The following article was published on 29 April 2016 on LinkedIn Pulse series.
MES, as we know it, is dead. Whose fault is it? You probably guessed right: Industry 4.0!
But don’t panic just yet… Industry 4.0 is killing it… but softly.
Read more about the 4th industrial revolution here and about Industry 4.0 here.
Ok, so if you read the articles above, then you know that Cyber-physical Systems (CPS) are simply physical objects with embedded software, communication and computing power. You also know that in Industry 4.0, more manufactured products will be smart products, CPS, and that these, based on connectivity and computing power, will incorporate self-management capabilities.
On the other hand, you also know that manufacturing equipment will become CPPS, Cyber-Physical Production Systems - software enhanced machinery, also with their own computing power, leveraging a wide range of embedded sensors and actuators, beyond connectivity and computing power.
The combination of CPS and CPPS is likely to trigger significant changes in manufacturing production and control, towards completely decentralized systems. Industry 4.0 advocates that the shop-floor will become a marketplace of capacity (supply) represented by the CPPS and production needs (demand) represented by the CPS. Hence, the manufacturing environment will organize itself based on a multi-agent like system. This decentralized system with competing targets and conflicting constraints will generate a holistically optimized system, ensuring only efficient operations will be conducted.
The direct consequence for centralized systems is that they will simply cease to exist. For Manufacturing Execution System providers, this will become quite a challenge!
- How will MES cope with the marketplace formed by smart materials and smart equipment?
- Will we have a small MES running at each smart material or equipment?
- How will the MES ensure that manufacturing processes are followed, when the products and machines are taking decisions autonomously?
REACTION OF MES SUPPLIERS
Within the MES suppliers group, reactions to this upcoming disruptive future vary.
A first group, representing the big majority is simply ignoring Industry 4.0 and doing business as usual.
A second group is paying more attention to it. However, they claim Industry 4.0 defines a target model which will most likely take years or decades to reach. In the meantime, they say, companies should still try to continue investing in centralized MES systems and keep improving the performance of their operations. It is actually true that many industries are still in the dark ages of efficiency and quality and they should really evolve step by step, implement MES solutions and related operations management practices, before dreaming about cyber-physical systems networking autonomously.
A third group however, argues that the decentralized systems will always need a centralized system due to compliance, optimization and monitoring. This is quite contradictory and frankly, these providers are truly missing the point. The shop-floor becoming a marketplace of capacity and production needs, where smart materials and smart equipment negotiate autonomously, guaranteeing the best possible efficiency contradicts the model of centralized system control.
INTRODUCING ... MES 4.0!
But all you vultures (not you, but the ones rubbing their hands with glee!) may rest and relax. Companies operating in an Industry 4.0 mode will still need MES. Just of a different kind. Let’s call them MES 4.0.
It will be a completely new generation of systems, which must be able to cope with all these new challenges and shall allow companies which adopt it getting a solid, yet flexible infrastructure for the big and long transformation that Industry 4.0 actually is.
MES will remain a critical element in the manufacturing IT landscape, but must cope with many new challenges, which I’d group in the following categories:
- Logical Decentralization
- Cloud and Advanced Analytics
- Connectivity and Mobile
- Vertical Integration
- Horizontal Integration