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Smart vs. Unsmart Manufacturing Execution System Decisions: Which Are You Making?

October 18, 2021
Smart Manufacturing

Remember the day you got your first smartphone? With a single purchase, you went from flipping open a plastic device with an 8-bit screen to having untethered access to the collective knowledge of humanity right in your pocket. That experience changed your life. Discrete manufacturing is undergoing a similar revolution right now, forcing the question: will you stick with flip-phone manufacturing, or will you enter a smarter era?

It doesn’t take long in your smart manufacturing journey to recognize you’ll need to research a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). As you seek to understand what an MES can do for you and how you can optimize it, be smart and follow proven best practices.

Improving Performance vs. Maintaining the Status Quo

You’ve heard that data is helping companies achieve major transformation, but what does that even mean? How are they doing it? No matter a manufacturer’s size, an MES is a huge piece of the puzzle. But not any old MES will do. It has to be smarter and more connected than ever before.

Did you know that 95% of manufacturers are currently investing in smart manufacturing technology? At the same time, only 2% are trying to leverage that technology without the cloud. That’s because the cloud sets the stage for any good MES; it makes every process more efficient and grants instant supply chain visibility. Like other trends, this is one greatly accelerated by the effects of COVID-19, which spurred 83% of manufacturers to make their smart tech journey a bigger priority for 2021 and 2022.

It should go without saying that the smarter your technology, the better you can improve your plant’s performance. A strong MES can help you pounce on four of the biggest improvement opportunities in manufacturing:

  • Speed of reporting and decision making
  • Control over material and labor costs
  • Operational visibility and efficiency
  • Improved quality

You can unpack many more positive ripple effects of a smart MES, but it all comes down to connecting your operations. When you can see everything going on in real-time through a simple browser login page, you’ll never go back to the same old way of operating ever again.

Enabling Digital Transformation vs. Falling Behind

In the last year, manufacturer adoption of technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), and more experienced 100% growth. That isn’t a typo. These technologies provide the backbone of smart manufacturing; they’re the strong foundation to build upon.

Furthermore, 61% of manufacturers are planning to formally adopt a smart manufacturing strategy before mid-2022. Simply put, the tides have turned. Leveraging a smart MES is like the streaming war of the 2010s: Netflix saw the future and evolved in a smart way when Blockbuster refused to ditch their old model of rental services. Is your company on the trajectory of Netflix or Blockbuster?

“Digital transformation” might sound like a loaded buzzword, but beyond the hype, it’s a real driving force with concrete implications for your business. It’s about relying on technologies like an MES for standardizing processes and embracing innovation. It’s about empowering all employees with data and intel hiding just under the surface, waiting to be harvested. And yes, it’s about replacing your whiteboards, notepads, and constantly crashing spreadsheets with reliable and efficient software.

If smart manufacturing is your destination, then digital transformation is the vehicle that will take you there. Once implemented and optimized, smarter operations allow you to:

  • Connect your organization by breaking down silos and providing immediate visibility into any activity
  • Automate mundane, error-prone, or repetitive tasks to maximize efficiency and free up employee time
  • Track inventory with a detailed electronic “paper trail” from raw materials to finished goods that makes recalls a breeze
  • Analyze real-time, contextualized data that enables more confident decision-making from the shop floor to the top floor

Providing Visibility vs. Staying in the Dark

Kicking off a truly smart MES is like flipping on the light switch – you gain instant visibility into your company like walking out of the Dark Ages. This transparent view of your company lets you see the complete flow of your materials and money and allows you to optimize both. Imagine tracing products at every step, enabling you to run recalls at a fraction of the time while solving problems before they even arise. And then there are all the meaningful insights you can draw from your data.

But there’s another side to visibility that’s often neglected: 29% of manufacturers say a top barrier to smart manufacturing adoption is employee resistance to change. Additionally, 81% say communication and teamwork are two of the most important skills in their next generation of employees.

No matter how much your company’s leadership wants it, an MES is only as powerful as the individuals using it. Your employees throughout the organization need visibility into what an MES is and how it will help them collaborate to better accomplish their tasks. Take away the mystery, and you’ll be left with employee buy-in that makes your smart manufacturing journey much easier.

Making Smarter Decisions with a Manufacturing Execution System

It takes more than just a few minutes to understand how powerful the right MES can be for your company. Maybe you’re looking for the exact steps to eliminate errors in your processes. Maybe you want a framework for your MES implementation road map. Or maybe you just need a quick list of ways an MES boosts your bottom line so you can show your boss. No matter what additional info you need to help your journey, we’ve complied the answers in one handy resource. Now that’s what we call smart.

Download your free copy of MES for Dummies and uncover everything you need to know about implementing an MES.

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.

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