One of the bigger surprises with coming from the research for the Market Guide for Manufacturing Execution System Software was not just the rapid shift away from independent MES providers to automation, ERP and PLM vendors that provide MES capability, but how much of a shift has taken place in just the past year.
The sample of 36 MES vendors covered in the research showed a decided shift, where in 2014, 33% of total MES revenue came from independent ‘pure-play’ providers, in 2015 that number had dropped to 11%, and that’s not all of the bad news. Only a couple of significant acquisitions in the MES space took place in 2014-2015. Most of this revenue share decline is that the independents are not growing revenue as fast as their larger competitors.
We get questions… Is MES ‘going away’? Well, yes and no. There are technologies being created today to automate functions that have never been automated before. Robots that can be programmed to work side by side with human counterparts, devices that can make more and more complex decisions. A number of vendors have discussed with me the fact that their products that are not ‘MES’ per se, are performing those functions at numerous client sites. So, yes, MES as a standalone technology may, in fact, be going away, but the functions of an MES system remain.
There is now and always will be a requirement for transactional systems that can guide manufacturing processes, reinforce best practices, collect/analyze time series data and make decisions at a more granular level and higher speed than traditional enterprise business systems. Remember, the term ‘MES’ is only a few decades old. We used to have Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) and Shop Floor Control (SFC) and we now have Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) and Digital Manufacturing.
So, is this the end of the world as we know it for MES? In the grand scheme of this, it really doesn’t matter. The vendor landscape will continue to evolve. Vendors that add value will continue to survive and thrive and probably be aquired, those that don’t will fade away. Manufacturing will still be performed. This is an exciting time, as we see how smart machines, IIoT and social technologies morph and adapt to meet the peculiar and unique challenges of manufacturing. As we see how Industrie 4.0 and it’s international siblings move from political pronouncements to true innovative manufacturing technologies.
But before we succumb to the hype, remember these things take time. When you ask plant engineers about IoT, they are quick to tell you that they’ve been doing this for years within their local plants using Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Gartner’s own prediction is that through 2018, three out of five Internet of Things projects in manufacturing operations will only deliver benefits to local plant operations. In other words, exactly where they are doing it now.
So, what do all these changes mean to today’s manufacturers? There’s a great old story that takes place at the tool crib in a manufacturing site:
Machinist: “I need the biggest screwdriver you have.”
Tool Crib Attendant: “Philips head or slotted?”
Machinist: “Doesn’t matter, I’m going to use it as a hammer.”
The moral of the story. It doesn’t matter what the tool is called, as long it does the job for you.