What is a manufacturing execution system (MES)?

In this article, we investigate what is MES manufacturing, how does it work, and how to get the most out of it with the right software.

Young car manufacturers on the shop floor gathered around a computer.
Last updated: 27.10.2022

Successful manufacturing requires the ability to monitor, control, and track your entire manufacturing operations and other business responsibilities.

Manufacturing operations management may seem complicated, but with integrated manufacturing systems you can take control of your production and maximize production efficiency. This is where a manufacturing execution system (MES) can help.

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What is a MES system?

A manufacturing execution systems — or manufacturing execution software (MES) — are dynamic information systems that monitor and control manufacturing operations and information flow on your shop floor.

In other words, an MES system manufacturing solution helps to track and record the transformation of raw materials to finished goods on the shop floor. This allows manufacturers to control all activities and operations on their shop floor. An MES module aims to ensure the effective execution of production operations and improve output production.

Pro tip: Katana Manufacturing Execution System (MES) allows you to track shop floor operations with real-time visibility. Increasing visibility and transparency will skyrocket your business performance and efficiency. Try it free for 14-days.

Manufacturing MES has real-time features to help you control all aspects of your shop floor, including:

  • Inventory
  • Workers
  • Machines
  • Support services, all from one dashboard

Along with handling your shop floor operations, MES will be to help you with:

Car manufacturer using MES software to check the bill of materials to a car.

Key functions of a manufacturing execution system in production

The key functions of a manufacturing execution system include:

1. Collecting data

Collect valuable information on your production lines to improve your manufacturing processes.

2. Labor management

Easily manage your staff, overall equipment effectiveness, and other resources from the shop floor to maximize their utility.

3. Product traceability

Effortlessly track your production progress and see the status of operations in real-time.

4. Quality control

MES systems allow you or your quality manager checks, which will help address production variations and enhance product quality.

5. Performance analysis

As you can see the entire production process, you can easily see in which areas of your production where productivity is lacking.

6. Maintenance management

Perform predictive maintenance to avoid hindering or stopping your production flow.

Leather manufacturer using MES manufacturing software to see the progress of operations.

Benefits of manufacturing execution systems

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) offers a wide range of short- and long-term benefits. So, what are the benefits of using this software within your business:

1. Reduce costs 

MES manufacturing allows you to track costs in real-time from the shop floor, such as:

  • Labor
  • Downtime
  • Maintenance

Having this data at hand will help you to not only increase productivity but also minimize your manufacturing costs. A better understanding of where your costs are focused will help your business make informed decisions around identified saving opportunities.

2. Minimize inventory

You can reduce your carrying costs by having information to let you determine which raw material or finished goods you need to have on-hand and which inventory levels you can reduce. This allows your entire business to know how much inventory is available and what needs to be ordered from:

  • Purchasing
  • Shipping
  • Scheduling departments

3. Reduce waste

Easily identify inconsistencies or aberrations on your production lines, so you can immediately halt them to limit the number of faulty products or waste material that appears on the shop floor. MES systems help you achieve this through:

  • Full traceability of your raw materials, production, and fulfillment
  • More reliable and precise process planning
  • Make data-based operational and strategic decisions

4. Eliminate paperwork

It’s not just a dream. Paperless manufacturing is a reality. Adopting manufacturing execution systems eliminates paperwork and manual data-entry processes from your daily operations. As you can see, MES manufacturing allows you to effortlessly improve your production efficiency.

A prefab manufacturer updating tasks on their MES system from the shop floor.

How MES systems relate to other systems

Manufacturing Execution System (MES) systems help a product developer manage the actual manufacturing of a product and collect, store, and make production data available for the entire manufacturing process.

However, MES systems don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a complex system of levels that allow you to ensure that your manufacturing processes are optimized for maximum efficiency and productivity. Smart manufacturing is underpinned by the ISA-95, which is the international standard for developing an automated interface between enterprise and control systems, based upon the Purdue Reference Model for CIM (hierarchical form).

Within this, a manufacturing execution system is a level 3 system, otherwise known as a manufacturing operations management system (MOMS).

It can receive and send information to level 4 systems such as an ERP or MRP software, which are responsible for manufacturing planning and logistics. Level 1 and 2 systems control production processes, including continuous and discrete control, as well as batch automation systems to track production. Finally, level 0 refers to your physical manufacturing production at your shop floor level.

Having all these systems communicating and working together is vital to increase your productivity.

Illustration explaining the difference between ERP, MES, Control Systems, and Shop Floor.

Pro tip: Katana is the smart manufacturing solution that combines all your manufacturing planning, operations, and production needs in one place. Ensure information flow between all areas of your operations, including:

  • Work instructions
  • Production planning
  • Production scheduling
  • Raw material tracking
  • Order requirements
  • Product track and trace information
  • Batch tracking
  • Routing manufacturing
  • Bill of materials and product recipes
  • Set reorder points.

MES vs ERP: what’s the difference between MES and ERP?

  • ERP — Helps you manage and create your basic schedules for production, along with material use, your deliveries and shipments, and gathering information about your business
  • MES — Helps you manage your shop-floor manufacturing operations, as well as reporting on production line activities in real-time

Firstly, enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a tool used to manage:

  • Inventory
  • Order
  • Accounting
  • Human resources
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)

There might be some confusion between MES and ERP, but MES systems are basically the step between ERP and analyzing the performance of machinery and resources.

Though systems improve due to technology, the boundaries between the different software become blurred. There’s some overlap in MES vs ERP, as some ERPs on the market also perform similar MES manufacturing functions, such as batch inventory management.

Cosmetic manufacturing turning valves to machinery on the shop floor.

Can MES work with your ERP or MRP?

So, if you’re already set up with an ERP or material requirements planning (MRP) system, the big question on every manufacturer’s lip, is can your MES work with your other systems?

If your system isn’t already performing the tasks that all three systems need to achieve, which some cloud-based manufacturing software do, here’s how MES systems can benefit your other software.


With your ERP tools, you can prepare your operations, from schedules to deliveries needed, and with your MES systems, you can monitor the progress of jobs from the floor level.


Firstly, MRP is software for handling your inventory, planning, and scheduling details. So, in the same manner, as MES and ERP systems, your MRP is going to help you prepare your inventory ready for production, and your MES will help you track your raw material consumption on the shop floor.

Illustration highlighting the difference between an MRP and MES System.

MES systems control scheduling directly on the shop floor

A manufacturing execution system will be one of the most important tools in your arsenal for controlling and managing your shop floor scheduling.

There can be a high level of variation on your shop floor so it presents a great opportunity for you to find areas of your manufacturing operations to optimize and improve production. Knowing the variations which can appear on the shop floor will allow you to use your MES manufacturing system to mitigate these issues. But what are MES shop floor variations?

Causes of variations on the shop floor

There are two types of shop floor variations in MES manufacturing:

Common cause

Common variations are a part of the process, such as natural wear and tear, old machinery breaking down, and other expected factors.

Special cause

Special variations are unexpected issues, like something external to your production lines. Special variations include:

  • An operator making a mistake
  • Parts breaking
  • Power outages

This is why SPC MES systems are perfect for observing the performances of your processes to predict, identify, and remove these sources of variations with:

Real-time data

Having a real-time overview allows you to detect problems immediately to make corrections and minimize faulty finished goods going into circulation.

Shop floor control rules

MES manufacturing allows you to detect out-of-control or non-random problems appearing by setting rules to highlight issues occurring on the shop floor.

Corrective actions

Once you have a system that can identify variations, you can then start implementing solutions, which can be things including:

  • Training staff
  • Process standardization
  • Refining your processes

So, that’s everything you need to know about what is MES. But, what is the perfect tool to help you get started on MES manufacturing?

Candy maker holding a packaged final product and checking inventory levels on their Katana ERP software.

Is a manufacturing execution system right for your business?

MES systems are especially important for industries that are regulated due to perishable inventory.

However, understanding how an MES system can benefit your business will depend on your business needs and what you want to achieve. This means that before choosing and using an MES system you need to ask yourself:

What does your business need?

Understanding your business’ strategic short- and long-term goals is vital before choosing to use any tools or systems. An MES system will enable you to improve your manufacturing operations – but what exactly are you looking to improve? Without a clear understanding of your goals, a management system will not bring you the benefits you seek. Spend time defining your goals and asking yourself what issues you want to solve.

Pain points solved

This brings us to the next consideration – what pain points can a MES system solve?

Identifying your manufacturing pain points will allow you to use the MES system you choose to solve them. This may be removing bottlenecks from your production by providing real-time updates of your inventory or optimizing your shop floor operations through product bill of materials (BOM) available from a shop floor app. Take a look at our benefits section for a full overview of how an MES system can help your business.

Available integrations

The whole purpose of MES implementations is to work within a manufacturing structure integrated with your other systems and tools to ensure full control of your logistics, operations, and production – with the view to constantly improving your processes.

That’s why you need to choose an MES that can be integrated with all the other tools and requirements your business has. Choose an MES software with seamless integration into an ERP solution or MRP system so that you can effortlessly manage and improve your manufacturing planning and logistics, shop floor control, as well as your manufacturing operations.

Katana cloud manufacturing software for production

Combine your manufacturing operations, inventory management, full traceability tracking, production management, shop floor control, and integrate your e-commerce and accounting tools.

Get MES system with Katana

Katana smart manufacturing software is an advanced MES manufacturing tool for the modern manufacturer, who’s looking for shop floor control to help them with:

Katana can help you optimize your production lines from the shop floor, with tools to:

Prioritize orders

MES manufacturing with Katana has tools to prioritize orders, so you can easily schedule your production, and the auto-booking system will automatically:

  • Allocate materials and finished goods to orders
  • Calculate manufacturing costs
  • Calculate deadlines

Manage tasks

Monitor and manage costs across your entire production or from on your shop floor, while allowing workers to keep on top of their jobs by:

  • Receiving tasks
  • Starting tasks
  • Pausing tasks
  • Finishing tasks

Gather analytics and reporting

Katana MES provider provides you with valuable information so you can:

  • Improve your price estimations
  • Understand your manufacturing lead times
  • Reduce your labor costs
  • Increase your shop floor worker’s efficiency


And that’s it, everything you need to know about what is MES and how manufacturers can take advantage of it. If you want to start MES manufacturing right now, simply sign up for our 14-day free trial, to see how much your shop floor can benefit from using scheduling software.

Manufacturing execution system (MES) FAQ

What does a manufacturing execution system (MES) do?

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) monitor and control manufacturing operations and information flows on your shop floor. They track and record the transformation of raw materials to finished goods on the shop floor, allowing manufacturers to control all activities and operations on their shop floor.

What is the difference between ERP and MES?

The main difference between an ERP solution and an MES system is that an ERP is for manufacturing and logistics. In contrast, an MES is a smart manufacturing platform for manufacturing operations management — although those lines are becoming blurred with technological advancements.

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Katana Team

Katana gives thousands of manufacturers a live look at their business. Manage all the moving parts of your business and unite the apps and services you use in one visual platform.

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