Democratization of the modern MES applications
May 26, 2015
Traditionally MES applications used to be highly capital intensive and tailor made deployments. Projects lasted a couple of years, and the end result was still a work in progress. Even with the excessive amount of money and effort spent, solutions met only a fraction of the expectations, leaving a lot to be desired from the application.
Also, due to the high costs involved, MES applications were available only for manufacturers who could afford to make the effort. However, now there is a drastic transformation in the MES market space, where these systems are becoming more accessible to manufacturers irrespective of their industry segment or the amount of capital expenditure they can make.
Back in the day, MES applications were pretty much an on-site and tailor made IT system, which was made to model the current production process of the organization. This approach relied on traditional methodologies of software creation, which rendered the application largely inflexible, due to the design and architecture.
Since the approach for developing the application was rigid, any changes to be accommodated during the process of deployment would require fresh coding and thereby add further cost and effort. For small and medium scale manufacturers, the benefits offered by a large scale, tailor made application, were offset by the cost and effort factor. The smaller companies were often looking for only a part of the entire application, such as the SPC or maintenance management part, rather than the whole MES application. With the way the software was developed previously, this aspiration of deploying only a part of the application’s functionality was still a far cry.
With the advent of better technologies such as cloud computing, better hardware & networking and better, more agile software development tools, such as Scrum, MES application vendors sensed the opportunity to offer their products as a more modular application, where customers could choose the exact module they wanted to deploy in their process and then scale the application as they start to reap the benefits.
The way in which modern MES applications have been able to transform from a large up-front investment to a pay as you go kind of deployment is truly fascinating.
MES vendors have been able to create the entire MES application as a collection of modules, which allows each module to function independently as a standalone software application. Say, a medical device manufacturer, wants to implement the MES application, but is primarily looking at scheduling and SPC functions, they can choose to do so, without having to deploy the entire system in one go.
Breaking the applications into modules allows manufacturers to gain confidence in the implementation as they can experience the improvements first hand, and then decide if they want to scale up and add more functionality. Some MES applications are also offered as an industry specific package, which saves manufacturers a lot of effort in project management and a costly roll-out. Industry specific packages are both modular and yet customizable, i.e. the functionality and performance of the application can be tweaked as per the requirement of the process owners.
This improvement can be largely credited to agile software development technologies, which enable improvement in existing software, based on a team work and cases centric approach:
- agility allows applications to simultaneously exist as a collection of independent modules;
- scalability allows integration of these individual modules with each other, lower automation level applications and enterprise level applications such as the ERP or the CRM.
Improvement in hardware and networking space is another key contributor to the modularity of the modern MES application. Where initially a large scale on-site server was mandatory for the MES deployment, now with the scalability in software, the MES implementation might start with a small scale server, scaling up as the application gets deployed. Some vendors have been able to completely eliminate the up-front hardware expense, by offering their software as a service, where data resides in the cloud, and completely eliminates requirement of an on-site server.
The future of the MES applications is trending towards highly modular yet customizable solutions, which would exist online and reside in the cloud, where payments can be made based on usage and deployments would last mere days instead of long years, all this at a fraction of previous cost.
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