The last 2 years have taught us an important lesson: the world is changing fast. Mounting challenges from increased demands, intense margin pressure and fluctuating business environment force manufacturers to be more flexible and efficient in their operations than ever. Traditional manufacturing execution systems (MES) can no longer satisfy the need of growing manufacturing teams. Moving on to next-gen MES is a must-do if you don’t want to be left behind by competitors.

Even when you have identified the need for an improved MES, making the transition can be overwhelming with possibilities of operation disruption and loss of technology know-how. But it shouldn’t be. In this article, we will examine the need for next-gen MES and how to make the transition from traditional to next-gen MES the most effective.

Understanding Traditional Manufacturing Execution Systems

Manufacturing execution systems have been around for more than two decades. Introduced as the bridge between the business layer and the manufacturing processes of an organization, MES have continued to evolve to cover product operations, business operations, and strategic initiatives.

Specific definitions and capabilities of MES vary from one industry to another. No two factories are alike, and needs vary according to the type of manufacturing operations happening. Still, if you’re looking for a somewhat official definition, here is a helpful one from Gartner:

“Manufacturing execution systems (MESs) are a class of software that manage, monitor, and synchronize the execution of real-time, physical processes involved in transforming raw materials into intermediate and/or finished goods.

They coordinate this execution of work orders with production scheduling and enterprise-level systems. MES applications also provide feedback on process performance, and support component- and material-level traceability, genealogy, and integration with process history, where required."

MES are also defined by their functions. Traditional MES bring together a group of capabilities that help manufacturing decision-makers understand how to optimize the current conditions on the plant floor to improve production output. These capabilities include:

  • Product documentation

  • Product/Part tracking and genealogy

  • Process execution management

  • Resource management

  • Quality management

  • Management of human resources involved in the operations

  • Data collection

  • Systems integration

MES vs. Next-Gen in the Digital Age

While MES have long been the go-to solution for manufacturers, they have lagged behind the modern dynamic business environment and its unique challenges. Dated architecture and the rigid nature of the technology create silos in different systems and manufacturing sites.

Fragmented systems delay data, leading to information bottlenecks. Rigid systems stagnate innovation and create lengthy delays. Complex pricing and implementation models increase reliance on vendors, making any updates inefficient and expensive. Overall, you’ll see more operational challenges and a longer time to see an ROI.

Compared to a traditional MES solution, next-gen is defined by its superior agility, speed, user experience, accessible data, and ultimately a faster time-to-value.

Graphic illustrating the benefits of next-gen MES

Next-gen MES usually feature IT/OT/ET convergence, predictive analytics, cloud and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) deployment and no-code/low-code platforms. These additions bring expanded capabilities to provide timely data, support faster decision-making, and empower problem-solving.

Next-gen MES is a game-changer regarding efficiency, cost, and agility, especially in instances that require fast updates like work instructions. A next-gen MES, such as Tulip, includes a no-code app editor that allows you quickly make updates to work instructions apps, which traditional MES are incapable of. Taking feedback from operators, manufacturing engineers can adjust work instructions via the drag and drop editing interface and reflect these changes within minutes. These work instructions apps can also act as the "MES frontend," capturing information as operators (end-users) complete steps.

A good example of this is how the design and manufacturing agency Piaggio Fast Forward (PGG) utilized Tulip as a next-gen MES to move their gita robot from a prototype to a production system. Gita is a complex product with more than 150 unique parts, requiring assembling operators to understand what they are doing at every step of the way. With Tulip, PFF could train people at each stage of assembly and subassembly, and provide them with up-to-date instructions on exactly what they are working on. This speeds up employee training, ramps up production, and ensures quality standards.

Making the Transition to Next-gen

Switching from a traditional MES to a next-gen is not as complicated and costly as you may think. Teams are usually worried about the sunk cost of abandoning an existing system and the discomfort of moving away from their technical know-how. However, implementing a next-gen MES doesn’t have to be a rip-and-replace.

A flexible, scalable, and future-proof implementation strategy for next-gen MES should minimize operation disruptions. In many cases, you don’t need to completely remove the traditional MES solution before implementing your new one. The first step in building your transition plan is to ask if your MES is still solving a valid problem. If the answer is yes, you don’t need to turn off the switch on your MES. Instead, explore gaps in functionality and how you can augment those gaps with additional capabilities to cover more use cases.

Many teams have succeeded in implementing next-gen MES as a complementary solution to their existing system. For example, keeping the MES backbone and data structure while replacing the frontend can produce a more user-friendly interface and a better user experience without disrupting the shop floor operation. Such low-risk pilot programs allow teams to layer on capabilities in a highly de-risked approach.

Implementation timeline of next-gen MES vs. traditional MES

The basic concept of running a low-risk pilot program is to start with a specific problem in mind and build an application to address that problem. Start small with a few stations, then roll out the new apps and collect feedback from frontline workers. Use that feedback to inform your implementation and expand that suite of apps as you go. Bi-directional communication during the implementation provides complete visibility of the shop floor and ensures new solutions are grounded on valid use cases and metrics that matter. This will also ensure a quick, visible ROI on your next-gen MES implementation.

Frontline workers, who understand manufacturing best, can actively extract data from their daily operations and turn it into actionable insights with measurable and immediate impacts on the shop floor. As they continue to reinvent their work within a flexible and dynamic environment, they can drive further implementation as needed and start bringing in real changes. Throughout the implementation process, humans remain at the center of all actions.

For teams looking to accelerate their digital transformation, a low-risk pilot does more than utilize existing infrastructure to build immediate value and reduce waste. Digital transformation is not just about investing in automation, connected devices or tracking activities. True digital transformation puts that technology into shop floor workers' hands and empowers them to drive innovation. Keeping the humans at the center of the deployment is the key to unlocking the full potentials of next-gen MES solutions.


Traditional MESs will not cut it in an ever-changing industry and a more dynamic business environment. Implementing a next-gen MES is a must-do for organizations to grow and scale. With next-gen MES, you can create applications, or systems of applications, as comprehensive as you need them to be, and that puts you and your workforce at the center.

The key to a successful transitioning strategy is to remain human-centric. Focus on your gaps in functionality and empower your frontline workers to drive the innovation process, and you can improve your operation one use case at a time.

Learn more about the benefits of next-gen MES and how to achieve a successful transition by watching our webinar here.

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