As the Middle East moves inexorably towards a digital, diverse economy, all eyes are on the manufacturing and heavy industry sectors.
For example in 2021, the UAE’s Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT) got together with 12 private companies (the so-called “Champions 4.0 Network”) and Departments of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ajman, on an initiative known as “UAE Industry 4.0”. It was designed to promote and empower the sector, as was the ministry’s recent follow-up programme, Operation 300bn, which aims to increase the industrial sector’s GDP contribution from AED133 billion ($36.2 billion) to AED300 billion ($81.6 billion) by 2031.
Manufacturing is a diverse segment, and the support of regional governments spells “opportunity” for everyone. There is currently a boom in the residential property market, and that translates to good news for steel- and cement-producing businesses. If we factor in the announcement of larger, umbrella projects like the 15-minute city concept announced at Dubai Expo, or the giga-projects underway in Saudi Arabia, we can easily foresee revolutions in mobility, and increased focus on food security leading to opportunities in the F&B market. The list goes on.
Having created an ideal ecosystem for manufacturers to thrive, the government has done its part. Now, it is up to the Middle East’s private sector to again innovate and seize the moment. Of course, we hear “innovate” and we think “technology”. The region’s manufacturers are no strangers to bold tech investment. Their leaps in digital transformation are already widely known, including the deployment of advanced ERP systems that tie into every detail of the business. But to go further and create the future envisioned by the region’s leaders, enterprises must recognise the missing link at the heart of their digital operations. The factories of the future will need an advanced mission-control centre, built on the manufacturing execution system (MES) — a platform that is an all-in-one overseer, QA chief, and production manager for the Industry 4.0 business.
There are four main reasons why MES will be indispensable.
The principal function of an MES is to help decision makers understand how the business is operating. With the right clarity on what is not quite right, opportunities arise for adjustment and optimisation. An MES, for example, will be able to deliver information on the precise number of parts needed to make a specific number of product units and how long this batch will take to complete. While a human can do the same, the MES can do this in real time, allowing for quicker responses and more agile operations.
With an MES, managers can also track the number of workers and shifts needed to fulfil production demand, thereby rapidly calculating scheduling requirements, including any need for recruitment. The system is also useful in deriving optimum target values for overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Indeed, overall accuracy boons put paid to the guesswork of the past and create a more knowledge-based enterprise.
2. Real-time visibility
A side-effect of accuracy and speed is the much-lauded capability of real-time visibility. Every business wants it, but it is sometimes elusive. Not for MES, which invariably has access to the right data at the right moment to add the right insights in the right context. Faster decisions enable quicker responses to a range of happenings, whether on the factory floor or in the markets outside.
MES-empowered enterprises can reduce their overall labour requirement by improving their inventory accuracy and checking part availability. No more walks to the plant floor, especially when managers have trustworthy, remote visibility into how parts are running, and machines are performing. The shrunken workforce will not be overburdened when machine operators and supervisors can always see the performance of their equipment and be proactive about improvements. And, of course, deskbound knowledge workers have the flexibility and access to systems necessary to work remotely.
There is the magic word. It is why decision makers want accurate, real-time visibility in the first place. “Innovation” is the end goal. MES goes hand in hand with Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors on factory and warehouse floors collect data and connect IT and OT. Manufacturing execution systems sit in the middle as sophisticated intermediaries, relaying rich information as actionable insights. MES is inherently capable of playing well with other technologies because of its capability of digesting data flexibly. Augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and other hardware and software tools can integrate to enrich the overall knowledge ecosystem. Like the conductor of an orchestra, MES unites powerful individual elements and choreographs their interaction to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
Let’s be clear. Automation alone cannot deliver the factory of the future. Human ingenuity is essential. But we live in a region plagued by a talent shortage. Here, MES can help. Not only are today’s candidates more attracted to employers who equip them with the latest technology, but MES solutions provide interfaces that are so intuitive that they themselves can bridge some of the talent gap. They can develop the skills of operators through rich training documentation and multimedia, work instructions and part drawings, process steps, and “call for help” assistance capabilities.
MES also has built-in training certification and skills-management capabilities. Much like a human supervisor, the platform can assess operators for their readiness to run a machine and certify them based on completed training and efficiency ratings. For example, an operator may not be allowed to run a machine alone until they achieve a 60% OEE. The MES can use its list of qualified personnel to schedule work tasks.
No MES-ing around
Opportunities abound for Middle East manufacturers amid the Industry 4.0 strategies and ambitions of regional governments, but as MES grows more popular, successes will flow more abundantly to those that have taken the implementation leap.
By Vibhu Kapoor, Regional Vice President - Middle East, Africa & India, Epicor