Throughout history, humans have, by their very nature, sought to improve on existing processes. The desire to do things more efficiently, to ascend to a higher level, and to invent and improve is never-ending and an integral part of who we are and the society we live in.

Since the start of the industrial age at the end of the 18th century to the 1970’s, the investments in manufacturing plants and industry sought to improve the manufacturing resources, that is, man and machine.

In that period, millions of machines have been built, millions of patents registered, and millions of manufacturing plants built throughout the world. .

With the advent of the technological age and the introduction of computers into our lives, it was soon realized that computer technology could be integrated with mechanical engineering to manufacture more, manufacture faster, more efficiently and with greater quality than ever before.

First to arrive on the scene was the programmable controller (PLC), which enabled deployment of complex logic inside machines and in manufacturing processes. In actuality, programmable control constituted a natural extension of mechanical engineering. The “intelligence” that could not be implemented in the machine itself, or that could be implemented in it, but which was too complicated or too expensive to make it worthwhile, was integrated in the control, which, in addition to its core function, provided the flexibility for executing changes and for adding extensions.

Some years later, computerized control systems (HMI/ SCADA) were introduced that enabled more efficient management of resources, real time manipulation and control, and historical information gathering as a basis for understanding points of failure and for finding ways of improving manufacturing.

At the same time, and unrelated to manufacturing, many software packages were developed for organizations and plants that facilitated vertical handling of problems prevailing in industrial enterprises, such as: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), Decision Support Systems (DSS) and the most ubiquitous of all, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

The modern manufacturing plant

Let’s start at the end. The vast majority of manufacturing plants in Israel have solid automation and control foundations, to some degree or another. Plants operating manually, without any controls in place, are few and far between. This is due to what every operation and plant manager has known for a long time: without investing in automation, it would be difficult if not impossible to compete and to comply with the regulations. Thus, even were it still possible “to manufacture like in the old days”, it would amount to a huge waste of resources, and inefficient efforts.

The main reasons for this:

  • Competition
    While competition might sometimes have a negative connotation, it is actually an existential necessity for manufacturing plants and for society in general. Competition drives everyone to become more efficient, to be inventive and to innovate. A manufacturing plant must produce more with fewer resources and at a lower cost, and the time-proven method for achieving this is automation of manufacturing.
  • Regulation
    The government (in Israel and worldwide) has always intervened in manufacturing. The reasons for this are varied, and range from a desire to regulate the market, to concern for consumer welfare, to environmental protection. The most obvious way the government sets policy is by passing laws and regulations. Today more than ever, plants are compelled to comply with standards and regulations for manufacturing, air pollution, energy and quality. Plant automation and control infrastructure enables compliance with the regulations, and may be vital to such compliance (such as in the food, beverages and pharma industries, etc.).
  • Improving efficiency
    Why manufacture with more resources if you can manufacture the same with less?Only manufacturing plants that have solid automation and control foundations can provide an accurate and true view of all aspects of the production floor, an understanding of the causes of failure and error, and the ability to analyze the history of the various manufacturing processes.

 

The glass ceiling of HMI/ SCADA systems

From the time they were introduced into industry, HMI/ SCADA systems have made great strides, developing in two respects: at the product level, the companies making the systems have continued R&D all the while and adapted them to market changes and to new technologies; and at the plant level, manufacturing plants purchased systems that are flexible and adaptable to specific needs, with continued development possible as the plant and the manufacturing processes advance (this flexible platform is found in most of the systems on the market today).

On the face of it then, one could conclude that industrial plants have found the holy grail of software systems for the production floor, and all that is necessary is to continue to improve the HMI/ SCADA system over and over again and to adapt it to the changes at the plant and in the industry.

However, that is not quite how things work. HMI/ SCADA systems, whose core function is real-time data collection from controllers, were unable to break through the glass ceiling when it came to comprehensive and integral management of the manufacturing plant. Regardless of the maker or type of HMI/ SCADA system, even with the best and most sophisticated of systems, it proved hard to connect them to peripheral software systems, especially to an ERP system, as they had difficulty recognizing entities such as job orders, inventory entities, batches, etc. And generally, the ability to connect all the pieces of the manufacturing puzzle into one coherent whole, so that one look at the big picture and everything was clearly understood, proved to be beyond that ceiling.

To avoid any misunderstanding, it is important to note that the control array of the PLCs integrated in the HMI/ SCADA systems are the main computerized component in manufacturing plants and constitute a solid and vital foundation for high-level software packages that use the data collected in the control layer for other purposes.

There is good reason why most plants around the world today have a modern control layer and why many manufacturing plants channel extensive resources into developing and maintaining these systems: they are keenly aware of the fact that these systems are essential for routine plant operation and to comply with the demanding manufacturing requirements imposed upon them.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) – the floor above the glass ceiling

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) have been around for almost two decades, so are no longer something new.

They developed out of the need to break through the aforementioned glass ceiling, and to enable manufacturing plants to come a full circle and connect up all the plant layers (machines à controllers à HMI/ SCADA à MES à ERP)  into an harmonious orchestra (see the box: ISA 95 Standard).

MES systems handle all aspects of the production floor and are used by all manufacturing workers in all roles (see Figure 1 below). Generally speaking, there are four main areas in which the system provides the greatest added value:

  • Manufacturing indicators: efficiency, availability and waste/scrap from the various resources.
  • Quality: full management of all the quality related stages in the process and in the laboratory, and preventing re-producing.
  • Traceability; full visibility of all that being manufactured and of all that manufactured in the past for fully integrated manufacturing.
  • Planning: planning of the resources according to production floor constraints and limitations, including the ability to measure planning versus actual.

MES systems are capable of “speaking” two languages:

  •  The one language: the language of the plant’s business layer.
    MES connects up to the organizational management system (ERP, CRM), understands and is familiar with its concepts (such as: bill of materials, finite capacity planning, routing plan, job orders, inventory transactions, etc.)  and translates them into concepts used on the production floor.In manufacturing plants that do not have a MES in place, one generally finds that the implementation differs widely from the production plans prepared in the ERP systems and from the production and routing planning.

    The main reason for this is that the production floor is a highly dynamic environment with many constraints, and for optimal manufacturing, the production manager must understand everything that is happening on the production floor (have the big picture), and simultaneously be familiar with and understand the production planning as well as the constraints of the business layer. However, this involves a huge amount of data that cannot be absorbed or controlled in an optimal manner without a special system, and it is precisely here that the MES is designed to provide the right information to the right person at the right time, and to enable the entire orchestra to play in unison, that is, for the plant to function well as a whole.

  • The other language: the language of control and manufacturing processes.MES has evolved directly from the control systems mentioned above. Employing industrial standards and standard protocols, the system gathers all the information about the manufacturing from all sections of the plant, processes it, and prepares it so that it can be used by the various functionaries throughout the production floor.

    MES is the only system that contains business and organizational information along with information about the production floor and manufacturing processes, and processes it and presents it in a variety of ways to the different users: line operators, shift leaders, production managers, operation managers, planners, quality and laboratory personnel, process engineers and management. Each of these users uses the system in a different way and makes decisions based on the specific information generated for that specific user by the system.

 

Production floors are dynamic, and considerable variance exists between different manufacturing plants (even if they manufacture similar products). The difference in the standard and quality of production management therefore depends on the MES installed at the plant and how well it is utilized. We contend that MES quality is determined by its ability to provide all the information required to all the production workers and to all those in production support at a manufacturing plant, and to effectively constitute the main system (if not the only one!) used by the various operators.

How can MES be defined?

It would appear, therefore, that the different MES systems have certain elements in common and similar capabilities (modules), such as: OEE, quality management, and traceability indicators, etc.). Nonetheless, a MES must be as flexible as possible so that it is fully adaptable to the production floor and so that all the users can benefit from it, and it must have a sound foundation and defined capabilities. To avoid reinventing the wheel, the manufacturing plant must be equipped with lean and efficient manufacturing methodologies that are built into the system itself.

Are Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) becoming the standard for manufacturing plants?

Dozens of MES systems were deployed in industrial manufacturing plants in Israel in the first decade of the 21st century.
Initially, it was the major industries such as the pharma and food industries which are the resource intensive industries with numerous constraints and regulations that adopted MES (whether compelled to do so or out of a desire to improve); however, it is also some years now that MES has not been limited to those industries only, and today MES systems are found in all types of industries, including metals, quarries, plastics, semiconductors, chemicals, infrastructures, defense, process industries, etc.

While there is a long way to go before MES becomes pervasive to the extent of ERP and HMI, it is certainly a natural evolution of manufacturing support technology, which has become indispensable to every manufacturing plant.

Contel ITS, the market leader for MES in Israel

Contel lives, eats and breathes industrial automation, and has done so for the past 50 years.

The evolution described at the outset of this article parallels that undergone by Contel, starting with the first programmable controllers (the size of the average room…), followed by control software, and ultimately, by MES as well.

In 2003,  Contel ITS introduced the new management system from Rockwell Automation to Israel, and executed the first MES project at Teva in Israel. Over the years, various other MES systems were added to the basket of products offered by Contel ITS, and we feel a great sense of accomplishment and privileged to adapt the product to customer needs in an optimized manner.

Since the first implementation of an MES, Contel ITS has executed dozens of successful MES projects, backed up by its in-depth knowledge of industry and a very clear understanding of MES and its challenges in Israel.

In 2012, almost a decade after completing the first project, Contel employs 30 software engineers in 5 teams always busy on production management, expansion and upgrade projects, support and testing, analysis and specification of processes, in every type of industry, in Israel and abroad.

Written by Kobi Tzedef, VP Sales & Business Development at Contel ITS.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Email responses and comments to: kobi@contel.com