Either – or: This is a popular method of contrasting two topics or playing them against each other. But is there a middle way? Does there always have to be a winner and a loser? The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) has long been an established component in the smart factory. Lately, however, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is claiming this box seat. This article lets you determine what that means and whether it is practical. The longer we talk about Industry 4.0, the more often we hear statements like “IIoT will replace MES” or “after MES comes IIoT.”
Such headlines sound like a disruptive development, which is atypical for the typically down-to-earth manufacturing industry. Because there, the focus is more on proven methods and mature technologies – at least in the sectors in which high investment amounts, large quantities, and increased sales are involved. It is worth taking a closer look and putting both MES and IIoT to the test. In addition, questions arise as to whether MES and IIoT can or should be compared and to what extent this is a natural substitution.
What Distinguishes MES From IIoT?
First, the similarities: Both an MES and the IIoT collect data, process it, and output a result. Both systems move in the production environment and aim to produce more efficiently. The main differences are in perspective from which the respective application works and what scope of optimization can have. The IIoT usually collects real-time technical data such as temperatures, speeds, vibration, and state changes. This gives IIoT a technical view of the current situation of a machine or system. Courses can be viewed and predictions made based on historical data.
This technical perspective enables applications such as condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Possible optimizations relate to individual machines or systems or specific process steps. The functionalities of IIoT software are closely linked to assets such as devices, appliances, and procedures. On the other hand, an MES brings the recorded technical data – both data from the Industrial Internet of Things and data recorded directly in the MES – into an overall business context at a higher level. Based on the available order and product data, new insights emerge.
An MES not only knows that a part has just been produced but also whether it is a good part or a reject, to which order the part belongs and how many features still have to be manufactured before the order is complete. The MES also recognizes why a machine is at a standstill – because of a malfunction or because it is currently being set up for the following order. Based on this extended perspective, complete manufacturing processes and production areas can be viewed and optimized holistically with an MES. The functionalities are usually not geared towards special devices, machines, and systems but are asset-spanning and independent of machine features.
This expanded perspective, in turn, forms the data basis for an ERP system and its tasks. It is, therefore, essential to find a clear distinction here. Because an MES does not take care of business processes such as purchasing, material, production planning, sales, or warehousing, these tasks are traditionally located in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Where the ERP expects the manufacture of a product or several items, an MES starts and maps the manufacturing processes in a much more finely granulated way than an ERP usually does. Even if one or the other ERP takes care of the needs of production, the process competence for this lies with the MES, which communicates with the ERP via a comprehensive interface.
From the consideration of MES and IIoT, the following representation of the overlapping perspectives on production results:
- The IIoT has a technical view of things. This is about the utilization of machines and systems and their performance.
- The MES has an organizational focus and ensures that the processes in production are transparent and efficient. It is essential to avoid waste such as waiting times or rejects.
- The ERP is responsible for business aspects. This is about customer orders, invoices, and the company’s profitability.
Only the interaction of all three perspectives turns production into a genuine, smart factory.
MES and IIoT share many tasks and benefit from each other. Other systems, such as an ERP, supplement production perspectives. (Image source: MPDV, based on CIM Aachen)
Example Of Energy Management
The interaction of IIoT, MES, and ERP can be explained well using the example of energy management.
- The IIoT is interested in how much individual energy parts of a machine consume to optimize the operation of this machine or even to predict malfunctions.
- In the MES, all energy consumption is collected that is incurred for the manufacture of a specific article or the processing of a particular order.
- The ERP needs the collected energy consumption to consider when calculating the production costs.
Where or with which system the actual energy consumption data is recorded is irrelevant. Instead, it is about the use of this data and the context in which it is placed. In modern manufacturing, IT, IIoT, MES, and ERP are networked so that each system can access the data required for the respective task.
Conclusion: IIoT And MES Complement Each Other
So it’s not about an either/or, but about togetherness and different perspectives. The IIoT contributes real-time data with a technical background, and the MES places this in an organizational or business context. While IIoT is about machines and systems, MES is more about orders and processes. Nevertheless, both methods can benefit from each other. On the one hand, the technical data from the IIoT underpin the assessment of functions in the MES.
On the other hand, the organizational data from the MES expand the technical perspective in the IIoT. A prerequisite for this symbiosis of the IT systems is a suitable integration or interface so that the data exchange between the systems works smoothly and the other system interprets the data correctly. In a nutshell: The Smart Factory needs the Industrial Internet of Things, a Manufacturing Execution System, and a good integration platform. So there is no question of substitution or disruptive development.