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MES and efficient operation at the workplace

At the moment, we are getting a lot of questions on this theme. How can the MES system improve the efficiency at the workstation under normal production conditions? How can the system support the employee during disruptions?

The ongoing pandemic has accelerated developments, with new information and guidance being brought to employees in the workplace. Risks related to personnel availability and dependency on certain workers are mitigated. When correct situational information is available at the workplace it reduces work experience related dependency. High performance at a workplace independent of a person. The target is to boost work efficiency providing correct and timely data of changing conditions and possibly even avoid problems with help of early received relevant information. With increased awareness of the situation, the employee is expected to make smart decisions more independently. Especially in shift work, the supervisor or the engineering team which normally works at office time is not always available to solve problems. Decision-making shifts closer to the workstation on the factory floor and a quicker response is achieved. The information provided must be in a format that allows the problem to be identified and responded to appropriately. The requirement for a clear and user-friendly interface is understandable.

There exists a wide variety of production facilities, production methods and production control philosophies. Below are some general observations and needs that can be addressed by modern production IT systems. The description below focuses in particular on the use of the MES level to support production control.

The MES level combines the monitoring and management of the business process and measured production process data. It is therefore a key tool for solving the practical challenges of manufacturing control.

There are many MES-level solutions that can be used to remove the boundaries between production and maintenance. For example, production workers can easily make various observations and entries about production, equipment and the quality produced in the system, which are also used for maintenance purposes. To this end, the user interface must be simple in order to ensure that the desired entries are actually made and not just perceived as an extra inconvenience.

Consequently, those planning to acquire systems and those planning to develop them have now higher expectations. In requests for proposals, supporting user efficiency at the workplace is often mentioned as one of the key objectives. Further positive effects are caused by empowering the employees and, for example, increasing motivation at work

THE ROLE OF MES IN PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT

Assume the following fairly normal situation:

  • 1. Orders are received in the ERP system. The ERP also takes into account sales forecasts and pre-orders. In this blog, we will largely ignore rough and fine planning. However, let us note that they have their roles and the MES system generates and reports production performance data. Based on that data, it is then possible to take necessary corrective measures in fine planning.

  • 2. According to various criteria, sales orders are turned into production orders, which are scheduled on the production lines so that efficiency is maximized. The production planning is done in specialized APS system, sometimes in ERP or manually in Excel. The planning phase produces work queues for factory workstations. The work queues describe for operators concretely what needs to be done and when.

  • 3. The MES system takes over the work queues handling. All organization levels monitor the progress of production using MES system based on automatic and manual entries done into the system.

    • Depending on the process, the MES automatically calculates setpoints for the process equipment or machines, or they are entered by the user. Through the MES, the setpoints are provided to the process via an interface to an automation system (DCS or PLCs) that controls the process equipment.

    • The user monitors the progress of production orders and the process from MES display screens. Usually, the aim is to design the operation so that the user only intervenes in anomalies and makes the necessary entries concerning them. In the normal case, the user mainly acknowledges the production batches of production orders as completed. This, too, can be automated.

    • Quality data is also collected and monitored at the MES workstations and allocated to production batches. At the same time, data needed for traceability requirements is collected. Efficient operation requires that the MES guides or forces the operator to make appropriate quality registrations.

    • The MES helps the user take the right steps by displaying product information, an image or more detailed order-specific instructions for the manufacturing of the product. Visuality enhances operations in particular when the production order related product information varies often or from production order to another.

    • The MES system can be used to change the order of items in work queues, if it helps to minimize a temporary disruption. This is often the responsibility of the supervisor. What is important is that it is possible and easy to rearrange work queues at the workstation if necessary for efficient operation

  • 4. The MES forwards execution data to APS and ERP systems and sends or offers production data to reporting systems or carries out the production reporting itself.

The MES handles the processes of controlling the production and managing the progress of production and enriching it with quality information. The MES system reports these via interfaces to the APS and ERP systems.

While MES guides operations on individual workstations, it manages and monitors the operation of all production lines. By key information on the whole, a single workstation operator is empowered to make better decisions. For example, the problems at one point of the production line can be taken into account in the preceding or subsequent workstations, or taking into account the capacity problems of the parallel line, packaging, raw material warehouse, etc.

THE IMPACT OF IT DEVELOPMENT

The whole of society is used to using web services. Demand for easy-to-use and accessible user interfaces is constantly increasing. Consumer applications on mobile devices are also raising the bar and expectations for industrial user interfaces as well.

The degree of automation in production control is constantly increasing (you could call it digitalization) with the aim of achieving at least the following objectives:

  • Production flexibility. Short production runs, new products in rapid cycles, product customization, variation.

  • Rapid response to anomalies. Disruptions in production, last-minute order changes.

  • Right first time. Emphasized in customized production.

  • High quality and low wastage.

  • Minimize the time spent on configuration changes, record entries, classification and similar tasks at the user's workstation.

  • Collect all relevant information in the background as automatically as possible.

There are two essential conditions for the objectives listed above to be met

  • The MES system communicates with ERP, APS and automation systems via standard interfaces.

  • The MES user interface is visual and it is easy to configure so that it handles all relevant information needed in that particular workstation.

On the significance of interfaces

The standard interfaces mentioned above will provide users with the up-to-date information they need to operate efficiently.

Standard interfaces enable efficient change management when new products, product versions and production lines that require changes to all systems.

The use of standard interfaces ensures that customers and their development needs do not fall victim to the cost barrier of implementing and maintaining connectivity between systems. Implementation and maintenance of subscriptions is then possible at a sensible cost. Using the standard interfaces ensures that competence is available regardless of the supplier.

This subject deserves a blog article of its own

EFFICIENT OPERATION AT THE WORKSTATION

The objectives and arrangements described above aim to enable the user at the MES workstation to make decisions with a high degree of autonomy, supported by the system. In a normal situation, the user mainly monitors the selected key figures and the normal operation of the machines.

Managing exceptions

The system indicates visually by colors, marks or sounds a deviation from normal situation. The MES indicates whether it is an additional information relating to processing a given production order, eg packaging instructions or if it is a real problem with production. For example, a user may be unable to influence availability or quality of materials or if the machine is functioning, but he/she can make a notification and change the order of the work queue so that the problem has as minimal as possible effect on the entire work queue.

Product changeovers

The product changeovers require the user to make various settings for the production machines directly or they are entered from the MES screen. The MES makes the necessary product data available for this according to the production order information. The retrieval of relevant product images or other documents automatically from a document management or ERP system to the MES screen based on production order information has rapidly become mainstream.

If the user needs to perform parts collection or the like, the MES advises where, what and how much to retrieve.

The aim is to minimize keystrokes at the keyboard through data collected using barcodes, QR codes and RFID tags. This speeds up operations, reduces errors and increases job satisfaction.

Collecting quality data

The MES allocates the user's visual observations and measured quality data to production orders. Modern MES systems support the achievement of the desired quality through the management and monitoring of product-specific quality plans. For the user, this usually means simply reporting anomalies by selecting pre-defined classification data from drop-down menus or entering other required information. To ensure quality control, the user is supported or forced to provide quality information in a consistent way through quality plans and the like.

The system takes care of the underlying data storage and allocation, e.g. for traceability.

Monitoring work time efficiency

Typically, you also want to keep track of who or which shift was doing what, on which machine and when. This is normally done in the background by monitoring users logging in and out of workstations. This information is used to monitor shift efficiency, to identify training needs and to improve operational efficiency by identifying best practices and sharing them. Furthermore, this data can be utilized performance bonus schemes.

SUMMARY

The MES is at the heart of production management and in a key position to boost production efficiency. The foundation needs to be solid, ie the MES must be able to provide correct information without delays to the user now and in the future as products and customer requirements evolve. To manage this, standard interfaces are needed between the systems.

When the MES system provides a clear picture of what needs to be done now and next, the user can plan and execute own activities to be as efficient as possible. For example, if a user is working on several machines at the same time, they can try to schedule their work so that the machines are idle as little as possible. This has also been found to increase motivation.

The task of the MES system is to enhance the management of the entire factory’s production. Thus, the idea of visual control of a single workstation should also be raised to the factory level. Visualization of factory and production line level efficiency performance indicators in for all visible monitors supports the efficient operation towards the common target of the factory.

 

Read about Syncron Tech's MES system here.


The author is Syncron Tech's sales & marketing director.

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