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  • Writer's pictureMatt Barber & Anne Collet

Introduction to MES and Smart Manufacturing


In today's industrial manufacturing landscape, terms like "smart manufacturing" and "digital transformation" are everywhere. Research by Fortune Business Insights predicts that the global smart manufacturing market will jump from $310.92 billion in 2023 to a staggering $754.1 billion by 2030.


Industry leaders are fixated on smart manufacturing, automation, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Curiously, MES often goes unnoticed, despite being a foundational platform supporting and enhancing these concepts and technologies.


While Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is the business management tool used across the organisation, MES software is designed to be used exclusively in a factory environment to coordinate, track, record, and oversee the complete manufacturing process, from raw materials to semi-finished and finished goods.  


Connecting to ERP and other enterprise applications, as well as IIoT devices on the shop floor, MES empowers decision-makers with crucial data and insights. MES enables enhanced efficiency, systematisation of the business process, and optimised operations.

MES functionality covers all manufacturing operations (Production, Quality, Inventory, Maintenance) creating a single digital thread of truth connecting all operational departments, improving real-time communication, and integrating the shop floor to the enterprise. MES also systematises and error-proofs business processes and provides detailed work instructions. So, it’s like having your best people working all the time regardless of whether they are recent recruits, experienced team members, or on the night shift.


MES Capabilities

The functional scope of MES has had various definitions and we sometimes hear of a second acronym, MOM (manufacturing operations management), which can be confusing. However, in 1997, MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) produced a definition of the core functions of a comprehensive MES, which is still widely considered the standard: 


Operations management and scheduling: Planning and optimising the execution of work orders from your ERP based on priorities and availability of resources (i.e., labor, material, machines, tools).  

Dispatching production units: Directing the execution of work orders from your ERP through workflow, routing, and material handling.  

Resources allocation and status: Allocating labor, material, and machines according to your schedule. Monitor and record usage and status throughout the execution of work orders.  

Process management: Monitoring the process and ensure a constant bidirectional flow of data between the shop floor and MES to enable real-time adjustment and corrections, either automatically or through the intervention of operators. 

Document control: Ensuring the correct product documentation is used, health and safety procedures are followed, certificates are produced, etc. 

Production tracking and genealogy: Creating a full history of the product, from raw material to the finished product, including movement of material on the shop floor and rework. Track by lot, batch, or serial number to meet quality requirements and facilitate product recall management.  

Data collection and storage: Enabling data to be collected automatically, semi-automatically, and manually from various sources, quality checks, job status, labor, inventory consumed, machine stops, etc. Drive decisions on the shop floor with real-time data. 

Quality management: Managing product and process quality, implementing the quality control plan with in-process quality control, track quality deviations, and manage exceptions.  

Labor management: Tracking worker schedules, qualifications, and authorisations to optimise labor management. 

Maintenance management: Identifying issues with equipment before they cause breakdowns, plan preventative maintenance, enable predictive maintenance, and ensure instant visibility of assets and tools availability to planners.  

Performance analysis: Measuring performance with standard KPIs and provide insights in historical data to drive continuous improvement.  


One of the overlooked benefits of MES, is its ability to remove complexity from ERP. Historically ERP has encroached onto the shop floor to cover some manufacturing operations, introducing complexity and cost. Fortunately, the current thinking around composable enterprise applications is pushing back ERP to its core functions, allowing specialist applications (like MES) to do what they are designed to do on the shop floor and ERP and MES to work together as complementary applications, playing to their strengths.


One of the key strengths of MES over ERP, is the focus on the operator. MES applications are usually designed with the operator in mind, keeping it simple, easy-to-use, and informative. MES guides operators through their process and helps them with their ever-increasing responsibilities.


Final Thoughts

Organisations are beginning to realise MES is the unsung hero of smart manufacturing. Most manufacturers are on their second or third ERP platform, but many are buying MES for the first time.


MES isn't just a backstage player; it's a game-changer. On the shop floor it delivers competitive advantages such as improved automation, efficiency, and quality. As a bridge between ERP and shop floor equipment, MES is uniquely able to provide the business with the information it needs in real-time such as, production orders status, inventory levels, estimated dispatch and delivery dates, visibility on spare capacity, and much more, adding maximum value for manufacturers.


So, if you're aiming to stay ahead of the competition and become an industry leader, leveraging MES is foundational to your smart manufacturing journey.

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