Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

MES for AM Addresses Key Challenges, Provides Big Benefits

August 24, 2022

This past spring at AMUG 2022, among the technologies on display were systems and software for coordinating and streamlining additive manufacturing (AM) operations, and integrating these operations into an organization’s wider business operations. In traditional manufacturing, organizations make extensive use of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) technology toward this end. Now we are seeing an increase in offerings tailored to the unique needs of AM.

Software-AMFG-MESWith this in mind, let’s explore how such systems can meet the needs of AM operations, courtesy of information from Autonomous Manufacturing (AMFG), which showcased its MES and workflow software for AM at AMUG.

Many manufacturers face significant challenges when adopting AM for production. One big barrier: the lack of an end-to-end platform that connects all data, processes and operations. Other obstacles to establishing a scalable operations revolve around traceability and standardization.

Accounting for all of this, along with the complexities associated with multiple production sites and processes that may employ different enterprise software, AM MES software can play a critical role. In simple terms, an MES for AM supports management, monitoring and automation of all real-time processes related to AM production, whereas traditional MES is limited in its ability to manage AM’s unique requirements. Additive MES encompasses all stages of the production workflow, such as ordering, scheduling and quality-assurance management. 

A robust MES solution for AM can track and document all AM production data in real time, and may include production costs, material usage and order-turnaround time. This enables greater process control, improved decision making and greater efficiency. And, when integrated with other enterprise systems, additive MES provides flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing manufacturing landscape and meet business objectives.

Addresses Key Challenges

MES benefitsMES systems developed specifically for AM aim to address these four key challenges, as noted by AMFG:

  • Value creation. When adopting technology for production, value can be achieved in two key ways: reducing costs and increasing productivity. With additive MES software, users can reduce manufacturing costs by identifying ways to optimize processes and raise productivity. Automation, coupled with real-time performance tracking, provides the data and real-time analytics needed for making immediate adjustments where necessary, thus reducing labor costs. And, additive MES ensures achievement of company objectives and expectations for lead times. Advanced platforms can support increases in production volumes, thereby helping to meet growth objectives and KPIs. 
  • Standardization. A lack of standardization leads to workflow inefficiencies. With no standardized way for internal teams to receive orders from other areas of the business, for example, ordering processes become time-consuming, with endless emails becoming the norm. For manufacturers operating from multiple sites, standardized processes offer economies of scale and significant cost-savings. Additive MES software addresses this by providing a centralized means to manage operations across multiple sites, and establishes a standardized management process that can be deployed multinationally. Taking the example above, a standardized interface for ordering optimizes the order-management process, facilitating improved communication between stakeholders. 
  • Traceability. A lack of traceability greatly hampers the ability to scale operations. Traceability proves vital for identifying key bottlenecks and optimizing operations, such as the importance of accurately pinpoint the root cause of a part failure before the problem becomes critical. Operating across multiple sites makes lack of visibility an even bigger issue, as obtaining a clear overview of each site’s operations becomes critical to maximizing efficiency and productivity. Additive MES can track and document data throughout the production workflow, allowing stakeholders to access key information at any stage of the process. It also enables teams to track job status in real time, which allows for optimized production planning and greater productivity.
  • Connectivity. Many companies exhibit a disconnected AM process due to use of separate, disparate systems for managing workflow. Connectivity, often referred to as the “digital thread,” establishes a workflow that consists of integrated hardware and software systems that can communicate with each other for maximum efficiency. Additive MES plays a critical role here, by enabling integration with existing business-critical software such as ERP and PLM systems. Increasingly, MES vendors also seek to integrate directly with AM machines and other physical systems, to enable more in-depth insights by manufacturers into the overall performance of their operations, and improve decision making.

Delivers Key Benefits

challengesIn addressing the issues identified above, MES for AM delivers six key benefits:

  1. Greater visibility. Additive MES software provides a centralized platform where stakeholders can gain complete visibility into the organization’s AM operations. This “single version of truth” facilitates collaboration between stakeholders, regardless of function, to optimize operations and reduce costs. Eliminating data silos better equips  stakeholders to make informed, data-driven decisions. And, MES for AM tracks and enables access to historical production data and statistics. Through KPI tracking, reporting and analytics, companies can take deeper dives into the key factors driving productivity. 
  2. Automated processes. Manual processes, time-consuming and prone to human error, pose huge challenges. As manufacturers gear up for AM production, spreadsheets, paper and back-and-forth emails no longer prove adequate to deal with increased production volumes and demands. Additive MES software replaces these fragmented systems to connect the shop floor to the rest of the organization, and ensure a digital thread across the AM workflow. Key stages of the workflow often performed manually, such as order management and production scheduling, can be automated to save time and reduce the chance of human error. 
  3. Reduced manufacturing costs. Additive MES reduces manufacturing costs by streamlining and optimizing operations. It can be used to monitor job status automatically, freeing labor costs and enabling operators to prioritize other tasks. It also can track material consumption, thus reducing waste. 
  4. Reduced inventory costs. AM has made the prospect of digital inventories a reality. The ability to produce parts from digital files brings new opportunities for distributed manufacturing—exciting for the production of spare parts, where typically lower-demand parts can be produced on demand, more economically. But, to be effective, manufacturers require detailed and accurate inventory data made available to the right user at the right time. An additive MES platform with digital-inventory capabilities helps manufacturers manage spare-part production more effectively. 
  5. Scalability. As an organization’s AM strategy and operations evolve, scalable additive MES solutions prove flexible enough to adapt and respond to the needs of the business. Therefore, the right MES for AM provides a scalable platform upon which an organization can expand its AM operations. 
  6. Standardized processes. Additive MES software forms the foundation for establishing a standardized AM process. A robust additive MES platform can be rolled out easily across the organization, establishing a set of procedures and best-practice processes to ensure operational efficiency and continuous improvement.

Information for this article came courtesy of Autonomous Manufacturing (AMFG), Irvine, CA. For more on MES for AM, read Additive Manufacturing MES Software: The Essential Guide, a whitepaper available on the AMFG website. 3DMP

Industry-Related Terms: Additive manufacturing
View Glossary of 3D Metal Printing Terms


See also: AMFG

Technologies: Software


Must be logged in to post a comment.
There are no comments posted.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Start receiving newsletters.