5 Criteria to consider when searching for an MES System

An MES System can provide the details that you’re missing from your ERP system. ERP systems cover many areas within a business that can help streamline operations; order processing, payments, accounting, and CRM functions but more often than not, the scheduling module (if even offered) is something that seems impossible to setup, impossible to use daily, or even impossible to get any relevant and real information out of it.

In working with many different ERP systems over the years, and integrating a separate MES system into these packages, I have come to realize that the ERP system was built up around the financials module.  After all, it’s the financial module that gets the big deals done. The issue this presents is that the ERP modules are built around accounting and as a result do not work with the MES or Scheduling module.  Accountants set up and justify costs based upon the other functions of the ERP system i.e. quotes, inventory, profitability, but planned times, machine run rate and costing rates typically are calculated differently on the shop floor versus what is defined in the financial modules. As these modules are all tied together it makes it near impossible to get real scheduling data to perform any real planning or realistic delivery dates, as well as getting a true indicator of internal operating costs.

So, what is a Production Planner to do?

You could spend time trying to wrestle through your ERP systems Scheduling module but chances are you’ve already tried this and realized quickly that this will not work. You could resort to the Excel Spreadsheet but there is also a very good chance you were doing this alongside trying to use your ERP.  The pitfalls as you probably already know are, it takes a long time to maintain, everyone has a different copy, its outdated the moment your done compiling it for the day, there’s no long-range planning, and worst of all the data is incorrect and static.

It’s time to take the MES System Scheduling leap. JobPack scheduling systems planning board

An MES System needs to be able to provide:

  • Accuracy:  Provide accurate dates of when production orders will complete.
  • Visibility:  Provide indication of bottlenecks within the production process.
  • Responsiveness:  Adjust based on finite capacity information and operator feedback.
  • Flexibility:  To accommodate various scenarios with production.

And most of all…

  • Ease of use:  Must be easy to use for the end user, you can have the best system in the world but, if no one knows how to use it, then it’s the worst!

What to look for:

Accuracy:  When talking about scheduling or production planning, the ultimate goal is to know when jobs will really start, when they will really finish, which leads to the most important aspect of all, providing correct delivery dates to the customer.  In order to obtain accuracy, you must have correct data such as correct routing steps and planned times.  That doesn’t mean you must have these things nailed down prior to purchasing a system, if you need to gather accurate times find a system that has a mechanism to clock in/out of operations so you can collect the real-time data for the next time you run the job. An effective MES system must be built upon finite capacity and move in real time starting with today’s date and moving forward.

Visibility:  Visibility within the system is key, the user needs to be able to identify where the job is, where it will be, and any changes that are occurring based on other work around it. The MES system should also have the ability to easily identify any late jobs before they are late.  If all you are presented with is pages and lists of data it is extremely time consuming to identify what is happening and why, so the scheduling tool should be visual in its calculation of jobs and operations.

Responsiveness:  To be proactive and identify issues as they occur (or even before they occur) the system should be reacting to what’s happening both in real time and what’s happening on the shop floor.  A good MES system will update based on actions taking place so you can see any potential issues, like missed delivery dates before the order is due.  A large contributor to inefficient scheduling is not being able to identify an issue until it is too late and there is no time to react.  The end result is added overtime to catch up, running a job on multiple machines taking up extra capacity, or the unfortunate call to the customer that their order, which you promised would be on time, will now be late.  If you have a system that is not updating in real time, you could be headed for disaster.

Flexibility:  Flexibility is required so you can alter the course when required, to keep those promised delivery dates.  I’m not talking about adding that 25th hour to the day (you’re only fooling yourself) but flexible to the point where you can run scenarios and see the outcome immediately. Manufacturing is anything but static so if you can’t adjust your schedule and see the results right away, not only will the information have changed by the time you see the outcome but its wasted time waiting for the system to recalculate.  A good Mes System should be able to run various scenarios within realistic parameters to see how that impacts your customer’s orders.  If you can’t do this, then you are no better off than when you were running Excel as your main component for production planning.

Ease of use:  This one sounds like a no brainer but is probably the most overlooked function of a system.  You can have the best scheduling program in the world, but if your users are scared of it or can’t get their head around how to use it, it’s useless.  A good system can provide the previously mentioned attributes but still be simple enough to understand how it performs them.  Make sure you can easily identify what data will be required for the system, how to run a scenario, how to undo a change, and where to get the highlights such as real delivery dates, work queue, and what jobs are late before they are due.

Overall the MES system you choose should not be a burden. If you are looking for one solution to do everything from ERP, MES, to data collection, unfortunately you won’t find it. But that shouldn’t be an issue now, with the advances in technology lately, the best solutions are designed to work together and integrate into your framework.