Manufacturing with a Cloud-Based MES: What Are the Benefits?

By Martin Gore & Michael Jewson
Martin is our European Business Development Manager, Digital Manufacturing, and Michael is our Senior MES Consultant & Solution Architect

The Adoption of Cloud-Based Solutions

Many companies have already migrated to enterprise software in the cloud. As a result, enterprise and office productivity have been transformed with digital ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning), HR solutions and office suites. Fewer and fewer people have word processing and spreadsheets installed on their physical computers or laptops. The benefits of autosave and sharing often provide enough of a reason to switch at the end-user level while the executive suite considers the capital vs. operational expenditure decision. In the factories, the adoption of cloud manufacturing execution systems (MES)  has been slower, with on-premise applications still the dominant solutions.

However, leading manufacturers are looking to adopt cloud-based technology to meet future challenges today. They want to optimize performance by integrating business and operational systems with their larger ecosystem of partners and suppliers to:

  • Serve their customers better
  • Incorporate the capabilities of digital smart assets
  • Adapt to the market by establishing high-value processes

Even in the cloud, these manufacturing execution systems (MES) can collect and analyze high-volume, real-time data being collected from the shop floor. The result is improved performance and scalability, faster resolution of production-related issues and increased traceability.

How Manufacturing Capabilities Are Already Shifting

Manufacturers learned to leverage technology over the years by incorporating microprocessors to manufacturing execution systems to robots for managing and increasing production. Robotics & Automation News notes, “Traditional manufacturing execution systems are deployed on a single machine that might be networked to a handful of terminals inside of a machine shop.” Many of these systems are also not integrated with the business side of operations, such as ERPs.

Manual, paper-based processes and spreadsheets are still common. Data might be transferred from a machine to a USB drive to another terminal for upload – this is lengthy and tedious process too. Unfortunately, this lack of real-time production insight can lead to inefficiencies and increase risks from missing information or data entry error, as the business is working on historical data

Additionally, your machines are also generating a high volume of data metrics. The challenge is connecting data sources and making use of what you already have. Without this visibility, you have difficulty with:

  • Making timely decisions based on the current production context
  • Integrating production with supply chain partners and processes to handle supply and demand fluctuations
  • Optimizing operational status based on actual machine health and utilization

While there are existing technologies that can help bridge the gap, they are only the first step towards a totally cloud-based platform for manufacturing.

Cloud Manufacturing Overview

Cloud MES solutions connect your shop floor equipment to your business systems for global visibility across all your plants. A cloud-based server can collect all your data in real-time, providing instant information to your high-level management team, your floor manager or your maintenance team. Below is an example of how the different components and data sources connect:

SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud
SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud Conceptual Drawing of Connections

These systems let you manage production execution while monitoring the entire manufacturing process drilled down from plants to work centers to individual machines. This insight helps you achieve greater flexibility, optimize resources and realize new opportunities, including different business models.

Cloud-based servers also provide a secure and scalable (up and down) platform for your data. The infrastructure is connected operation-wide, processed, stored and analyzed from anywhere at any location from office to mobile. This real-time access enables faster decision-making, increased operating efficiency and decreased costs.

The Benefits of a Cloud MES Migration

These fully integrated manufacturing software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms address manufacturers’ needs for execution, quality production insights, plant maintenance notifications and integration with an ERP. Breaking down information silos opens up opportunities for improving productivity and creating new business models.

These systems enable the ability for:

  • Applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning
  • Handling the high volume of data efficiently
  • Employing edge computing close to the machines for greater business continuity and advanced analytics

The above capabilities power the optimization of people and processes. An Industry Week survey found that going digital with manufacturing transformed processes with results of a:

  • 40% increase in operating efficiency
  • 10% reduction in operating costs
  • 160% increase in output

Smart factory integration with a cloud-based MES enables seamless production execution based on end-to-end visibility supported by advanced analytics.

Our next blog will dive deeper into other aspects of cloud MES and all its capabilities. For more information, visit our SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud overview page.