Workflow-Based MES: Process Execution as Part of the Solution
More than ever, manufacturing companies are required to respond to new conditions with agility. However, the processes that have been firmly anchored in software act like a straitjacket that allows little room for maneuver. The key lies in opening up the utilized IT systems which provide users with tools for the simple and rapid modeling of cross-system workflows. Thus, in a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), the execution of a business process constitutes a fundamental part of the solution itself.
Most manufacturing companies have long been aware of the importance of process orientation in organizational design. The idea: Instead of a functional hierarchy setup based mainly on division of labor, companies are organizing themselves in line with their business processes.
These workflows can be as complex as desired and usually have to be completed by different people and departments in a specific sequence. Their targeted design and control create the basis for companies to have the ability to react to changes with much more speed and flexibility, thereby enabling them to be competitive and future-fit in the VUCA world.
Simplified Processes in the Foreground
An example: In the past, if a part was installed as part of an order, the MES had to report this to the ERP via an interface. The processes that needed to be carried out required hard programming. The same went for subsequent adjustments.
Conversely, in a workflow-based organization, IT solutions only provide their functionalities, which are modeled and executed in workflows. If a company changes its real process, this change can simply be modeled in the workflow, tested, then activated in the production system. In a workflow-based organization, thinking along system boundary lines is dissolved in favor of a process-oriented approach.
“Therefore, the processes are executed in the software itself – as an original part of the solution.”
The following 3 application examples illustrate what a workflow-based MES looks like in practice and how it facilitates the adaptation of your production processes:
1. In-Software Process Execution
The MES has been introduced, the users are trained up – everything is running smoothly. After a while, those in charge decide during a CIP meeting that a better overview of the current production status should be provided via a factory monitor. All employees would benefit from this, as they could adapt their work accordingly.
In the past, introducing this MES module meant implementing new software (that of the factory monitor). In addition, the existing software and its hard-coded processes had to be adapted in order to provide the monitor with all the necessary information. This approach required programming, was time-consuming, and also involved system downtime. However, if a workflow-based MES is supplemented by a factory monitor, only the underlying workflows need to be adapted. The existing software can continue to run.
2. Applying Worker Assistance
When Worker Assistance is integrated into modeled processes, employees receive precise instructions for the next work step. Examples include a request to estimate the quality of a production part or a specific description of where a part is to be installed. If this process is converted, Worker Assistance also adapts automatically based on the stored workflow, thereby
- reducing the effort required for new workflow creation,
- avoiding errors and
- significantly decreasing the training outlay for new employees.
The same ultimately applies to the introduction of an overall system: A workflow-based MES can be rolled out to the various subareas step by step, which is much more efficient. Processes, equipment and stakeholders are integrated little by little.
3. Workflow of an Individual Factory Part
Workflows are not limited to people alone. Every factory part also has the potential to trigger workflows; for instance, in the Internet of Things (IoT).
For example, an RFID scanner detects a piece of material at a certain point in the production process. This automatically determines which machine is to be started on which pre-settings, what the employee has to do in the next step, and whether a booking needs to be triggered in the ERP.
"Ultimately, every single event in the facility can trigger a workflow.”
Modeling and Adapting Processes Easily
However, workflows can only be implemented efficiently if the established IT solutions such as ERP or manufacturing execution systems provide tools for easy workflow modeling and are open to third-party systems. Until now, individual process modeling was only possible through complex and expensive coding. A standard toolbox for the modeling and process visualization is available in BPMN 2.0.
Its visual representation helps employees to understand and learn processes rapidly. On this basis, gaps can also be identified and closed promptly. Any third-party system functions that may be required are easily integrated in the form of a web service, e.g. via REST API. Changes determined as part of continuous improvement processes can therefore be independently and directly adapted, tested and readjusted by companies, which brings the following benefits:
- avoids detours
- accelerates the implementation of adjustments
- cuts development costs.
Implementing Improvement Processes Quickly
Surviving in the future requires end-to-end processes that are free from media disruptions and can be adapted with speed and flexibility. Workflow-based software solutions make this achievable. Instead of using complex coding, they allow adjustments to be implemented quickly and easily by extending the underlying workflows – and without system downtime.
What is your opinion on this topic?
Product Manager at PSI Automotive & Industry GmbH
As a mathematics graduate with many years of MES experience under her belt, no task is too tricky for Product Manager Elena Günzler. She continuously works on implementing modern technologies in solutions in such a way that they are simple to use and easily adaptable and can be expanded in a flexible manner.