MES applications have been long identified as the fundamental technology piece which forms the very basis of a successful digital transformation and brings manufacturers the benefits derived from Industry 4.0. When it comes to MES selection however, there can be a lot of confusion and dilemma with regard to the application which best fits a given operation. With the new MES platforms offering end-to-end integration, this MES is not a localized, but an enterprise solution.
An enterprise solution in manufacturing execution has higher complex elements. Depending on where a given plant is located, there may be variations in the way a similar or even identical process is executed. These variations come from localized differences in plants and machinery, coupled with the degree of decentralization in management and information technology. Point and custom solutions mean each plant has its own IT infrastructure which may require harmonization. Another factor is the age of the operation itself. The older the plant, the less IoT ready it is. Finally, a softer yet extremely critical aspect is the company and country culture, which influences the readiness to accept change and embrace new technology.
Leaders in an organization need to take the initiative when it comes to digital transformation and MES selection. Forming a capable, cross-functional team with leaders from IT and Operations can start with first determining the needs and gaps in the current solutions and applications stack. Establishing urgent and important use cases is vital in the journey towards selecting the right MES.
From a best practices perspective, we recommend a detailed internal analysis, with a complete Application Portfolio Rationalization (APR) performed. An APR is the process of analyzing the need and usability of your existing IT solutions, deployed locally or across the enterprise. Based on these findings, the use cases are clarified to determine what IT applications must be created.
Performing a detailed internal analysis might be a daunting task and this is where experts, in the form of consulting partners, application vendors and software/MES selection tools come into the picture. MES selection becomes all the more complex when many vendors claim to have the ideal solution and industry background, which makes it challenging to decide which ones to select for a pilot, given that their solutions appear almost identical on paper.
To substantially reduce the complexity associated with MES selection, we prescribe a basic checklist, based on four minimum deliverables:
- The application must be mobile ready
- It should allow hybrid installation, be it cloud, on-premises or both
- It should allow AI and Advanced Analytics
- It should create vertical integrations with enterprise applications, using advanced tools such as edge computing and application to application integration.
These basic deliverables include a simple feature set for any leading MES. Unless the MES application enables users to leverage IoT connectivity and unleash AR through mobile devices and low/no code GUI and application set up, unless it has the option of being cloud based and offers modern technology tools like containerization of apps, and unless the MES integrates with ERP, WMS, CRM and SCM applications, it may not be worth considering.
Two tools which we highly recommend to help your MES selection process are the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Gartner Critical Capabilities. Before we deep dive, we’ll briefly address why leaders should care about these tools and why should they influence the choice of their MES.
Industry 4.0 infers that having more data and analyzing it faster than competitors will help both operational efficiency and innovation, which in turn will lead to more market share and better profitability. This premise which makes Industry 4.0 so desirable should also be the foundation for MES selection.
Let’s focus on the Gartner Magic Quadrant first. The Gartner Magic Quadrant ranks competing applications in a given industry based on their completeness of vision and their ability to execute said vision. It categorizes the vendors as leaders, challengers, visionaries and niche players.
Gartner does not differentiate or recommend companies in the Quadrant. They allow organizations to use the tool to determine which vendor and application best meets their needs.
The Magic Quadrant has a simplicity and directness in the way it helps position the top solutions in a given technology space. Leaders and MES selection teams can access this tool and quickly select the initial vendors they need to be in dialogue with.
For the second consecutive year, Critical Manufacturing was named as a leader in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for MES.
The Gartner Critical Capabilities tool is complimentary to the Magic Quadrant. It provides a deep-dive into the solutions to compare their performance against specific use cases. For manufacturing, Gartner focuses on the style of manufacturing and rates solutions and services based on process manufacturing, complex discrete, batch repetitive and highly regulated industry segments.
Scores are created based on specific technology deliverables which are prevalent in a given manufacturing style, and are then combined to create the overall score in a given use case. Critical Manufacturing scored highest in three of the four uses cases considered by the Gartner Critical Capabilities report in 2022 in the MES domain.
This tool, when used against specific areas of concern within the organization, allows MES selection team members and leaders to understand which particular MES application better meets their needs. It also forms the basis of detailed capability analysis, which may help create a shortlist of vendors most suitable for a pilot.
MES selection is now a more complex endeavor than ever before. Understanding competing application offerings, tying them with your enterprise-specific needs, verifying their ability to meet your present and future operational and orchestration needs and categorizing their ability to enable automation and innovation at scale through IoT, AI and Cloud, is not an easy task.
You will need experts, consulting partners and vendor personnel to guide you towards a digitally transformed operation. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and Critical Capabilities tools can help you streamline your decision making and reduce the massive amount of time spent analyzing each MES on offer individually. They allow you to focus on what you do best – manufacture better products, faster and with the highest possible quality. The MES becomes your partner, at the end of this process, in reaching those goals.