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A step towards more assured manufacturing


Business Process Testing of Manufacturing Execution Systems

In this paper, we discuss the importance of assuring Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), as well as how Business Process Testing (BPT) helps in achieving business objectives through MES.

Integrating enterprise business systems with floor operations in plants is a key issue in a manufacturing led business environment. In order to monitor the production floor in real time, organizations are deploying Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that seamlessly integrate and synchronize the shop floor (plant automation system) with the top-floor (enterprise systems).

Business Process Testing (BPT) of MES can ensure the successful implementation and rollout of MES, optimize the testing value chain at a much lower cost and drive greater efficiency.

The Need for Manufacturing Execution Systems
Let us start with some common issues faced while using traditional information systems in manufacturing. Given below are two scenarios often encountered in manufacturing organizations:

Scenario 1: In a manufacturing plant, a product needs to be sent for rework. To ensure that the problem is effectively addressed, the production line needs specific information regarding the performance of instruments, data validation and reasons behind the failure. However, these cannot be provided using traditional systems.

Scenario 2: A customer places a make-to-order request and then frequently follows up on the quality of work on the production floor as well as the shipping schedule for the product. To respond to the customer's query, the production manager has to track the production team on the shop floor and collect necessary inputs.

A common observation in both these scenarios is the absence of interaction between the systems and data sources of the actual production line, with those of the enterprise i.e. the management.

Introducing a layer that interacts with systems at both levels and facilitates the flow of requisite data and information between them can bridge this gap. Organizations are increasingly realizing the necessity of integrating MES with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software suites. It helps provide the right information at the right time to help decision makers ensure accurate reporting across the supply chain and maintain better control over production.

Manufacturers today seek execution systems that can convert data to meaningful information, thereby acting as an important link in attaining the overall goals and objectives of the business. The role MES plays in ensuring reliability, quality and repeatability is at the heart of such systems.

Business Process Testing of MES to realize Operational Excellence
In an environment characterized by high competition, dynamic market trends and the emergence of disruptive technology, timely and accurate information is the key to successful business process reengineering aimed at implementing lean or agile manufacturing.

A holistic test process is essential to manufacturing. A quality check point at every phase not only ensures compliance but also curbs risks to business. Business Process Testing (BPT), which is the end to end testing of the business process, has become a widely accepted testing concept to ensure that technology delivers expected business outcomes.

Though the functional aspects of manufacturing processes are important, user experience and business continuity are also critical. BPT assures business processes in MES by testing both functional and non-functional aspects.

Businesses can thus easily respond to changing market trends, product dynamism and portfolio expansion demands. Taking a step towards more assured manufacturing.

Manufacturing is not a single layered, single interface function. In fact, manufacturing can be viewed as an amalgamation of four distinct business layers, namely the input output layer (devices), control and automation Layer, Manufacturing Execution layer and Enterprise Resource Planning layer.

For greater assurance, BPT in MES must ideally consist of the following steps:

  • Integration testing: Manufacturing industries today adopt a standardized, industry accepted approach to integration across functions. BPT utilizes this standard integration approach to test from a process point of view instead of testing at an entity level.
  • Standardized test processes: The business scenarios for BPT should be compiled using best practices from similar engagements within and across industries, with best in class test methodologies.
  • Customizable templates: Businesses today are driven by different strategies. To cater to the dynamic needs of business processes, a template driven approach can re-define the conventional test approach.
  • Automation and re-usability: Businesses look for automation wherever applicable to address the dual benefits of cost containment, and decreased manual efforts in test design through re-usability.

Moving Towards Intelligent Manufacturing
MES has brought a fundamental change to traditional manufacturing systems. Manufacturing has been evolving and is now moving towards a 'collaborative model' by bringing all the supply chain entities i.e. suppliers, customers and partners together. This has highlighted the need for manufacturing intelligence to derive meaningful insights from the collective information collated from all entities in a supply chain. It is important to collect reliable and accurate information in order to assure the business process and manufacturing system. Though manufacturing intelligence is executed at the ERP level, MES is crucial to its existence. The BPT approach to MES takes manufacturing to the next level of assurance.

BPT of MES accelerates the realization of measurable operational benefits through increased production throughput, improved quality, lean material inventories, and quantifiable financial objectives. This in turn lowers total cost of ownership, reduces inventory costs and ensures faster payback and higher return on investment.