Listen. That’s the shop talking, and it has an important story to tell. Machine uptime. What jobs are running. Who’s here, and who’s not. This is just some of the information to be garnered from your production floor, if only you have the right ears.
Big companies have been listening for decades—Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) were being used to capture production data before Brian Mulroney first sat down in the House of Commons. These mainframe-based behemoths have since retired, however, and a new breed of faster, more flexible and less expensive shop floor monitoring systems have taken their place.
Automotive manufacturers and their Tier 2 suppliers are by far the biggest users of MES. Mohamed AbuAli, chief operating officer at global MES provider Forcam Inc., Cincinnati, OH, points to installations at automotive giants Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Audi, with billions of dollars in metal stamping and machining equipment being monitored more closely than the final game of the World Cup.
Modern MES systems provide a variety of nifty tools for keeping an eye on the shop floor. Aside from tracking machine efficiency, MES can keep tabs on labour hours, dynamically schedule jobs, manage documentation and integrate to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The outputs of all this vigilance comes in the form of email alerts, reports and real-time visualization of the plant’s activities, which can then be sent automatically to the production manager’s computer or the CEO’s smart phone, giving them a chance to get the train back on track before disaster strikes.
It sounds complex, and terrifically expensive, yet AbuAli explains the functionality described here is within reach of even the smallest manufacturing companies. “We recently worked with a low-volume, high-mix job shop, with a handful of disparate machines—some old Cincinnati Milacrons with Acramatic controls, as well as some newer Toshibas. They also have an outdated ERP system. We were able to integrate everything into a single system, and stay within their budget.”