Novotek Column

What is MES?

We’ve been talking with several customers recently about system strategy. In some cases, these customers have fairly established shopfloor systems, while others employ more ‘traditional’ manufacturing methods with core automation backed up with production management and scheduling.

Regardless of system maturity, however, we’ve found ourselves in a place we didn’t expect to – reexplaining what Manufacturing Execution Systems are and how they relate to both the customer’s unique operation and the broader world of digitalisation. As a topic birthed in the early 90s, a diversity of philosophy in the intervening three decades has marred the current landscape of thought with confusing buzzwords, technical language and overlapping terminology.

So an increasingly crowded solutions market and a history that stretches back further than the tenure of the fresher faces in manufacturing, it’s a good time to revisit a fundamental concept – what is MES?

Before answering that question, we must frame where these articles fit into the MES 101 series. These articles will serve as companion pieces to support, summarise or expand upon the topics, themes or operational philosophies discussed in the main video series – a handy option should you quickly wish to refresh your memory or find a specific thought for reference!

The most crucial letter in the acronym MES is ‘E’ – Execution. Understanding the role of MES in a modern operation is all tied to how your organisation executes. 

In the simplest terms, manufacturing execution is about knowing: 

  • What you want to make
  • Where do you want to make it
  • How do you want to make it 
  • What goes into your products 

Alongside these crucial decisions is the question, what can be embedded into your processes to help illuminate KPIs? How does your operation handle supplier quality and compliance with regulatory bodies? Being able to answer the simple question, ‘How did we do?’ completely may sound intuitive, but it may be more complicated to serve the needs of a range of stakeholders than you think.

So in the broadest terms, we should consider Manufacturing Execution Systems as being functionality defined in relation to the work processes which result in ‘making stuff’ – after which questions over the specific form of an MES, be that a single system of a collection of point solutions, become largely semantics.

The good news, and the bad news, is that everyone already has an MES! While you may not remember investing in a particular MES tool, you already have one because it’s impossible not to have one. Whether manufacturers fill that gap with management by walking around, a bloated Excel spreadsheet, or a barcode scanning data entry front end linked to your ERP system and deployed to the shop floor – or even if you have invested in a digital platform from a software vendor – no matter what, you have an MES.

So, after defining MES as tools or methods to enable manufacturing execution, another question presents itself.

What is a good MES?

Find out in part two of MES 101 right here!

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