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Manufacturing operations management merges ERP and MES

As integrated manufacturing systems evolve, a new term -- manufacturing operations management -- signifies the merger of ERP and MES.

There's a new acronym in town. MOM, for manufacturing operations management,* is becoming the new term to define comprehensive enterprise systems for manufacturing.

When the first packaged, integrated systems for manufacturers hit the market in the 1970s, they were known as manufacturing resource planning systems (MRP II). The Roman numeral indicated there was already an MRP -- material requirements planning -- that was in fact the backbone of MRP II. The new packages brought to the table integrated execution systems like production control and purchasing to provide the closed loop of information that made MRP a real working tool for manufacturing information. Typically, MRP II also included customer order management, inventory control and financial applications.

For two decades, MRP II was the industry-recognized term for enterprise systems, until enterprise resource planning (ERP) emerged. ERP is the evolutionary descendent of MRP and MRP II, and it is arguably the very same thing -- old wine in new bottles. The succession of new acronyms reflects the fact that enterprise systems have, from the very beginning, expanded and evolved, becoming more comprehensive and capable with each new release.

In the mid-1990s, analyst firms and industry pundits decided MRP II needed a new name to emphasize the fact that the new versions of enterprise systems were much improved from the earlier systems that carried the MRP II designation. ERP was defined to include a broad range of functionality and to employ the leading technologies of the day -- client-server computing and relational database management. The Internet was not yet a factor.

Truth be told, ERP should not be defined as a technology platform, but as a set of processes enabled by technology. Technology changes quickly and dramatically, but it seldom impacts the functionality of ERP applications other than by enabling or enhancing the implementation of the processes the software is striving to provide. Internet protocols and connectivity do not deliver collaboration; they enable the collaborative processes built into the software applications.

An evolution driven by acquisition

The MRP/MRP II/ERP history of growth and expansion is driven largely by acquisitions. Independent companies develop point solutions (also called best-of-breed) that address specific functions to an extent that broad-based packages like ERP cannot match. As this niche market develops, ERP developers either emulate the niche functionality or acquire the specialty software provider and weave the functionality into their package. Advanced planning and scheduling (APS) and customer resource management are prime examples of this phenomenon.

Historically, MRP II/ERP evolved separately from manufacturing execution systems (MESes) because, in the early days, very different computer platforms served these two distinct markets. Business systems like MRP II ran on business computers that were optimized for human user interface, large-scale data management and reporting. The MES world, by contrast, required raw speed above all to manage equipment controls and direct data acquisition and processing on a time scale that was not important in the business world. In the vernacular of that time, business applications ran on mainframes and minicomputers while plant-floor systems ran on workstations and networked programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

Technology platform is no longer a distinction between these two software environments, making communications and integration much simpler and more effective than before. And the dividing line between ERP and MES, somewhat blurred to begin with, is now more a matter of opinion than a matter of fact. A number of ERP developers are now incorporating what has traditionally been MES functionality -- statistical process control, finite scheduling and detailed production scheduling/sequencing, and direct machine interface for data collection.

Manufacturing operations management -- or MOM -- is the new term being used to indicate that ERP has moved fully into the MES (plant floor) space and includes the functionality of both, uniting information systems "from the plant floor to the top floor," as more than one vendor proclaims.

*Not to be confused with Microsoft Operations Management (MOM), a server performance monitoring and management toolset.

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