MES comes to the forefront

In the past, manufacturing operations management/ manufacturing execution system (MOM/ MES) software often took a back seat to automation systems.

That's no longer the case. Today we're beginning to see the automation companies' sales teams using MOM/ MES software to help pull through the larger automation system sale.

So what is the reason for the newfound strength and attraction of these software offerings? 

MOM/ MES solutions are commonly offered by industrial automation vendors, ERP vendors, and independent software vendors.

In the case of industrial automation vendors, their MOM/ MES software offerings often came through the acquisition of one or more software companies.

While this usually significantly expanded the potential scope of the solutions they could offer to their customers, the companies' respective system sales forces didn't always have a good understanding of how to sell the potentially differentiating software.

As a result, they often discounted it along with the rest of the system just to close the deal.

Over time however, automation users gained a better appreciation for the business value that the software could bring to their operations and the automation vendors got much better at selling MOM/ MES systems at a price that more closely reflected their true value. 

Important milestone

We have now reached an important milestone in the evolution of MOM/ MES systems with several industrial automation vendors admitting to ARC that they now have some client engagements in which their MOM/ MES system "pulls through" the automation sale. ARC believes this represents a significant shift.

Today's manufacturers clearly have a better understanding of the business value that plant software system brings to the table; to the extent that – in these instances at least – the software selection decision took precedence over the hardware selection decision. 

Manufacturers increasingly take a holistic view of their production plants' position within an extended value network. With this perspective, they apply information technology broadly to improve or replace business processes.

Information technology – and MOM/ MES software – has matured to the point where a host of new possibilities can be considered. Information-driven manufacturers have come to realise that it can be riskier to let existing systems stagnate than to implement new systems and that, at the very least, they have to keep their existing software portfolio reasonably up to date. 

New technologies such as cloud computing, mobility, social, analytics, intelligent assets, additive manufacturing, and 3D visualisation may disrupt not only what happens within the four walls of a plant, but entire business processes throughout the supply chain and across the value network.

New business strategies are emerging, such as "Industry 4.0", "Industrial Internet", "Connected Manufacturing," and "Collaborative Value Networks."

Disruptive technologies

In addition to a host of potentially disruptive technologies entering the marketplace, companies must also face rapid changes in government regulations, energy and raw materials availability, markets, and competition. By deploying leading edge information technologies, today's companies can thrive. 

Each manufacturing plant has some unique needs that must be accommodated. Tier one automotive suppliers need sequencing support. Pharmaceutical manufacturers need 21CFR11 compliance.

Nanomanufacturers need complex routing. Aerospace and defence manufacturers need work instructions and non-conformance management. Make-to-order manufacturers have different needs from make-to-stock or batch manufacturers.

Hence, the first cut should involve finding software designed for a particular industry segment and used in similar manufacturing situations.

To ensure that a given MOM solution can do the job, engineering groups must also evaluate the ability to fully meet the unique needs (through configuration or add-on custom development, if needed) as well as from the perspectives of scalability, performance, and deployment model (on-premise, remote hosted, SaaS, etc.). 

Manufacturers must also determine whether a MOM solution is based on an appropriate technology and is compatible with the company's business strategy and processes.

Beyond these functional requirements, manufacturers should also consider vendor qualifications such as regional support, micro-vertical experience, implementation capability, and price.

Business justification

The newfound strength of MOM software systems dovetails with recent requests that ARC has heard from several large manufacturers for their automation suppliers to help provide business justification for replacing their aging control systems, since much of the business value from automation is seen to come from the software applications that sit above the basic control platform, rather than from the controls themselves.

Clearly, manufacturers need modern software systems to keep up with the information needs of operating a plant in today's increasingly connected, dynamic, and regulated production environments. 

Today's information and analysis technologies can be transformative. Companies employ information-driven value networks, business processes, and decision-making to support and transform corporate initiatives such as energy management and sustainability programs; global growth initiatives; and innovation in product, process, systems, and business models. 

ARC believes that manufacturers and other industrial organizations should embrace information technologies (IT) throughout the enterprise. Almost every plant or facility should run the latest version of the appropriate software so that it can operate in a connected, information-driven mode consistent with the rest of the organization. 

Employ software

Organizations should also make decisions based on production process and business process information. Employ software to collect, contextualise, visualise, and analyse the data.

With the advent of extremely fast in-memory computing platforms and Big Data analytical tools, information-driven companies are beginning to use ever-more-massive datasets in a host of new applications. 

Today's industrial organizations must collaborate better, internally and externally. To this end, ensure that systems and business processes are well integrated within the enterprise, and connect and share appropriate information with partners in a real-time ecosystem.

This collaboration should also extend to social technologies and communities, which can be a good source for marketplace inputs throughout the lifecycle of a product or service.

IT technologies will increasingly drive a manufacturer's competitive advantage, and sooner than many realise.
Embrace a technology adoption strategy in which advanced technology is considered as soon as practicable, and where it's seen as a virtue to be part of the "early majority," or even the "early adopter" community, instead of a risk-averse technology laggard.

[Greg Gorbach is Vice President, ARC Advisory Group.]

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