Manufacturing Execution System • November 30, 2018

Fractured MES Market Makes Software Homogenization Impossible

Some in software have a dream – one MES package that can fit all verticals, whether in discrete or process manufacturing. They try hard to develop software that can solve everything any company would require. The problem with this view, however, is that it assumes that all manufacturing is relatively similar. And nothing could be further from the truth.

A breakdown of the MES market by analyst firm Gartner shows that it is highly fractured into distinct verticals. The most dominate is oil & gas, but it only comprises 11% of the total. It is followed by the repetitive flow process market with 10%, general discrete manufacturing with 9%, and pharmaceutical and biotech with 8%.

Let’s take the pharma and biotech vertical. Yes, there may be similarities between the various processes employed. But there are also tremendous differences. If a MES vendor builds up enough expertise serving pharma and biotech players, then it is conceivable that its software could be designed as an easily configurable package for the entire industry.

By extension, some try to insist that all manufacturing processes and styles can be encompassed by one comprehensive software suite. But good luck harnessing pharmaceutical MES in an oil and gas setting; or consumer packaged goods MES in aerospace. It just isn’t designed for it.

14 separate verticals, then, comprise 93% of the MES market. From oil & gas at 11% to aerospace & defense at 4%, each specializes in a specific niche. Maybe it’s possible for software to span a couple of similar verticals. But the splintered nature of MES makes a mockery of the idea that one suite can rule them all.

Part of the problem might be the definition of MES itself. All MES software comprises three distinct functions:

  • It manages the execution of a physical manufacturing process, whether that processes is refining oil into gasoline, building a helicopter, or filling small bags with potato chips.
  • It coordinates with other systems such as PLM, CRM, ERP, and others.
  • It provides feedback on process performance, genealogy, quality, and history.
  • Systems that accomplish all three fit the correct definition of MES. Those that do one out of three should be called something else.

Below this level, though, MES systems are different in a great many ways. Those differences are far greater than any high-level similarities. That’s why there are so many niche vendors.

Only a few vendors make it up to the top right-hand corner (Leaders) and top left- hand corner (Challengers) of the Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) for MES. Those tend to be the ones that span the largest zone of MES similarity. They’re a list of companies from the large enterprise PLM or automation side and serve industries like pulp and paper, oil and gas, specialty chemical, and food and beverage. They boast large customer bases. But they tend to be expensive. Many of them try to broaden their offerings to appeal to more verticals. But they don’t do well in the highly complex manufacturing fields of aerospace & defense (A&D), electronics, nuclear and complex industrial equipment.

The automation specialists in the top quadrants are skilled at collecting a high volume of real-time, time series data, contextualizing it, making it available to other systems, performing calculations, energy management, and asset management. Those are their strengths. But they can struggle when it comes to engineering-heavy, change management heavy industries.

Similarly, the big names in ERP are excellent at order & material management, scheduling, and other front-end management tasks. But they can lack engineering and automation functionality. PLM vendors, on the other hand, have a stronger engineering emphasis. They’re also good at CAD, analysis, bill of material management, and change management. But they are relatively weak on the production side.

While the big guns tend to be the ones preaching the one MES package for everyone sermon, that message can also come from certain market innovators who are on the cutting edge of areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud. They may have developed certain features that can enhance MES, but they lack the MES smarts to offer anything that could be considered a fully functional MES package.

That leaves what Gartner terms Niche Vendors. In MES, this is filled with companies that are actually market leaders in a narrow market wedge. In pharmaceutical MES, Werum is used by almost all the big pharmaceutical companies. Yet a lazy pharmaceutical executive could look at the Garter MQ, pick out a few Leaders and tell his CIO to only evaluate those products. That would be a disaster for the company as the higher level MES Leaders can’t match Werum on pharma process mastery.

iBase-t is another example. It is a leader in the aerospace and defense niche and successfully applied these strict requirements to a host of complex industries. Its commitment to the complex manufacturing industry is demonstrated in the abilities of the iBase-t Digital Manufacturing platform. Developed specifically for complex discrete manufacturers, iBase-t takes on the challenge of radically improving manufacturing productivity, quality and compliance by giving operators, supervisors and every plant manager visibility and control from the shop floor to the top floor. Easily reacting to frequent engineering change frees up operators to spend more of their time being productive, and less time looking for new work instructions or waiting on corrections, or repair instructions. iBase-t is revolutionizing how complex manufacturers transform their production operations with Manufacturing Execution System strategies.

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MES Software Solution Selection Guide