The Future of Manufacturing: Integrating MES and Industry 4.0

Jun 25, 2024
Manufacturing | 7 min READ
Industry 4.0 has been heralded as the golden standard of manufacturing since its inception. At the heart of this framework are digital technologies that have relied on incremental improvements in computer and networking systems – including cloud, wireless connectivity, Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Shamdutt Kamble
Shamdutt Kamble

AVP, Digital Manufacturing


Rishu Sharma
Rishu Sharma

Practice Director, Digital Evangelist and Storyteller



Digital technologies serve as enablers to drive Industry 4.0 outcomes – namely, agile and flexible manufacturing, leaner inventories, optimization of production costs, faster time-to-market, lower machine downtime, and improved predictability despite uncertainty.
What’s keeping manufacturers from realizing Industry 4.0 outcomes?
Thirteen years after the formulation of Industry 4.0, businesses are still chasing the much-desired outcomes of this framework. Industry 4.0 technologies are mature, available in the market and are ready to be exploited by manufacturers at scale. Moreover, the cost barrier for their adoption has trended downward, especially with the proliferation of cloud infrastructure underneath.
So, what is it that’s still holding businesses back from transforming into an Industry 4.0 manufacturing enterprise?
As mentioned earlier, digital technologies serve as enablers for transforming key processes across the product, production, supply chain, production asset, and order-to-cash value chains. Implementing them in a real manufacturing environment requires an orchestrator – a system that can bridge the gap between top-level business planning and the shop floor. This orchestrator is the Manufacturing Execution System (MES).
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The problem with legacy MES solutions
MES solutions were first developed in the 90s and 2000s. In other words, these systems were born at the cusp of the 3rd and the 4th industrial revolutions. Primitive in their capabilities, early MES solutions did not offer the capabilities that were needed to rebuild processes with new digital technologies.
At the same time, ERP and SCADA systems continued to evolve in response to the Industry 4.0 framework. However, it was the mass adoption of cloud in the mid-2010s that brought the ultimate shift in the thinking underpinning manufacturing IT and OT systems.
A new Industry 4.0 enabler is born
The last generation of MES solutions has evolved to exploit the potential of digital technologies to advance manufacturing operations management to Industry 4.0 formulations. These MES solutions serve as the backbone for achieving Industry 4.0 outcomes. Here are a few characteristics of Industry 4.0-enabling MES solutions:
  • They can be deployed on on-prem systems as well as cloud.
  • Offer binding for real-time data and other enterprise systems.
  • Provide capabilities to process high-velocity, high-volume IIoT data.
  • Embed intelligence into key processes like production scheduling.
  • Can guide complex processes along autonomous pathways.
  • Drive both horizontal and vertical integration to offer unparalleled visibility.
With these attributes, MES solutions enable manufacturers to move away from fixed and linear conceptions of assets and processes to dynamic, real-time ones. Moreover, because these MES systems are cloud-based, they aggregate data from multiple locations to build a unified, real-time view of manufacturing plants. With vertical integration to the ERP, the MES becomes the crucial link in the chain of digital orchestration. Moreover, with advanced data processing, the MES becomes the site of IIoT data processing, enabling dynamic and automated control of the shop floor, and powering service-oriented internal operations.
So, what are some of the key Industry 4.0 outcomes that are realized with these MES solutions?
Advancing Industry 4.0 maturity with MES
#1. Bringing intelligence to production scheduling
MES systems integrate seamlessly with upstream and downstream systems. This means that they can aggregate customer order data from ERP systems, and automatically translate them into work orders for the shop floor. These systems go beyond rule-based scheduling of orders and consider multiple factors – including the cost of producing at a particular station on the shop floor, and whether a station is already loaded with that material class.
Because MES solutions have complete visibility into the active processes on the shop floor, they can figure out the lowest-cost pathways for producing items. Moreover, AI algorithms can validate the bill of materials (BOM) and feeding these requirements continuously to inventory systems enables manufacturers to run with just-in-time inventories.
#2. Maximizing OEE with predictive maintenance
Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is one of the foremost indicators of production efficiency in manufacturing. However, maximizing OEE calls for highly optimal maintenance. Theoretically, this can be achieved by scheduling maintenance just before the event of failure.
This theoretical proposition is attainable with predictive maintenance. MES solutions continuously ingest a range of parameters from production equipment. AI algorithms can analyze this data for forecasting events of failure, and even predicting their incidence with high accuracy.
Using this data, MES solutions can schedule maintenance tasks at optimal points to minimize downtime. Integrations with AR and VR can also enable guided repair which shortens the repair window.
#3. Maturing quality control processes
In Industry 4.0, quality control processes are automated using AI capabilities like computer vision and data collected through various sensors. In a real-world scenario, cameras and other sensors are deployed across production lines to track the development of products at each step.
This data is conveyed from PLC systems to MES (sometimes via SCADA systems), where AI algorithms work to detect defects. Correlating this data with track-and-trace data enables the spotting of defects at the earliest point in the production process – thus minimizing wastage and reducing costs associated with quality assurance.
#4. Advanced workflow management
Translating shop floor data and information from other systems into insights is just one part of the problem in transforming manufacturing operations in the Industry 4.0 framework. These insights should systematically (and systemically) drive key workflows across value chains.
This is what frames the role of an MES solution as an orchestrator in Industry 4.0. It enforces standard pathways for key workflows like inventory management, maintenance processes, and production scheduling tasks. MES solutions then leverage insights derived from raw data to drive automated decisioning across these workflows.
Modern Gen AI wrappers can also help plant managers, shop floor personnel, and production planners query data and insights with natural language. This improves the quality of decisions across the organization.
#5. Eliminating bottlenecks with process twins
The evolution of MES systems redefined the possibilities of digital twins in manufacturing. Because MES systems house a wealth of process and production data, they form the foundation for deploying digital twins.
Digital twins are typically integrated with MES solutions for identifying and eliminating operational bottlenecks. Using process mining, manufacturers can gain insights into actions that can maximize throughput, improve the defect ratio, and drive more sustainable and energy-efficient production.
#6. Advancing compliance and sustainability
New MES systems bring a range of capabilities that can help advance sustainability outcomes. These include insights to help minimize energy consumption, reduce waste with just-in-time inventories and process optimization, material traceability, and sustainability reporting capabilities.
Emissions monitoring can also help manufacturers meet regulatory reporting requirements. Moreover, MES systems can also digitize and mature compliance workflows, enhance document management, and standardize production processes to ensure adherence to quality standards across plants and batches.
Reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 with MES
Birlasoft Prodlogix accelerator helps in transforming off-the-shelf MES into smart MES. With smart MES systems, the promises of Industry 4.0 are now attainable. Here are some of the key outcomes that can be achieved:
  • Building granular visibility into the shop floor and orchestrating production with fine-tuned control.
  • Driving decisions across the production, maintenance, and inventory functions based on highly accurate and reliable data.
  • Achieving maximum production throughput, minimizing resource and time wastage, and functioning with lean, just-in-time inventories.
  • Ensuring quality with better production processes and catching defects at the earliest point in the production process.
  • Improving the energy efficiency and productivity of the shop floor, thus resulting in sustainability improvements.
Lastly, activating Industry 4.0 levers with MES solutions can also enable better compliance, and enable key roles across the production organization to function with peak productivity.
What next?
Industry 4.0 technologies have been available in the market for a long time now. However, their adoption has been siloed, which detracted from the very propositions on which Industry 4.0 was founded.
New-generation MES solutions are the backbone of the Industry 4.0 enterprise. They serve as orchestrators of processes that are transformed by digital technologies. While it is important to look for MES systems that check the boxes of Industry 4.0 readiness, implementing the solution is not enough.
Trusted partners like Birlasoft can help manufacturers build Industry 4.0 solutions on top of their MES systems, with repeatable success. Our manufacturing practice brings extensive expertise in how new MES systems can help manufacturers profitably advance their Industry 4.0 maturity. With a track record of delivering cost-effective manufacturing technology solutions, Birlasoft can help manufacturers assess, design, and right-size their MES deployments, implement end-to-end solutions, and configure them to ensure optimal performance.
Moreover, our teams can also help manufacturers adopt advanced technology solutions and integrate them with existing MES solutions. These strategies will be crucial to helping manufacturers evolve their organization into an Industry 4.0 manufacturing enterprise in a financially sustainable manner.
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