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What is an MES?
Reporting and analytics for continuous improvement (Part 5/5)

MES reporting and analysis | your tools to answer questions and solve problems.

Part 5 – Reporting & Analytics

While the MES serves a valuable role in defining, directing, and documenting factory activities, the big payoff is about the data the MES generates along the way and how that data can be used to answer the questions and solve the problems that manufacturers encounter every day. In the final part of this series, we look at how data generated by the MES can be used in reporting and analytics.


Welcome to the final part in this series, what is an MES? The final piece of the MES from a high-level perspective is reporting and analytics. You may remember from part one that, among the key goals of the MES, are to provide actionable insights that speed business impacting decisions and to provide advanced warning of problems that lay ahead. Reporting and analytics are intended to address both of these goals.

Management guru, Peter Drucker once said, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure”. And that’s the whole point behind reporting. We want to use the wealth of data generated by the MES to spot trends and identify areas for improvement and determine whether the improvements we’ve implemented are having the results we expected.

There are two types of reporting within the MES. Operational reporting provides a snapshot of what’s currently happening in manufacturing. It shows the state of things, right now. But operational reporting can’t show how we got here or whether the trend is positive or negative. That’s where historical reporting comes in. Historical reporting shows trends over time, making it possible to see whether conditions in the factory are getting better or worse. The explicit purpose of reports is to provide actionable insights to help the manufacturing staff proactively spot problems, identify root causes, and provide options for solutions.

Toward that end, we can view reporting from another perspective as well. Reporting within the MES can be seen as lot reporting or equipment reporting. It just depends on the nature of the problem at hand.

Where reports are terrific at creating actionable insights that can result in quicker decisions to improve manufacturing, it’d be impossible to create every report to cover every requirement in advance. Something slightly different is needed for that. What’s needed is the capability for manufacturing users to create their own reports and perform their own analysis that lead to their own insights.

Imagine a situation where a process engineer working on a problem thinks, if I only had a report that would show, “this”, I could better troubleshoot the problem and find a solution. In a typical situation, the engineer might open a request with the IT group for a new report, providing some basic specifications. It might take a couple of weeks for the request to pop up to the top of the IT’s tactical queue, at which time it gets assigned to a software engineer.

The software engineer exchanges emails with the process engineer over the course of a couple of weeks to understand the request and refine the requirements, then gets to work building the report. After a couple more weeks, the new report is released to the process engineer, who quickly concludes, there was clearly a misunderstanding because the report they received isn’t at all what they had in mind. After a couple more weeks of email exchanges between the process engineer and the software engineer, and a couple more weeks of software development time, a revised report is released.

This one captures perhaps 80% of what the process engineer needed to solve the problem. But, 10 weeks has already elapsed and the process engineer already solved the problem another way, weeks ago. So in the end, the effort was wasted. This is the type of thing that needs to be avoided.

What if, it’d be possible for the process engineer to get the report she needed in a few hours, rather than a few weeks? This should be possible by engineering MES data systems to allow direct and secure access by manufacturing customers. Manufacturers should be able to point their own analysis tools like Excel or Tableau or Power BI at the data source and slice and dice the data they need, to create insights tailored to the specific problems they’re working on. Insights in hours, not weeks.

And beyond this, the MES can never provide all the capabilities and functionality needed by every manufacturer and arguably shouldn’t even try. But if the data generated by the MES is made directly available to manufacturing customers, they could tap into it to create their own custom apps and utilities using low-code, no-code environments like Tulip or Microsoft’s Power Apps. This would allow nearly infinite customizability for customers, without the need for customer-specific modifications within the core MES product.

In the end, while the MES serves a valuable role in defining, directing, and documenting factory activities. The big payoff is really about the data the MES generates along the way and how that data can be used to answer the questions and solve the problems manufacturers encounter every day. The core features of the MES are informed by why they’re needed, the data they create, and how that can be used to solve problems for the business. And that way, what the MES is, can be thought of as the vehicle for generating the data that’s needed to drive continuous improvement in manufacturing.

About the Author

Picture of Dan Meier, Director of MES Strategy
Dan Meier, Director of MES Strategy
Dan is a seasoned manufacturing professional with nearly 30 years of operational and management experience. He has an extensive background in manufacturing optimization, quality systems, analytics, financial modeling, factory automation, and manufacturing software systems. Dan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from The Juilliard School, as well as a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of New Mexico.