Monday, December 3, 2012

Adding Quality to Your Manufacturing Execution System

Quality test execution is a logical part of a MES
By Michael Schwarz, Product Marketing Manager, MES/EMI, Invensys.

Quality management is a functional domain which is typically and traditionally already covered with significant investment in any enterprise. Quality Management Systems (QMS) are present to a higher degree, in comparison with production or manufacturing related systems like Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or process automation.

 What do Quality Management Systems do? They include managing a process according to target/specifications, maintaining real-time quality documentation; coordinate and monitor nonconformance recalls; and tie-in customer complaints to the manufacturing process, all within the context of a manufacturing process.    

We’ve seen the demand for quality systems as an adjunct to MES. Market surveys and analyst reports also indicate that quality improvements and systems to help manage or document product and production process quality are one of the top priorities for many industries today.

 So what are missing in today’s quality management capabilities that manufacturers are looking for? What can positively impact the cost and efficiency of quality in manufacturing?  I believe it is a higher level of automation and subsequent benefits by integrating quality operations execution with manufacturing operations execution in a common application, to control operational activities through the same operators and to reduce the associated program costs of blending these applications.

 Manufacturing-related quality operations can be divided into two types:

-          Tests which require scientific analysis methods and skills which may be outside of the production operator skills.  These tests are typically managed in a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) or QMS by dedicated personnel

-          Tests/controls which require operations to sense, gather or somehow measure the required product quality characteristics, with or without available tools which can be automated or executed by production operators

 The second type of quality operations can benefit from increased process automation, integration with production control systems and synchronization of operational workflows with the production execution process and status.

 Production control (MES), quality control, process and supervisory control ideally work in concert to allow quality specifications to be linked with product and process specifications for compliance rules and documentation. While product and process specification management are core functions of a MES, quality operations management (including the necessary quality specification information to execute the required quality tests and data collection) are a logical extension to a MES.

 Joining Quality with MES gives operators relief from synchronizing tasks in separate systems. This allows them to focus their work on the higher value operations to deliver maximum performance. An integrated Quality/MES system allows operators to have better control, to be able to overlook the process with multiple aspects of production status and behavior information at hand.

 An empowered plant operator, provided with the right status and event information as well with planning or ultimately with cost/profit information will be able take more business oriented decisions in response.

What do you think?  Are there additional operational aspects like inventory or asset management which can contribute to better decision making the same way? Where do you think the most untapped potential is?

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