MES is Dead! Long Live MES

MES is Dead
This article, by Spruik Co-Founder Geoff Nunan, was posted in the Pulse on LinkedIn in August, 2018. It is even more relevant today than it was a year ago. We continue to see manufacturers struggle to implement COTS MES platforms and the myth of “out of the box” functionality is being pushed harder than ever.

We’ve all been talking about Industry 4.0 for a while now. The term sprang to life at the Hanover Fair in 2011, and since then, the term has become a catch-all for anything related to technology in industry including IoT, Big Data, AI, Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles. While Industry 4.0 has created many fun-filled opportunities for games of lingo bingo, A few of us in the Industrial Software space have been wondering what it all might mean for traditional Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). It turns out, MES is dead!

Industry 4.0 principles seemed to be in contradiction with the previously held standards of the Purdue Reference Model, which laid out software into nice, easy to manage layers like a cake. The top layer belonged to IT and was all about the ERP. The bottom 3 layers were full of things that Electrical Engineers played with that didn’t interest IT much, and in the middle was Layer 3 which contained MES, which would become the traditional OT/IT battle ground. When Industry 4.0 started to gain acceptance, the layer cake started to wobble.

Industry 4.0 proposed that machines should become smarter, and able to make some of the big decisions for themselves. Decision making should become decentralized. Big Data platforms started to require detailed sensor data rather than aggregate transaction data, and the proliferation of IIoT devices and connectivity options meant that sensors no longer needed to be connected to a PLC I/O card. Suddenly the nicely formed layer cake started to look a lot more like spaghetti.

Around the same time that Industry 4.0 was starting to change things, another change started to emerge, Design Thinking. When previously we had been happy to just get the enterprise connected, and the shop floor talking to the top floor, Design Thinking came along and reminded us that all this connectivity actually has to make people more production in their jobs. No longer could we just give the operator another screen with another application, it turns out this makes their job harder, not easier. We needed to start to look at business processes holistically, and so some MES application providers started to offer BPM capabilities in their products.


The death knell for MES really started to ring when industrial companies (end users, not software vendors) started to agree on 3 common themes:

  1. Industrial process workers are more productive if they are not tied to an operator station. Mobility is key to improving productivity
  2. To improve productivity, you have to consider all aspects of the role. Modern industrial workers are expected to be highly qualified and perform a wide range of tasks spanning multiple software applications.
  3. Expert help will increasingly be remote help. It’s no longer acceptable to have to be physically at a machine to understand how it’s performing

These 3 simple themes create a massive problem for MES software. The potential functions that software needs to be able to perform are endless, the applications need to be omni-channel, supporting mobile and web, they need to be flexible and extensible, and integrate with all other applications.

But then came the final blow, Dev Ops and Low-Code Platforms. At the 2013 Gartner Symposium, Peter Sondergaard‘s key note proposed that ‘Every company is a technology company’. This has become especially true in the Industrial sector. Internal software development capabilities have once again become common, and modern software development approaches have enabled software to be developed more quickly and at higher quality than ever before. MES Software Vendors biggest competitors are often their customers own internal software development teams.

In the past 12 months, the rise and acceptance of low-code platforms like Out Systems has meant that it is now possible to build a tailored, enterprise grade, Industry 4.0 solution capable of supporting hundreds of sites, faster and more cost effectively than using an off-the-shelf MES solution, and often at a fraction of the cost. Not only do these platforms better support the traditional MES type functions, but they do it in native android, iOS and web, and are able to connect directly into ERP systems like SAP

Traditional Off-the-shelf MES solutions are dead. Long live MES