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What Is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

July 24, 2019

In today’s competitive marketplace, manufacturers like you need to know how to improve efficiency to gain an advantage. Essentially, you need to make more with less—and a manufacturing execution system (MES) can help you do just that.

In technical terms, a manufacturing execution system is a system that connects and monitors machines and work centers on the factory floor. The main goal of an MES is to ensure successful implementation of manufacturing operations and improve production efficiency.

Think of it like this—if you’re launching a rocket, then the MES is like the mission control center. When the rocket launches, you’re tracking the altitude control system, power, propulsion, telemetry, and much more. By monitoring and tracking this information, you can make sure the rocket reaches orbit successfully, and you can find areas of improvement for the next rocket launch.

Still a little fuzzy on what a manufacturing execution system is? Fear not! By the end of this deep dive, you’ll have a much better understanding of what it can do and whether it’s a good fit for your business.

Concepts and Glossary of Terms

Like any piece of software, manufacturing execution systems come with a whole bunch of concepts and terms that help provide a better understanding of what they actually are. On the surface, they might seem like they have their own language, but it’s not that complicated. Here are some of the more common terms and concepts associated with them:

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system—powerful and strategic business process management tools that integrate all facets of an enterprise into one comprehensive information system that can be accessed by individuals across an entire organization
  • MESA-11—published in 1997, this model—created by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA)—indicated the 11 core functions of a standard MES
  • ANSI/ISA-95 standard—created for global manufacturers by the International Society of Automation, this is a standard set of guidelines for developers to follow when creating software that automatically links enterprise systems—like ERP—and control systems
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)—a general unit of measure that evaluates how well a machine works compared to its full potential
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)—a system of software and hardware elements that allows manufacturers to maintain efficiency, process data for smarter decisions, and communicate system issues to help reduce downtime

Core MES Functionality

Per the MESA-11 model, standard manufacturing execution systems required 11 core functions. In the years since it was first published, MESA has revised the model to also span enterprise-level strategic initiatives, business operations, plant operations, and actual production. However, for our purposes, we’re going to focus on those original 11 core functions—that are still very much a part of today’s MES systems—and how they’re used to improve manufacturing efficiency.

  1. Operations management
    Offer your employees a global view of planned production orders and their production routing. This ensures your entire staff is on the same page and reduces errors due to miscommunication.
  2. Dispatching production units
    Manage the bidirectional flow of production data in real time between the ERP and the workshop. This ensures production data is always accurate, consistent, and up to date.
  3. Product tracking and genealogy
    Group final parts or batches with all their corresponding manufacturing data—from the raw material to the component assembly. This data is especially useful for manufacturers that must comply with government or industry regulations.
  4. Labor management
    Easily manage your people, products, and/or operations and track any skills or authorizations they require. This ensures that you always have the right people in place at each step of the production process.
  5. Quality management
    Manage the quality of your manufacturing process and units—including quality deviations and exceptions. This function can be integrated directly into the MES software or can use external software.
  6. Maintenance management
    More easily and accurately plan preventative machine maintenance to reduce downtime and production interruptions.
  7. Data collection and acquisition
    Track and gather essential data and easily recover that data when you need it.
  8. Process management
    Provide process routing and operational sequencing—including full production traceability.
  9. Performance analysis
    Consolidate data to calculate key performance indicators (KPIs) like rework, scrap, process capability, OEE, and more. This lets you know how your production process is working and how it could be improved.
  10. Document control
    Provide a simple way for your operators to access important documents—including instructions, drawings, notes, and more—when they need them. This saves you and your employees time by not having to search through file cabinets for the information you need.
  11. Resource allocation and status
    Define and track the status of your resources and how they are used in the production process.

    How Do MES and ERP Work Together?

    MES systems and ERP systems play separate but complementary roles in manufacturing operations.

    ERP systems integrate all facets of an enterprise into one comprehensive information system. For example, employees in planning and scheduling have access to the same data as the staff in financial management. All the data is also available in real time, which enables production managers to make faster, more informed business decisions.

    Meanwhile, MES is the layer between your manufacturing shop floor systems—like machines and supervisory systems—and your business, planning, and logistics systems—basically, your ERP solution. MES and ERP integrate with each other to provide a single source of truth throughout your organization. ERP systems can show you that you might need to improve your production output—MES shows you how.

    Is an MES Right for My Business?

    By now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why doesn’t everyone have an MES?” There are plenty of benefits—including increased productivity, improved data capture, real-time visibility into your operations, an optimized workforce, and more.

    An MES also provides materials traceability, which is invaluable for manufacturers that must adhere to strict regulations. Manufacturers in the food and beverage, medical device, aeronautics and aerospace, and defense industries require this traceability to ensure they are compliant with regulations.

    However, manufacturing execution systems aren’t for everyone. Smaller manufacturers may find that their production operations aren’t large enough to justify an additional software system like an MES. Additionally, they may feel that their profit margins don’t allow for this type of investment. Like any piece of technology, you have to weigh your options and decide if an MES is worth it for your manufacturing enterprise.

    The Future of MES

    The future of manufacturing execution systems is tied closely to the future of manufacturing itself. As Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) become commonplace, MES systems are allowing manufacturers to implement their factory of the future.

    IoT sensors on the shop floor collect data and link machines. Greater access to better, more accurate information benefits manufacturing execution systems which then relay that information to you. As these technologies evolve and even more are integrated—like augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and smart machines—MES will play a greater role in managing your production operations. Like the conductor of an orchestra, manufacturing execution systems will lead the way while your factory runs itself.