Evolve Your Manufacturing Execution System (MES) into a Digital Twin- in the Cloud

by Kumar Singh, Research Director, Automation & Analytics, SAPinsider


What exactly is a Manufacturing Execution System (MES)?

You will find a plethora of definitions of Manufacturing execution systems. But to put it in the simplest possible way, MES systems are computerized systems that help with the following three aspects in a manufacturing environment:

  • Tracking (allows you to track your manufacturing materials, starting from raw materials all the way to finished goods)
  • Visibility (provides you the ability to see your process parameters in near real-time)
  • Control (provides a centralized tool to control your manufacturing operations)

If you are an experienced manufacturing professional, you can extrapolate from the three aspects indicated above that Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) can provide a number of benefits like:

  • Cycle time efficiency
  • Reduced manufacturing cost
  • Improved finished goods quality (hence lower cost of quality)
  • Lower cost of good quality
  • Better compliance
  • Data to improve product design
  • Ability to make fact-based operational and strategic decisions

So how are they different from a Digital Twin?

Although a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is the first form of the digital twin, the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 manufacturing concepts have opened new possibilities regarding how real-time data can be used to better control and optimize production. An MES is a great foundational starting point for a manufacturer to develop a digital twin. A digital twin can be considered the next step or evolution of an MES in order for a manufacturer to adapt to the changing technological capabilities of the world around them. But what exactly is missing in an MES that is an additional capability in a Digital Twin?

This illustration of a Digital twin architecture by Deloitte university press shows where MES fits in a digital twin, You can envision it as being an orchestrator in the digital twin architecture, enabling the “create” and “communicate” aspects. As you can see, it is just one of the components but is a critical component in the overall digital twin architecture.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) in the cloud

Whether your organization is actively pursuing it or not, the fact is that the digitalization of manufacturing is happening and happening fast. As organizations start working towards intelligent enterprise, there has been an explosion in terms of edge devices on the shop floors that are capturing and streaming data.  As per research by IDC:

  • 70% of IoT deployments by 2023 will include edge-based decision-making
  • By “2023, 70% of enterprises will run varying levels of data processing at the IoT edge.

As I  indicate in my articles and posts, this explosion in edge devices and the massive amount of data these devices will generate means that the volume of data generated and captured will make on-premise data management systems inefficient to meet the agility and scalability demands. Edge computing will play a key role in these networks of the future. Also, note that when we talk about evolving MES to Digital Twins, it is also about data exchange between devices and systems. As I consistently say, the real value of a digital infrastructure can only be realized by putting the data captured and generated through use in an optimal and strategic way. From that aspect, I see the cloud as the only place where applications can “plug and play” into each other seamlessly without extensive pre-work. The envisioned future of a digital supply chain means that the digital manufacturing twin will be just one digital entity, that will “talk” with other digital entities in the network. And for this to happen in near real-time, companies must leverage the cloud.

So MES of the future needs to exist in the cloud, and the good news is- many vendors, including SAP already have cloud-based manufacturing platforms. Let us review SAP Digital manufacturing cloud solution very briefly.

SAP Digital manufacturing cloud

SAP Digital manufacturing cloud is a cloud-native MES that provides near real-time data and analytics. I believe products like these lay the foundation of building a true digital twin of your manufacturing process and the eventual Industry 4.0 enterprise-wide network. Some key aspects of the solution that SAP highlights on their portal are:

  • Cloud deployment
  • Visibility across the top floor and shop floor
  • Powerful key performance indicators (KPIs) and analytics
  • Detailed execution of production processes

SAP and Microsoft partnership is game-changing

Yes- this is game-changing, specifically for many products in SAP’s portfolio.  While there are other MES products out in the market, SAP’s products related to intelligent enterprise, in my opinion, will soon get powerful due to the recent partnership announced between SAP and Microsoft. Why?

Recall some of the challenges that I mentioned traditional infrastructure will face from the on-premise model. Microsoft news release on this partnership voices the same aspects:

“When managing a global, distributed supply chain and manufacturing environment, companies face challenges with constrained bandwidth, latency, and massive volumes of data that can adversely affect execution and quality scenarios. Here the solution lies in edge computing.”

Leveraging MS Azure (including Azure stack edge), SAP will be able to run its solutions like the digital manufacturing cloud in a SaaS model. Combining the scale of MS Azure platform with SAP Digital supply chain solutions in my perspective creates a very powerful cloud-based solution in my opinion and that is why I indicated earlier that it can be game-changing. As Franz Hero, SAP’s SVP of Digital Supply Chain solutions puts it:

“SAP is excited to bring our proven and innovative solutions to Microsoft Azure for our manufacturing and digital supply chain customers. This partnership gives our customers the ability to subscribe to our digital supply chain and manufacturing solutions in the cloud and enhances our offerings for Industry 4.0. Building on this, SAP solutions will soon be available at the edge in factories, plants, and automated warehouses in close proximity to sensors, machines, and control systems.”

What does this mean for SAPinsiders?

  • Cloud is going to play a really important role in your Industry 4.0 vision so if you don’t have a cloud strategy already, develop one as soon as possible
  • An MES system, though is not a digital twin in itself, is a key component of a digital twin architecture. You need to be strategic when planning to invest in MES systems
  • As an SAP customer, the partnership between SAP and Microsoft for digital supply chain solutions helps you propel further on your integrated digital supply chain journey



Kumar Singh, Research Director, Automation & Analytics, SAPinsider, can be reached at kumar.singh@wispubs.com