MES system: Iot, cloud and surroundings
MES and Interconnection: a journey through machines tools, software and objects (IoT). The MES in substance: a cleaning exercise to reach the essence. What are the hidden costs about the MES? How to unravel between integration, data collection and infrastructure. The MES “gets out” from the factory and “flies” in cloud! Sergio Gasparin, Qualitas Informatica CEO, exposes himself about these topics and many more. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more!
Reading time: 5 mins
uring the last Partner Meeting of Qualitas Informatica, held in April 2019 in the headquarter of 311, Innovation Hub of Verona, I had the opportunity to present the evolution of our NET@PRO software, highlighting the different guidelines of the developments we planned for the next future. One of these guidelines is the increasing necessity of the MES systems to “get out from the factory” both from a functional and an architectural point of view. We need to imagine a modular and opened MES system, able to interconnect with other software easily.
The theme of interconnection is sometimes misrepresented because the common thought is that the interconnection takes place between a software and a machine tool or, in general, between a software and an object (Iot theme) but in reality, and it is obvious if we think about it, the interconnection (ie bi-directional information exchange) always happens between two different software.
So the question that arises is: why not think of lean interconnections between different software even if there are no physical machines? Why not definitely focus on the ability of easy integration of a software with the digital world outside?
The answer to these questions opens the prospect of rethinking our software as extended entities that can easily exploit the potential of other software without having to replicate them, thus creating a real ecosystem.
The development of software with this type of architectural features is now greatly facilitated by both WEB technologies and cloud technologies. On the contrary, they both become an almost compulsory route to take if we are to address the concept of interconnection in an extended way.
However, before deepening this statement it is necessary to explain why the most advanced MES systems will be forced, sooner or later, to increase their ability to interconnect with other software.
The MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is a software system that deals with control and monitoring of production, the “beating heart” of a manufacturing company. In recent years, driven by the “Industry 4.0” paradigm in Italy, this type of software is finding more and more applications in the manufacturing industries. To learn more about MES Production.
But what is a MES system in essence? Of course a MES system is many things and every manufacturer of these systems has tried to cover it with a thousand meanings and functionality, but if we do a cleaning exercise to get to the heart of the matter, we discover that a MES system is basically an intelligent information collector and correlator, in other words, an information interconnection system.
This means that an ESM must have both the ability to gather information and the ability to correlate it with each other. And so far, for those in the industry, I have not said anything new. MES systems have always done this, it is their reason to exist. What has changed, and is increasingly increasing, is the variety of sources from which this information comes and, consequently, the ways and technologies by which this information is collected. Close consequence to this change is the increase in complexity that is necessary to correlate this information. Since this is a very wide topic to which the right space must be dedicated (to understand the implications and solutions), we refer it to a later discussion.
So let’s go back to the variety of sources.
Something is changing. More and more, and without complete awareness of it, the Iot paradigm is slowly invading our lives. We are still in the phase of amazement in which we marvel at the potential, but we already realize that more and more any object that we use in our daily lives could transmit and receive data and that if these were related to others they could easily turn into information. Fortunately we are far from reality described in films as the Matrix but it is a fact that today, the amount of transmissible information is much higher than what we perceive. Just count the number of Apps that we use daily and that require us or provide information (even without our knowledge).
We can therefore confidently establish that the sources that provide and receive data:
- are significantly increasing
- are increasingly bidirectional (they ask and provide data)
Focusing on production, compared to the past we live more and more wrapped in a cloud of data that, if well organized and correlated, allows us to highlight the peculiar characteristics of the production departments, to distinguish objectively the strengths and weaknesses and therefore to take decisions of change in a conscious way.
Of course, in this sea of positivity there is always the downside to reckon with, first and foremost the security and reliability of information. We will address the deepening of these two delicate issues in a next article, today let’s focus and deepen in particular other three aspects that are often underestimated or even ignored, namely:
- The cost of the integrations: to realize the dialogue between two different software often has a not negligible cost.
- The cost of collecting information: collecting information, especially when it is necessary to operate people directly, is a time consuming activity.
- The cost of infrastructure: having a system that responds quickly in every condition of use requires an investment in infrastructure
Let’s start from the cost of integrations. We have now understood that it is increasingly necessary to collect data from many different sources and therefore it becomes mandatory to no longer think of the system as a rigid monolith but as a “fluid” architecture that requires the least possible effort of interconnection.
It is therefore necessary to pass from an “Egosystem” (a self-referential system and closed in itself) to a real “Ecosystem” (a system that, having to live together, facilitates interaction with the other elements).
But how is it possible to create a software with the ability to be easily integrated? There are many ways, and in one of the next articles I will deal in detail with this topic. What is important now, is to say that a software that must be easily interconnected must be architecturally set up to this feature. There is no alternative.
What are the costs of collecting information?
On the side of collecting information, however, in addition to a preliminary study on the ergonomics of use, the main address on which it is mandatory to move to reduce the cost is to use artificial intelligence in an increasingly pervasive way (cognitive services). Artificial intelligence, through cognitive services, if properly applied, allows to
- Minimize the need for education and error by operators
- Leave more time for the operator to concentrate on his work
- Help the operator to carry out his work
Also in this case, in practice, the applications of artificial intelligence to a MES system can be various and will be the subject of a specific discussion in a future article.
Finally, the infrastructure costs
The last aspect concerns infrastructure costs: an ESM system may require considerable but almost always discontinuous processing capacity. It means that in some moments important peaks of elaboration are required (and therefore of resources HW and SW) and in other moments instead we return to ask contained consumptions (when not null). Having a technology that dynamically follows these trends adapting to the needs of the moment (modularity of use), leads to have a system always responsive and, at the same time, an interesting economic savings compared to the solutions only “on premise”.
Today our MES NET@PRO has already tackled all these aspects in a decisive way and it has already been completely on WEB technology for a couple of years. The second step, the proposition on both public and private cloud platform, started last year and will end very soon (by March 2020).
To take this second major step, it has become necessary to follow a path in which both competence and experience have been fundamental, characteristics without which any digital transformation path is doomed to failure. This is why we are being accompanied in this delicate but exciting journey by our colleagues from 4ward (Impresoft Group company such as Qualitas Informatica), one of the leading experts in digital transformation in Italy. With them, in addition to providing our partners with top-notch digital expertise, we are both completing Net@pro’s migration to the cloud and integrating the cognitive services offered by Microsoft’s Azure platform.
At the start of this 2020 so full of promises and opportunities, the MES Net@pro system opens to the future and the competitive advantage deriving from this innovative digital transformation will surely benefit our partners and the entire “Qualitas ecosystem”.