“A Gartner Magic Quadrant is a culmination of research in a specific market, giving you a wide-angle view of the relative positions of the market’s competitors.”

An MES is a foundation of digital transformation initiatives, and we believe the Gartner Magic Quadrant can help manufacturers define their MES needs along with which products and solutions are best aligned to them. Gartner states that “MES solutions are a foundational building block for smart manufacturing strategies and digital business for manufacturers”. With the right MES, a manufacturer can ensure that all their plants move towards smart manufacturing and create digital business strategies that create new business opportunities and disrupt their current markets.

An MES affords an enterprise the agility and resiliency in unpredictable market conditions, and we feel it can help establish them as an industry leader with competitive advantages.

Gartner predicts, “By 2025, 60% of new manufacturing execution systems (MES) solutions will be assembled by manufacturers or implementation providers using composable technology.” Composability underlines the increasing importance of cloud computing, containerization, and DevOps for MES applications to be faster and easier to deploy and scale. MES applications that are not device and hardware agnostic might have challenges in realising the vision of how an MES operates. We believe the Magic Quadrant is important to manufacturers because it evaluates vendors on their vision for an MES and their ability to execute their vision, which can be the difference between a good or superior application.

MES basics

It is important to understand what an MES is and how vendors are recognized in the Gartner Magic Quadrant report based on their ability to execute and completeness of vision.

The application

“Gartner defines manufacturing execution systems (MES) as a specialist class of production-oriented software that manages, monitors and synchronizes the execution of real-time physical processes involved in transforming raw materials into intermediate and/or finished goods. These systems coordinate this execution of work orders with production scheduling and enterprise-level systems like ERP and product life cycle management (PLM). MES applications also provide feedback on process performance, and support component and material-level traceability, genealogy and integration with process history, where required.” We believe the Gartner definition makes it clear that the MES must be capable of real-time execution of the process and be able to integrate with enterprise applications while coordinating with process automation. To ensure the process is executed as planned and all necessary traceability, improvement and compliance data is captured and reported.

Core MES functionality

Gartner defines nine core MES functions, they are explained below with added inputs from CM subject-matter experts.

1. Dispatching

“The ability to dispatch work based on global instructions from ERP or production scheduling systems, adapted to meet resource availability, schedule requirements and capacity.”

Our interpretation of this definition is that the MES will take direction from the ERP to dispatch work based on a set schedule that ensures material availability. However, depending on the operation and its complexity the MES might even play a larger role in the configuration of advanced schedules and orchestration of jobs.

2. Production management, execution and in-process quality monitoring

“Managing the production process from order release to work in process (WIP) to finished goods.”

We believe the management of a work order across its lifecycle is something that should happen through the MES. For some industries, specific functionalities are particularly important. For example, in-process quality monitoring is important for complex discrete manufacturing operations, but it is essential for semiconductor, electronics, medical device manufacturing and other highly regulated industries.

For medical device manufacturers, FDA compliance for process validation and product quality is mission critical. The ability of an MES to capture transactional and edge data is important, but the storage, analysis, and presentation of data in a compliant format is fundamental.

3. Manufacturing data management

“The capability of collecting and managing data manually from end users, at regular intervals from a data storage source (e.g., data historian), directly from equipment, or some combination thereof. This is data spanning domains of quality, process status, job/order status, regulatory compliance, labor collection and tracking/product genealogy, to name a few.”

Based on this definition modern MES applications will help drive digital transformation by capturing process data, standardizing it, adding context to it, and more. The MES can analyse data captured through IoT or equipment level integration in real-time and trigger automated or manual pre-determined actions for faster and more impactful decision making. The ability to harness data and make it intelligent is what we feel Industry 4.0 qualifies as effective manufacturing data management.

4. Operational data store

“An operational data store can be anything from a simple relational database for transaction-based operational data or integration capabilities to a data historian or IIoT platform for time series, streaming and transactional data.”

Business leaders are making more informed decisions based on intelligence MES solutions integrated in an IIoT platform, where data is retrieved, analysed, and streamed continuously without operational boundaries.

5. Manufacturing-related quality management processes

“For regulated environments, where corrective and preventive action (CAPA) and nonconformance workflows are required to be inextricably linked to the production process.”

These CAPA activities, in our opinion are crucial for the medical device industry. To close a non-compliance or OOS incident the MES records the CAPA and trigger containment, all the relevant data that outlines the non-conformance, the operators and personnel involved along with their training and qualifications, and what actions were taken for re-work or scrap.

With the right MES, manufacturers can perform consistent CAPA activities, set AQL levels, and automate/enforce the way it is aligned with the core process execution.

6. Procedural enforcement

“Ensuring that all manufacturing process steps are performed in the correct order, at the right time, by the correct resource and in conformance with quality requirements.”

For semiconductor manufacturing, this functionality is important for production process automation. The MES ensures process execution is within product specifications, at the highest possible yield, and fastest throughput. With hundreds or thousands of steps executed across multiple operations and tools, the MES configuration becomes critical in ensuring each step is executed on a qualified tool, in the right state, with the right material, and at the right time.

7. Tracking and genealogy

“The ability to track by lot, batch, serial number or other unique identifier where each item is in the production process. And, as required per industry, the source and unique identification of the parts and materials that compose the item being tracked, as well as the equipment and personnel, in support of regulatory compliance, field service and product recall management.”

Traceability is important for almost every industry segment. For medical devices knowing which parts are faulty helps improve supply chain decisions and for semiconductors, the ability to track wafer lots and individual wafers leads to process improvement. In electronics assembly, the ability to track and perform customized operations on simultaneous or split batches enables mass customization. Use cases may vary by industry, but the ability to provide end-to-end process and material logistics-related traceability can be a differentiating factor for an MES.

8. Integrated analytics reporting

“Tools and techniques for generating key performance indicators (KPI) results, performing advanced analytics and providing dashboard displays and datasets for performance monitoring and reporting.”

MES industry leaders have brought AI and Machine learning into analytics functionality and made it possible for process owners and shop-floor personnel to view their operations in alternative ways. The KPIs and process metrics are often available on mobile devices and dashboards and are configurable so that users can design their GUI to create their own displays and dashboards using a low or no-code interface. Real-time metrics, streaming right onto a device being used by personnel in the exact form he/she needs is the kind of functionality that spurs improvement and innovation.

9. Sophisticated integration capability

“Use of software development kits (SDKs), schemas and APIs to integrate:

  • Production equipment (process historians, robots, PLCs, SCADA systems, edge devices, data collection systems).
  • Enterprise systems (ERP, supply chain management [SCM] for materials management, inventory, order status, completions).
  • Engineering/PLM (model-based planning with automated routing, work instruction and related data flowing to the MES environment, bill of materials [BOM]/recipe management, and engineering change management).”

For the effective management of the entire manufacturing process and the ability to monitor and control everything from bills-of-materials to the actual retrieval and allocation of resources, the MES must integrate with engineering, automation, and enterprise applications.

As MES solutions get more advanced and move toward more composable architectures, their ability to easily integrate with multiple disparate enterprise applications becomes highly relevant as a bridge between the enterprise and the operation. This requires the vendor’s ability to provide integration with well-established application platforms and additional, sometimes difficult to integrate, legacy applications. Unless the MES delivers complete integration across the board, we feel the results pertaining to business and operational improvement will remain sub-optimal.

The Magic Quadrant explained

The Magic Quadrant compares 19 vendors based on their completeness of vision, and their ability to execute. Gartner recognizes these vendors as Leaders, Challengers, Niche Players, or Visionaries based on their ability to execute and completeness of vision.

2022 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for MES

“Leaders combine the uppermost characteristics of vision and thought leadership with a strong Ability to Execute. Leaders in the MES market are present in a high percentage of new MES deals, and they win a significant number of them. They have robust core MES and may offer some capabilities in extended MES areas. To be a Leader, a vendor doesn’t necessarily need to have the absolute broadest or deepest MES application. Its offerings must meet most core MES requirements without significant modifications, and a substantial number of high-quality implementations must be available to validate this. Leaders must anticipate where customer demands, markets and technology are moving, and must have strategies to support these emerging requirements ahead of actual customer demand. Leading vendors should have coherent strategies to support supply chain convergence, and must invest in and have processes to exploit innovation; for example, composable enterprise. Leaders also have market momentum and strong client satisfaction — in the vendor’s local markets as well as internationally. Client satisfaction starts with the initial sales engagement and continues through deployment and beyond. Leaders understand the importance of customer satisfaction and approach customer issues as trusted partners. Because Leaders are often well-established in leading-edge and complex user environments, they benefit from a user community that helps them remain in the forefront of emerging needs.”

We recommend manufacturers consider the Gartner Magic Quadrant as a comprehensive report on solutions available in the market and recommend using it to better understand what an MES should deliver at a basic level. For more detailed analysis of status-quo and requirements pertaining to future MES deliverables, please work with industry experts, and representatives from the application vendors themselves.

Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Manufacturing Execution Systems, Rick Franzosa, Christian Hestermann, 31 May 2022

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This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available upon request from Critical Manufacturing.