An Introduction to Manufacturing Execution Systems Software

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: November 30, 2021

MES systems or Manufacturing Execution Systems, as they're often called, can be the glue that holds it together the operations of a manufacturing-focused organization but what exactly is MES software?

These are systems that tie together the operations of a manufacturing facility. Oftentimes organizations have a lot of moving parts on the factory floor that needs to be tracked and automated using MES software. Today we will focus on the basics.

  1. What is MES software and how is it different than other types of enterprise technologies?
  2. What are the business benefits and advantages of using MES software?

MES vs.

To understand what MES software is, it oftentimes helps to analyze and understand it in the context of how it compares to other types of enterprise technologies. For example, in manufacturing facilities, there are often ERP systems or Enterprise Resource Planning and those are sort of the back-office systems that tie together you're fine financials. There are also HR and sales processes, inventory management, and warehouse management.

A variety of functions can be captured and automated using ERP technologies, however, they don't automate manufacturing processes well. Think about a manufacturing facility with all the robots, people, assembly lines, workstations, inventory, and the movement of goods in and out of the manufacturing facility.

There's a lot of stuff that goes into manufacturing and ERP systems which track after the fact. There may be a “work in progress” as items move from major segments of the manufacturing facility to others, or you might track it in the system once it goes to the warehouse. Manufacturing execution systems track at a granular level what is happening on the shop floor.

These systems gather information from sensors, robots, and people as inventory and work in progress is moving through the manufacturing facility. MES also fills the gap or takes ERP functionality one step further in terms of manufacturing resource planning or manufacturing production scheduling.

Those are often referred to as the MRP or MPS modules within ERP. The modules define at a high level the production needs of the organization. Things such as when doing raw materials need to be purchased to support that production.

These ERP systems or add-ons oftentimes offer really topline analytics. MES however offers deeper functionalities and translates those master production schedules into detailed shift by shift, machine by machine, and assembly line by assembly line, production schedules. This is where you get into a lot of the labor scheduling the inventory allocation.

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Integration of Production Processes

Ultimately, MES software ties together the entire operations end-to-end into manufacturing processes. MES tracks from raw material in your warehouse to the shop floor, to different workstations, to finish assembly, etc. Whatever steps in your manufacturing process there are and ultimately back to your warehouse.

Throughout the process, it is tracking everything along the way, it's tracking not just what's happening with the end products but also what's happening to your machinery.

There are questions that many people have like:

  • What type of volumes are working through each of the machines on your shop floor?
  • When should those machines be serviced?

These are just a few examples of how MES software can bring together all of the different processes and data within a manufacturing facility.

I'll give you an example of how MES Software can inform and tie back to other steps in an ERP system or other back-office processes.

A sales rep sold a product or placed an order with a customer. Now, your MES system can provide real-time data back to your CRM system. Your sales software can now give an update on when that order will be produced and ready to ship. Your sales rep now has visibility into what's happening on the shop floor.

If you pay people on a shop floor, some sort of bonus or variable compensation based on how much they produce, your MES software would attach that information back to your HR or HCM system so that you can calculate what bonuses or compensation. You may also have asset management software where you schedule maintenance for some of your big capital assets, like your big machines and robots. MES software will track and provide predictive maintenance capabilities to help you understand where you're going to need attention from a maintenance or repair perspective. These functions can predictively and proactively address any potential needs that might happen with those machines or robots out on the shop floor.

Those are just a couple of examples of how MES data, processes, and technologies can tie back to other important processes, either upstream or downstream in the overall end-to-end cycle.

Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

A key advantage of manufacturing execution systems is the fact that now you've got big data, which enables artificial intelligence. Essentially, massive amounts of data get collected and, if done properly, translates that big data into information that you can make meaningful decisions from.

You can also use big data to feed into artificial intelligence and machine learning, to look for patterns, things like predictive maintenance.

One of the advantages of having MES software is that you're capturing all this valuable data at every step throughout the manufacturing process. These tools provide greater transparency and visibility into what's happening from an operations perspective, in terms of throughput, efficiency, quality, and more.

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Benefits of MES

I’ve briefly touched on some of the benefits of MES software but it's worth exploring this in more detail.
First, MES software provides automation. Automating processes and analyzing clean data offers more visibility and transparency into what's happening with your processes. You can better capture your throughput and how fast orders are moving through your manufacturing shop floors. Any variances in performance can offer an opportunity to examine the root cause which leads to larger efficiencies.

All these details help support predictive maintenance in anticipating where maintenance or repairs are needed. It can also assist with labor scheduling, in achieving and fulfilling the master production schedule that might come out of an ERP system.

The last important benefit of MES is that it will help with regulatory purposes. If you're a food and beverage or a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Manufacturing execution systems really provide extremely granular traceability. This tracking is key to recalls or any other items/process that needs attention from a regulatory safety and or health perspective.

MES and Industry 4.0

MES is an important component of Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is a big buzzword, a big trend for manufacturers. MES Software is a key component, sort of the heart of Industry 4.0, that ties data analytics back to machines, work in progress, and labor. It really is the connective tissue that so many manufacturers crave as part of their journey towards industry 4.0.

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I hope you found this information useful as an introduction to MES software. For more information about MES software and other types of enterprise technologies, I encourage you to download our 2021 Digital Transformation Report which provides the top 10 lists of enterprise technologies for manufacturers. It also provides best practices for how to implement those technologies successfully.

If you have questions regarding MES software and the functions that go with it, or anything regarding digital transformation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you move through your digital transformation journey.

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Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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