The Sky’s the Limit – Enterprise MES Moves to the Cloud

Manufacturing Execution Systems in the cloudFor at least two decades, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) have been the workhorse of the factory floor, coordinating activities in all parts of production from tracking inventory to managing quality control. It may have started small—managing one production line—then perhaps one plant. Over the years, we’ve seen MES evolve into a mature, sophisticated system that can manage multiple worldwide facilities. The value of its data collection and visibility into manufacturing processes has earned MES the title of a strategic global system.

With such importance to manufacturing operations, shouldn’t MES have a place next to the enterprise systems too? Yes, it should. And it finally does, it seems.

Survey Findings

The 3rd annual survey on the business value of MES applications by Gartner and the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) reveals a new mindset. The majority of respondents (57%) indicated that their MES investments are enterprise-focused as opposed to the single site/one-off purchases of the past.

Investing in the future for long-term value was the key concept to emerge from the 2014 survey of 112 MES practitioners, along with these three themes:

  • Acceptance of MES as part of an organization’s overall manufacturing strategy
  • A move toward cloud-based MES deployments
  • The creation of a Center of Excellence (COE) to connect MES investments with desired business outcomes

Perhaps some of these points—a move toward the cloud, specifically—seem improbable. The security of the factory is the main concern. It’s a valid concern. But the technology to protect mission critical data is available. It just has to be factored into the strategic plan. Meanwhile, plant managers are reaching a greater comfort level with the cloud.

While 52% of respondents of the Gartner / MESA survey say today their MES deployments are on-premise at each site, in two years that number is expected to drop to 28%. By then, 21% of companies will deploy MES in a hybrid cloud set up, in which the applications are hosted in the cloud externally, but the database remains on-premise for reporting, KPIs, and continuous process improvement initiatives.

MES in the Public Cloud?

Another 4% of respondents are planning to move MES to the public cloud by 2017.

Did you just gasp in horror? Moving MES to the public cloud isn’t that scary. The cloud is a mysterious and highly misunderstood technology platform that is actually quite reliable and safe. Let’s face it; we’ve all been taking advantage of shared storage for quite some time in the form of MSN Hotmail or Yahoo mail. In addition, companies like Google and Apple have built their business in the cloud. And, there are ways to keep your space in the cloud private while the connection back to the enterprise remains highly secure.

Going forward, utilizing cloud technology just makes good business sense according to Gartner, from this latest report:

“The rapid deployment and quick value creation that improve flexibility and reduce costs make virtualization and remote hosting major motivational factors for cloud computing. Furthermore, migration toward the cloud could help alleviate some of the reported talent and skills obstacles to MES—most notably, internal resourcing and personnel issues and the availability/quality of implementation resources (both internal and external).”

Center of Excellence (COE) Plays a Pivotal Role

Of course, once an application starts to span the organization, there needs to be best practices and policies in place, which is why 39% of the survey respondents are moving to an MES COE that will align with the IT COE (which 50% of respondents say they will have in the near future) to focus on finding, developing, and sustaining standard processes. MES Centers of Excellence can drive life cycle governance for MES programs and accelerate benefits realization, Gartner says.

To that end, the long-term value manufacturers seek from an enterprise MES include: Improving quality, increasing visibility across the network, enforcing best practices; reducing cycle times/lead times, increasing asset utilization, and improving employee decision-making, cash flow, and regulatory compliance, among other things—like modernizing the IT infrastructure.

The bottom line is, MES is shedding the image of a stereotypical closed factory floor system and taking its rightful place alongside ERP and other enterprise systems. From here on in, the sky’s the limit for MES, which is breaking out of the factory four walls and becoming a strategic business tool.


If you liked this article, here are others that might be of interest:


4 Responses to “The Sky’s the Limit – Enterprise MES Moves to the Cloud”



    Thank you for sharing details of the cloud computing.


    Gill Duckworth

    Can you explain the architecture proposed in some more detail ? With the level of integration with the manufacturing line and instantaneous feedback on line stoppages etc I would worry that the necessary response times would be met in a cloud soln. I agree that the consolidation and reporting layer can be hosted in the cloud but still skeptical about the automation layer .


    Gill Duckworth

    Query Can you explain the architecture proposed in some more detail ? With the level of integration with the manufacturing line and instantaneous feedback on line stoppages etc I would worry that the necessary response times would be met in a cloud soln. I agree that the consolidation and reporting layer can be hosted in the cloud but still skeptical about the automation layer .


    Darren Riley

    Valid concerns Gill. For now, the move is just that, a move. Meaning that certain functional capabilities lend themselves to cloud-based access and others rely on the time-sensitive direct interaction. It is a trade off of cost, control and flexibility. Examples of activities that lend themselves to cloud architectures include performance management, as you noted, but also process configuration, certain aspects of production and material planning, as well as partner and supplier interactions. They happened slower and precede or are subsequent to actual order fulfillment. Granted MOM solutions overall tend to be mission critical with increasing levels of reliance by the business to deliver products dynamically in ever-shortening time frames. The actors are mostly site-resident in the order-fulfillment regime handling exceptions, normal material flow and order management to name a few. In some industries this requires tight integration to Level 2, the automation layer you speak of. The architecture required is a tight coupling of automation with MOM to act and react in the second time frame. To act faster would suggest closed loop control and the realm of a control system. What is needed is a balancing of reliability and performance to achieve the benefits of both strategies.

    In activities that demand this tight integration, bi-directional buffering techniques combined with properly structured production-based process flows can yield a cost-effective balance between cloud and tight coupling. Moving windows of production data in context can be pushed to site resident locations for extended execution times should connectivity become an issue. Local, disconnected applications can equally buffer collected data and events related to production to provide at a later time, the as-built context for MOM. We should expect to see more of these hybrid architectures as IOT capabilities grow and blur the lines we have historically seen be a hard solid line. More control and intelligence (decision making) is moving lower in the hierarchy. For some processes, tight coupling may be the only adequate solution for the business. But as reliability of infrastructure and redundancy options grow, expect to see more hybrid offerings “on the move”.


Leave a Reply