Manufacturing execution systems (MES) – evolutions and software solutions

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) traditionally link ERP and data flow control and monitoring on the plant floor. Manufacturing execution systems are critical because the digital plant is based on collaboration between technologies, people, and global enterprises. MES is getting more connected and smarter.

In the scope of Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT everything in the end-to-end industrial environment is becoming smart or intelligent if you prefer. Where does this put the Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

Measuring the value and benefits (quantitative and qualitative) gained from Manufacturing Execution System usage are more important than ever (ARC Advisory Group)

The ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ dimension in industrial transformation and Industry 4.0 (mainly IoT) isn’t just poised to happen on the level of smart products, smart assets and intelligent processes. It’s also key on the level of evolutions regarding programmable logic controllers, industrial control systems (ICS) or process control systems (PCS) overall, SCADA (and SCADA software) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). In fact, it’s key in all applications in and beyond the scope of manufacturing operations management.

We’ve tackled the evolutions from ERP to intelligent ERP before. And we also looked at SCADA systems which are in full flux whereby the near future is easier to forecast than the longer term (intelligent ERP brings us to 2020 and beyond).

Manufacturing solutions in transformation - MES software systems market and solutions Industrial IoT

With regards to the Manufacturing Execution System (MES), manufacturing operations management (MOM) and product lifecycle management (PLM), to add another one it’s even harder. With regards to MES there are 1) those who say that without the MES there simply is no Industry 4.0, while 2) others point to the evolutions in increased intelligence and functionality on the level of process control systems (from distributed control systems to SCADA and PLC) and on the level of Intelligent ERP which will de facto decrease the importance of the MES, 3) still others see the MES as a hub of connectivity and integration, just like building management systems are in smart buildings and, finally, 4) there are those who see MES going away as the traditional automation pyramid de facto is changing and dissapearing.

The place and future of manufacturing execution systems

While the latter is certainly true, before looking at the evolutions, role and landscape of the Manufacturing Execution System it probably isn’t a bad idea to take a step back and look at that good old automation pyramid first.

Manufacturing executives are looking to MES software as an enterprise solution that aligns manufacturing and supply chain technologies (Gartner)

As mentioned in several other articles with the Manufacturing Execution System we’re traditionally in-between the ERP and SCADA, which in turn sits on the layers of respectively PLC and PID, and the field levels of sensors, actuators, cyber-physical systems, etc.

In human language: the MES sits on the operations level, whereas ERP is, well, the enterprise planning level and SCADA and ICS the production level. And what does the MES do in that classic pyramid view? It links with SCADA and ERP for one and it is about aspects such as production planning and scheduling, quality management, workflow enforcement, overall equipment efficiency and overall intelligence regarding the operations AND the production (given the fact it is connected with that level) with a focus on performance and, how else could it be, increasingly analytics and enhanced connectivity with artificial intelligence inevitably being added as a new MES architecture is on the horizon as you’ll read next.

As Industry 4.0 is all about integration (vertical, horizontal…) and given the crucial role of data in Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT, as well as the impact of IoT, virtually everyone agrees that integrated Manufacturing Execution Systems are key and that we’re moving to platforms, the broader manufacturing operations management (MOM) and/or a service-oriented modular approach as is already offered by several vendors.

From MES functions to MES services

However, it’s in the views of what integration de facto means that the different views on the evolutions of the MES market seem to differ.

Customers in process manufacturing require support to multi-plant enterprise orchestration, easy scalability, optimal interplay with modern technologies and process innovation support through the integration with additive manufacturing, robotics, and PLM systems, etc. (Lorenzo Veronesi, IDC Manufacturing Insights)

If you look at a longer term Industry 4.0 roadmap for the future as it is seen by the people behind the Industrie 4.0 vision and framework you notice a gradual evolution from interoperable standards, interoperable systems, plug-and-work MES (with, among others the Automation Markup Language or AutomationML and OPC UA or OPC Unified Architecture) to MES functions in the cloud, MES functions in embedded systems and self-learning (AI) MES services. In that view a service-oriented modular MES, with functions becoming services, takes center stage, albeit in the broader perspective of MOM and end-to-end visibility and streamlining across the value chain.

Looking at the guiding principles as proposed for that service-oriented MES there is a reference architecture to seamlessly integrate automation and MES with a core of MES functions (or services) and specific functions that can be connected to that core.

Those MES functions do remain needed in Industry 4.0 at all levels, it’s just the architecture of Manufacturing Execution Systems that is strongly changing through Industry 4.0 just as the traditional automation pyramid is changing and dissolving with evolutions in the way in which MES gets embedded and evolves in a service-oriented and soon self-learning approach.

While we look at the future and analysts look at the integration of or support for all the ‘newer’ technologies you can imagine, from big data analytics, and IoT to digital twin simulation applications, augmented reality and so forth as criteria to gauge which manufacturing execution system vendors are leading the pack there is of course also another reality: the non-vendor side where IIoT is far from a fact yet, Industry 4.0 remains a vision for now and manufacturers still work with the same systems they have known.

The modern MES - manufacturing execution systems solutions and data moving to the cloud and the edge - courtesy and source Arc Advisory Group
The modern MES – manufacturing execution systems solutions and data moving to the cloud and the edge – courtesy and source Arc Advisory Group

The challenges of manufacturers – selecting manufacturing execution systems software and/or MOM solutions

In order to digitally transform and start the journey of industrial automation it’s clear that a lot still needs to happen on the essential levels of thus far isolated systems that in practice are not integrated and often even very hard to integrate because they date back a long time and really aren’t fit to support changing demands in an easy and affordable way.

The manufacturing execution systems market knows that and while there is an evolution towards a broader and more tightly integrated manufacturing operations management approach the challenges for manufacturers and users of systems in specific verticals remain.

Digital transformation, Industrie 4.0, and Open Automation Group initiatives are impacting the Manufacturing Execution Systems for Process Industries market (Arc Advisory Group)

Just as Industry 4.0 is a journey with different steps, the infrastructure, asset and, in this scope, software dimension need to be future fit. In fact, before even deciding on a manufacturing execution system and the modern manufacturing operations management and hyper-connected context in which it fits, it’s best to look at that software stack and not just look at the MES functions/services your Industry 4.0 applications need bit also to take a closer look on the levels of PLC and SCADA, especially since these are in full flux as well.

The manufacturing execution systems software market

The MES market itself is evolving in different directions and already very differentiated. It is challenged by the ubiquitous need for actionable intelligence and the demands of manufacturers to reduce their cost base while being more efficient and adapting themselves to the changing demands and technologies of Industry 4.0. 

When ARC Advisory Group announced its Manufacturing Execution Systems for Process Industries software report in August 2017, the company stated that MES solutions are critical, because the digital plant of the future will be based on collaboration between technologies, people, and global enterprises.

Janice Abel, principal consultant at ARC
Janice Abel, principal consultant at ARC

Among the key new technologies impacting the market are new architectures, predictive analytics, cloud, edge, smart connected devices, virtual reality, and data platforms while improving performance and having process visibility are among the key drivers of the market.

In a September 2017 blog post ARC’s Janice Abel looked deeper in the evolutions in manufacturing execution systems and the expected continued growth through 2021 with a focus on IoT, connected data, edge computing, advanced analytics and more. Quote: “While IIoT is a growth factor for MES in some industries, the availability of newer technologies and approaches can hinder MES deployments and other capital purchases. This is partly because some companies are trying to reduce their future risks and understand future directions. They want to acquire a technology that will be part of the new standards, is easy to integrate, easy to use, flexible and can expand and accommodate new technologies and applications as they are developed”.

MOM and MES software solutions and providers

In case you’re in the market for a manufacturing execution software or a manufacturing operations management solution do start from your needs, current situation and roadmap.

Create functional specifications with requirements for your MES in an integrated IT/OT team and look at those use cases you want a (new) MES or MOM solution for (by the way: both are sometimes used interchangeably which is not correct), before looking at vendors.

Identify the challenges at PLC and SCADA level before starting with MES (IDC)

In case you already did that as per usual we added a small list of same MES and MOM vendors and solutions below. Feel free to add more. Warning: several of the solutions and vendors below have been recognized as important ones by analysts in the past few years. Of course that doesn’t mean they serve your needs best.

MES and MOM vendors include are Schneider Electric (Wonderware), Dassault Systemes (Apriso), Oracle, SAP, Siemens, General Electric, Plex Systems and Paper-Less (all, except Paper-Less listed by IDC in its latest MarketScape of Worldwide Process Manufacturing Execution System Software Providers and all, except Schneider Electric in IDC’s latest Worldwide Discrete Manufacturing Execution System Software Providers MarketScape).

In its latest market guide for manufacturing executing system software, Gartner mentions what it calls ‘representative vendors’ such as 42Q, ABB, Applied Materials, Aptean, Ares International, AspenTech, CellFusion, Cogiscan, Critical Manufacturing, Dassault Systèmes,Emerson Process Management, Epicor, Eyelit, Forcam, GE Digital, Greycon, Honeywell Process Solutions, iBASEt, IQMS, iTAC Software, Lighthouse Systems, Mentor Graphics, Miracom, MPDV, Oracle, Performix, Plex Systems, POMS, Prodac, PSI Metals, Rockwell Automation, SAP, Savigent Software, Schneider Electric, Siemens and Werum IT Solutions.

For more research and findings regarding the market of MES solutions from Arc Advisory Group and others check out the overview and forecasts via the button below. And if you’re looking for more recent MES and MOM solutions reports, as previously mentioned ARC Advisory Group released a MES software report in August 2017 for process industries.

MES software market and solution drivers




Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Panchenko Vladimir – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.