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MES or ERP for Maintenance Management?

Date posted: October 20, 2016

It’s not hard to understand the increasing focus on maintenance as a business or operations process; the imperative to drive out efficiencies and drive down capital investment through better leveraging current assets has turned the spotlight on maintenance management. The debate that has ensued: Is maintenance better served by being part of enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution systems (MES)?

A post by guest blogger Luigi De Bernardini on Automation World comes down on the side of MES, that “maintenance management is much more effective if brought to the operations level, where it can be integrated with other production processes and managed much closer to where things actually happen.” The author contends (and we agree) that this approach is strengthening, as demonstrated by the number of companies implementing maintenance as part of an MES/MOM project.

One of the drivers of this momentum is technology. “The possibility to connect assets and acquire information from them automatically—moving from preventive to predictive maintenance—requires managing all the data collected. This is a task that comes easier to a system designed to manage operational rather than business processes.” That task will be advanced further—and the operational orientation will gather greater momentum—as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Manufacturing 4.0 take hold.

De Bernardini reviews a worthwhile case history. The manufacturer’s situation was rather typical: It had an ERP system in place (managing accounting, finance, stocks, master items, and MRP). All its maintenance activities were managed externally to the system, using paper-based forms and Excel spreadsheets. No data was acquired directly from operations, and the information was not even manually integrated with production data. From a maintenance perspective, it was a greenfield state. The manufacturer had a constraint-free choice of integrating maintenance into ERP or MES. They chose MES:

The maintenance plan was integrated with production scheduling in order to minimize the impact of any activity on production time or product quality. Information about stoppages are collected automatically and delivered to maintenance personnel in real time, and are also used to automatically trigger work orders in the case of situations impacting production. All activities are tracked and execution time measured in order to calculate KPIs both on production and on maintenance, analyzing how the two processes interact and correlate. All information is available both in real time to enable production and maintenance operators to make informed decisions, and on a historic basis to analyze the behavior trends and optimize the organization. Everything was designed to be paperless.

The result was a single, totally integrated system that managed not only the maintenance numbers, but also the maintenance activities, optimizing integration with production. The solution has only been operating for a few months, so there’s little hard data on return at this point. But a number of benefits have become clear:

  • The impact of maintenance activity on production is reduced through the integration of two processes, and the planned availability of production assets is increased.
  • Production asset downtime is reduced because of the prompt response of maintenance operators as soon as any abnormal situation triggers an activity.
  • Data is available in real time; because it’s managed directly in place, it is more accurate than the data previously collected ex post. This gives a better view of how the processes interact and enables better organizational choices.
  • Maintenance activities take less time with all the documentation available on mobile devices. This not only reduces the time needed to collect the necessary documentation, but also decreases the number of errors.
  • Collaboration has increased because of the more transparent information availability.

It’s hard to imagine these results could have been realized in such a short time if the manufacturer had chosen ERP over MES.