Manufacturing Execution System (MES) vs. ERP System

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Everyone is talking about the so-called “Industry 4.0“, but what exactly is it and what does it have to do with software like an MES or ERP? In basic terms, “Industry 4.0“ stands for the process of a comprehensive digitization of industrial production. In the end, the ideal result is a smart factory where the entire manufacturing environment is fully automated, self-organized, and self-regulating.

But how can complex production systems be fully automated? The magic word is “manufacturing execution system” oder short: “MES”. We will explain the key functions of an MES to you, and show how the connection between an MES and an ERP system can unlock great potential in industrial production. To make things more concrete, we will look at a case of industrial plastics processing via the extrusion process.

An MES controls productions automatically and provides key data in real-time.

Manufacturing Execution System – Cornerstone of the Industry 4.0

The cornerstone of this next step in the future of manufacturing is software architecture, specifically a so-called “manufacturing execution system“, an advanced production control system. It can be connected with an Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP) via interface.

Most industrially producing enterprises are very familiar with ERP systems. Now, many of them are searching for an MES software solution that fits their needs and allows them to also digitize, automate, and centralize their production.

Connecting Order Planning and Operative Production with an MES

Currently, it is still normal for most producers to not have their operative production seamlessly connected to order planning. The result: an unnecessary and avoidable break in the process chain. Usually then, a person must manually intervene. A manufacturing execution system, however, prevents these interruptions that cost business valuable time and money. 

It‘s already crystal clear at this point in time that the switch to the new way of interconnected and intelligent production will be necessary to survive for many businesses.

In the following paragraphs, we will show you the differences between MES and ERP systems. Mostly though, we want to make you aware of the enormous potential for optimization that a common interface of both systems offers.

How Planning (ERP) and Execution (MES) Work Together

A key feature of Industry 4.0 production is the seamless interaction between management and production. Where there previously have been overlapping and complex manual processes, management and production will work together like cogs in a well-oiled machine in future production.  

Of course, the key component that makes it all possible is a manufacturing execution system (MES). This production control system is the new key part in the process chain of industrial production 4.0.

It unfolds its true power through a common interface with an ERP. The MES can then access crucial data about orders, recipes, and ressuources from an enterprise resource planning system, e.g. SAP. This creates a direct and immediate connection between order management and the specific process control in production – down a single machine!

Basic Functions: MES vs. ERP

In very basic terms, the role of the two systems can be described as follows: 

  1. A manufacturing execution system (MES) guides, leads, and controls production in real time.  Its activity thus mainly occurs on the level of production, but it can also communicate bidirectionally with the level of planning and management. For this, an ERP interface is required. 
  2. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, such as the popular software solution SAP, is made for resource planning in business. Its activity is mainly based on the level of planning and management, but via the MES interface, it can also communicate with the production level.

Manufacturing Execution System: 3 Basic Functions

  1. Production Data Acquisition (PDA): The MES provides real-time production data from all machines that are connected to the system – no matter if a machine is currently producing. 
  2. Process Interlocking: The production process is started, stopped, and continued based on set rules. During all of this, the system continuously processes data in a standardized way in real time. Process interlocking is an important step towards the end goal of zero-error production, one the long-term targets of production in Industry 4.0.
  3. Traceability: An MES generates extensive production documentation, proof of production, and it automatically recognizes errors in production. This allows producers to improve the quality of products in a measurable and meaningful way.

Practical Case: Plastics Processing via Extrusion

Production processes in the plastics processing industry take place on multiple levels and are multi-layered. Hence, they are highly complex. This poses a great challenge: During production, a vast field of data has to be taken into account if the production is to be controlled efficiently. At the same time, customers demand near-perfect product quality in the field of plastics products. There‘s a zero-tolerance mentality among purchasers.

A production manager is looking at data on the user interface of the MES NEXXT365 by WEBER
With just a few click, a production manager analyzes the task overview of all extrusion lines.

Automatic Quality Control

The high expectations for the best possible quality in a highly competitive environment demand that intelligent solutions must be applied to monitor the production process. This is also something an MES can do. By delivering key metrics such as processing status, production output, as well as quality indicators or inline measurements, an MES monitors production fully automatic and in real-time – and automatically intervenes in case there‘s a a problem.

Better Adherence to Delivery Dates

Through a MES-ERP-interface, the production and the planning level are interconnected. The MES can then, for example, communicate the real number of produced components, or the status of a machine to the ERP software. Let‘s say that one machine‘s output is unusually low. In this case, orders can rapidly be distributed among the other remaining machines. In general, personnel on the planning level can quickly react to any change in production. All of this allows producers of plastics products to greatly enhance adherence to delivery dates agreed upon with their customers.

NEXXT365 by WEBER: MES Made for Extrusion Processes

At WEBER we see and hear about the challenges that many producers face on a daily basis. We therefore have developed NEXXT365, an MES software solution for extrusion processes. It is tailored to the needs of the plastics processing industry. At WEBER we see and hear about the challenges that many producers face on a daily basis.

Find out more about what NEXXT365 and the great WEBER service can do for your business.