How ERP and MES connectivity actually looks like on the factory floor

Yves Bourgeois on , updated

ERP and MES are both standalone software solutions, yet real time communication between the two systems is critical to a succesful lean manufacturing implementation. Learn how MES & ERP work together within a smart production process – and what that looks like on the factory floor.

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Industrial production site.

Why connect ERP with MES?

Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) and a Machine Execution System (MES) each play a specific role within a production company. While ERP orchestrates the parent business level, MES is indispensable for production planning and the execution of the manufacturing process.

In essence, planning of production orders is handled in a simple, logical way by the ERP, while the more complex physical tasks that must take place in production are managed by MES in a live and detailed environment.

If you connect both systems, a whole new world of opportunity arises:

  • A more efficient manufacturing process
  • A more streamlined supply chain
  • Better process insights for plant managers
  • Higher quality of products with less scrap
  • A more relaxed workflow for operators

Sounds great, but how does this actually translate to the factory floor?

In this post, I will illustrate the relation between both systems with a simple example, as well as with a real-world use case of ERP-MES integration.

How ERP-MES connectivity works

The relation between ERP and MES, in a manufacturing context, is illustrated by the relation between a sales order and a production order.

Imagine you run an ice cream factory.

A client orders 4.000 boxes of strawberry ice cream cones per year, spread over four deliveries of 1.000 boxes each quarter.

After it is entered in the ERP, the sales order is split into four production orders. Each quarter, one order is planned, executed and delivered.

As soon as a single production order is transferred to the MES system, it is then converted into a series of consecutive production steps.

In the case of strawberry ice cream cones, this would look something like this:

  1. Spray the cone with chocolate
  2. Fill the bottom with red jelly
  3. Fill the cone with strawberry ice cream
  4. Add a specific topping
  5. Put the cone in a paper shell
  6. Put a cardboard lid on top

Once all steps are completed, your product is finished.

The Bill of Materials (BOM)

Every production step has its own ‘recipe’, also known as the Bill of Materials. This is a list of the items needed to create a (a part) of a product as well as the instructions on how to assemble it. The BOM can be either configured in the MES or the ERP.

Whether you produce ice cream or any other product: a flawless execution of the BOM is critical to ensure your products are made in exactly the same way. For that reason, product specifications are automatically enforced.

lean manufacturing in an ice cream factory

A sales order is converted by the MES into a series of production steps.

Set input & output specifications

Each step of the BOM has an input and an output material specification. In this case, topping can not be added unless the cone has been sprayed with chocolate, and was filled with red jelly and strawberry ice cream only.

Guide the operator’s workflow

The operator on the production floor is told exactly which action to take next, e.g. refill ice cream, change toppings or get new boxes from the warehouse. Products he takes out of the warehouse are scanned with a handheld barcode scanner.

Synchronise planning & inventory data

During the various production steps, inventory and planning data can be automatically synchronised in real-time with the ERP and vice versa. Data regarding e.g yield or resources usage is captured through sensors.

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lean manufacturing in an ice cream factory

During production, inventory data is synchronised in real-time between ERP and MES.

Fix defective products with ease

The MES system allows to perform real time quality checks. Defective materials and products can therefore be discovered and fixed more quickly. Product quality, productivity and throughput increases as a result.

Track & trace materials and products

What if something went wrong? To comply with client or regulatory requirements, or in case of a quality issue, products or raw materials can be traced back to tie certain anomalies to e.g. a specific machine or supplier.

MES vs. ERP: a real-world use case

Helioscreen fabrics is a Belgian manufacturer of fiberglass sun protection fabrics. A smart factory MES grabs process data from any type of machine or (legacy) equipment, and connects the operations layer with the ERP business layer. This has resulted in a much more efficient production process with more reliable delivery times, less waste and fewer downtime hours.

Lean production at Helioscreen fabrics

Since Helioscreen fabrics implemented an MES, downtime has reduced by 65%. Image credit: Agoria

ERP-MES integration allows Helioscreen fabrics to:

  • Eliminate human errors and keep a tight control on inventory, leading to reduced WIP levels and smarter use of working capital

  • Improve employee engagement by reducing stress, giving clear expectations and enabling people to organise their own work

  • Make last-minute changes to any production order, without experiencing additional stress on the factory floor.

  • Track the position of lots of raw materials, intermediate goods and finished goods at any point in time

  • Implement full traceability in both directions from product made to materials consumed, or materials consumed to products affected

  • Enable a flexible production that is more responsive to changing market demands and can handle rush orders and just-in-time deliveries

Some of the results

  • Since operators now know which action or task is coming up next, operators can align their actions and reduce downtime by 65%.

  • In case of last-minute changes, adjusting an order used to take 30 minutes, whereas now, it is completed in 2 minutes.

  • Through web-based technology, planning department employees can work from home, using just their web browser.


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