What is an MES System and How Does it Work?

Discover how an MES system can boost your operations by optimizing production and reducing waste.

people discussing their use for an mes system

What is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is a software system used to manage and monitor the production process in a manufacturing plant. It provides real-time data and analytics to help managers make informed decisions and optimize manufacturing processes.

MES systems can track and monitor everything from inventory levels and machine performance to employee productivity and quality control. You can use this data to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the production process and make adjustments to improve overall efficiency and productivity.

They’re essential tools for companies that want to improve manufacturing operations and stay competitive in today’s fast-paced business environment.


Understanding the benefits of a Manufacturing Execution System is crucial to making an informed decision about implementation. Below are examples of how a plant or factory can benefit from an MES.

Paperless Manufacturing

MES records labor, scrap, downtime, and maintenance in real time. It eliminates the need for paper notes and spreadsheets. MES also collects valuable data to evaluate unprofitable business models and forecast future prices. With this information, you can increase productivity and efficiency on your plant floor.

ERP Integration

An MES system can integrate with other Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. This integration eliminates the need for independent systems and redundant data entry while providing more precise delivery date projections and enhancing decision-making through more accurate data collection.

Enhances Efficiency and Reduces Waste

One advantage of MES is its accuracy in examining production lines and final products. It can identify any irregularities on the factory floor, promptly stopping them from minimizing material waste and assisting companies in decreasing avoidable expenditures.

Reduces Downtime

An MES system generates accurate production schedules and monitors raw materials and parts inventory levels. This process reduces time lost due to schedule adjustments while parts are in transit. You can effectively utilize the available staff by using this method for scheduling employees.

Cut Costs

MES system offers real-time operational data that you can use to optimize product, time, and labor management, resulting in streamlined operations and increased efficiency. Ultimately, this leads to cost savings and freed-up personnel resources.

Reduce Inventory

The MES system updates inventory records with new product and material information. It provides purchasing, shipping, and scheduling departments with inventory availability and order information. Implementing an MES system can assist in maintaining optimal inventory levels and reduce the surplus, which can be beneficial due to the high cost associated with transporting, warehousing, and monitoring goods.

Core Features

MES can differ among vendors. However, most MES has features that cover these functional areas.

  • Dispatching production units – Dispatch work according to instructions from the ERP system, which are adjusted to accommodate resource availability, scheduling requirements, and capacity.
  • Genealogy and tracking of products – To ensure efficient production, keeping track of each item’s location in the process, including its source, unique identification of parts and materials, and the involved equipment and personnel, is essential.
  • Process management – Involves overseeing the entire production process, from the release of orders to Work in Progress (WIP) to finished goods, which includes guiding work steps and instructions.
  • Allocation and status of resources – Manage equipment, tools, materials, and labor allocations.
  • Quality management – The production process uses in-process monitoring, Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA), verification, and nonconformance workflows.
  • Data collection and storage – Gather information from production sources such as end-users, equipment, and databases, and store it in databases or embedded historians.
  • Labor management – Involves overseeing various aspects of personnel operations, including staff timekeeping, personnel qualifications and certifications, labor scheduling, and managing escalated situations.
  • Performance analysis – Involves defining and tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), conducting advanced analytics, creating dashboards, and reporting results.

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How Do MES and ERP Work Together?

MES and ERP systems play different but complementary roles. MES focuses on the execution of production activities, while ERP focuses on the management of business processes.

Integrating MES and ERP is critical for manufacturers to optimize their operations. MES provides real-time data on the shop floor, such as production schedules, inventory levels, and quality control data. The ERP system receives his data, which offers an overall view of the business, including financial data, supply chain management, and customer orders.

The data from MES is essential for ERP to make informed decisions. For example, if MES reports that production is running behind schedule, ERP can adjust the production plan to ensure that customer orders are still met on time. Conversely, if MES reports that production is ahead of schedule, ERP can change the inventory levels to prevent overproduction.

What is the Difference Between MES and QMS?

MES focuses on the execution of manufacturing processes, including scheduling, tracking, and monitoring production activities. It’s more granular and specific to the company’s procedures.

On the other hand, Quality Management System (QMS) focuses on ensuring that products meet quality standards and comply with regulations. It involves managing quality control processes, identifying defects, and implementing corrective actions to prevent future issues.

What is the Difference Between MES and PLM?

While MES and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) are essential systems in manufacturing, they serve different functions. MES focuses on the execution of manufacturing processes, whereas PLM manages the entire lifecycle of a product.

MES tracks and monitors manufacturing processes in real time, providing data on production efficiency, quality control, and inventory management. It helps manufacturers optimize their production lines, reduce waste, and improve productivity.

In contrast, PLM manages a product’s design, engineering, and development, tracking its progress from idea to market launch. It ensures that all product data is accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible to all stakeholders, including designers, engineers, manufacturers, and customers.

Challenges of Manufacturing Execution Systems

MES has limitations like any other system. Below are some of them.

The Implementation is a Lengthy Process

Implementing an MES is a significant undertaking that involves balancing stakeholders’ interests across the company.

Additionally, the high licensing costs and many users mean that even agile manufacturers will need months to evaluate vendors and draft POCs. Implementation will take several more months, including customization and production. It means that time to value will take months to years. On average, it takes 15-16 months to implement an MES.

Difficult to Customize and Expensive

MES systems are typically complex and require time and resources to configure to meet a company’s needs. Customization can involve modifying the system’s workflows, data collection, and reporting capabilities. It can be a challenge, as it requires specialized technical expertise.

Additionally, the cost of customization can be significant, as it often involves hiring outside consultants or developers.

Choosing a Custom-Built One is Costly

MES architectures are inflexible, so it’s easier to adjust your operations to fit the MES rather than the other way around. However, doing so comes at a cost. You may have to settle for processes that don’t suit your operations because your MES doesn’t support other options. And adopting subpar processes can lead to long-term costs that outweigh the benefits of the manufacturing execution system.

Adapting to Evolving Operational Needs is Challenging

In today’s fast-paced manufacturing environment, businesses need to quickly adjust their processes to meet changing customer demands, new regulations, and technological advancements. However, many MES systems are rigid and inflexible. It requires customization to fit the new processes, which can slow down the rate of improvement, causing the operations to fall behind.

Costs May Be an Issue for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

MES often require significant initial investments and ongoing maintenance fees. And the time it takes to see a Return on Investment (ROI) can be slow, leading to extended payback periods that may make MES unfeasible for small and medium-sized manufacturers. Additionally, larger manufacturers may face unexpected costs due to changes in licensing structures.

Tips for a Successful MES Implementation

Some proper steps and processes can help successfully implement a Manufacturing Execution System, even though it is not a small task. Below are some tips to ensure your MES implementation is smooth and efficient.

Analyze Your Business Drivers

Aligning your implementation project with the business objectives will ensure its success. Consensus and visibility of the primary business objectives will assist in decision-making during the selection and configuration of the MES. Referring to the business objectives will also facilitate mobilization and support for the process across the organization.

Identify Your Digital Maturity and Readiness

Establishing a solid foundation for your MES implementation can save time and prevent difficulties later. Lack of groundwork can lead to gaps and a lack of readiness during the project, making corrections mid-process more difficult. Without a proper assessment, there’s a risk of making incorrect technology choices, establishing inefficient processes, and involving inappropriate stakeholders.

Make Every Effort to Standardize

Start building your MES by referring to an existing architecture. Implement your Master Production Control Record (MCPR) using libraries. Follow standard reference processes for manufacturing, quality, and logistics. You can use industry standards as templates and guidelines for detailed information.

Implement a Rigid Implementation Methodology

Choose an appropriate methodology and stick to it, whether waterfall or agile project management. Your implementation team mustn’t stray from the chosen method. Adhering to a strict implementation methodology is key to finishing the project faster.

Learn From the Experiences of Others

Get the right advisors on board before considering implementing your MES. Using their knowledge, you can avoid the numerous pitfalls and mistakes others have experienced while implementing an MES.

FAQs About Manufacturing Execution System System

Standards set by organizations like Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) and the Standard Working Group for Measurement and Automatic Control Systems (NAMUR) have played a significant role in creating a standardized definition of MES. DIN EN 62264, based on IEC 62264 of the ISA, is a crucial standard for manufacturers, users, and system integrators, emphasizing the continuous transfer of information between manufacturing and enterprise systems.

The MES Application Engineer’s duties include supporting requirements gathering, definition, application, testing, and implementation of MES client projects, primarily focusing on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

An MES system can support compliance with regulatory requirements by providing documentation and traceability for all aspects of the manufacturing process, including product quality, equipment maintenance, and employee training.

MES systems allow for real-time inventory levels, production schedules, and product quality monitoring, enabling more accurate forecasting and better coordination with suppliers and customers.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. Before joining SafetyCulture, he worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade. Rob's diverse professional background allows him to provide well-rounded, engaging content that can help businesses transform the way they work.