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Transforming Shop Floor Operations with MES: Stay Sharp Episode 14

By March 3, 2024May 31st, 2024No Comments

In Episode 14 of Razorleaf’s Stay Sharp podcast, Decoding Complexity: Exploring MES and Process Planning on the Shop Floor, hosts Jonathan Scott and Jen Ferello interview Darrell Sabourin from iBase-t, a company that provides digital operations tools for complex manufacturing environments. Darrell taps into his 40+ years of experience to demystify manufacturing execution systems (MES) and what really happens on the shop floor. Jen, Jonathan, and Darrell talk about the basics of MES, how they map to actual shop-floor operations, and the two pieces of advice he got on his first day of work that he still lives by.

Darrell starts with a simple, clear explanation of MES from the 50,000-foot view. “It’s three things to me,” he says. “It’s say what you do, do what you say, and prove it. Those three things are the cornerstone of MES.” As the discussion evolves, Jen and Jonathan are surprised to realize that the three categories aren’t linear or straightforward, as they had both expected. Instead, the categories are cyclical and iterative. Jen comments, “You’re constantly doing all three of those things throughout the entire [manufacturing] process.” “You can’t get around it,” agrees Darrell. “That’s the life of manufacturing right there.”

Say What You Do

Darrell explains that the “say what you do” component is essentially the process plan. He points out that people who work and focus on the shop floor often don’t understand that everything they’re doing comes from a process plan, which is created by a manufacturing engineer. The plan always contains parts, bills of materials (BOMs), and work instructions. It also has to include industrial engineering and quality (see audio clip), which involves inspection points, inspection plans, and sometimes even quality management systems (QMS).

Prompted by Jonathan’s question about where tooling and resources fit, Darrell describes document that his company creates to go with the process plan: a bill of resources. He says, “It’s the MBOM [manufacturing bill of materials], it’s the tools you need, and it’s also the documents that you’ll need. Those three pieces are considered resources that you’ll need throughout the manufacturing process.” He says that everything then flows up into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “An ERP system is the engine that sits there and takes all of that into account. When do I need the parts? How long is it going to take for me to build the part? And then how long is it going to take to build the assembly?”

Do What You Say

The ERP system is what moves a potential product to an actual one, what takes it from “say what you do” to “do what you say” by making a copy of the process plan and creating a planned order. Creating, as Jonathan puts it, an instantiation. Darrell further explains, “As we’re building that process plan, we’re in a static environment. Once it gets approved and an order gets created, life changes. Because now it goes from a static environment to a dynamic environment—and if you’ve ever been on a shop floor, you understand what I mean by dynamic.” In short, the order going through the process on the shop floor is the “do what you say” part or a work order on the shop floor being tracked.

Of course, with the dynamic nature of the shop floor, anything can happen. This can include changes and non-conforming parts. Those illustrate the cyclical nature of the MES as they move from the “do what you say” category back to “say what you do” in the form of instructions for process modifications or rework. In addition, “do what you say” also includes some aspects of the final category, “prove it,” because every piece of data that is recorded about the manufacturing process is part of the proof.

Prove It

The MES fulfills the “prove it” mandate because it records every quality check, every affirmation that something was done and approved, and every action taken. All of that data feeds into the technical data package, which is presented to the customer along with the product. Darrell gives the example of a helicopter being manufactured: “When that helicopter used to roll out onto the tarmac and they did test flights on it. They came back and said, okay, test flight was good, that technical data package includes everything that went into that helicopter. That’s the ultimate ‘prove it’.”

Learn More About MES

The full podcast episode offers many more details on the three-step MES framework, how MES and QMS systems interact, and the differences between an MBOM and an EBOM that have implications for a model-based enterprise (MBE) transformation.

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