Manufacturing execution system (MES) FAQ

Manufacturing execution system (MES) software, which analyzes processes across manufacturing organizations, can be complicated. Read on to learn more about how MES works and find answers to some common MES FAQs.

Manufacturing execution system (MES) is an incredibly complex, large and varied application that controls your company's manufacturing lifeblood. There is no cookie cutter MES software; each system must be built and customized for a specific application. This MES FAQ will help you select the best MES solution for your company's needs.

More on MES software
Find an introduction to MES

Learn some best practices for MES implementation

Find out how to review your MES strategy

Read how data from the shop floor is affecting MES software

What does MES software do?

MES allows a company to track and monitor just about every aspect of its manufacturing processes in its factories, from ingredients measurement to output to labor to production reports, while tying it all together for detailed analysis of each process. The MES software can be tied into other reporting systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business process management (BPM) applications to give companies a deep overall view of its production capabilities.

Can MES software fit every manufacturer?

MES software are very complex and varied and must be custom-configured for specific manufacturing situations. An MES software package for an electronics maker would not be the same for a canned food processing plant. The applications must be built and customized for the specific manufacturing steps needed inside a plant through add-ons, custom code and layered applications, depending on the requirements and vendors involved.

What are some of the chief benefits of using MES for a manufacturer?

Cost-savings can be directly seen through the monitoring of every step in the manufacturing cycle, from the tracking and delivery of raw materials to the progress of the products all the way through to final packaging. Companies can measure every process to find new ways to bring in process improvements that can save time, money and raw materials during manufacturing, as well as conduct detailed analyses to find increased productivity.

How do you find the right MES software vendor?

Start by talking with industry analysts to get their views and read as much as you can on MES vendors, especially checking into their client lists. Find MES vendors who deal with manufacturing businesses similar to yours and call them to find out about their real world experiences with the MES products they brought in and about the vendors they selected.

This is an incredibly complex and large application, controlling your company's lifeblood, so if you have questions and concerns, bring them up early and get them all answered before you make any buying decisions. Some MES vendors are specific to certain industries, so be sure to seek those out for bids and information if they already have important insights into your manufacturing needs.

What should I be careful about as I pursue my MES strategy?

Know what you need. Know your own best-practices requirements. Know your production hardware and equipment inside out so you can be sure that it can be monitored and controlled by a prospective MES vendor's products. Don't believe every claim you hear from an MES vendor. Ask them to prove their claims by checking with clients who've installed their applications and are seeing them work every day.

Know the vendor's responsibilities to uptime, production needs, tech support, training and every other conceivable detail before you sign a contract. Know the answer to your question before you even ask the vendor, because you already did the research and know it from every angle. Be sure your prospective vendors value your critical business processes as much as their own before you put your factories and production into their hands. This is an ongoing partnership with the MES vendor, not just a purchase. Make sure they'll be there after the sale -- in writing.

About the author: Todd R. Weiss is a technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. Follow him on Twitter @ TechManTalking.

This was first published in December 2009
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