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MES for Cable Production: To Build or Buy?

What are the choices for manufacturers looking to invest in an MES? They can acquire an IIoT platform and create an MES from scratch, or acquire a purpose-built MES specifically for cable-making.

Digital signals flying over highway.

The drive to maximize efficiency, minimize material usage and improve quality means that most manufacturers either possess or are looking for a new manufacturing execution system (MES) to monitor and control these business parameters at both the macro and micro levels on the shop floor.

The Internet of Things (IoT) age has made significant inroads into manufacturing through the prevalence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) development platforms.

So, what are the choices that the cable manufacturer faces when looking to invest in a new MES? There are two: acquire an IIoT platform and create an MES from scratch or acquire a purpose-built MES design specifically for cable-making, built on an IIoT platform, which facilitates quick project implementation with flexibility and scalability.

Here is an analysis of both choices:

Cable manufacturers began working with IIoT platforms to build custom MES systems. These are complex and require much software development to perform well in a cable manufacturing environment. Most cable manufacturers who chose this path have had to contract a system integrator to develop their MES system using an IoT platform. This is an expensive undertaking. However, the major disadvantage is that system integrators do not understand cable production, handling semi-continuous processes, such as extrusion, tracing quality by length, targets and managing length.

There have been several failures of such implementations. What harms these initiatives is the steep learning curve the system integrator has to go through to specify and develop the application for cables. Once the development is complete, the system is expected to be redeveloped with the lessons learned, either using the same system integrator or a new system integrator.

The alternative to employing a system integrator is for the manufacturer to train in-house process engineers to use IIoT platforms to build an in-house MES. But the enormity of the task has stopped many such initiatives as the time of process engineers is a valuable resource in any factory.

The “develop in-house software” mindset is reminiscent of the 1990s, when a generation of university graduates had software development skills and easy-to-use programming platforms such as Microsoft Excel. This resulted in unsupported islands of automation, struggling to work in unison to support the company processes without much manual intervention.

A third option is to acquire a purpose-built, well-architected, commercial MES for cable-making, such as CableMES from UL Solutions. There are many advantages to this approach, including:

  • Cost – It is generally cheaper in software and implementation costs.
  • Implementation timescales – Because of UL Solutions’ experience in the cable industry, CableMES will be implemented by qualified staff.
  • Integration with cable-based systems – Integration with ERP and test equipment would be readily available with minor customization.

CableMES uses the trusted ‘System Platform’   as its underlying architecture. The advantage of this method is that it has preconfigured software architecture with integration to devices and other systems. It also benefits from a developed workflow, quality tracking, performance tracking, and job tracking specifically for the cable industry.

Since the basis of the system is an IIoT platform, process engineers can extend CableMES using a dashboard aimed at individual users to customize the application to the specific need of the factory in a controlled manner. Engineers can also use a powerful analytical tool to corollate events with process conditions and determine who did what, when where, and why. For example, finding what extruder condition caused a quality problem is possible.

In conclusion, a commercially available MES based on an IIoT platform for cable making benefits from a well-architected, system. with integration and data aggregation.


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