What is an MES System? Part #3


Michael Ford, Sr. Director Emerging Industry Strategy, Aegis Software

Automated factory using MES

Reasons to Adopt MES System

In this last segment of the series, we finish by looking further into the levels of MES functionality that enables final production to work effectively. We then explore different types of MES Systems and review the important aspects of MES Systems to keep in mind when first implementing or when upgrading a basic MES that is already in place to a system with the latest IIoT digitalized technology.

An MES system is primarily focused on the ability to follow the planned production progress and associated activities, and to be able to adjust that plan to show changes in customer demand, available material and process capability. Depending on the package, MES Systems provide modules to aid these activities, to varying levels. Some include advanced control and optimization incorporating all the parts of supporting operation management. Now that we have explored material and engineering data management, we will now examine how MES controls other resources and dependencies.

Resource Management

There are various kinds of resources that are essential in any specific production process operate properly. If any one of those resources are missing, then the process is unable to be performed. Basic examples include tools for assembly, such as simple screwdrivers or clippers. Processes may also need an array of specific support devices to be employed, for instance material feeders on an SMT machine. In this example, feeders must be prepared, created and installed to support the specific material that they will feed. Any mistake would be disastrous as it is a crucial process. This is why there is a great need for MES to include feeder preparation. Other use case examples include properly setting, calibrating and checking test equipment or torque-drivers that need to be set to a certain value prior to use. In many situations, it is the maintenance of the dependent device not just its presence and readiness. Most of the time when it comes to maintenance, where duty cycles are counted and managed causing routine maintenance it is necessary to manage the dependent resources current state in addition to managing the availability and setup. A more comprehensive MES will provide all of these tasks.

People As A Resource

The human -worker is one of the most difficult resources to manage. Each person has unique skill sets, abilities and experience, such that they may or may not be capable of working on specific production processes. The ability to make or successfully complete production targets, or to even begin production at all in some circumstances is greatly affected by break-times and instances of illness, vacations etc. It is crucial to know that operators with the necessary skillsets will be available at the exact moment that each production job is run. Advanced MES systems can provide additional, more innovative benefits. The demand for specialized operator skills can be reduced by the more operational know-how and guidance that is included in both the MES system as well as the process automation software. Operators can, move from one role to another within the team rapidly and safely to significantly improve production flexibility in this environment with the latest electronic documentation. This scenario would benefit by using mobile terminals, associated with the operator wherever the resource is required.

Active Quality Management

Any issues connected to quality are always disruptive to production. Additional unnecessary inspections, repairs, re-work and re-test cycles that cause delays and costs can be incurred by any defects that take place. Even more severe, whenever a defect is discovered, it is unlikely to be unique. There is a high probability of recurring defects happening until some counter-measure is identified and implemented. In some cases, this is so severe that it is better to stop production until at least the cause of the defect is known. In addition to managing the routing exception, MES collects electronic repair tickets from test and inspection processes, that assists analyzing defects and repair procedures. MES systems record both material and process events which minimizes the disruption of production through the fastest possible defect analysis supported by the complete and specific production history of the defective unit. Statistics can help determine the unique set of circumstances that caused this defect to occur, and, identify any other production units that have been made in the same way. MES systems provide complete traceability information for compliance and conformance for every production unit, guaranteeing through management of dependencies that everything needed is correctly in place, configured, and set up properly. In this way, an advanced MES delivers active quality management both within the factory as well as for products out in the market which aids in assuring the lowest cost of poor quality.

Maintenance Management

Experiencing equipment breakdown is another critical problem for manufacturing. To help avoid these unforeseen events, routine maintenance must be performed to all critical equipment. It is challenging however to know what maintenance jobs must be carried out and how frequently. The loss of production time may possibly be incurred as a result of performing simple time-based maintenance programs. If, for example, the machine or line had not been used as much as anticipated many of these may be done unnecessarily. By utilizing information about the accumulated work performed by each key production process MES can make a valuable impact to create a more sophisticated maintenance strategy. Preventative maintenance programs are designed that reduce maintenance to just the perform only what is essential. This approach can be used on major maintenance jobs such as motor replacement in addition to regular maintenance tasks such as cleaning and lubrication. MES manages maintenance resources and organizes the timing of maintenance jobs, for example, at times that the machine is not being used for some other reason, or, the tasks will be included in the overall planning activity. MES maintenance terminals are innately mobile, which make them an important tool for the maintenance engineer, which provides interaction with MES that denotes the location and type of maintenance work, document adjustments and settings, and assist in understanding maintenance job procedures.

Breadth of MES Choices

The breadth and depth of MES systems available today are somewhat diverse. It is possible however to group MES applications into categories at a high level. One type is the simpler more generic MES systems, which are targeted to support numerous industries has basic functionality and is limited in scope regarding flexibility or customization. Even though these systems basically just automate the current production operation as far as the application supports, they can be useful. Another type of MES, is the complete opposite offering deep support of complex requirements, usually in a specific niche industry, and quite frequently need extensive customizations. this type of MES system can drastically increase costs as additional software customizations are needed, as well as on-going support costs. Something in between these extremes is the “sweet spot” ideal range of MES solutions. Utilizing well-known digital technologies which include the most current IoT standards a modern MES system, enables data collection from a variety of automated processes conceivable with minimal cost of ownership in terms of operator support. The modules follow standard digital process modeling and will offer relatively deep detail into key areas, with very little customizations required. These high quality MES systems are very configurable, offer the benefit of providing “best practice” methods in the way that production and engineering and other processes work and how they all work together. The outcome is the most modern and technically advanced MES solutions playing a vital role to realize the original business goals planned, with a clearly understood and attainable ROI, which in some cases delivers pay-back on investment in an almost astonishingly short time, sometimes, in just a few weeks.


When considering the implementation of MES systems or upgrading a legacy system to one of the latest more advanced systems there are many starting points to keep in mind. A great place to start is the success of business-related operational goals, but also be aware that multiple modules of MES may be useful in getting started. Conversely, introducing too many modules can cause disruption and increases initial cost. When evaluating MES, additional potential phases should be taken into consideration to ensure that once the selected MES is in place it can support future needs without having to consider replacement. A Return on Investment (ROI) analysis should be completed at each stage for every module, or group of modules to be considered. The potential effect of the changes on the benefits side, as a result of implementing MES, should be assessed. Depending on whether, capacity is the major concern, on-time delivery metrics, quality or conformance requirements etc. these assessments vary from one manufacturing operation to another. Additionally, considering intangible factors is required.

The recommendation is to select an MES system that provide standard connections to all kinds of automation in addition to digital product and standard process modelling. This removes unnecessary expenditures and expensive customization. Another element that will keep MES installation easy and cost effective is knowing the shop-floor hardware requirements, especially for human operated processes where operators may constantly rotate from one role or position to another.

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