Integrative Improvement Blog

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5 ways to turn your MES into a digital game changer

5 ways to turn your MES into a digital game changer

Industry 4.0 won’t change manufacturing overnight: instead, it is likely to evolve as new technologies emerge over time. Manufacturing processes will still need people and centralised information applications – in addition to the new IIoT data – for the foreseeable future. But to really future-proof your operations, you will need to look beyond traditional manufacturing execution systems (MES). 

An MES is typically a control system that keeps track of manufacturing information in real time to enable greater visibility, collaboration and rapid decision-making. It allows the site and corporate operations to streamline the organisation’s manufacturing technologies and applications so that large volumes of data are managed consistently. But, unfortunately, not every MES in use today is capable of supporting Industry 4.0.

The main reason is that some enterprise systems are closed – they don’t communicate or allow others to build on them. And to capitalise on the transformative potential of digital manufacturing, you’ll need information systems that are open, interoperable and user-friendly.

The masses of IoT data collected from a smart factory are of no use without contextual information. Without knowing details such as which equipment the data refers to; settings of the equipment when the measurement was taken; details of the batch of materials being processed; and so on, the data collected cannot be translated into valuable information. Such details are needed for real-time decision-making and offline analytics to identify problems and solutions that will further improve processing efficiency.

There are, however, many good big data solutions already available in the marketplace. An MES shouldn’t, therefore, incorporate its own big data or machine learning solution, but leverage the advantages presented by existing solutions. It thus needs to incorporate structured and unstructured data exports and be able to pass results of analysis and associated decisions back to the shop floor.

The distribution of intelligence throughout the shop floor means that Industry 4.0 is inherently decentralised. To support this, the MES also needs to ‘act’ decentralised – not physically, but logically with autonomous agents, products and tools that create a shop floor marketplace of capacity. Importantly, the MES must support the transition from a centralised to a decentralised shop floor, because Industry 4.0 is a journey that won’t happen instantly.

5 key features of a new-look MES

The Industry 4.0 vision calls out five specific capabilities that a new-look MES will have to display:

1. Vertical integration

The manufacturing processes cannot be bypassed, so the MES must ensure that engineering, quality, compliance, logistics and any other types of processes are followed, despite the autonomous decisions taken by the smart shop floor elements.

2. Horizontal integration

This is where the end-to-end value chain of your organisation can be better synchronised. The MES in each plant ensures the plant is a transparent, integrated, and predictable part of the value chain, and eventually able to function as a smart factory in a global marketplace.

3. Connectivity/sensing/mobile

MES will need to integrate mobile solutions needed to support the convergence of operations, information and automation. In the future, interaction with supervising operators will be via mobile devices with self-downloading apps specific to the piece of equipment the operator is approaching.

4. Cloud/advanced analytics

Cloud hosting allows MES to take the masses of data produced by the smart factory and give it context – turning it into useful, actionable intelligence for real-time operational decision-making. Advanced analytics are required to fully understand the performance of the manufacturing processes, product quality and supply chain optimisation.

5. Decentralisation

As mentioned earlier, the MES may remain a physically centralised application, but logically acting in a decentralised way, granting autonomy of behaviour to the various shop floor entities.

Together, these capabilities point to a new generation of MES – designed not only for complexity, but for constant change.

In time, smart manufacturing will impact both large and small manufacturers, but it won’t replace your MES. Rather view it as a natural extension that optimises the processes already used within your manufacturing plant. Then use your adjusted MES as the starting point of your journey to smart manufacturing.

Preparing for a digital transformation requires careful planning and assessment. Find out why operational maturity is the key to a successful adaptation.


The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.


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