QMT Features: July 2013
Pillars of profitability
Manufacturing Execution Systems provides intelligence for optimising operations with rapid, accurate and transparent data in real-time. By Marty Moran, MES manager at AspenTech.

Transforming data into meaningful business knowledge is vital to optimising production and maximising commercial potential. Today, a business needs to be more agile and responsive to fluctuations within the market. Effective performance management involves integrating planning, scheduling, production execution and the ability to respond to change immediately.

Marty Moran, MES manager at AspenTech, explores the background to Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and reveals how investment in MES software technology delivers more efficient data management, improved production execution and enhanced operational performance, enabling manufacturers to quickly turn data into profit.

The milestones of MES

Delivering products that consistently meet customer expectations helps manufacturers remain competitive and achieve higher profitability. MES provides intelligence for optimising operations with rapid, accurate and transparent data in real-time. With a better understanding of how their operations are performing in real-time, companies can positively impact the bottom line with timely, informed decisions about production performance.

There are three key milestones for MES, which form the pillars of profitability:

.- More efficient data management (MES 1.0 - Integrating the past)

.- Improved production execution (MES 2.0 - The era of work process automation)

- Enhanced performance management (MES 3.0 - Technology on the move)
MES 1.0 - Integrating the past

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) first emerged in the process industries over 30 years ago when minicomputers had finally become affordable enough to be successfully used in the process industries. The earliest applications were primarily data historians in the large continuous industries used for 'historizing' time-series data for trending and later analysis.

At first, manufacturers that were primarily batch-orientated applied the same data historians that had gained acceptance in the continuous industries to the problems that they were facing. However, for those manufacturers the majority of their production is campaign-orientated with well-defined start and stop times. While time-series historians generally did provide some value in analysing production runs, the real analysis of production run campaigns turned out to be a complicated, labour intensive process. It meant trying to track different types of information, potentially from different systems, that were all related to the same batch, not just time-series data, and then literally overlaying them on top of one another in order to provide the right context. Since this was a fairly intense process, engineers rarely performed this type of analysis except maybe when a customer complained about the quality of a previous batch.

During the era of MES 1.0 other new technologies, such as scheduling, also emerged that further enhanced manufacturing profitability. Scheduling tools were developed that could provide a fully integrated environment between scheduling and plant operations, supporting collaborative production management. They were designed to align with the key industry business processes, providing manufacturers with the capabilities to make real-time decisions and synchronise the plant and supply chain.
As MES software continued to evolve, the foundations to greater manufacturing profitability were being laid.

During MES 1.0, an experienced engineer was usually required to interface with an MES system. Casual users either were intimidated or the training requirements were too steep. However, with the more recent advent of new technologies, it is now possible for casual users to take of the advantage of the power of an MES system. For example, some MES vendors are now providing "Google like" intelligent search to improve a user's ability to find information. Intelligent search capability within a MES system operates in a similar fashion as Google. For example, when searching the tag name for the bottom temperature in the depropanizer, the user starts typing 'Temperature Deprop' and the software instantly starts matching what the user is typing. In short, it selects the best match similar to the Google functionality.  

Another recent innovation was the increasing use of business intelligence (BI), which changed the way manufacturers managed their business. Some years back, engineers would typically manually download from the historian into standard tools like Excel where they could perform any type analysis they desired. Then improvements were made, so that any reports produced during this process could be automatically distributed throughout the enterprise via Microsoft SharePoint. With more recent technology advances, changes in historian data now can automatically update spreadsheets, which then are disseminated automatically throughout the enterprise via SharePoint. The net result of all these changes was the increased ability to have information at your fingertips without the need of extensive and detailed training.

Aspen InfoPlus.21 Family was initially developed to aggregate process and production information into a cohesive context for understanding and improving plant performance. It has now evolved into the foundation for integrating and connecting plant control systems and the shop floor with business systems.

MES 2.0 - The era of work process automation
Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, manufacturers recognised the importance of automated processes and workflow to allow for scalability and to meet the increasing needs of the business. Simply relying on a data historian alone was not enough. Fundamentally, they needed the ability to manage all the different aspects of the production workflow and order management in a manufacturing facility. This included both the "design" and "execution" of standard operating procedures, work orders and production protocols supporting procedural and regulatory compliance.   The "design" aspect would consist of defining the recipe and workflow to produce a given product.   On the other hand, the "execution" aspect would dispatch the order to the appropriate operator terminal at execution time. The system would need to deliver complete traceability, an unalterable history, and automatic generation of audit trails and reports.  

In addition during MES 2.0, vendors started offering "production context" technology that was more appropriately aimed at solving problems associated with production campaigns with a definitive start/end time. Fundamentally, this involved using any production marker, such as a batch number, lot number, or refinery blend type, and quickly gathering all the relevant information that describes a defined production time period regardless of the data source.

Production context analysis, as it became known, allowed a user to seamlessly overlay all relevant data (e.g. historian data, ERP, lab, etc.), so that they can visually determine areas for improvement or compare/contrast with similar, previous production periods. The data that provides "contextualization" is all the process and event data that is necessary to understand that production period. This technology allowed users to easily visually compare and contrast previous, similar production periods across units, process cells, areas and even multiple sites. In essence, the introduction of this technology allowed batch manufacturers to overcome the limitations that they had encountered in MES 1.0.

The software tools introduced during MES 2.0 provided functionality for addressing key elements of ISA S-95 production model. This model detailed information exchanges protocols for different operation management activities, such as scheduling, product resource/definition management, production execution, data collection, production tracking and performance analysis. These improvements enabled better control of operations and enhanced decision making through standardised deployment of best practices, improving operational consistency and yields, as well as reducing operating costs.

MES today enables manufacturers to quickly identify production performance problems, assess root causes and take corrective action. aspenONE MES, for example, was developed to provide the tools that enable companies to increase profitability, reduce variability and improve asset utilisation. Production execution software introduced during MES 2.0 is now tightly integrated with data historian software from MES 1.0 to improve the manufacturing process, which automatically reaps positive return on investment.

MES 3.0 - Technology on the move
In the twenty-first century, the world has witnessed a revolution in groundbreaking interactive technology to improve our daily lives - whether in the home or the workplace. New "smart" products developed during the past decade have provided greater communication and collaboration functionalities, facilitating quicker decision-making whilst operating on the move. Flexibility, ease of use and real-time data visualisation are significant benefits to users. This period of "greater intelligence" in technology has opened up new possibilities. The batch industry has a greater need today to streamline processes to improve the  operational performance and intelligently manage the huge quantities of data that process plants produce on an hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute basis.

Business intelligence (BI) empowers employees to perform with greater flexibility as it helps improve access to manufacturing data at all organisational levels to drive quicker decisions. Event notifications coupled with mobile analysis tools enable faster adjustments to minimise the impact of production issues. This is vital in the process industries because there are many operations-based personnel that are not desk-bound who can benefit from access to real-time data, trends and alerts - anytime, anywhere.

Plant managers and production engineers can use mobile BI anytime, anywhere in order to first understand an issue and then propose solutions to problems in a time-frame not previously experienced with traditional desktop solutions. The prevalence of mobile devices is transforming the process industries. Mobile solutions empower decision-makers to have immediate access to important data enabling them to make informed and quick decisions to improve profitability. Easy, digestible analysis of plant information even in remote locations helps industry leaders react to adverse changes and keep the operation performing to targets. The ability to access and analyse real-time plant data has enormous benefits. In the past, users needed to be in the control room or in front of a monitor to track and manage manufacturing performance. Mobile BI has proven to be more effective when users are provided with visualisation tools (e.g. charts, graphs, portals, etc.).  

For today's engineers, the message is simple - mobile intelligence provides the perfect platform to achieve greater profitability. State-of-the-art mobile software, such as Aspen InfoPlus.21 Mobile, enables faster decision-making and troubleshooting and displays critical, up-to-date information. The software functionality improves employee efficiencies by simplifying routine engineering analysis tasks, such as examining and comparing process data, reducing root cause analysis time and easily finding KPI data that will enable the engineer to respond to changing process conditions.

Pillars of profitability
Over the past 30 years, MES technology has dramatically evolved to help manufacturers survive in today's highly competitive markets. Real-time data and decision support tools provide access to plant information to allow quick and timely responses to production issues that negatively influence efficiency, quality and regulatory compliance. MES is essentially the nucleus of the operation, which links all capabilities of the business. It is an integrated set of production activity and support software designed to harmonise and optimise the plant.

The bottom line is that effective production drives operational excellence enabling better and faster decisions. Software technology helps the batch industry achieve consistent performance across all assets. It also defines the importance of real-time business performance management: plan, execute, monitor and respond to change immediately across all time horizons. History has shown that manufacturing execution systems have laid the foundations to help batch manufacturers across the globe strengthen their competitiveness and build upon the pillars of profitability.l
email: info@aspentech.com
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