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The MES Beginners Guide

A 101 guide outlining the features, functions and benefits of a Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

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What is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) helps businesses ensure that their manufacturing operations and production output are working to maximum efficiency. It’s a software system that connects, monitors, and controls machines, work centers, and data flows on the factory floor. The MES does this by tracking and gathering real-time data  throughout the production lifecycle and on every piece of equipment involved in the production process—from order to delivery.

An MES provides businesses with data on product tracking and genealogy, performance, traceability, management, work in progress (WIP), and other plant activities throughout the production cycle. This information provides decision makers with detailed insight on how to optimize their operations.

On this page, we’ll cover manufacturing execution systems in detail and provide links to other resources on our website, helping you understand how this technology can create efficiency in your plant.

What Does a Manufacturing Execution System Do?

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) is an organization that monitors the effective application of IT to help improve operations management. The MESA model is perhaps the most accurate definition of MES and what it does. In 1997, it was defined through 11 core functions.

MESA Model 1997
MESA Model 1997


In 2004, the MESA model was expanded to include business operations. The model shows how the core operations in the original interact with business operations, taking into account competition, outsourcing and asset optimization. This update is known as Collaborative MES or C-MES. The purpose was to create a link between MES and other business operation areas, including supply focused systems, customer focused systems such as CRM, performance focused systems such as ERP and BI software.

MESA Model 2004
MESA Model 2004


In 2008, the model was expanded to its current version. This model covers enterprise-level strategic initiatives, business operations, plant operations and actual production, creating a link between the different levels and disciplines within manufacturing and production and providing a platform for mutual understanding and planning for improved performance.

MESA Model 2008
MESA Model 2008. Version 2.1


Originally, in order for a system to be considered an MES, it must have all of the functional groups included in the model. This new model acts as an intermediary between automation and corporate management, it is an integration hub for information throughout a corporation.

Manufacturing Execution System Architecture

The ANSI/ISA-95 is an international standard for the integration of enterprise and control systems. The ANSI/ISA-95 merged the MESA-11 model with the Purdue Reference Model to create a functional hierarchy for MES. As you can see in the infographics below, MES was established at intermediate level three, falling between ERP and process control.

Position of MES in ISA-95 Hierarchy
Position of MES as per the ISA-95 functional hierarchy


MES is a functional layer between business planning and logistics and the process control systems in manufacturing. Using real-time workflow visibility, flexibility, and the insights provided by this technology will help decision makers improve the efficiency and quality on factory floors.

There are certain industries that will benefit further from an MES. The material traceability makes MES technology invaluable to manufacturers who must adhere to strict regulations. This includes food and beverage, automotive, medical device, and aeronautics and aerospace industries. This is because MES documents processes, events and actions, and proof of these is often required when manufacturing regulated products. Our site includes further resources on how MES can benefit certain industries, including automotive and food and beverage.

What are the Benefits of Using a Manufacturing Execution System?

If you’re considering an MES, it’s important to understand all the benefits it will bring your business. Here are some examples of how your plant or factory will benefit from an MES

Paperless Manufacturing

With an MES, labor, scrap, downtime and maintenance are all recored in real-time from the plant floor. This allows you to keep record of all the various costs without using paper notes and spreadsheets. It also helps collect useful data to evaluate unprofitable business models and forecast future prices. MES provides you with the information needed to increase productivity and efficiency on your plant floor.

ERP Integration

An MES allows you to integrate with other systems as shown in the MESA model. This eliminates the need for stand alone systems and mindless data re-entry, while providing more accurate projections of delivery dates and improving decision making through more accurate data collection.

Reduces Waste and Improves Efficiency

A key benefit of using an MES is its precision in analyzing production lines and finished products. It can detect any inconsistencies on the shop floor, immediately halting them to reduce wasted material and help businesses cut down on unnecessary expenses.

Decreases Downtime 

An MES creates realistic production schedules and tracks raw materials and parts inventory. This eliminates time wasted from re-configuring schedules while parts are in transit. This can be applied to employees too, effectively scheduling the staff you have available.

Reduce Costs

An MES provides you with real-time data on all your operations. Using this real-time data to inform decisions on the product, time and labor required to complete a job, you can streamline operations and improve efficiency. This process eventually enables you to save costs on orders and frees-up personnel from operation production lines and controlling inventory.

Reduce Inventory

An MES constantly updates your inventory records with new production, materials, and products. This provides insights directly to your purchasing, shipping and scheduling departments, so they know what is available and what needs to be ordered. Transporting, warehousing and monitoring goods is expensive. The MES ensures you have the right amount of inventory on hand while minimizing surplus at all times.

All of these activities contribute to a more efficient workforce, increased quality, and delivering higher profitability. There are also different types of MES available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, including SaaS-based software. We have a range of resources on our website that expand on the different types of MES and how they influence business operations.

Is an MES Right for My Business?

We’ve covered the benefits of using a Manufacturing Execution System, but how do you know it’s the right fit for your business? If you’re looking for more information on how MES could benefit you, here is how our technology helps support different industries:

  • Automotive

    Improves quality through real-time insights

    A multi-billion dollar, Tier 1 supplier to the automotive industry found it challenging to gain real insights into business performance, quality, capacity planning, and how to get real-time understanding of financial status.

    With the help of MES technology, they experienced a 5% increase in manufacturing output, and an improvement in inventory turns of 5-10% with a positive impact on cash flow.

  • Food and Beverage-Quality

    Improves Quality and Regulatory Compliance

    The food and beverage industry is experiencing monumental changes with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greater authority over how food, both human and animal, is grown. In all these standards, increased accountability is being passed on to manufacturing suppliers.

    Integrating MES, ERP on other complementary systems allows manufacturers to ensure process quality and more effective, efficient production. It also provides real-time data on the entire production process, providing electronic recording and full disclosure over how a plant is run.

  • Food and Beverage-Operational Excellence

    Achieves Operational Excellence

    A food and beverage company that supplies the fast food industry faced challenges such as paper-based processes causing issues, limited real-time visibility and inconsistent reporting, not being able to track inventory cost from receipt to finished product and poor ingredient tracking and traceability.

    With the help of MES technology, their inventory accuracy rose to 99.6% compared to 70% in 2015. They achieved easy compliance with customer score cards, demonstrating the ability to be a strategic business partner. Finally, they could better determine the ingredients needed the produce their product, improving efficiency and quality.

There is no doubt that an MES will improve workflow, productivity, and overall quality on the factory floor, but it’s still an investment. Smaller manufacturers may think that their production operations or profit margins aren’t large enough to justify implementing this type of software but must realize that the benefits may far outweigh the costs.

Manufacturing Execution Systems and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

We covered earlier how an MES is an essential layer between Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and the process control systems in manufacturing. MES and ERP play separate roles but work together to improve the manufacturing process. ERP systems integrate different parts of an organization into one information system. All of the data is available in real-time, helping  businesses make more informed decisions. Both MES and ERP systems work to help simplify the decision-making process for business owners and management, presenting them with the real-time data they need to assess how the company is performing.

An MES performs a similar role­­­ acting as the layer between your manufacturing and business, planning and logistic systems, or ERP. While an ERP shows you that you might need to make improvements to your production cycle based on key financial metrics, an MES can show you which areas of your production process can be improved for greater efficiency and cost savings . The integration of ERP and MES is fundamental to Industry 4.0, which is believed to be the future of operational efficiency. Using the two together helps businesses become more flexible and responsive to changing demands.

Still looking for more information on manufacturing execution systems? You can find additional resources below.

Did You Know?

With a PLEX MES you can expect:

  • Paperless, easy-to-use Control Panel.

  • Automated tasks to prevent human errors and increase productivity.

  • Mitigated compliance risk through database-driven traceability and direct, in-line quality control.

  • A single source of truth to real time data between your top-floor and shop-floor.

  • Cloud access from anywhere, at any time, on any connected device.

  • Connectivity with your manufacturing ERP.

  • Full tracking of every action on the shop floor.

Manufacturing Execution System

With a traditional manual system you get:

  • Pervasive manual processes.

  • Excel or paper-based collection of production and scrap data.

  • Delayed or incorrect business data.

  • Disparate, disconnected stand-alone applications.

  • Long lag times in addressing quality issues on the plant floor.