I have been conducting implementation and support for projects implementing our out-of-the-box MES system, Matics, and I often find that MES and ERP roles are not always clear in a manufacturing facility. ERP implementation is a significant step for an organization and it tends to be time- and resource consuming. When an organization has already gone through such a process, implementing an MES system may seem redundant. “Why do we need it?” they ask me, “we have everything in our ERP system…”
Indeed, a valid question. However, seeking the advice of manufacturing managers worldwide revealed that my experience is not unique: MES provides manufacturers with information, abilities and insight that is simply not meant to be in the ERP systems:
- The ERP knows “why”, while the MES knows “how to”. ERP primarily supports strategic decisions, while MES supports the operational ones. Those who know how to make things work with the idea created by those who know why. At the same time, those who know why must rely on those who know how to, to actually turn their ideas into reality. It is an essential symbiosis that is at the basis of any achievement, and the same goes for the complementary nature of ERP and MES.
- ERP is not designed to exist on the manufacturing floor. Even with all the features related to production execution in an ERP, no machine that produces a piece per cycle will probably ever communicate to the ERP that it completed the cycle. ERP is looking at the strategic management of the business, while MES is associated with the punctual execution of the manufacturing process. When working together, these two systems allow the manufacturing facility a seamless response to the dynamic demands of customers, regulators, suppliers and even internal staff.
- The ERP users have different needs than MES users. These two types of users may need not only different information, but also need the information to be presented in a different way. The ERP systems select and organize information that can allow their users to make strategic decisions for the organization. In manufacturing everything happens faster, the information must be packaged to allow fast – if not immediate – decisions. It may happen that the MES system, with its close connection to the manufacturing floor, accumulates information that is crucial for the strategic decisions, yet the ERP systems simply can’t collect and analyze such information.
- Real-time flexibility and agility is crucial for the manufacturing process. A single strategic change managed at the ERP level may generate change volume that is about 10 times higher on the manufacturing level. The MES system therefore must be specifically designed and implemented to allow both the amount and the speed of change required.
- The supply chain efficiency is a key competitive advantage. In today’s market competition goes far beyond the strategic level. Efficiency across the entire supply chain can make or break a successful organization. Information integration can only be done through constant alignment of all levels of each link in the chain, from the manufacturing floor and up. Only with a continuous and efficient exchange of timely and accurate information, which is achieved by MES systems, can the supply chain operate effectively.
Those are just five short reasons, rising from my experience with our clients, why MES and ERP should go together when an organization wishes to achieve a significant place in the market. Through the complete support of these two systems, all levels of the organization can see the full picture, from strategy to bits and bytes and back.
Nathan Tiomkin, Matics’ former Director of Sales, with numerous years of experience in implementation of Digital Manufacturing projects