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Lean Manufacturing and MES — Minimize Waste and Improve Productivity

If you’re involved with manufacturing, you know about Lean manufacturing: the process of analyzing the value stream to eliminate waste and improve productivity while maintaining control of the process.

Two basics of Lean manufacturing:
1) Doing only work that adds value to the product (improving productivity)
2) Avoiding non-value-add activities (minimizing waste)

Most manufacturers have come across, or even implemented, some kind of Lean methodology. Perhaps it’s 5S, Kaizen, Poka-Yoke, JIT (just in time), the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle, or Kanban. They’re all focused on reducing waste and improving quality, efficiency, and production.

But, what about an IT system, such as an MES (Manufacturing Execution System)? Does an MES fit in with Lean manufacturing? I’ll give you the short answer now: the fit is perfect. 

OK, let’s dig into why an MES solution works hand-in-hand with Lean.


Production Without Integration Isn’t Pretty

How many of these boxes can you check?

[  ] Production stations work in isolation, or at least they’re not integrated together
[  ] Production process flow is chaotic, and it’s not visible to others
[  ] Data on stations’ productivity is minimal, if existing at all

That last one is a biggie. An MES is networked to be integrated into the equipment so data collection is easy. It’s designed to gather and store production information, so you know how time is being spent and what’s being done. Yes, you can manually conduct industrial time studies on station performance, but those are flawed; you’ll never see a true picture of what’s happening. 

So, how does that tie into Lean? Well, similar to Lean manufacturing’s goals, an MES solution is focused on ensuring that the entire production process and all its activities (the full value stream) are integrated for full manufacturing process control. An MES’s rich data collection feeds Lean efforts from a continuous improvementperspective.

The end results are minimized waste, maximized efficiency, and improved accuracy and timeliness of production information.


Here’s an Example

At an assembly station, a good amount of operator time was spent working on a product. Great! However, some time was spent looking for parts. More time was spent reading instructions. And some time was spent waiting for supervisor assistance.

An MES solution aggregated this type of data across the plant, and management can now prioritize the top inefficiencies leading to waste. There are many places for improvement. Which requires attention first? Prioritization drives the Lean effort.

Looking at it full circle, after you take action to solve problems that were prioritized, you should then be able to see productivity improve through the MES’s data going forward. As a result of the system’s networking capabilities, the facility achieves total transparency and control of its manufacturing process. Every step — from releasing work orders to process control to output of production — is documented and analyzed. In Lean terms, missteps (or “sources of waste”) that cost time or money are identified and corrected.


Lean Loves a Repeatable Process

Lean engineer. Quality engineer. Manufacturing process engineer. Whether your job title focuses your efforts specifically on Lean, or it’s just a part of your responsibilities, an MES solution can help because of its ability to reduce scrap and wasted material and create a repeatable process.

The goal is always to implement a manufacturing process that can repeatedly produce a product. If it doesn’t, the MES detects the issue in real-time, and the production process is halted until the issue is corrected. This is a major cost-saverconsidering how much product could be produced incorrectly in just a few hours.

Back to our example earlier. There was some time wasted waiting for supervisor assistance. Let’s say a torque wrench didn’t tighten properly, and the MES immediately shut down the equipment and alerted a supervisor. In Lean terms, that means minimize waste. What if the supervisor could be notified immediately by email or text? What if they could also make the call to reroute that product to repair (and not halt the line)?

In cases like this, the MES solution would prove pivotal in keeping the operation Lean by sounding the right alarms, sending the right alerts, and providing the right contingency and containment plan.


Is Lean Possible Without an MES?

Yes. As we stated earlier, there are many methodologies available for manufacturers to use to implement Lean manufacturing. They’re just less optimal and less effective than an MES.

Without an MES:

  • Lack of visibility of the manufacturing process leads to more investigative work (and lost time)
  • Quantifying/prioritizing issues is closer to guesswork
  • Continuous improvement efforts aren’t clear


With an MES:

  • Real-time data and a rich data set drive decisions
  • Waste areas are tracked, improving Lean initiatives
  • Quantifying/prioritizing what issues to work on is easy


Another methodology, say Poka-Yoke, can help to reduce waste. An MES, however, identifies the waste (and can help control and eliminate it). That leads to an improvement in quality and productivity.


If You Have Lean Manufacturing Processes, You Still Need an MES

There may be a perception by some manufacturers that having Lean processes in place eliminates any need of an MES. They’ve eliminated some waste. They’ve improved their productivity. Life is getting better.

Yet, an MES does so much more. Think of an MES solution as a complement to Lean manufacturing. A HUGE complement.  

Remember the integration, the visibility, the transparency, the tracking, the process control, and the measuring of performance? An MES supports, strengthens, and helps implement Lean best practices. The key is having reliable data; this gold mine of information is in the system to feed and accelerate the Lean manufacturing process of continuous improvement. That’s why an MES solution is so important.

Doesn’t an MES sound interesting? We hope so! Learn more about what an MES solution does and how to select the right one. Read our guide, MES for Discrete Manufacturers; just click on the image below.

4 Big Benefits of an MES Solution
for discrete manufacturing