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You Don’t Need an MES

Jeff Miller, Director of Smart Manufacturing and Innovation | May 18, 2020

I love to BBQ. I mean, the real BBQ… 4, 6, 8, 12 hours of smoking/cooking time using real hardwood coals made of cherry, pecan, apple, hickory and oak. I smoke my baby back ribs for about 4.5 hours and St Louis cut Spareribs for 5-6 hours at 250 deg F. My pork butt takes 12 hours at 225-250 deg F. Some cooks like to cook hot and fast and others low and slow. Each method is perfectly fine, it is all about creating your own unique style and flavor.

Anyone who has ever excelled at smoking a slab of ribs, knows that there are more ingredients to smoking ribs than the slab of ribs itself; however, most people would probably be surprised to learn exactly how many raw materials are used in the making of a good rack of ribs. So, to make my point, I am going to share something that I don’t readily share, as long as you promise to not share it, and that is… my ingredients for ribs (but not my recipe). Even though I am sharing the ingredients, to get the right flavor profile and tenderness, there is most definitely a correct order of addition, a defined process, along with major/minor additions.

So, here it is, and I remind you that this next section is classified “SECRET UNSPOKE”. The ingredients to my ribs are: Aluminum Foil, Honey, Brown Sugar, Sugar, Mustard, Apple Cider Vinegar, Apple Juice, Salt, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Hungarian Paprika, Chili Powder, Pink Himalayan Salt and Butter. As stated, you don’t just throw these onto the ribs and put it on the smoker. No, there is an order of operations, a process, layering of flavors, spritzing, wrapping, etc.; but, before any of this happens, I must take inventory of my raw materials, identify how much will be consumed based on how much I want to produce and then restock insufficient quantities of raw materials. Of course, as an engineer, my smoker is outfitted with wireless temperature probes that historize my cook and record the temperature of the meat, the temperature at the middle of my smoker and the temperature at the vent side of the smoker. This information is extremely invaluable. This data gives me a good indication of the stability of my chamber temperatures, when to wrap, when to spritz, when to pull, and when to add additional rub or sauce based on the desired finished product (dry or wet ribs).

To make great ribs, I most certainly don’t use what we would classify as a modern MES, but I do execute the functions and activities of an MES. And that is why this is titled, “No you don’t need an MES.” On small scale processes, performing the functions of an MES manually are straight forward and manageable, but as processes scale into mass manufacturing these activities become very labor intensive with lots of room for error. Not only is there room for error but the lack of real time information does not enable a smooth, predictable flow of product out the door.

For manufacturers, getting product out the door is key and production scheduling can be a challenging art form. It is the job of the production scheduler to look at sales orders and to efficiently schedule those orders on a production process or line. The scheduler relies on best available information and experience to determine manufacturing priorities and capability. But, in most cases, the scheduler is at a disadvantage because they lack reliable historical and real-time data to provide the proper unbiased analytics to their schedule making. I have lost count of the number of times that an operator has told me that they must regularly bypass production order priorities because they don’t have enough raw materials, or the right skill sets available to perform changeovers and machine setup for a particular SKU. In some cases, the operator may purposely override the production schedule so that they could run an easier SKU to ensure they meet daily production number quotas. This gets even more complicated when production runs require certain WIP (work-in-progress) material to be available before the run can start and that WIP material needs lead time before it is available. To add further complexity, what if the WIP material has a shelf-life that is limited? How is a production scheduler supposed to manage these complexities based largely on assumptions? Furthermore, does the scheduler have reliable data that show which lines or processes are better capable (higher OEE) of producing specific SKUs? Of course, this requires an MES that can capture downtime and utilization of your production assets and the ability to compare those against SKUs, Shift and other production identifiers.

Another aspect of scheduling is how long will the production run last, or better question, should last? Having the ability to measure how well production adheres to the schedule and then forecasting accurately reduces the opportunity of under scheduling production assets or over scheduling them and using those metrics to optimize production output. Some manufacturers just error on the side of over scheduling which then creates cascading problems that matriculate through the organization. For example, over scheduling of labor to support the functions of prepping and staging raw materials; WIP materials being prepared too early; and potentially missing promised ship dates. Under scheduling provides a lot of buffer, but most organizations are trying to reduce the amount of buffer built into schedules because this is a surefire way to reduce output capacity. Top manufacturers focus on reducing buffers and target JIT (Just-in-time) manufacturing which requires a solid analytical understanding of your capabilities and supply chain which can only come from an MES.

An MES helps organizations by tracking how much material is actually consumed and produced for each SKU and when they are, they are consumed and produced. An MES gives real-time visibility to inventory quantities of raw materials and finished goods. These numbers are typically then fed into the less real-time ERP system which is more of a transactional system. An MES can verify that the correct items are being used in a formulation or recipe using barcode scanning at the point of consumption. An MES can provide, within minutes, genealogy reporting of finished goods for the purposes of a recall or quality hold. An MES gives the many people in manufacturing operations the information they need to make better decisions faster.

Implementing an MES can typically yield results like these listed below:

  • Reduce Manufacturing Expense per Unit (Ingredients, Energy & Labor) on average by 10%.
  • Maintain adherence to production schedules improving accuracy by as much as 3.5% on average.
  • Understand raw material usage and waste, as well as, product scrap tracking. An MES can help decrease Materials per Standard Unit by 7.5%.
  • Better analyze production volumes which can yield capacity improvements from 7%-17%.
  • Reduce inventory by 10%-20%.
  • Improve Process Variability by 5%-10%.
  • Improve first time right by 5%-15% through the enforce of a Product BOM verification, material tracking and quality measurements.
  • Increase asset availability by 8%-18%.

With opportunities for optimizing an organization like this, it is baffling to me why all organizations haven’t moved to an MES. I know the capital investments for MES are usually in the six figures, however, the ROI is real and usually measured in months but provide ongoing YOY dividends. Like I said, “You don’t need an MES” and it is true, you have been manufacturing product for decades without it, but the landscape is changing. Organizations are asking to get more out of people and assets than ever before and adding an MES to increase capacity and reduce costs of goods sold is much less expensive than adding new manufacturing processes. In many cases an MES can help retain customers or gain new customers by demonstrating your superior quality and production standards over your competition. And now, with plants implementing social distancing and new forms of PPE, the need to digitize paper processes to eliminate virus transmission vectors and enable remote workers has never been more relevant. So yes, you don’t need an MES, but you didn’t need a PLC or HMI or a computer at one time either, but can you imagine not having them now?

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