Manufacturing execution systems provide the vital link between the factory and the enterprise. They perform the backoffice task of interfacing data between the islands of automation that exist in any factory and then provide information for the enterprise software.
By its very nature, MES is all about integration. So by writing MES software, the suppliers of middleware could be cutting their own throats. If they were to practise what they preached, then MES would itself be integrated into the enterprise software that it interfaces with or fall to open technologies.
The digital automation suppliers manage their interfaces by using open technologies such as Biztalk, OPC DX and XML. Data created by a digital automation architecture will interface seamlessly with the enterprise and with defacto standard operating systems and the power of web enablement, interfacing will become much easier.
The phrase manufacturing execution system has effectively become adjectival. The term MES should now be treated as a description rather than an entity. As important as the technique is, it will not exist as a product for much longer. That is not to say the authors will disappear.
MES is still a vital skill which will transfer to other sources. We will always need the glue to stick software packages together but it is doubtful whether dedicated software packages will be used to carry out this task. As one commentator pointed out to us: ‘Home-grown solutions are out of favour. If you’re still writing your own, it may be time to get you CV up-to-date’.
And there is another hurdle. The software giants are keen to acquire MES skills so there is likely to be a consolidation in this sector. The same thing happened to Scada. Once there were literally hundreds of suppliers but when the technology matured we are left with three or maybe four big players.
It is likely that the powerful software houses supplying enterprise software will gobble up the MES suppliers. Microsoft, the biggest of them all, is already on the acquisition trail.
End users considering an MES solution from a mid-tier supplier should ensure that their purchase will be supported in a year’s time.