Supervisory control and data acquisition systems, or SCADAs, conceptually differ from manufacturing execution systems (MESs) which often describe a broad range of similar functionalities. Nonetheless, the two systems are integrable and fundamentally maintain a symbiotic relationship that benefits the industrial food and chemical processing sector in several key ways.
At their base, SCADA systems incorporate a graphical user interface that gives plant managers and shop floor operators valuable real-time insight into their warehouse production processes. The additional visibility means you can make equipment adjustments and update your procedures on the fly to enhance workplace productivity and safety. In contrast, an MES helps manufacturers track, control, document, and improve their overall production in ways that frequently overlap those of a SCADA system.
SCADA systems provide live-time equipment information stored granularly while its user interface supplies you with a diversity of tracking functions, giving you more insight into your manufacturing processes and equipment use. MES solutions, on the other hand, differ from SCADA systems in that they often contain custom extensions that show SCADA-like visualizations of your production units. With that in mind, both systems can be used separately or in tandem with each other. Explore the differences between SCADA and MES in our insightful article, focusing on ‘SCADA vs MES’ in industrial automation.
Is it a good idea to combine an MES and SCADA system?
As we’ve discussed in previously written articles, system consolidation comes with several benefits, chief among them an opportunity to reduce operational complexity and cut your operating costs while boosting efficiency. But when it comes to these two systems whose functions frequently overlap, it is important to consider whether or not the risks outweigh the benefits.
Technology convergence has thematized nearly every business sector over the last several years. We’ve watched our mobile phones transform into smartphones before they integrated the same processing powers as digital products that were just recently marketed as high-end laptops and professional-grade video cameras. This same phenomenon isn’t unknown to the manufacturing and chemical processing industries.
Most recently, programable automation controllers (PACs) extended the industrial capabilities of the standard programmable logic controller (PLC). Thus, PACs are on a path to eventually replace the now ubiquitous PLC units while integrating several new and notably absent features. Technological convergence, in other words, happens when you combine two industrial technologies that serve similar yet distinct purposes to create a more capable and effective solution. Ideally, convergent technologies lower your operating costs by integrating enough automation to reduce the number of managers and operators required to run them.
This kind of technology consolidation is no less evident in materials requirement planning (MRP) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. As more front office and plant floor applications converged, the ERP system evolved from what was once considered a production and planning tool to a system that can handle everything from revenue forecasting to inventory distribution tracking.
A similar convergence is happening just now with MES and SCADA systems, which is a vital factor if you’re thinking about combining the two solutions. Before getting to whether or not you should integrate an MES and SCADA system, let’s take a deeper dive into how these systems differ and where they overlap.
SCADA vs MES: More differences and overlaps
We discussed briefly in the introduction how MES and SCADA systems are different but similar and, in some cases, dependent on one another. But how else do these systems differ, specifically, and in what other ways do their core functionalities overlap? MES software helps manufacturers manage their production orders while producing relevant raw production data and track-and-trace information to better summarize their key performance indicators (KPIs). It is not uncommon for SCADA systems to communicate transactionally with MES and ERP systems.
A stand-alone SCADA system gives you a comprehensive real-time view of your plant floor by connecting remotely itself with your equipment. It takes readings from your programmable logic controllers, sensors, and other floor-level devices to produce raw data that lets you know where your production and output currently stand along with any potential maintenance or performance issues that could lead to unplanned system downtime. SCADA gives you a set of supervisory controls that your human operators can rely on to react quickly and make the adjustments required to keep your operations running smoothly.
SCADA systems need to communicate at sub-second rates with PLCs, making MES systems slightly slower. Instead of instant control, MES software is orientated more toward hours, entire shifts, or even week-long increments. The difference in speed is significant and impacts the industrial protocols like OPC or Modbus required to operate a SCADA system. MES solutions, in comparison, support a wider selection of communication protocols that allow it to interface with SCADA and other related systems like an ERP.
This difference in communication speeds is one of the primary objections to not combining MES and SCADAs systems. Both systems require some level of human involvement and, in this sense, aren’t fully automated yet. And while the tools focus on essentially the same aspects, the time increments in which they read and interpret data are markedly different. The two systems, therefore, analyze different information from the same sources. Therefore, depending on your circumstances, combining an MES and SCADA system into one solution could be a wise decision for reducing operational complexity and boosting efficiency.
What are the advantages of integrating MES with SCADA?
The first benefit of combing an MES with a SCADA system is that you will reduce your investments in licensing fees and hardware. Likewise, your process complexity is minimized when your operators are required to interact with fewer screens.
Several different screens for operating a single piece of equipment will only open the door to unnecessary human operator errors. Integrating your essential tasks under a single control point is never a bad idea, especially if it’s equipment your operators work with daily.
Is combining an MES and SCADA the right decision?
You are ultimately the only one who can determine if converging an MES and SCADA into one solution makes sense for your warehouse. The two heavyweight systems already demand a considerable amount of computer power. By combining them, you should first ensure you have the capacity to monitor and maintain the new technology to avoid issues like slow network speeds.
Unsure if converging a SCADA system with an MES is the right move for you? EZSoft is a full-service integrator of process control systems that provides industrial automation solutions to the food and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. If you’re thinking about implementing a SCADA or MES software solution at your factory, fill out EZSoft’s online request form or phone us today at (484) 568-5040.