MES Software: Everything You Need to Know
February 28, 2023
The demands on the manufacturing industry are constantly changing. To keep a competitive edge, manufacturers must quickly adapt operations to market conditions.
Factories need digital solutions that create more responsive operating environments. They lack the agility to adjust tasks while also maintaining quality and efficiency. How can MES software help with these challenges?
Manufacturing Execution Systems help repetitive, process and discrete manufacturers adapt to these realities. With MES, manufacturers can leverage real-time data insights to improve operations. This holds true, even as business requirements evolve.
What is MES Software?
Manufacturing execution systems (MES) track factory floor processes, from raw materials to finished goods.1 Real-time MES adds visibility to scheduling, labor time, equipment performance and product quality. These insights can help manufacturers make informed decisions to improve output or efficiency.
MES sometimes comes as a function of an existing ERP system. But these tools often force manufacturers to change how they do business to follow a set menu structure. A standalone or modular MES solution is often the right course of action for manufacturers who want to maintain their processes.
MES is Integral to “Smart Factory” Manufacturing
Manufacturers with strategic initiatives still need adaptive operations to remain competitive. Still, monolithic software, outdated technologies, or stopgap solutions often get in the way.
Fortunately, centralized control systems like MES offer a range of benefits. When launched correctly, they outweigh the initial operational costs associated with implementing them. MES enables assets like pumps, tools, and others to communicate via a centralized system.
MES technology adoption advances the interests of manufacturers seeking a competitive edge. Now, manufacturers must determine:
- What is MES, and how can it help my company?
- What are the differences between ERP and MES?
- Do I need standalone or modular MES, or is ERP enough?
- How do I choose the right MES system?
History of MES Software
MES is a digital platform that connects, monitors, and controls capabilities across manufacturing operations. Manufacturers adopt MES solutions to optimize operations and manage production requirements. MES is not a new concept: Manufacturers have used it for decades. Traditional MES technologies have linked the shop floor to back-end ERP systems. Others operate as stand-alone software.
But, these legacy systems have come with limitations. Stand-alone software can result in data silos, making performance analysis challenging. And the “jack-of-all-trades” approach of ERP software with built-in MES often lacks desired functionality.
Today, MES has grown into a mature market. It offers solutions that differ across industries and verticals. MES has become more compatible with sophisticated, Industry 4.0 technologies as well. Gartner estimates that by 2024, 50% of MES solutions will include technologies like Industrial IoT (IIoT). These systems synchronize data from scales, machines, ovens and more to complete the visibility picture.
MES is essential to manufacturing optimization
MES systems are now an essential part of modern enterprise manufacturing. They automate critical functions, such as tracking production on the plant floor.
This automated data collection relieves workers from cumbersome manual tasks. Plus, it provides manufacturers with real-time documentation of production processes. In turn, managers enjoy immediate predictive insights into all aspects of their operations.
Armed with these insights, manufacturers can quickly identify processes to optimize. They also can achieve regulation compliance. This is a boon to pharma or food and beverage processors who have strict regulatory requirements.
MES is foundational to manufacturing’s digital future
Manufacturers with a growing number of assets, facilities and data can integrate those business essentials with MES systems. This includes such critical Industry 4.0 technologies as automation, advanced analytics, IIoT, and artificial intelligence (AI).
In this way, decision makers enjoy real-time visibility into manufacturing processes. They equip their operations in a fundamental way for future successes as well.
What Are the Key Benefits of MES?
Ideally, MES solutions must provide a single system of record. They must be scalable and configurable, complementing manufacturers business practices. Leading solutions integrate with manufacturers’ existing technologies to do this. They seamlessly connect with external systems to enable collection of supply chain data.
Leading MES solutions are also accessible to the modern workforce. They provide the next generation of manufacturing workers with technology that improve how they work. Manufacturing.net reports “digital technology initiatives have emerged as a key factor in employee retention.”
With streamlined access and a single system of record, the right MES can provide manufacturers new benefits. A real-time, 360° view of data and universal control empowers manufacturers to:
- Improve inventory accuracy
- Reduce waste, rework, and scrap
- Track raw materials to finished goods
- Capture key performance data from machines and equipment
- Drive labor efficiency
- Manage capital and fixed assets
- Automate label printing
- Implement paperless workflows
- Streamline and automate processes
- Analyze production, product quality, and downtime
Here are some of the specific areas where MES can drive improvements to operations, workflows, and production quality:
Gain real-time information to optimize and improve production, personnel, and machines. Reduce manual efforts, improve productivity, and eliminate errors in your supply chain processes.
Add the “soft benefits” of usability and task support for everyday employees, while reducing manual data entry.
Track and prevent downtime by providing related information to staff in real time. Manufacturers know where, when, and why downtime events took place. This enables enabling production operators to fix issues immediately.
MES helps with supply chain management. It allows manufacturers to reduce excess raw materials, finished goods, and works in progress that tie up cash resources. With ERP integration, standalone or modular MES provides more accurate demand forecasts.
MES systems analyze production orders and finished groups, ensuring identification of quality issues. This includes detecting defective raw materials. Early detection saves costs, reduces waste, and lessens the risk of liability issues.
The right system can lower costs while increasing productivity. MES supports growth and scaling of operations long-term as well. This is true for both repetitive and discrete manufacturing operations.
Does My Company Need MES?
Most modern manufacturers already face complex operational requirements and competitive pressures. This is true even if they manufacture only a single product or a small variety of products. Those complexities grow for manufacturers of hundreds of products with multiple facilities. All manufacturers must respond to changes in the market like shifting regulations and unexpected disruptors.
A modern MES will help optimize how these requirements are converted into productive output. MES tracks production and quality of each order and optimizes fulfillment planning in real time. It also provides visibility into how each site is operating, enabling them to act on improvement opportunities. And MES streamlines the delivery of data, freeing workers from manual processes.
There are benefits for personnel management as well. MES can ensure only workers with the right capabilities are assigned to certain functions. MES helps business leaders visualize skills gaps in their operations and establish plans to meet future demands.
For large manufacturers with complex operations, an MES system can set them on the track towards improving processes. At the same time, MES helps them achieve future operational goals. For small manufacturers, MES can add some immediate value to business operations. Although some small manufacturers may not need a full MES system for existing operations, modular MES will set them on a path to success as they grow.
MES vs. ERP
As indicated, many manufacturers enjoy some MES functionalities from their existing ERP systems. Indeed, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are essential data solutions for modern companies. They facilitate connectivity and contribute to the success of dozens of workplace functions, as well as improving the bottom line.
However, ERP solutions are not designed specifically with manufacturing environments in mind. Although some ERP systems have built-in MES features, these options often are not as robust as standalone MES systems.
As a result, they leave gaps in the types of information they can collect. Also, they may not allow for configuration of specific manufacturing workflows. According to a recent Forgemag article, “most corporate ERP systems are not integrated with the production floor, causing discrepancies between planned versus actual production, underutilized capacity and higher manufacturing costs.”
MES closes the loop between manufacturing operations and back-end ERP systems. Many MES systems provide standard operations management solutions that ERP solutions do not. These include real-time production KPI’s, WIP tracking, and quality controls.
Let’s Talk Functionality
Modular MES systems are available to manufacturers who want to integrate MES with their ERP solutions but not get overburdened with lengthy, costly, and over-complex projects. A MES solution with modularity allows manufacturers to choose the functionality they need and implement a system that fits their proven manufacturing process.
Modular solutions often include the following functionality:
With ShopVue’s Shop Activity / Labor Module, Operator transactions can be as simple as scanning a barcode to track direct and indirect activities. Understanding who is in the building, what they’re working on, and how efficient they’ve been can lead to better visibility and Efficiency, and more informed management decisions.
Direct Machine Interface (DMI)
Direct Machine Interface allows ShopVue to connect directly to machine PLC’s to monitor State, Yield and Process Attributes. Dashboards allow manufacturers to understand key KPI’s like OEE or Machine Utilization and Machine Status and Efficiency reports become a standard, by which you can manage the business.
ShopVue’s Paperless Factory Dispatch allows you to electronically communicate work assignments and display the information most critical to the task at hand. When an Operator logs on to the ShopVue Console, they can see a sequenced list of Orders, Lots, or Serials to work on. To start a run, the Operator simply selects the next assignment from the screen and presses a button. When the Operator completes the operation, ShopVue automatically dispatches the Order to the next step in routing.
Capturing Inspection results like dimensional or pass / fail tests is a key aspect of QMS. With ShopVue’s Inspection Plans, Operators can be prompted to record inline inspections through a touchscreen interface. If they are using digital tools such as calipers or torque guns, direct connection is possible to ensure the most streamlined interaction. Additionally, parts that are marked as ‘Suspect’ can be electronically dispatched for disposition that includes Rework with a unique routing.
IIoT and Analytics
Data is prevalent across the factory, but making it work for you is at the crux of most Industry 4.0 objectives. Understanding what is happening now, and what may happen next gives manufacturers an operational competitive advantage. MES systems should not only track and control the manufacturing process but also provide deep reporting and insights into what’s working well and what isn’t.
How Can I Choose the Right MES?
When deciding on an MES system, keep the unique existing and future use cases of your business in mind. Review your criteria and ensure the vendor’s expertise and core-functionality overlaps with your needs.
Some critical features to look for include:
- Configurable: the platform can be designed to work with your unique business processes
- Scalable: the platform aligns with your long-term business objectives and operational goals
- Comprehensive: the provider offers training and implementation in addition to software
- Experienced: the provider has experience and success with MES in your industry
- Integration: the provider can integrate the MES solution(s) to your ERP and business systems.
Conclusion: Why leading manufacturers choose ShopVue
MES systems help manufacturers anticipate and respond rapid changes in demand. As economic disruptions occur, MES will help manufacturers identify new opportunities.
With over 35 years of experience, ShopVue has helped both repetitive and discrete manufacturers transform their factory operations by giving Operators and Supervisors a best-in-class system to manage production.
Discover how the right software can complement your manufacturing operations. Contact us today to learn more about ShopVue’s software solutions for manufacturing.