So what is a manufacturing execution system (MES)?
MES is a complex software application that can track, monitor and manage just about every manufacturing process, system, operation and function inside multiple facilities to provide manufacturers with critical and detailed information to run their business. MES integration with other software systems optimizes data management across manufacturing organizations.
MES is to a manufacturing plant what an accounting system is to a financial institution -- its heart and soul -- containing every piece of relevant operational information from incoming raw materials to processes, the mixing of ingredients, measurements, cost-saving efforts, product changes and real time monitoring on everything happening inside a factory's walls.
MES software's greatest value is also one of its most difficult challenges: It's complexity is such that one MES system can't be all things to all manufacturers. A chemical company MES system, for example, will require different processes than will an automaker or a large-scale bakery. Each system must be configured and adapted for whatever a company makes.
MES is often integrated with other key business IT systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) to enable companies to watch over all facets of their operations. For example, ERP warehouse management system (WMS) software tracks orders that come into the warehouse through the order management system so they are filled accurately and on time.
More on MES software
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Learn the keys to MES-ERP integration
Today's MES systems come from a wide assortment of vendors including Apriso Corp., Rockwell Automation Inc., Broner Metals Solutions Ltd., Siemens A.G. and GE Automation.
Many applications today are web-based and can be used through standard web browsers for ease of use and accessibility from any location. This makes them very flexible and powerful for users.
For more information on MES and other manufacturing applications, contact Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) International. MESA is an independent, non-profit MES organization made up of manufacturing companies, IT hardware and software suppliers, system integrators, analysts and others who aim to improve business production operations through MES and other process improvement applications.
About the author: Todd R. Weiss is a technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. Follow him on Twitter @ TechManTalking.