I usually write about Logistics and processes in the Supply Chains of retail organizations. This time I am going to make an exception and write a post about ERP, MES, and WMS systems. These systems are indispensable elements of the 4.0 Industry.
More and more often we speak about warehouse production instead of intralogistics processes. Today’s warehousing operations, especially those conducted on a large scale for e-commerce, are increasingly reminiscent of production processes.
That’s why when Bartłomiej Łatka, a solution architect for the 4.0 Industry, asked me what I thought about his opinions on ERP and MES systems, I couldn’t resist the desire to share these ideas with you.
Below, with Bartek’s consent, I have put an entry that not only every production manager but also every person responsible for the warehouse should read. You will certainly notice a lot of analogies between what, according to Bartek, is missing on the shop floor and what is missing in many companies, also in the warehouse.
I have added a few comments in places where I personally see the most significant similarities.
ERP, MES, WMS
Every third euro spent on a washing machine goes to manufacturers in Poland, and every eighth car part produced in Europe comes from Polish factories. Just by looking at the numbers, you might think that our country is an essential and technologically developed industrial center.
However, when visiting dozens of production plants in Poland, I noticed an interesting regularity. While almost all companies have an ERP system implemented, almost none have an operating MES system.
MES means Manufacturing Execution Systems and is a class of tools that collect information in real time directly from production stations, which allows to react to irregularities in the process on an ongoing basis. The obtained data also make it possible to analyze key performance indicators in production.
Needless to say, with such a level of process visibility, you cannot count on the processes’ effectiveness. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t measure something, you don’t manage it”.
MES in production is the equivalent of WMS (Warehouse Management System) in the warehouse. In many online stores and even local retail chains, I also notice a lack of such systems.
If the company does not have a MES or WMS, it means that planning and recording take place only through accounting. No one has any idea what is going on in the production hall and warehouse.
The warehouse is a black box analyzed only as a whole. In practice, however, effective Logistics cannot be built with only general knowledge of what is stored where and at what stage the order is being processed.Adam Sobolewski
As a result, instead of synergistic interaction of these systems, we are dealing with islands of software implemented around specific machines or executive systems.
I have asked many clients why our system landscape so often looks like that. I have also talked with both factory engineers as well as software and automation suppliers. But I didn’t get the answer. However, I used to deal with the design and implementation of ERP systems myself. So I would dare to say that I understand the reasons behind the situation.
Generally, software integrators are responsible for implementing ERP systems. Competencies of these organizations focus on screens, printouts, and reports from computers and terminals functioning in a company.
When it comes to controlling a production line or an actuating device such as a laser or a vision system, displaying the status of processes on synoptic boards or even lighting a trivial andon – this is where the integrator’s competencies end. IT companies are unlikely to hire industrial automators, Lean experts, or production process engineers.
Meanwhile, expensive equipment holds power in and around the production hall. Automation which various companies implement by default. Companies that are rather focused on their own device, own business, and contractual penalties for downtime caused by failures.
Similarly, a modern warehouse uses roller conveyors, belt conveyors, sorters, stacker cranes, and gravity slides. You can read about it and so much more in the Introduction to the Automated Warehouse.
I highly recommend that position. It was created by the National Center for Supply Chain Automation in the United States with the goal of increasing the number of qualified technicians.
On a general level, knowing the types of warehouse automation is useful to anyone who manages Logistics.Adam Sobolewski
IT companies don’t deal with such equipment. This is rather done by integrators specializing in automation and a narrow group of processes that are carried out using the devices they sell.
That is why the implementation of the 4.0 Industry in Central Europe does not go well at all. Robotization of a technological operation or hanging colorful boards in a plant is barely enough to talk about the 4th industrial revolution.
In my humble opinion, the road leads through the preparation and implementation of the 4.0 Industry strategy, taking into account the synergy of the world of IT and automation. Thanks to this, the proverbial screw will not only be visible in the ERP system as “different nuts, kg”. It will also be reflected in traceability processes, production line control, quality assurance processes, material flow processes, or floor operations.
Okay, but what next?
If after reading this article you see the need for automation in your company, get in touch with Bartek. If you need support in the area of the 4.0 Industry, MES, or ERP, he is probably the best person to contact in Poland.
However, if you would like to receive more information about the issue of WMS and systems supporting the Supply Chain, please contact me. I am available both on LinkedIn and via the contact form visible in the blog menu.
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Until the next post.