Nik Vandenweyer, December 8, 2017

7 steps to a successful lean MES implementation

When implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) – an information system for monitoring and managing production processes – there are roughly two paths you can take. You can select a standard MES suite with expanded off-the-shelf functionalities, or you can opt for a framework-based suite that can be set up to optimally support your specific lean manufacturing process. There are several rules that apply when implementing MES software. Below are 7 steps with tips for a successful lean MES implementation.

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Steps for a successful MES implementation:

  1. Determine the end point

  2. Work step-by-step

  3. Make sure the supplier or system integrator is independent

  4. Aim for an integrated architecture

  5. Stay true to your choice of MES framework

  6. Be the owner of your own system

  7. Work as a team with Plan-Do-Act-Check

Standard MES system vs. MES framework

Modern MES systems provide an important contribution to companies' Lean initiatives. But, strangely enough, the majority of the commercially available standard MES systems are not as Lean as they are often believed to be. To the contrary: many systems attempt to offer every possible function as a standard functionality. A MES system using a standard MES solution can be successful if there is a good match between the functionalities offered and required, the project lead time will be limited, just as will be the technical risk and the realization costs.

A standard MES solution, however, can also lead to disappointment as a result of high licensing costs, considerable maintenance efforts, and relatively little flexibility regarding the process to be implemented. And it is precisely this flexibility that is indispensable when modifications must be implemented – for example, due to changed regulations or the introduction of new products. Lean MES frameworks offer a different approach than the standard MES suites do: instead of extensive off-the-shelf functionality, MES frameworks offer building blocks which can be used to compose the desired functionality – specifically, that which is necessary to optimally support a manufacturing process.

The flexibility of the framework ensures that the system can be adjusted to new requirements and wishes in the long run.

Implement a framework-based MES system in 7 steps

Nevertheless, there are several rules that an implementation of a MES framework must satisfy in order to make the long-term flexibility of the system possible. These are explained in detail below.

1. Determine the end point

The selection of an MES system is the result of a strategic choice. At the start of the process, there must be an investigation into the key business drivers and how those can be measured. Only then a determination can be made of where the focus of the MES functionality must lie and – no less important – where the focus should not be and which functions should receive no attention. This may sound obvious but, in reality, a lot of time and money are too often spent on functions that scarcely contribute to the realization of the business' objectives.

2. Work step-by-step

Knowing where you're going also means knowing how you will get there. Therefore, the road map of the process must be determined, starting with the functions that lead to the most business value at a relatively low cost and with fewer risks. This allows the project to be phased in properly and adjusted along the way as needed.

3. Make sure the supplier or system integrator is independent

Trust is very important when selecting a product supplier, distributor or system integrator. But remember to look beyond trust and estimate the chance that the product will no longer be supported in the future, that the system integrator will make other strategic choices, or that key people will leave the selected partner. The selection of a recognized supplier with an extensive network of system integrators ensures independence. This is important when selecting a standard MES suite, but it's even more important when opting for a MES framework, because in that case less use is made of the standard functionalities and more use of custom configuration and software.

4. Aim for an integrated architecture

Until recently, the trend was to implement a landscape of a very limited number of systems. But due to the openness of modern systems and the opportunities for connectivity, we see that this trend is slowly but surely being abandoned. We are moving more toward a landscape where we use systems at the location where they will perform optimally. As a result, the diversity of the landscape and also the information flow is growing. What is important is that the information from various applications to the user is made accessible in a clear-cut manner. An MES framework supports this process because it can easily connect to other systems.

5. Stay true to your choice of MES framework (otherwise you will end up with customization)

Once your selection of a Lean MES approach has been made, stay with this approach. Otherwise there is a risk of doing too much and implementing too many functionalities in the MES framework, which results in an inflexible, pseudo-customized MES system. You can avoid this by always evaluating modifications according to the business drivers and by continually weighing the realization of functionality in the system against the search for a solution outside the system.

6. Be the owner of your system by building internal knowledge

As a production organization, it is wise to accumulate your own knowledge of the MES system. After all, the people in the production organization are the ones who form the link between the business and the IT. Naturally, the system integrator must understand what the business requires but it is vital that the production organization understands the basic structure of how the IT works and what it can do. This is especially true when a MES framework is used, because functionalities in such a system are not decided for you by the system but rather must be built in a manner that it fits perfectly with your business process.

Knowledge of the MES system must be readily available during the project, but attention must also be given to knowledge retention after the project or in the run-up to the next project. In this way, the framework will be able to continue to make a great contribution to the continuous improvement of the process.

7. Work using Plan-Do-Check-Act

Lastly, we recommend that you realize a framework implementation in small steps, such as with an Agile approach. In this way, the MES system can be developed step by step, new functionalities can provide quick benefits, and risks can be limited.

Want to know more about the implementation of MES systems? Or the application of Lean in IT projects? Contact us and we will match you with the right specialist.