What is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)? Answering Your Most Pressing Questions 

, Product Marketing Manager
Product Marketing Manager

Though opting to take a measured approach to adoption had its merit in the early days of digital transformation, in today’s challenging and fast-paced market, investing in connected ecosystems is no longer optional. It’s imperative. Digital tools are the backbone of modern business. 

For manufacturers, that means deploying a Manufacturing Execution System (MES): a software system designed to address the needs of modern production facilities. However, many leaders still aren’t sure what an MES does, what technologies it uses, and how to derive the most value from their investment. That’s what we’re here to change. 

Frequently Asked Questions About MES


Q: What is a Manufacturing Execution System?

A: At a foundational level, an MES is a software solution designed specifically to automate, enhance, provide visibility into, and unify a manufacturer’s pre-, ongoing, and post-production activities. An MES has two means for achieving this:

1. Interoperability

An MES may utilize industry-standard protocols to integrate with existing shop-floor and business systems whenever possible/prudent. This interlinking of technologies allows the MES to gather pertinent data from existing equipment, which it then uses to further categorize, contextualize, and correlate the data the solution is capturing.

2. IoT/IIoT

When directly tying into a system is not viable—be it because a given asset is locked down, does not have internet capability, is not readily accessible, or any other reason—manufacturers can opt to monitor that asset’s function/output with an IoT device, such as a sensor or photo-eye. When that has been set up, the MES can capture information from the IoT device just as it would any other system, and thus the workaround is complete.

Discover the impact TrakSYS has at every stage of your operation. Tour our Virtual Factory

Q: What Should an MES Platform Offer?

A: You can expect most MES platforms to offer: 

  • Real-time dashboards that provide “at-a-glance” summaries of production metrics that matter for your businesses, as well as notifications and alerts of areas that may need attention.
  • Production scheduling tools that use enterprise, order, and production performance data to suggest optimizations to your asset/equipment allocation plans. Some tools—like TrakSYS™—also offer algorithmic scheduling capabilities, enabling scheduling teams to adjust plans to the facility’s needs in real time.
  • Statistical process control modules that use operational data to predict the likelihood of specific incidents, anticipate when they may occur, and alert the production team ahead of time. This allows staff to address issues before they impact production, which reduces scrap and rework, optimizes utility consumption, and improves stability.  
  • Historical performance analytics and reporting features that provide insight into incremental improvements and can highlight patterns that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. They can also be used to conduct regular audits to ensure compliance in highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals. 
  • Downtime event tracking provides real-time overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) metrics so teams can drill down into availability, performance, and quality issues that inevitably arise during production, allowing operations to hone the production process for repeatability and quality output. 
  • Tasks and digital forms so organizations can move past paper processes and create digitally stored and controlled operating procedures.   
  • Traceability tools that give insight into material usage in production. MES users have the ability to create end-to-end traceability reports in a matter of seconds, which helps businesses rapidly respond to recalls and alert customers to their occurrence. 
  • Visual workflow options that make designing and configuring automated processes more accessible to not-so-technical users. This creates a sense of ownership in the product and increases the success of MES implementation and adoption. 
  • Developer environments that empower users to address issues or make changes without impacting live workflows or causing downtime. 
  • AI integration options that ensure manufacturers have access to the emerging tools that are redefining manufacturing and are able to keep up without replacing their systems.

The above is only a small sample of what MES software can offer. Because different types of manufacturers have different needs, today’s leading MES platforms are built with flexibility and personalization in mind.

The benefit of a well-developed MES is its ability to adapt its look and feel to suit the requirements of the user. These solutions provide value for many different roles and functions in the business, spanning from executing production on the shop floor all the way to providing detailed analytics to the executive level. A good software partner will work alongside your team to ensure that your system provides the metrics, insights, and interface you need.

Q: What Benefits Can I Expect to See?

A: Manufacturers who invest in robust MES platforms and automated data collection programs can expect end-to-end operational improvements. Most commonly, users report:

Improved efficiency

MES platforms improve efficiency in manufacturing environments by highlighting bottlenecks and micro-stoppages that delay production. Using predictive analytics, they can also identify trends that may indicate trouble on the horizon and alert teams to potential problems before they impact operations. A recent IDC study on the value of TrakSYS to users found businesses using the platform added $3,250,000 in total annual revenue due to efficiencies boosts.

Reduced costs

As efficiency increases, costs go down—so that outcome goes without saying. However, MES platforms’ cost-cutting capabilities stem from other applications as well. By providing enhanced supply chain visibility, MES platforms empower teams to get ahead of shortages and the increased materials prices that may come with them. They can also reduce labor needs, materials waste, equipment failures, and other extraneous expenses to mitigate growing operations costs.

Enhanced quality control

The cost of poor quality to today’s manufacturers is astronomical, with research revealing it can reach up to 40% of annual revenue for some businesses. MES systems with predictive quality assurance/control (QA/QC) capabilities can help manufacturers identify the root causes of quality issues more precisely and provide strategies that may help leaders address them. IDC found that TrakSYS helped companies’ QC and maintenance teams improve performance (6% and 4%, respectively). 

Increased traceability

Tracking materials throughout production can provide valuable insights into what is and isn’t working within a factory. MES platforms log every move a material makes within the manufacturing environment, making it easier for teams to avoid storage mishaps, correlate sub-par materials with shipment or vendors, and match end products to their component parts.

Better decision-making

Nothing in life is certain, but MES platforms can help manufacturers feel more confident in their decisions. With access to real-time and historical operations data, market data, and information about other, external variables, MES platforms can model scenarios that affect production, demand, and material availability, giving decision-makers peace of mind that they’re ready for whatever the market brings. 

Of course, the benefits of MES ecosystems do not happen overnight. To reap these benefits, leaders will need to outline a plan for their change management journey and commit to continuous improvement.


Q: What’s the Deal with MES Standards?

A: There are two major MES-related standards you should explore when beginning an MES implementation journey:

MESA-11

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) developed MESA-11—which outlines the 11 core functions of MES platforms and how they relate to other business areas—in 1996 in the hopes that the model would foster mutual understanding of the MES’ role within a business. Over the past 30 years, the model has evolved to address emerging technology like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and AI: 

ISA-95

The International Society of Automation (ISA) developed ISA-95 to standardize the way we talk about different software systems. It ensures consistent terminology for supplier-manufacturer communications, information models, and operations models so all stakeholders are aligned during implementation and integration. ISA-95 defines business automation systems into levels (0-4) based on the type of information they deal with and the processes they control: 

  • Level 4: Business and logistics planning (like an ERP) 
  • Level 3: Manufacturing and production management (like an MES) 
  • Levels 0-2: Process controls 
    • Level 2: Batch control 
    • Level 1: Continuous control 
    • Level 0: Discrete control

It is worth noting that these standards outline the baseline functions for each level, not the full range of their potential capabilities. Modern MES can and do provide additional tools and solutions beyond the inventory, production, quality, and maintenance management outlined in these standards.

Q: How Does an MES Differ From an ERP?

A: As noted above, an ERP platform is a level 4 solution, which means that it is implemented at the highest level of a business. It is the “hub” to which information from all other connected/automated systems flow. In the same way that MES platforms synthesize and store information from various manufacturing-related monitoring and control systems to optimize production, ERP platforms synthesize information from an entire company to help optimize enterprise performance.

MES platforms work at the manufacturing level to compile a comprehensive system of record. They not only automate data collection through their monitoring of equipment and processes, but further parlay that information to elevate maintenance, performance, scheduling, quality, and other production-specific elements. Tack on the software’s ability to help businesses maintain compliance, establish audit-ready traceability, enhance customer experiences, and the fact that all of the aforementioned functionalities can be readily rolled out and replicated across each of a manufacturer’s facilities, and the MES’ ability to provide significant value and benefits to manufacturers becomes increasingly clearer.

It’s for this reason that seamless—and bidirectional—communication between the two systems is critical. Each has information that the other, by design, does not. Enabling data-sharing between them enriches both to provide more holistic and accurate insights. If you are unsure how to integrate your ERP and MES platforms, the Parsec Partners program can connect you with an experienced and knowledgeable system integrator.


Q: How Do I Know Which MES is Right for My Business?

A: Choosing an MES can be overwhelming, but there are some key questions that can help guide the process:

What does successful management look like?

With emerging tech capturing attention, it can be tempting to opt for the shiny new toy. However, it’s critical that tech investments are led by desired outcomes rather than trendy technologies. Mulling over this question and identifying your overall objectives will help ensure that the solution you pick is suited to your business’ unique goals.

What capabilities will help my staff perform more consistently?

There’s one area in which letting specific tech and tools lead is beneficial: when trying to give employees what they want. Connecting with workers to identify the tasks they wish they could automate and the features they find most important will help encourage adoption and ensure you’re helping your people in addition to your bottom line.

What other upgrades will I need to support this system?

An MES is only as good as the rest of the system. Before investing in a platform, it’s important to assess your current digital maturity to get an idea of the other equipment you may need. Consider things like storage capabilities, mobile access, equipment age, and integration abilities to get an idea of how fast you can move and the additional services you may require from your platform vendor.

What do I want the partnership with the vendor to look like?

Some vendors supply software and services, then step back. Others view the relationship as an ongoing give and take, helping clients keep up with emerging tech and tailor their solutions to specific needs. Deciding which approach is right for you can help ensure that the MES you start with lasts for the long haul.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can start to think about how your options compare to one another. We recommended considering:

Reliability

Unlike ERP platforms and other business-focused systems, MES platforms are mission-critical. When other systems experience failures or unexpected downtime, it might be disruptive or annoying. When your MES experiences downtime, the results could be catastrophic—especially in chemical and other high-risk facilities. It’s important that you pick an MES solution with proven reliability and safeguards in place to ensure the system stays operational. 

Performance and user satisfaction

Any MES system is likely to provide some value—but not all systems are created equal. TrakSYS users, for example, report that the system’s flexible build, user-friendly design, and diverse range of solutions help it stand out from the rest. “We had a short list with some other market tools, but it was never about finding the best tool,” one client shared when asked about their decision to engage with TrakSYS in a recent IDC study. “[It was about finding] the optimal tool that would provide the capabilities we need in the most cost-effective way.” 

Analysts also note that TrakSYS stands apart in the market. In Gartner’s 2023 Critical Capabilities for Manufacturing Execution Systems, TrakSYS outranked the competition for continuous and batch manufacturing applications and was the strongest performer for highly regulated industries. It also scored in the top third of vendors in eight of the 11 capabilities considered in the review.

Ease of deployment

As a facility-level system designed to track production processes from receipt of raw materials through to shipping and fulfillment, an MES maximizes the value of systems like ERP, taking the production-specific context it needs from that asset and forming it into production insights. But that’s only possible when the platform can seamlessly integrate with existing tools—something at which TrakSYS excels. In the IDC study cited above, respondents shared that the platform’s interoperability was a top differentiator, helping to improve cross-operational visibility between systems and data repositories.

Navigating the complexities of modern manufacturing requires more than just investing in tools; it demands a comprehensive understanding of your ecosystem and the technology that supports it. If you still have questions about the benefits of an MES platform like TrakSYS or how to begin your journey to more advanced manufacturing, we can help. to the Parsec team, check out our Virtual Factory tour, or visit parsec-corp.com/overview.

Read Other Blog Posts

Want to hear from us more often?
Sign up for our newsletter!