Finding software can be overwhelming. We've helped thousands of manufacturers choose the right MES software so they can optimize quality and efficiency of production.

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Fishbowl

Fishbowl is a hybrid manufacturing and warehouse management solution designed for small and midsize companies. Key features include inventory control, material requirements planning (MRP), job shop floor control, work order manage... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 108 recommendations

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NetSuiteFrontRunners 2020

NetSuite is a business management software suite offered as a service that performs enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) functions. It is a horizontal package designed for an extensive rang... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 106 recommendations

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E2 Shop SystemFrontRunners 2020

E2 by Shoptech Corporation is a manufacturing solution that offers scheduling, purchasing, shipping, customer management and accounting. It’s designed specifically for job shops, contract and a variety of make-to-order manufacture... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 57 recommendations

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JobBOSSFrontRunners 2020

JobBOSS Shop Management Solutions, an ECi Software Solutions company, is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution built for small and midsize manufacturers in North America. It allows key office and production staff to manag... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 51 recommendations

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ProdsmartFrontRunners 2020

Prodsmart is a cloud-based real-time production tracking and management solution designed for businesses in the manufacturing and fabrication industries. Features include shop floor real-time data collection, production analysis, ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 29 recommendations

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Visual EstiTrack

Henning Software has helped small to midsize manufacturers and job shops for 30 years. Visual EstiTrack ERP has complete material requirements planning, product lifecycle, supply chain, customer relationship, human resource and ma... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 23 recommendations

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Katana

Katana is a modern manufacturing & inventory management software for small and scaling businesses. Its visual interface and smart real-time master planning allow manufacturers to get an overview of the entire business from one cen... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 16 recommendations

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QT9 ERP

QT9 ERP is a highly-scalable manufacturing platform for connecting and automating business data from multiple systems into one scalable and intuitive solution. QT9 ERP integrates inventory management, accounting management, sales ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 14 recommendations

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DELMIAworksFrontRunners 2020

DELMIAworks (formerly IQMS) ERP is developed specifically for SMB and large discrete and batch process manufacturers in the aerospace, medical device, automotive, food and beverage, consumer products, plastics, packaging, and elec... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 10 recommendations

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Mar-Kov Chemical Management System

Mar-Kov CMS (Chemical Management System) is a cloud-based process manufacturing solution for process, batch, and formulation based manufacturers. The solution can also be installed on-premise to automate daily routine processes of... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 8 recommendations

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SyteLineFrontRunners 2020

SyteLine is an enterprise resource planning software created specifically for engineer-to-order, make-to-order, make-to-stock, and mixed-mode manufacturers. Customers in both discrete and process manufacturing can benefit from thi... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 6 recommendations

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Statii

Statii software is a cloud-based system for small manufacturing companies. The solution is designed to facilitate communication between team members more effectively and manage activities involved in any manufacturing process. The... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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MIE Trak Pro

One word sums up MIE Trak Pro: flexibility. You may be using tired old spreadsheets or an ERP system that can't scale with your manufacturing company. When your organization grows, MIE Trak Pro adapts to your needs, striking a bal... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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REALTRAC

Realtrac is an on-premise job management solution designed for job shop manufacturers and modular machine shops. It helps small and midsize manufacturers to schedule workflows, manage shop operations, track inventories, manage pur... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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MRPEasy

MRPeasy is a manufacturing software for small manufacturers. The software is a suite comprising production planning, CRM, procurement, supply chain management, and inventory control modules. The application features a drag-and-dro... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 5 recommendations

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Exenta

Exenta is a cloud-based apparel management solution that helps apparel, footwear, accessories, home furnishing and other consumer goods brands, manufacturers and retailers to manage their various business operations. Key features ... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 4 recommendations

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Fulcrum

Fulcrum is a cloud-based platform serving small/mid-sized manufacturers and job shops looking for a software platform that truly understands them and their unique, complicated processes. Humans weren’t meant to transcribe data fro... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 3 recommendations

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IFS Applications

IFS Applications is a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution that helps businesses to integrate data and processes across multiple departments and locations. It offers various modules to users for asset management... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 2 recommendations

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Rootstock Cloud ERP

Rootstock Software is a worldwide provider of cloud ERP on the Salesforce Cloud Platform. When combined with Salesforce CRM, Rootstock Cloud ERP offers manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain organizations a single plat... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 2 recommendations

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SensrTrx

SensrTrx is a manufacturing analytics and productivity software designed to help manufacturers improve flow and create calm. As a cloud-based solution, SensrTrx collects data from machines and people to provide real-time visibilit... Read more

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Recent recommendations: 1 recommendations

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Buyers guide


Last Updated: April 16, 2021

Manufacturing execution systems (MES) manage operations on the shop floors of factories. Some MES support a single class of machine; others are designed to oversee operations on the entire floor. We wrote this buyer's guide to explain MES technologies and assist buyers in making a selection.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is MES Software?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand
The MES Vendor Landscape

What Is MES Software?

“If you build it, they will come,” is not a quote about manufacturing, but the concept is related. MES software manages operations on the shop floor. The scope of MES can vary from scheduling a small set of critical machines to managing the entire fabricating operation for a manufacturer. In all but a handful of cases currently, the MES does not directly control a machine but rather tracks the work-in-progress on the shop floor. 

MES is a subset of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and executes the plan determined by the manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system. The functions of MES programs include: compiling a bill of materials, resource management and scheduling, preparing and dispatching production orders, preparing work-in-progress (WIP) reports and tracking production lots. Advanced systems will also have a product definition library with revision history and can report on production status to an ERP. In contrast, an MRP system sets the production schedule, determines the make versus buy list and determines inventory requirements.

Screenshot of E2 Shop System scheduling whiteboard

Screenshot of E2 Shop System scheduling whiteboard

The MES is responsible for scheduling and tracking each step of the production phase of a particular job. It prints out the bill of materials that the operator will require and production steps to complete at each phase. It repeats this process for each operator and each step until a particular job is complete.

MES is not generally effected by a manufacturer's mode, be it make to stock (MTS), assemble to stock (ATS), assemble to order (ATO), make to order (MTO) or engineer to order (ETO). This is because by the time the MES is invoked, the parts and schedule are already set, usually by the MRP system.

MESes are generally installed on-premises, but cloud-based solutions are becoming available. In most businesses, one of the reasons for having a cloud-based system is the reduced initial cost for equipment. This is not necessarily true for manufacturing; if the system has just a few users then they are usually located in the same facility and it is just as easy to link them to each other as it is to give them access to the Internet. If it is a large implementation, the expense is in creating a robust network and acquiring suitable fixed and mobile workstations. The incremental cost difference between having a server for the software is generally minimal. Instead, the benefit of cloud-based systems is the reduced cost for system management; the servers are out of the shop floor environment, can be backed-up and replicated automatically, and do not have to be maintained by trained on-site personnel.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

The first step in evaluating MES software is to determine what type of buyer you are. Over 90 percent of software buyers fall into one of these three groups:

Enterprise resource planning suite buyer. These buyers value the seamless integration of data and processes that comes from having one system for all functions. For example, they would prefer a full-suite system for estimating, work-in-progress management and accounting that can automatically turn an estimate into a budget for project management and then match invoices to project status and allocate job costs. These buyers favor complete software suites from companies like Oracle, SAP, Sage ERP or Microsoft Dynamics.

Departmental buyer. Specialists in one function, such as creating process set points, may value the feature depth of best-of-breed solutions designed for their function. These buyers may need specific functionality, like the ability to interface with a specific computer motion control system.

Small manufacturer. Small organizations often have limited budgets and fewer IT resources and tools to dedicate to software. In many cases, they may be deciding between a new software system and a new piece of equipment. These buyers need cost-effective SMB manufacturing solutions that are easy to implement and use. Some will prefer full-suite systems, while others may just want one application, such as bill-of-materials production or shop equipment scheduling operations.  

Benefits and Potential Issues

  • Increase utilization of equipment: MES systems let manufacturers measure the actual utilization of equipment. With this knowledge, you can adjust job prices to either encourage the use of certain equipment or dissuade the use of that equipment.
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  • Better record-keeping and data analysis: MES provides records not of machine use, jobs and lots. This yields several benefits. First, there is better tracking of actual materials used, increasing accountability of material use to individual operators, which generally reduces waste. Second, should a quality problem occur, lot tracking allows tying back the issue to the individual lots instead of having to potentially recall an entire run.
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  • Real-time WIP reporting: MES systems can report on progress on jobs and lots in real-time, giving shop managers better information and allowing for modifications to the schedule to adjust for changes in productivity.

One of the big issues with implementing MES is the possibility it will be rejected by the shop floor personnel. Some workers find the method and amount of information collected intrusive. This can become a contract issue in a unionized shop. The best defense is to use a phased-in implementation coupled with training that emphasizes the benefits to workers.

Market Trends to Understand

Increased use of electronic documentation. Not so long ago, a shop floor had stacks and stacks of operator’s manuals, procedure manuals and material safety data sheets. Operators had clipboards and notebooks with bills of materials, work orders and reports. More and more, however, this paper is being replaced with electronic documents. MES documentation is no exception, most users produce electronic work orders and schedules.

Mobile devices used for reference and control. Related to the increased use of electronic documentation is the use of mobile devices on the shop floor. The days of using clipboards and paper kanban cards are quickly coming to an end. Instead, workers are using tablet computers and handheld devices to enter information directly into the MES system.

Increased integration with enterprise systems. Considering that ERP grew out of MRP and MES systems, it is no surprise that the integration with other systems is a continuing trend. Even stand-alone MES systems can receive data from MRP systems and inventory systems, and send information to others, like preventive maintenance systems (which track the hours that equipment has been used) and payroll systems (which track how much time workers spent on each job).

Machine integration. MES systems can now integrate directly with computer-controlled shop-floor machines, downloading directions and recipes when required.

Data consolidation and visualization. MES systems can collect and consolidate information from the various production systems. Production dashboards are beginning to make their appearance in systems, giving production managers a single view to track operations in real time.

The MES Vendor Landscape

This type of buyer... Should evaluate these systems
Enterprise resource planning suite buyer Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP, Sage
Departmental buyer Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor, SYSPRO, Casco
Small manufacturer E-Z-MRP, ECi, Exact, Fishbowl

FrontRunners

Your Guide to Top Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Software, September 2020

Software Advice uses reviews from real software users to highlight the top-rated Manufacturing Execution Systems products in North America.

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“Usability” includes user ratings for Functionality and Ease of Use.“Customer Satisfaction” includes user ratings for Customer Support, Likelihood to Recommend and Value for Money.Reviews analysis period: The reviews analysis period spans two years and ends on the 15th of the month prior to publication.