What kind of MES do you need?

Asking yourself a few questions about what your manufacturing execution system needs to do can help sort out a large and complex project.


I often have people ask me questions like, “Which MES should we use?” Or, “What kind of MES should we get?” My short answer is always, “What kind of MES do you need?” That’s always the best place to start, asking yourself what you need. What are your requirements? What are the business needs?

That usually starts a much longer discussion on MESs in general and then gets into the nuts and bolts of what kind of MES they really need. There’s no short answer to this of course, but there are several things to think about. The most fundamental point in deciding what kind of MES someone needs is that the answer is always the context. How does it fit into the architecture and what is it supposed to do?

There’s always a context for the MES because there are always other systems already in place in manufacturing. Maybe it’s a DCS or an HMI/SCADA. Maybe there’s an ERP system running on top. Maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, the point is that an MES has to fit in well with the other pieces within the architecture. So, in trying to decide what kind of MES is needed, ask the question, “How does this MES need to integrate with the other pieces in the architecture?”

The flip side of this question is all about what an MES is supposed to do. This is often much more complicated than the architecture, and it gets more complicated when you start to understand everything that MES can potentially do. But, the issue here is that you need to focus not on the MES itself but on what it’s supposed to do in the manufacturing operations. So, in thinking about this, ask this question, “How does an MES need to drive manufacturing operations and influence behaviors in this specific setting?”

And, the overriding consideration is how your MES is going to impact the business. The kinds of questions to ask here are what specific things can be done in this manufacturing setting:

• To improve productivity
• To improve capital effectiveness
• To reduce rework
• To reduce waste
• To reduce costs
• To increase first-pass quality, and
• To increase yield and efficiency.

To finish up, I’d like to provide just a few more thoughts on what kind of MES do you really need. Your MES needs to work well with your ERP and supply chain systems. We’re long past the point where manufacturing was disconnected from the business and from the supply chain. Manufacturing is an integral part of the business and your MES must be an integral part as well.

We also need a single integrated architecture. An MES is not a stand-alone solution. It must be part of a total system that’s easy to integrate and support in the overall existing systems architecture. An MES architecture needs to have several key characteristics:

• Integrated data sources for analysis and transaction activity
• A consistent user interface for the plant floor
• Functionality to support the production side of the business, and
• A focus on more than just transactions or events – proactive production management.

In the end, your MES must be a solution that helps manufacturing become more flexible, react quickly, and be responsive to the demands of the real world. If it can do these things then your MES can be successful. Ultimately that’s the kind of MES you need. So, think about these things when you ask the question, “What kind of MES do we need?”

And, of course, there’s a lot more to it than can be explained in a short post like this. But, the main points are here: stay focused on the business, look at the requirements, and look at the architecture. Make sure your MES has a positive impact on the business. That’s the kind that we all need. Until next time, good luck and have fun!

This post was written by John Clemons. John is the Director of Manufacturing IT at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.

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