded white-papers of 2019 – links: here and here)

And so, why “MES inhibits Industry 4.0”?

MES systems have played a very important role in the organization of the shop-floor and its processes, and consequently in the capacity of manufacturing companies to improve their productivity and the quality of their products and processes.

The problem is that many of these systems were put in place 10, 20 or sometimes even more years ago. They can no longer cope with the challenges posed by the Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing methodologies and vision. In fact, the focus Industry 4.0 demands on flexibly building customized products creates a variety of pressure points to manufacturers. The common denominator is the speed and frequency of the change cycles.

An MES must properly model the manufacturing processes, then enforce and control them, so that data can be analyzed. This is the basis for designing improvements. These then lead to a new changed model in the MES.

This is not necessarily new. What is new is that in Industry 4.0, this cycle needs to happen at unprecedented speed. It happens so fast that the model must be incredibly easy to change, by manufacturing engineers, not IT staff. New levels of automation must feed and control the model. The data for analysis and improvements must be available to data scientists and machine learning algorithms unfiltered and quickly. Then improvement decisions need to be implemented automatically.

The new objective is, then, for manufacturers to become agile learning organizations, making better and faster decisions to continually adapt themselves. And, in a nutshell, a legacy MES will not be fast, flexible or capable enough in an Industry 4.0 environment.

And it is extraordinarily interesting that so many people have already realized this and put this topic at the top of their reading lists. This is a subject that, due to its criticality, concerns manufacturers a lot. If you have not, look no further. This paper explains the main aspects to consider to make an MES replacement successful.