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- A Q&A with the co-authors of the new ISA book: Manufacturing Execution Systems: An Operations Management Approach
A Q&A with the co-authors of the new ISA book: Manufacturing Execution Systems: An Operations Management Approach
ISA recently published Manufacturing Execution Systems: An Operations Management Approach by Grant Vokey and Thomas Seubert—two widely recognized, experienced experts in manufacturing operations and manufacturing processes and controls. In this Q&A feature, the authors highlight the focus, importance, and differentiating qualities of the book.
Note: Photographs of the authors and their biographies are included at the bottom of this page.
Q. What prompted you to write it? Was there a specific need or challenge the book is attempting to solve?
A. [VOKEY] There is much hype from the enterprise IT side of a business and not enough understanding from the operations side of MES. Many IT consultants also don’t have the operations knowledge to properly explain or configure an MES. This book looks to resolve both issues.
A. [SEUBERT] I want to add that there has been a lot of misunderstandings about MES out there. Before this book, you could ask five people what an MES is and you would get five different answers, whether it was related to business process or technology. Also, there have been no good textbooks out there for universities to develop a good MES overview course. This book addresses those issues as well.
Q. I have heard references to Manufacturing Execution Systems for some time…but not Manufacturing Operations Management. Is MOM something totally new? Could you briefly explain it in relation to the MES?
A. [VOKEY] MES is an application used in the discipline of Manufacturing Operations Management. Although there are many descriptions of MOM by IT professionals, we are presenting it as a subset in the discipline of operations management that pertains directly to the manufacturing floor. It includes: production management, facilities management (related to production equipment), process improvement and also includes initiatives such as Lean, Six Sigma and others.
A. [SEUBERT] What’s lacking is a holistic approach to manufacturing that MES is only a piece. If people were unsure of what a MES is, then they would not understand how it fits with both ERP (enterprise resource planning) and PLM (product lifecycle management), together making up the concept of MOM. I believe I first heard of MOM being used to cover all of manufacturing first from Siemens about eight years ago.
Q. You have stated that the book “explains MES almost exclusively from an operations and continuous improvement context and how to tie MES into other corporate planning and improvement initiatives.” Could you explain this?
A. [VOKEY] There is a lot of misinformation on how to use MES. The typical IT professionals that implement MES will do so according to what is requested by operations people during an implementation phase called blueprinting. In many cases, the operations people do not have enough experience or understanding of MES to define requirements properly. The result is an inadequate or at least limited implementation that in the long run will create discontent in MES capability.
As an additional note, there are many in recent years (one-two years) that define IIoT as something that will replace the need for MES. The whitepaper that I have included in the book (one of the appendixes) defines how MES may change but will not be replaced by IIoT.
A. [SEUBERT] I concur with what Grant says here, but I’ll add that MES has been incorrectly considered as just a “system” and not a set of at times interdependent business processes. This is why some people mistakenly think that IIoT can replace MES: IIoT is the new technology that enables MES.
Q. And why is tying “MES into other corporate planning and improvement initiatives” important and valuable/new?
A. [VOKEY] Corporate planning frequently uses other activities (time and capacity studies) to gain the data that is already available in MES because the field is so poorly understood by senior operations. This external data collection is time consuming and faulty by nature (derived from very limited scope of data and significant amounts of capacity consumed within the hidden factory). Understanding the wealth of data and the information determined from MES is part of what we are trying to rectify.
A. [SEUBERT] I have nothing more to add to Grant’s response.
Q. Have other books on MES covered Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)? If so, why not? Is this a new approach? Is this a critical differentiator in your book?
A. [VOKEY] Other books have presented MOM almost as an additional application of MES more so from an IT perspective. There is another book that also presents MES implementation in particular from an executive perspective (published by ISA as well). This is the first book to present the use of MES as it applies to ongoing operations and correctly interprets MOM as an overarching discipline.
A. [SEUBERT] I agree; our approach is from the business process side, not strictly from an IT side.
Q. When you emphasize the great potential for the MES to improve MOM, what exact type of results are you referring to?
A. [VOKEY] Well everything from operations management comes back to cost savings and therefore improvement in profitability. The benefits that MES provides is stability in process (preventing human error) and also removing the “noise” of uncontrolled variation in process that hides problems and prevents continuous improvement from sustained results. MES also helps continuous improvement in almost every department of operations by making the same data available to be interpreted as required by different departments in operations. In this regard, it would be best to review “7.3.1 The Process of Process Improvement” in chapter 7 to understand.
A. [SEUBERT] I have nothing more to add to Grant’s response.
Q. What type of professionals—specific job roles, titles—are you targeting to read the book? Who could benefit most from this book?
A. [VOKEY] Manufacturing and quality engineers (or students of these areas), Lean and Six Sigma consultants, operations managers (or students of operations management) and senior managers of manufacturing companies that are looking into MES.
A. [SEUBERT] Another audience will be university students, mostly professionals, looking to improve their understanding of MES. Right now the potential for this will be in a master’s degree as well as a separate industry/manufacturing certification.
Q. Do you have any other key points of emphasis/explanation that you want to highlight?
[SEUBERT] In chapters 11 and 12, we try to anticipate the future use and management for MES through setting the expectation on developing an MES strategy as well as defining the current challenges for MES, including understanding the importance of proper planning, either for new plants or how best to utilize the newest IIoT technology to improve manufacturing operations. Many people have already stated that IIoT is "disruptive." In reality, it is no more disruptive than any other new technology. It all depends on understanding the cost/benefit evaluation.
Obtain your copy of Manufacturing Execution Systems: An Operations Management Approach today.
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Meet the Authors
Grant Vokey serves as principal consultant at Vokey Consulting Inc. He possesses more than 20 years of diverse manufacturing operations experience and more than 15 years of experience integrating IT systems to the manufacturing floor.
Throughout his career, Vokey has developed a strong understanding of how manufacturing companies work and the information needed to operate at world-class levels. He has honed his knowledge and capabilities—particularly in industry best practices and in best-in-class utilization of Manufacturing Execution Systems—through continuous training and many years as a certified operations manager.
Grant is an acclaimed subject matter expert in the development of industry-leading MES applications/solutions/programs, and MES implementations in various verticals (electronics, industrial equipment, automotive, metal fabrication). To his clients and within the MES industry as a whole, he has cultivated a reputation for providing sound, practical advice and direction.
Thomas Seubert is Manufacturing Execution Systems Project Manager at American Axle & Manufacturing. He possesses more than: 25 years of experience with manufacturing processes and controls, 18 years of experience in IT, and 17 years of experience with Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).
In previous positions, he has worked as an MES consultant and an MES delivery and presales manager. He’s also worked on several shop floors and MES projects going back to the year 2000, when GM and EDS were developing MES solutions.
Tom has consulted on MES solutions for the multi-tiered automotive market, as well as the aerospace, plastics, steel, tire, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries.
He was a keynote speaker at the 2015 Industrial Engineering and Operations Management Society International conference, which was held in Orlando, Florida, and received a Distinguished Service Award at the event. Tom earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.
Tom helps young people and adults develop leadership skills through his involvement in the Boy Scouts of America, which in 2014 presented him with a District Award of Merit.