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Today, everyone is talking about topics such as digitalization, Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and IIoT which will determine the competitiveness of manufacturing companies in the future. To get this digitalization process going, one has to start in the production department.

What has been normal practice in a private setting for many years is still only being implemented with hesitation at many companies, particularly in the production department. This all hinges on the availability of appropriate Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

What exactly is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

Simply put, an MES is a production-related, IT-supported software solution that ensures vertical communication between the ERP system that manages all the processes and the shop floor and horizontal communication from the incoming goods department to the shipping section in real time. MES is often and correctly referred to as the principal system in the production process, whereby, however, the ERP system shall always remain the principal system within the company as a whole. These systems communicate with each other to ensure that the required information is accordingly exchanged – from the ERP system to the shop floor and vice versa, from the shop floor to the ERP system – and all in real time. MES, therefore, provides the foundation for digitizing your production processes (paperless production) in order to improve and optimize your value-adding activities in the long term.

According to VDI 5600, the typical tasks managed by an MES system include:

  • Order management
  • Detailed scheduling and process control
  • Data acquisition
  • Quality management
  • Materials management
  • Equipment management
  • Information management and performance analysis
  • Energy management
  • Human resources management

MES software as a digitization tool

MES software is an important digitization tool – comparable to a drill which drills the right hole into the wall for the dowel and matching screw so that a picture can be hung up. In order to find the right software, we first need to know what we want to do with it and, above all, what we want to achieve. This also requires getting the right advice because MES systems are complex and require a substantial amount of explanatory support. To achieve digitization by introducing an MES system requires a well-prepared and painstaking approach.

Phase 1: Preperation

The first step: Conducting a feasibility study

Things are always easier, if you know exactly what you need.

First of all, a feasibility study should be carried out based on the status quo to examine whether the defined objectives are economically viable and technically feasible. In order to approve the budget, the management needs a decision-making tool based on an implementation concept and containing a cost/performance comparison of the potential solution providers. For the management team, this feasibility study answers the following questions:

  • What is needed?
  • What would this cost?
  • What savings could be realized?
  • Which solutions would be suitable to achieve this?

Ideally, an economic assessment should be carried out. This is used to determine both the annual savings as well as the respective investment and follow-up costs. The ROI (Return on Investment) thus calculated indicates when an investment pays off, providing the basis for approving the project and the required budget.

With sufficient project experience and MES knowledge, such an economic assessment can be completed within just a few weeks and without the need for any actual system presentations! A professionally led workshop that combines MES knowledge, experience and project management competence can provide you with precisely the answers you are looking for. This allows the management to decide whether to approve an MES project and which budget will be available for this project.

Phase 2: Software selection

Software selection impossible without specifications

Specifications provide the foundation on which all projects are built. Not only do they contain the functional requirements to be met by your MES system, they also describe the production processes and how your value-adding activities can be improved and optimized in the long term using this MES system. The challenge when compiling MES specifications is to make certain that they are written in such a way as to ensure that they are understood by all the parties involved, as well as by the MES providers, in order to avoid misunderstandings during the implementation process.

The individual steps involved are as follows:

  • Analysis and optimization of the process workflows
  • Definition of the requirements
  • Preparation of the individual specifications

Why it makes no sense to compile the specifications yourself

MES specifications are more than just a catalog of requirements that include the MES functions. They describe the goals that the company aims to achieve, thus also providing a template for the MES provider to use as a basis for compiling his/her quotation with respect to which licenses and services to implement in order to achieve these goals. To this end, not only must the specifications be complete – the provider must also understand the respective goals.

Should the specifications be incomplete, or misunderstandings arise, this inevitably leads to conflicts during the actual implementation – with an increasing risk of the budget for the MES implementation no longer sufficing. In the worst-case scenario, this may even lead to the failure of the whole project.

To sum up: The better the provider understands the requirements, the more meaningful and accurate his/her quotation shall be. This also increases the certainty of finding the right MES software provider during the selection process!

Avoid stress – have a professional draw up your specifications:

  • Not only will your specifications be completed much faster, they will also be correct and leave no room for interpretation
  • Asking the right questions will allow the requirements to be defined more accurately
  • The certainty of finding the right MES software provider increases, if you can provide exact specifications
  • No extensive or detailed knowledge of MES systems is required
  • The cost/benefit ratio is high

Find the right software provider

Your Manufacturing Execution System (MES) must be ideally suited to your individual requirements. However, there are over 130 MES providers offering solutions on the German-speaking market alone. And this is on the rise! This is a huge number and anyone who does not deal with MES on a daily basis can easily lose track of things. To complicate matters further, all these MES solutions differ greatly in terms of technology, their range of functions, their handling and, above all, the investment and follow-up costs involved. In order to make the right decision to achieve one’s goals in this confusing environment, it is imperative to have a very good knowledge of MES, experience and a methodical approach – and, preferably, a competent consultant at your side who knows and can identify your individual requirements and match them to the scope of services offered by the respective MES software providers. This ensures you get a made-to-measure MES solution. Ideally, this also takes the topic of CAQ into account. In general, it is definitely a good idea to ensure that the provider you choose as a solution partner can supply you with both MES and CAQ software. This provides an integrated view of the quality of your production and all your other processes.

The range of consulting services provided during this phase include the following:

  • Tender process
  • Presentation workshops based on the specifications
  • Detailed workshop with your favorite(s)
  • Contract design and final decision

Phase 3: Introducing the system

Introducing an MES system requires adequate human resources

Numerous companies do not have their own strategic project management division firmly embedded within the company as an independent organizational unit. As a rule, the position of MES project manager is filled by an employee who one assumes has the appropriate ability.

Neither the project manager nor his/her team members, who normally come from specialist departments, are rarely released wholly from the day-to-day business. As a result, everyone involved must manage the introduction of the new system in addition to their actual tasks. This often leads to an overload situation, bottlenecks and missed deadlines. Providing your employees with comprehensive advice and targeted coaching and having them attend workshops to get them involved all guard against such potential problems.

The most important thing to remember: Make sure you collaborate closely with your system provider

To ensure a successful introduction of your MES system and that everything goes smoothly, this needs to be done in close collaboration with your future system partner. Depending on your individual requirements, this is carried out based on milestones:

  • Project kick-off
  • Installation and commissioning
  • User training
  • Implementation support
  • Project completion

An MES system can be successfully launched step by step with the support described above so that at the end of the process, all those involved – the management of the company, the employees, as well as your MES provider – can look at the results and see that they provide a satisfactory solution in the long term.

Are you planning an MES introducing?

Please feel free to inform yourself in detail about the possibilities that professional and independent MES consulting offers you (German website): MES Consulting Peter Schaller

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Peter Schaller

  • VITA

    Since 1990, Peter Schaller has been gaining experience with digitizing production processes. Up until the end of 2017, he provided advice to companies and sold MES and CAQ software solutions, whereby he supported the introduction of over 80 systems. He is, therefore, not only familiar with the goals of an MES sales team but also with the wishes and expectations of his customers. He knows what is important.

    What he aims to achieve is to apply the experience gained over many years and his know-how to his consulting activities and services in such a way as to ensure that his customers get only the very best when digitizing their production processes. He demonstrates his competency in the consulting and services field in an extremely convincing manner. Through his knowledge and experience, he is able to bring his customers’ projects to a successful close.

    Since 2018, he has been working as a vendor-independent consultant and expert in the area of MES systems and MES system implementation. Step by step, he leads medium-sized and large manufacturing companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland engaged in the automotive, medical technology, metal processing and plastics sectors, as well as niche companies involved in discrete manufacturing, towards digitization through the implementation of MES and CAQ solutions.


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