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Experts Weigh In on Selecting the Right MES Software

Published on by Adam Bluemner

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Buying new manufacturing execution system (MES) software is a difficult decision.

In addition to being faced with a wide array of commercial products to choose from, MES buyers understand that their product choice will be one of the most significant IT decisions they make. The outcome of the MES purchasing decision inevitably will have a massive impact on manufacturing operational effectiveness, and as a result, overall company profitability.

Experts Weigh In on Selecting the Right MES Software

In order to help buyers make the most effective purchase, we connected with software industry experts to get their input on what buyers need to know and the practical steps to take to ensure software selection success. Buyers looking for more insights can also check out our MES software guide which features discussions of critical MES functionality and additional purchasing tips.

Understanding the MES opportunity

In what ways can the right MES program maximize manufacturing throughput and improve resource utilization?

Integrating MES with your ERP creates an end-to-end solution with real-time two-way communication. The ERP pushes orders and schedules to production while the MES provides process parameters and production variances to enable comparison and analytics for planned versus actual production, average cycle time, scheduling and inventory on hand.

Also, the MES automatically updates new orders in real time from the supply chain, helping you create optimal schedules to meet customer demands while allocating the best people, machines and tools to complete the order. Plus production monitoring lets you automatically push production schedules to machines based on demand and availability.

Additionally, process monitoring captures real-time production and quality performance data, showing immediate quality failures so you can troubleshoot the process to minimize or eliminate scrap or rework, lowering inventory and production costs. The MES also lets you determine quantities of production, raw materials, labor and overhead consumption versus the BOM and automatically generates purchase orders for inventory, increasing your turn rate, freeing up cash.

-Miranda Schmidt, Director of Marketing, IQMS

What are the keys to decreasing manufacturing cycle times with the right MES program?

A good MES program can decrease manufacturing cycle times by collecting, storing and exchanging production data and making it available to all managers who need to know. Capacity planning is an important element in this, as well as the ability of the ERP system to ensure raw materials and assemblies are available when needed by production orders. The ability to publish production orders and then execute these orders and provide all departments involved with up-to-date information with a single source of data is also important, so that all managers involved are looking at the same data.

-Paul Fernandez, General Manager, SBS Group

What is the role that MES software plays in ensuring that lead time expectations are met and how does this affect customer satisfaction and other business objectives?

From automation and real-time performance tracking, you can see if you can fulfill the order through real-time inventory management and then ensure quality production with optimal scheduling by optimizing machine performance to enable on-time delivery. You also can calculate the anticipated completion of the order based on previously captured analytics. And, at any time, you can check where the order is in the production process. With real-time production and process monitoring, you know that any out-of-specification or compliance process issues will be immediately identified, preventing scrap, rework and quality issues that could delay the order. With real-time data, you can now capture real-time analytics, making immediate adjustments in order to achieve your KPIs.

-Miranda Schmidt, Director of Marketing, IQMS

What specific features does MES software offer for tracking job status and how can that improve production results?

MES software that offers job status tracking is a crucial component for visibility into the manufacturing process. As items go through production, allowing for real-time viability into the job status, can allow for proper planning for the next steps in the process. Each department in the flow of manufacturing can gain efficiencies by seeing what is coming and planning on proper resources to keep the process moving. Job Status can provide valuable insight giving your team the proper tools that can lead to higher productivity.

-Martin Roth, Partner, Kemper CPA Group


MES Software allows businesses to track events in the process. The process can be either two things:

  1. the entire assembly line process, or
  2. a sub process (i.e. a part of a Work Center or Station or a machine)

The events and their status are generally captured through a PLC and recorded in the MES software. During the manufacturing process, events get generated based on execution properties of a machine or number of goods manufactured by the machine which is finally responsible for production.

The machine event information is generally collected to calculate the availability, performance and quality of the machine. This way the overall effectiveness of the equipment can be identified and process behind them can be improved ultimately.

-Lalit Iyer, MES Technical Lead, Flexware Innovation

How can manufacturers use MES systems to bolster continuous improvement efforts?

Whether formalized or not, all successful businesses rely on Continuous Improvement (CI) activities. The very nature of CI is to always take the existing processes and look for ways to make those processes more efficient, cost effective, safer for employees, and ultimately more profitable for the business. But without the means to standardize current systems and collect data, CI becomes a reactionary process where problems are being solved only after they have grown into financially detrimental issues. An MES system provides the infrastructure needed for visibility of the business processes across functional areas and a level of detail and granularity that allows benchmarking.

A good MES system allows your business to see trends, gain visibility into where processes are breaking down and ultimately discover/address the root cause of problems before they become catastrophic. By implementing a-fully integrated system and making it part of your CI processes you have the tools necessary to streamline your business and profits.

-Dave Dozer & Rick DeBusk, Business Systems and Applications Consultants, Algorithm

How to Find the Right MES Program

What are the most important things to look for when demoing MES software?

Checklist, communication and budget are important items when demoing MES software.

The checklist of must have and would like to have features listed before the demo, as well as current system deficiencies can allow for an effective demo of a new MES software allowing both to target the main issues in a timely manner. The MES software provider should be able to communicate clearly how the product addresses the most crucial issues and show examples of how it addresses these needs. If too many of these features are not shown or discussed as they are there but not part of the demo that can be a red flag. If multiple demos are necessary, that is preferred to a “miscommunication” during the demo process.

The communication about what a product can do is just as important. Live examples and demonstration of the processes can give you an insight into what to expect should you move with any software. Seeing is believing! This will also give you the feel of how the overall software works, its ease of use, and how the vendor’s training methods will work. Having great communication during the demo process with the vendor should be an indication of how the implementation process will proceed, and if doesn’t click with the vendor in the demo, this can be an indicator of how the project will go later.

Knowing the overall budget is also very important. Communication about products fees, customizations, support and the resulting dollars, should fall within the guidelines of the overall budget. It should be provided shortly after the demonstration in a simple easy to understand format.

-Martin Roth, Partner, Kemper CPA Group

What are the most important things to consider when looking to calculate expected ROI payback for an MES investment?

The return on investment (ROI) needs to be calculated based on a number of years, typically over the expected life of the new system but not more than 10 years. Tangible benefits need to be determined based on the expected improvements from the MES system, including: reduction in production times; less idle time for resources (people, equipment and materials); reduction in work in process. Intangible benefits like on-time shipments to customers should not be included in the ROI.

-Paul Fernandez, General Manager, SBS Group

Given the complexity of MES products, what are the differentiating factors between systems that manufacturers should be considering when purchasing a new MES program?

Considering the number of MES products available in the market, it is of utmost importance to identify the type of manufacturing process you have. Most of the MES products are designed for a specific type of process or industry. Once you identify the process, then it’ll be easier to filter the best MES product for your solution.

If you are planning to implement MES on large scale globally, it is necessary to consider the following features in a product:

  • Scalability
  • Multi Lingual / Time Zone Support
    • Language changes on the screen based on the Time Zone/Location
    • How easy is it to configure new languages for all the screens? Is there a way to update the product all at once?
    • Do the customized screens support Multi Lingual features?
  • Deployment Feature
    • How easy can a solution or feature be deployed across all manufacturing plants?
    • Does the product allow deployment of huge master data?
    • Does the product allow version controlling and provide a roll back feature?
  • Integration
    • Does the MES product support any ERP integration? How easy is it to make changes in the existing ones?
    • Does it support Machine Integration? What are the limitations?
    • Is the product flexible enough to easily integrate with existing or 3rd party applications?
    • Can you build common templates, so any system can integrate seamlessly?
  • Customization
    • Since MES will be integrated across all the plants possibly with different specific business needs, how easy is it to customize?
    • Can customizations be controlled based on needs?
  • Infrastructure and Hardware Requirements
    • Some products are light in weight and doesn’t acquire lot of resources, but they lack in flexibility.
    • Some products provide a lot of features which could take a lot of resources.
    • It is advisable to consider the features needed for the implementation and then proceed with the product selection.
    • Performance of the product with the suggested requirement of infrastructure.
  • Product Interface
    • Can the product interface be customized based on the company requirements?
    • Does the product have any pre-defined templates?
  • License Cost
    • What is the product license cost? Is it based on each facility or on any other terms?
  • Product Upgrades
    • How often are hotfixes released? Can this be performed without hampering the production?
    • Rollback on upgrades?
  • Product Limitations
    • What can the product NOT support?
  • Product Support
    • Is there product support on fixing bugs? If yes, what is the resolution time for fixing bugs?
    • What solutions are available to deal with bugs causing production downtime?
    • How are enhancement in the product handled?

-Lalit Iyer, MES Technical Lead, Flexware Innovation

What are the benefits of choosing an ERP program that includes MES functionality (rather than choosing an application-specific MES program)?

Prior to forming Algorithm, I was a CFO of a small manufacturer in eastern Ohio. We were presented with this question as we shopped for a solution.

We looked at many stand-alone Manufacturing Execution Systems touting best of breed, etc. and those that were an inherent part of an ERP system. After much review, we opted for single-source integrated MES and ERP.

For us the issue was fairly simple, complete integration from the shop floor to the accounting system. The second question; ‘is that an accounting system with a third party MES, or is it a complete system from a single vendor?’

We opted for a single vendor system from finance to the shop floor. The tools available in modern ERP systems to monitor and control the execution of labor and raw material consumption, build of WIP through completion to Finished Goods are every bit as good as a stand alone MES, but those costs flow down and back from accounting and distribution components of ERP to the integrated MES making a single point of entry possible and integration seamless and tested.

At Algorithm, we are all former manufacturing people from CFO’s to shop floor APICS folks. We represent ERP systems with strong real-time MES at its core.

-Mike Oswalt, Founder and CEO, Algorithm

Adam Bluemner

is a Managing Editor at Software Connect. He's been helping software buyers make informed investments in business software since 2004.

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