Gaining a clearer picture thanks to MES

Posted on 2 Mar 2015 by Malcolm Wheatley

Battling ‘spreadsheet hell’, a manufacturer switches to a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) from Lighthouse Systems.

In late 2010, Sussex-based fuel cell manufacturer Ceres Power came to the conclusion that its spreadsheet-based quality management and work-in-progress tracking system was no longer meeting its needs.

The problem? The company’s rapid growth, which meant it needed to capture, retain and share tens of thousands of spreadsheet records.

Ananda Mello-Costa, quality manager, Ceres Power
Ananda Mello-Costa, quality manager, Ceres Power.

“We were losing trust in spreadsheets,” explains Ananda Mello- Costa, quality manager at Ceres. “We’d capture data, with people typing it in manually, and then discover that it was missing – perhaps through over-typing, or through computers being switched off without saving the spreadsheet.”

Moreover, a system that relied on operators manually capturing and recording data had an inherent weakness in that critical observations could be missed.

“All our products are serialised, and each order has to pass up to thirty quality checks,” explains Mello-Costa. “And if data hasn’t been properly recorded, it’s difficult to do the checks retrospectively. So we realised that we really needed some way of enforcing the data-capture process.”

In short, Ceres came to the realisation that the route forward lay in a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) – a recognition which eventually led it to MES specialist Lighthouse Systems.

“Manufacturers can gain immense benefits from a plant-centric MES,” notes Tim Barber, co-founder and director of Lighthouse Systems. “It’s one system for all factory operations data, one place for all users to go, one version of the truth, and one system to learn, support and maintain.”

By mid-2011 Ceres had decided that Lighthouse was the best fit for its needs, and the new system duly went live in March 2012. And an important part of the implementation process, adds Mello- Costa, was a training and communication programme aimed at keeping operators fully informed with progress.

“They could see the need for an MES solution, and as they were the people who would be interacting with the MES on a daily basis, it made sense to involve them in issues such as how data was laid out on screens,” she explains.

Get (MES) connected:

With pressure on manufacturers to increase efficiency and streamline supply, procuring the correct MES system is decision you cannot afford to get wrong.

MES Connect is a one-day, senior level conference with speakers from industry, academia and research.

In the breaks between sessions, there will be scheduled 20 minute meetings between vendors and delegates during which manufacturers can discuss their requirements, explore cutting-edge solutions and fast track their short-listing process.

Case studies will provide delegates with best practice examples from leading manufacturers who have achieved an efficient and cost-effective assessment, implementation and use of their MES system.

Held on Wednesday June 17, the event takes in place at Aston University’s Conference Centre & Hotel, Birmingham.

That said, the extent of such interaction would be less than with the manually-typed spreadsheet data – a key source of one of the efficiency improvements that Ceres has seen post-MES.

“While there’s still some manual entering of data into the Lighthouse MES, we’re able to capture a lot of data through barcode scanners, or accessing it directly from our ERP system,” explains Mello-Costa.

“So in terms of efficiency gains, there’s no longer so much time spent recording data and entering into spreadsheets – and we’ve now got complete assurance that we’re capturing and retaining the data that we need.”

Importantly, too, there have been efficiencies in how the captured information is used, both for reporting and in order to drive improvements.

Formerly, she explains, it took half a day to collate and publish information from the business’s spreadsheets, which meant that the task was carried out just once a week. Now, the information is available on demand, meaning that it can be accessed every day.

“Which means that we’re able to take corrective action in real time, immediately,” sums up Mello-Costa. “We’re no longer looking backwards, but operating at the speed of the business itself.