The manufacturing plants where we create the products and other goods that make our society’s daily life possible, are subject to a constant evolution. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution connectivity, automation and intelligence define the operation of those factories, in which, thanks to Social Business technology, everything, including people, machines, robots, systems and processes, maintains a constant dialogue.

Technologies that were born decades ago, like automation, Artificial Intelligence or industrial robots, have a notable presence in the so-called smart factories, which are the main actors of Industry 4.0 and the result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This concept, coined by the German economist and businessman, Klaus Martin Schwab, arises from the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds, and is impacting directly one of the fundamental pillars of societal development: the manufacturing activity.

As it is the case for Smart Cities, the leading factories distinguish themselves by their capacity for self-diagnosis and self-management. In addition, and thanks to the advanced management of the data they get from their own operations, they can have just-in-time manufacturing and are able to make decisions in an independent way, so to either avoid or else give an agile and effective response to any incident that may be translated into a loss of quality or productivity, or an increase in costs, both of which are the two main enemies of profitability.

Social MES, extended governance

Experts agree when they say that the technologies associated to Industry 4.0 allow a reduction of downtime by 45% and at the same time increase production capacity by about 25%. But enjoying these potential improvements requires always a correct government that, in manufacturing environments, relies on MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems). They are in charge of monitoring, controlling and documenting each and every one of the different processes that make the transformation of raw materials into finished products, a reality.

From their earliest origins, MES systems have been best allies in the proper working of factories in a multitude of sectors, ranging from food and beverages production to the pharmaceutical industry, through the automotive industry, the manufacturing of equipment goods, etc. Those industries are subject to highly demanding regulations regarding the control and documentation of events, actions and processes.

A factory’s MES systems constitute the link between the operational systems and the information systems and are located, specifically, at a level 3, between the level 4 of ERP systems and levels 0, 1 and 2, corresponding to process control. From this place, the MES systems intervene in four essential areas: production, quality, logistics and maintenance – where, as the executive arm of the ERP systems, they provide control and intelligence.

Over time and simultaneous to the advance of automation, sensorization and robotics, MES systems have continued to evolve and, in parallel with the socialization that is taking place in the information systems environment, they have obtained new capabilities that add to its current abilities the dialogue between people, machines, robots, systems and processes.

MES systems integrate new capacities to add dialogue between people, machines, robots and systems

Smart and social factories

The new generation of Social MES systems incorporates a layer of Social Business technology that, in the form of instant messaging applications and corporate social networks, allows the dialogue that makes it possible for factories, to not only be smart, but social, thus multiplying their intelligence. This progress is the result, on one hand, of the growing communication capabilities of machines, robots and all kinds of sensor objects through the Internet of Things (IoT) and, on the other, the growth of Social Business technology.

As a communication network that allows the connection and communication of “things” with other elements in the network, albeit human or physical, IoT is one of the pillars of Industry 4.0 and the main thread of a conversation that, thanks to Social Business technology, expands its reach and acquires a ubiquitous nature.

Thanks to the power of instant messaging and corporate social networks, Social MES transfers the continuous factory dialogue to a friendlier environment, that is easy to use and essentially collaborative. In the Social MES world, factory directors, production managers, quality and maintenance managers, as well as technicians and operators communicate with machines, robots and processes, as do systems, in the form of chatbots.

The result is, essentially, more intelligent, more agile and efficient and with greater flexibility to adapt to the acceleration of the innovation cycles in product development and to the increasing variation of market demands. In the same way, in this new stage, the factory can increase its capacity, in order to be ahead of any possible incident that may affect any part of it, from supply to quality control. In addition, based on the analysis of its operations history and based on different possible scenarios, the factory gets a vital ability: the possibility of advanced planning.

Social knowledge is key

In the same way that shared knowledge is one of the keys to the success of any human enterprise, it is also essential to achieve excellence in manufacturing. Sharing knowledge implies an advanced data management, as well as an easy access to it by each and every one of the elements in the chain, whether be they human or not. The Social MES systems allows sharing that knowledge in relation to what is expected to happen and what really happens throughout each and every one of the production cycle processes.

Social MES is, in short, the instant messaging and the corporate social network of 4.0 Factories, and the new paradigm of Industry 4.0. It is the backbone of factory operations and, therefore, essential to guarantee the almost instantaneous adaptability of manufacturing plants to fluctuations and variations in market demand or other factors (availability of raw materials, new labeling requirements, etc.). It also ensures end-to-end traceability that guarantees excellence, both for regulatory compliance and for customer service.