There’s a phenomenon that has become prevalent in the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) market that is a source of confusion with manufacturers. New solutions described as “MES-Lite” or “Thin MES” rely in part on decades old confusion of what MES actually is.
Our annual surveys on the Business Value of MES (conducted with MESA International for the past six years) show year over year that one of the biggest obstacles to the success MES strategy is “goals not properly understood”. This can partially be attributed to a lack of understanding of what functions make up an MES solution, propagated in part by vendor exuberance.
The definition of MES is also often attenuated by the vertical industry being served. MES offerings designed to serve complex discrete manufacturing will be focused on order management, configuration control, and manufacturing bill of material (mBOM) management. MES offerings design for continuous process industries are focused on production equipment monitoring, process automation and and control logic. Here is the generic MES definition we use at Gartner (text bolded for emphasis):
MES is a specialist class of production-oriented software that manages, monitors and synchronizes the execution of real-time, physical processes involved in transforming raw materials into intermediate and/or finished goods. These systems coordinate this execution of work orders with production scheduling and enterprise-level systems like ERP and product life cycle management (PLM). MES applications also provide feedback on process performance, and support component and material-level traceability, genealogy and integration with process history, where required.
The ‘MES-lite’ systems on the market today provide capability to monitor data across multiple plants, provide visibility to the data from across the manufacturing network, and generate helpful KPIs like Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). There is value in these ‘connect and see’ systems, and they play a role in the manufacturing network. What they lack from the MES perspective is control logic, the ability to manage and synchronize processes based on the data collected, and the ability to coordinate the execution of orders with production scheduling and enterprise systems. Just because a system platform has APIs and a workflow engine, it does not make the solution an MES; it may be more of a DIY.
Think of these ‘lite’ systems as similar to the ‘check engine’ light in your car. They can provide valuable input that something is amiss, but they won’t necessarily fix anything.
The irony of MES-lite is that these systems, often built on IIoT platforms, are capable of performing tasks that most MES systems could only dream of, for example, pulling data from sources outside the plant and analyzing that data across the supply chain to provide more than just condition-based maintenance alerts (check engine light), but to help identify how production issues are impacting the entire supply chain (and vice-versa). Why not go after ‘Supply Chain Execution Visibility’ instead of ‘MES-lite’?
So, as a manufacturer, when someone offers you ‘MES-Lite’, take a close look at what problems you are trying to solve, and whether or not the solution fills the gap. If you are looking for only data collection, visibility, OEE and analytics, by all means feel free to choose one of these ‘lite’ systems. But if you are looking for more, “MES-lite” is not the answer.
Research Director , Gartner