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Is wireless data the key to effective MES?

07 August 2018

As manufacturers look to make the most of manufacturing execution systems (MES) to improve efficiency, James Wood explains that companies are still held back by traditional Factory processes.

Big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing have quickly become familiar buzzwords – and each of these technologies are starting to play a role in reshaping manufacturing processes.

For many manufacturers, improving efficiency is a top priority and even small changes can result in noticeable efficiency improvements. It sounds simple in theory, but to unlock these improvements it is important to know where to look. Gaining access to real-time information will help establish a baseline and can identify what changes need to be made.

Having the ability to turn data into actionable insight is how companies rise above their competitors. Having reliable equipment with minimal unplanned downtime is important, but having efficient production while operating is also key and this can be achieved by automating and optimising manufacturing processes.

It should come as no surprise to hear that 85% of UK manufacturers have implemented some form of automation in the past 12 months. Many are also adopting MES as a key element of their optimisation strategies – allowing them to make the most of the data they create every second on the factory floor. The ability to see data in real-time and allow operators to immediately act upon it is crucial when every opportunity for improvement counts. It can, for example, allow users to identify bottlenecks, analyse causes of production downtime and track the true cost of production. However, many manufacturers are finding themselves held back by their legacy factory processes.

Traditionally, they have relied on hard-wired sensors or existing equipment on the shop floor to collect data. Both of these solutions can result in additional costs and installation disruptions, which can drain, rather than drive, productivity.

If manufacturers instead look at installing wireless sensors they can reduce the time and cost of system deployment, while also minimising the disruption to operations. Wireless sensors offer a particularly effective data gathering solution for any process that involves a unitised product traveling past a sensor.

As well as making deployment quicker and more cost-effective, peer-to-peer wireless connections will allow a higher degree of connectivity between the automation level and the MES. All areas of the shop floor can be included, even areas that may have been deemed less important or too difficult to get connectivity, and that means higher visibility at little additional cost — a clear line of sight across the entire production floor. Such a solution also provides an opportunity to operate at an Industry 4.0 level to rise above the competition.

James Wood is director, Factory & Activplant product lines at Aptean.

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