Real-time manufacturing excellence

Posted on 17 Jul 2012 by Malcolm Wheatley

With a Manufacturing Execution System manufacturers can go beyond OEE to tackle other hidden wastes, finds Malcolm Wheatley.

Located just outside the town of Mâcon, in France’s Burgundy region, the 280-employee plant of German fruit juice manufacturer Eckes-Granini Group has seen significant improvements since implementing a TrakSYS Manufacturing Executing System (MES) from specialist American developer Parsec Automation.

Improvements in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) were one objective when implementing the system, say plant management. But it has delivered far more: better real-time control, improved root cause analysis for problems outside the normal reach of OEE, better regulatory compliance, and ‘one source of the truth’ when it comes to production-related data for yield, quality, output and efficiency.

“Overall, production performance has improved by over 10%, while the percentage ‘give-away’ of over-weight product on the filling lines has reduced by 30%,” say plant management, happily.

But talk to experts in OEE and MES, and such results are far from unusual. Yorkshire-based MES consultancy and implementation specialist Cimlogic, for instance, are clear in their view that MES systems such as TrakSYS – which it re-sells and implements – deliver not just improvements in OEE, but also provide the basis for uncovering improvements in many other areas.

A screenshot of the TrakSYS Knowledge Management and Decision Support Portal
A screenshot of the TrakSYS Knowledge Management and Decision Support Portal

“OEE will typically give you an improvement of 5-10%, certainly. But the challenge then is how to move beyond that,” says Mike Hodge, Cimlogic’s manufacturing IT director. “There are an awful lot of ‘hidden losses’ that OEE doesn’t address, but which MES systems do.”

Such as? Hodge quickly lists half a dozen or so, ticking them off on his fingers. Individually, he says, they’re usually just seen part of the way that a factory or production line operates. But together, they add up to a significant opportunity.

“Energy is a big opportunity, especially when energy costs are as high as they are now,” he points out. “People forget that when an assembly line or filling line is stopped due to a breakdown or shortages, it is still consuming energy: electricity for motive power, gas burners, and compressed air.”

Black hole

And information on that consumption of energy – on how, at a detailed level, it relates to actual production – is often lacking, notes Hodge.

“Management typically have no visibility whatsoever as to minute-by-minute, batch-by-batch energy consumption, or any way of tying energy consumption together with production in order to establish which products consume the most energy, how much energy is consumed during downtime, or how much energy is consumed making scrap or rejects,” he says. “It’s a data ‘black hole’ – but one which MES can illuminate.”

Labour productivity is another opportunity area, adds Fraser Thomson, Cimlogic automation and MES consultant. Look closely at what shopfloor operatives do, he says, and it’s possible to see many individual activities which don’t consume much time on their own, but which add up to an opportunity for savings and increased efficiency, given an MES system such as TrakSYS.

Nor, he insists, is the opportunity solely around getting better data on how much labour time is spent waiting for stopped machines to return to productive activity, or waiting for parts to be delivered.

“An equally valid ‘hidden loss’ is time spent looking up information, or deciding upon the next job to run, and looking up the production parameters associated with it,” notes Thomson. “Or recording information for subsequent analysis – or even time spent walking between machines, to a shopfloor office or computer printer. It all adds up. Bu with MES, such hidden losses need not occur.”

Yield losses and line-debugging are also significant improvement areas, he adds, with an MES system such as TrakSYS providing a ‘second dimension’ with which to inform root cause analysis investigations.

“A manufacturer might be concerned at downtime levels on a labelling machine, for instance,” he says. “Looked at in isolation, the investigation revolves simply around the machine. But an MES system can provide other insights, such as a correlation with the supplier of the bottles that are being labelled, or a correlation with the source of the labels, or even the ambient temperature.”

Power to the plant

Indeed, says Hodge, it’s possible to see MES as a direct manifestation of a business’s manufacturing strategy: the tool, if you will, to turn manufacturing aspiration into manufacturing reality.

"Energy is a big opportunity, especially when energy costs are as high as they are now." - Mike Hodge, Manufacturing IT Director, Cimlogic

“There are a lot of pressures put on manufacturers by their customers that are nothing to do with OEE,” he asserts. “Better responsiveness, improved traceability and genealogy, agility. Those aren’t about OEE, they’re about other things. But they’re things that MES impacts.”

And tucked away in the background, adds Thomson, MES delivers that link by acting as a bridge between man and machine, between the order book and the factory schedule, and between the ERP system and the programmable logic controllers at machine level.

“MES provides a single source of the truth, but also the wherewithal to turn that truth into reality,” he enthuses. “So you’re not only getting shopfloor data collection and shopfloor scheduling, you’re also putting in place valuable fail safes – especially when those are hard-wired into the process. Are the correct label and the correct packaging being used? Is the right batch code and ‘best before’ date being applied? Twenty minutes producing product with the wrong label or batch code can be a very costly waste indeed.”

So why, then, aren’t MES systems more ubiquitous? Deep down, it’s a problem of perspective, says Hodge.

“The general perception of MES systems is that they are time-consuming and costly,” he notes. “So businesses wanting to go beyond OEE tend to look around for niche solutions to supplement their OEE system: a product genealogy system, for instance, a HACCP system, or a factory-floor scheduler. But that’s a mistake.”

And the reason it’s a mistake, he says, is because an MES system itself will perform all of these various niche tasks – and do so in an integrated manner, with no duplication, and no data re-entry. And do so, what’s more, while providing an integrated data capture layer as well.

“Businesses see the logic of having a single ERP system instead of multiple ‘best of breed’ administrative systems. But they haven’t yet applied the same logic to the factory floor,” concludes Hodge. “But those who have are reaping the rewards.”

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