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Consider business requirements, integration when selecting MES software, says IDC

IDC’s new report on the top MES software vendors provides manufacturers with criteria for selecting an MES package.

Manufacturers must get away from the single-plant mindset and make manufacturing execution system (MES) software a company-wide, CIO-level priority, according to a new report from IDC Manufacturing Insights.

The report, titled “Vendor Assessment: MES Strategies Part 2 -- Selecting the Right MES Application,” also analyzed the top seven MES software vendors and offered best practices for MES software selection and implementation.

The report emphasized the need to integrate MES with “peer” applications such as ERP, supply chain management and product lifecycle management, adding that MES can serve as a “natural link between the corporate-level IT backbone … and the physical production assets located in each factory.”

It outlined how MES software can solve challenges commonly faced by manufacturers, such as harmonizing global operations, improving fixed assets utilization, and connecting the design and manufacturing functions. MES can also help improve manufacturing intelligence, reduce environmental footprints and ensure compliance, according to the report.

MES software vendors come in variety of sizes, models

Pierfrancesco Manenti, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Research Director at IDC and one of the authors of the report, said IDC analyzed MES vendors’ application breadth and depth of functionality -- factors such as availability of multiplant features, financial stability, support for standard reference models such as MESA-11 and ISA-95, and industry expertise.

The report classified vendors into three categories: Bottom-up MES, which have grown up from shop floor and supervisory software; top-down, which are typically large ERP vendors that have extended their offerings into MES; and inside-out, which includes niche vendors focused on specific manufacturing industries and functions.

Invensys PLC, Rockwell Automation Inc. and Siemens AG were the three bottom-up vendors.

According to IDC, Invensys’ approach to MES capabilities -- focusing on incremental growth -- is reasonable for a bottom-up vendor. IDC describes Rockwell as having an MES strategy that stems from a “strong root in plant operations,” which makes it a strong player in industries such as food and beverage, automotive and pharmaceutical. Rockwell tends to be directly involved in projects at tier 1 manufacturers, and it works with partners for projects at tier 2 organizations.

Siemens has a “solid approach to modeling and developing MES applications” that is “particularly well suited for large-scale MES installations serving corporate and large companies,” according to IDC. But Siemens is making moves in the small- to midmarket space with out-of-the-box packages geared toward smaller manufacturers.

Oracle and SAP topped the list of top-down vendors. Oracle is fairly new to the game, having released its MES offerings for discrete and process industries in 2006. Despite a traditionally ERP-centric approach to software, the company is moving toward a plant-centric MES package that is independent from previous ERP implementations. Oracle’s move is uncommon, as most MES vendors are shifting from a focus on the plant to integration across the entire company, IDC said.

SAP is another historically ERP-focused vendor that is expanding its offering for plant and manufacturing operations management. It acquired MES vendor Visiprise in 2008, making it part of SAP’s ME brand with a focus on discrete manufacturing. SAP’s process industry customers get their MES functions in the ERP package.

Chuck Pharris, director of manufacturing solutions marketing at SAP, said he’s witnessed an increase in demand for MES. “Ironically, you would think the downturn in the economy would make an overall decline in interest [in MES software], but people are actually more focused on their core mission now,” he said.

Pharris agreed with the report’s assertion that integration is key to MES success. “Customers are asking for an integrated work process,” he said. “As we saw people come back from economy, they had an incredible resurgence of demand. They didn’t want to restart their capacity; they want consolidation of business processes across a global deployment.”

AspenTech and Apriso were the two inside-outs in IDC’s report. AspenTech’s software is geared toward process industries, primarily oil, gas and chemical, and its real-time database is customizable and flexible, IDC said, adding that AspenTech’s “deeply technical” culture is a differentiator in the MES market.

Apriso was the only vendor to focus its MES entirely on manufacturing operations management. It is known for managing large MES implementations across multiple sites and being directly involved in these projects where possible.

“We seldom encounter MES purchase decisions for a single plant,” said Tom Comstock, Apriso’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing, product management and strategy. “Today, the bulk of our sales activity surrounds multiplant purchases and how to better collaborate shop floor operations with quality, warehouse and maintenance activities.

“With the extreme pressures facing manufacturers to increase profitability and responsiveness while maintaining brand integrity, it has grown increasingly necessary to deploy systems that can automate business processes to instantly change a production schedule, warehouse delivery or quality check, should a disruption occur on your plant floor or within your supply chain,” Comstock said.

The other five vendors were asked to comment but did not respond.

MES software selection comes down to business requirements, functionality needs

IDC’s Manenti identified some common MES mistakes. “[Manufacturers] tend to underestimate the need to analyze, optimize and adjust existing processes before implementing the MES solutions,” he said. Manenti cautioned against relying too much on Microsoft Excel and other enterprise applications because they can make a manufacturer “incapable of dealing with modern challenges, such as multiplant integration, quasi-real time and detailed data gathering and analyzing.”

Manenti had further advice for MES buyers. “Selecting the vendor that has the strongest footprint in the industry will be a good rule of thumb,” he said.

“In general, besides industry and functional coverage, we advise end users to take into account also other factors such as customization capability, skill availability, pricing models, platform-based implementation availability, and technology and integration.”

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