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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Barber

The history of MES and digitalisation in Manufacturing

History of manufacturing systems

Manufacturing has come a long way since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when production was done entirely by hand and relied on simple tools and machines. In the decades that followed, manufacturing processes became more sophisticated, with the introduction of new technologies and machinery that allowed for increased automation and efficiency. However, before the development of modern Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), the manufacturing process was largely disconnected and lacked the real-time monitoring and control capabilities that we take for granted today. In the early days of manufacturing, the production process was largely manual and relied on the skills of individual workers to create products. Workers would be responsible for each stage of the process, from sourcing raw materials to assembling and finishing the final product. As a result, the process was often slow and inefficient, with each worker performing their task independently without any overarching coordination.

Manufacturers had to rely on manual data collection and analysis to monitor their operations. This was often a time-consuming and error-prone process, and it was difficult to make real-time decisions based on the data collected. As a result, manufacturing was often reactive, with manufacturers having to respond to problems as they arose rather than proactively managing their processes. Despite these challenges, manufacturers were still able to produce products using the technologies available at the time. However, it was a much more manual and labour-intensive process than it is today, making it difficult to achieve large production volumes and high-quality products. Manufacturers had to rely on the skills of their workers to produce products to the required specifications, and quality control was often done through visual inspection rather than sophisticated data analysis, or automation.

As manufacturing became more mechanised and automated, the need for coordination and control became more important. The PLC was invented in 1968, and used for the first time by General Motors in 1969, revolutionising manufacturing. Since then it has become the norm for manufacturers to use computer systems to manage their operations. These early systems were often standalone and lacked the connectivity and integration capabilities of modern MES.

Automation and operational systems

The introduction of automation revolutionised the manufacturing industry, allowing manufacturers to monitor and control their operations in real-time and to optimise their processes for maximum efficiency and productivity. This first manifested as dedicated automation systems such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. These systems integrated with plant equipment to control and monitor the manufacturing process. SCADA systems are still widely used today to monitor production. Other departments also had their own systems. Quality departments for example would invest in a Quality Management System (QMS), or a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), or a Statistical Process Control (SPC) solution. The maintenance department would buy an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system, or a Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS).


MES is a single solution that manages the operations of all departments: Scheduling, Production, Logistics, Quality, Maintenance, and Management. The joined up nature of MES has real benefits because all departments are using a single system with one source of truth. MES has grown up to encompass all manufacturing operations, monitoring and managing factories in real-time, collecting vast quantities of data as a by-product of managing the process. MES captures data at a much more granular level of detail than ERP. The MES market is now going through rapid and substantial growth, driven by the significant investments in digital transformation, automation, and smart factories. Investing in MES is crucial for manufacturers to save costs, manage their supply chain, automate, and improve operational efficiency.

MES is the culmination of many advances im manufacturing over the decades, bringing all operational data together in one system.

Manufacturing has come a long way, and progress has been rapid over recent years. A modern MES will continue to push the boundaries of future technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoTl, and big data and analytics.

Unfortunately there are still many dated solutions on the market, with large customer bases and stale technology.

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