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by Jim Connett, on October 05, 2021

Mythbusting the MES

“Mythbusters” was a popular television show a few years ago. This science entertainment program showcased a trio of scientists (one was a stuntman) who would take a common assumption and, through the use of scientific methodologies, either prove (“confirm”) or disprove (“bust”) the assumption. They also threw in an inconclusive category called “plausible” when the evidence and the variable conditions made the test unrepeatable, but given a known set of conditions, the outcome could be more likely than not predicted. The lure of the show centered around its scientific explanation as well as the testing itself which, somehow, always involved a variety of explosion, fire, or destruction.

Don’t worry, we won’t explode a manufacturing execution system (MES) or light one on fire today! We will, however, explore some of the common ideas, myths, and assumptions about MES applications and attempt to offer clarity and understanding based on SYSTEMA’s 25+ years of experience in manufacturing automation and exposure to a wide array of commercial and home-grown MES applications.

The following assertions are based on the assumption that your company and manufacturing site does not use an MES. Rather, tracking functions are done using paper travelers, paper documentation, spreadsheets that store measurement and SPC data, and other paper-based solutions resulting in what can more generically be described as a “manual” process.

You know you need an MES, but doubts exist. So let’s unpack and explore some of the assumptions.

MYTH: MES applications are expensive

Software is not cheap. And our experience suggests you truly do get what you pay for! You potentially could find an inexpensive MES, but these cost savings are quickly consumed down the road. Inexpensive and less mature MESs put you at risk for marginal support, limited customization expansion (as your company grows), and the risk that the company could go out of business. If any of these risks become reality, you will be compelled to find staff qualified to maintain a now-legacy mission-critical MES application. If money is no object, then the MES world is your oyster. If you have a small budget for an MES, then buy as much of an MES as you can afford, and be sure to read Build or Buy Your Next MES for more insight into this important decision.

This myth is PLAUSIBLE!

MYTH: MES applications are “plug-and-play”

An MES is simply a shell of an application with the framework ready to handle your business rules and processes. These business rules, constraints, products, limits, charts, checklists, etc., all need to be configured into the system for the MES to function as it is designed. Once configured, these points of data need to be monitored, reviewed, and regularly refined as your business changes, as new products are introduced, and as new subsystems or modules are added to your MES architecture. The reality is that the complex capabilities provided by an MES system are based on configurations that are specific to your unique processes, products, equipment, user qualification requirements, and many other aspects of your business. For this reason, an MES cannot simply be plugged into a manufacturing environment and expected to operate.

This myth is BUSTED!

MYTH: Installing and integrating an MES is disruptive

Installing an MES is not necessarily difficult. Integrating the MES to tools, ERP systems, shipping systems, and connecting remote sites is where the challenges occur. While an MES can stand on its own, its true power and benefit is realized when the MES both serves and receives information from other systems (such as ERP, SPC, RMS, transport systems, etc.) Establishing communication between all of these systems and the new MES is time-consuming and error-prone. Executing the integration components is best done in partnership with a consulting company that brings experience in integration into your MES project. So, installing and integrating a new MES may not take your site down for several days, but one cannot underestimate the work needed to integrate the MES.

This myth is CONFIRMED!

MYTH: Maintaining an MES requires too many internal resources

Modern MES systems today often come with SLAs (service level agreements) and support contracts to provide maintenance and business-driven customizations into the MES. As the MES ages, external support from the original vendor will wane (or become prohibitively expensive) and it will be important to acquire employees who can continue the customization and maintenance procedures as your manufacturing site grows and matures. But for the vast array of sites now considering an MES no, you don’t need an entire support team to run an MES, at least not initially, and maybe not ever.

This myth is BUSTED!

MYTH: An MES puts our intellectual property at risk

This is a REAL concern. As cloud computing and cloud storage become more ubiquitous and acceptable within the business community and as more MESs take advantage of cloud-based technologies, more emphasis is being placed on data security both in transit and at rest. Data encryption and secure transport protocols have matured significantly from the early years. We are now the beneficiaries of robust security models, but data security and exposure of risk can never be assumed to be resolved. Your business, employees, customers, and shareholders all have a stake in a secure data model, and your responsibility to them is to stay tenacious and alert for any possible exposure.

This myth is PLAUSIBLE!

MYTH: I don’t need an MES

We see time and again the line of demarcation separating good companies from great companies is often based on companies who use MESs and companies who don’t. In today’s data-driven, remote work world, an MES is much more a requirement and far less an upgrade option.

This myth is BUSTED!

What other assumptions are you questioning regarding an MES? Let us know in the comments below!

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