Planning a Successful MES Deployment

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Preventing problems in implementing a manufacturing execution system requires upfront analysis and detailed planning.

While there are challenges in the deployment of a manufacturing execution system (MES) solution, they are proven to provide some of the best returns of any information technology system investment-when correctly implemented. An MES solution is unlike any other information technology system because it impacts so many areas of the business. This impact can be a great thing if it’s managed correctly but can lead to significant problems in deployment if it is mishandled.

Many of the problems associated with MES implementations are a result of businesses failing to do one or more of the following:

  • Take the time to understand the concept of a MES and how to successfully and efficiently leverage the technology within its manufacturing operation

  • Create a functional MES vision that serves as road map for a successful project implementation

  • Justify the project and understand the business case

  • Perform a detailed requirements analysis and a technology assessment to select the right MES software for the business needs.

Often, a failure to identify and recruit the appropriate resources with the required knowledge is the root cause of these problems. Organizations that are new to MES usually struggle not just on the deployment itself, but even more significantly, in the preparatory stages. 

Planning a successful MES project

It may surprise some that when it comes to ensuring a successful MES project, most of the key elements occur even before the project begins. The first crucial phase occurs when an MES solution is being considered. When it comes to planning an MES project, business leaders first need to answer the following important questions:

  • Do I understand the capabilities of MES and how they relate to my business?

  • What do I want from an MES implementation?

  • What do I need from an MES implementation?

  • How am I going to measure success?

Answering these questions is vital, as the biggest cause of failure when it comes to MES implementations is a lack of understanding and foresight.  

Once this initial consideration is complete, the formal planning process can begin. The process steps are as follows:

1. MES project justification. Businesses must justify the project by developing a comprehensive business case and performing a realistic return of investment (ROI) analysis. Often, there is a mismatch between expectations and what can be delivered if the business case and ROI are not fully understood. An additional benefit to this phase is that it asks businesses to analyze their manufacturing processes in depth, which can lead to the discovery of other potential efficiencies surplus to the MES effort. 

2.  Concept of operations (CONOPS). Once the project has been justified and there is an understanding of where the best returns lie, manufacturers must take the time to understand the concept of an MES and how to successfully and efficiently leverage the technology within their manufacturing operation. By developing a CONOPS document, manufacturers establish a vision of how operations will change with the MES implementation, while creating policies and providing a framework for project decisions. MES deployment impacts almost every area of a business, and one of the most crucial aspects to a successful deployment is change management. The CONOPS paints a clear picture of what the change will look like.  

3. Information technology (IT)/operational technology (OT) strategy. Following the development of the CONOPS, manufacturers must:

  • Define the role of the MES system and correctly place ownership of the implementation project and the system within their organization’s structure

  • Define the MES integration strategy and how it relates to all other systems

  • Define the long-term rationalization and standardization objectives

  • Develop a detailed system user requirements specification.

4. Implementation planning. Once the more notional elements of the preparatory phase have been completed, manufacturers can create a more pragmatic plan. To begin planning the MES implementation, companies need to establish the overall scope of the project. The elements that should be covered in detail are as follows:

  • IT requirements

  • Paper record migration

  • Operator training

  • Data migration

  • External initiatives

  • Project constraints

  • Standard operating procedure updates.

Once the project scope has been defined, businesses can develop a deployment and validation strategy and create a schedule, which should include project milestones, and a budget estimate. It is imperative that planning in an MES project is done upfront. If the right steps are taken, and the effort is put in during the early planning phase, it will ensure that there are fewer surprises later. While there is an additional cost associated with this upfront analysis, it is far outweighed by the expenses associated with an MES project derailing closer to the go-live date.

About the author

James O’Brien is global MES business unit lead, Zenith Technologies.