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  • Richard Blow

Pathways to Operational Excellence – Part 2

Is it really MES vs MOS? Or is a combination of both the ‘Golden Ticket’ in today’s manufacturing environment

As we emerge from the devastating economic effects of Covid 19, decisions made in the next 6 months could prove critical to the long term survival of organisations that manufacture or rely directly on manufacturing to supply their ‘raw’ materials.

Part 1 of our Pathways to Operational Excellence series explained the key principles of Management Operating Systems (MOS) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) . We highlighted the importance of having robust MOS based PDCA functionality in place prior to implementing a BPI methodology such as Lean, Six Sigma or TOC to get consistent and sustainable results out of that implementation. In Part 2 we’ll look at the differences between MOS and MES and how the two may be combined to drive quality, profitability, operational excellence and sustained growth.

There is confusion around differences between MOS and MES. To be fair, both share certain commonality based on Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) principles to facilitate continuous improvement, including:

  • better dissemination of information (synchronisation, coordination and flow centralisation)

  • a simplification of manufacturing processes

  • compliance with regulatory requirements

  • management of controlled inventory

  • optimised quality monitoring

  • systematic traceability of the process and of products

  • analysis and continuous performance improvement

So, what’s the difference between MES and MOS?

MOS is related to the overall management of operations, and usually refers to business processes, not software. MOS follows the Plan, Do, Check, Act improvement cycle to get control and steadily and sustainably improve process performance to achieve Operational Excellence across the whole value chain between sales, customer service, production and logistics

MES systems are in essence software-based versions of the production and shopfloor control and reporting elements of MOS including daily and shift based time-bound production schedules, shift control reports, OEE measurements articulated in cycle time, downtime and quality, and summarised into daily and weekly reports. At a minimum, MES software enables engineers and managers to follow the progress of production and related activities against a plan, and to modify that plan to reflect changes in customer demand, material availability and process capability.

Key differences between MES vs MOS functionality include:

  • MES systems are marketed as level 3 system software that sit between ERP systems (level 4) that do the planning, and level 1,2 systems including PLC, Scada that collect data from the shop floor. ERP systems generally do not provide good granularity beyond weekly plans, ie. they may not produce accurate daily production schedules.

  • MES systems do not include or recognise the need for the behavioural aspects of MOS including weekly sales & operations meeting, daily and shift based debriefs, formal recording and actioning of production variances. The reason for this is often an implied assumption that if you produce useful management reports, the correct behaviour will automatically follow.

  • MES systems often include additional functionality, such as complete Bill of Materials for each scheduled products, checking availability of raw materials/ supplies inventory before a specific production run, check real-time customer orders inputs to tweak the daily production schedules. While all of these things are very useful to ensure continuity of production, it shifts the key functionality away from performance measurement (plan vs actual) and continuous improvement which is the key focus of a MOS.

So, while MOS and MES share a lot of similar functionality, a MOS is focused on continuous improvement by focusing on identifying and actioning variances between plan and actual, throughout the value chain process from sales forecasting, planning, production, warehousing and logistics. A MES focuses on automating the transnational activities that are required during the production step, thereby making variances between plan and actual clearly visible. A MES makes using variance data to drive performance improvement one of many features, instead of the number one feature that facilitates continuous improvement.

Why All of This Matters to Manufacturers

As we move forward in the wake of Covid 19, focus on improving your operational efficiency, making better decisions, improving your tracking and traceability, gaining better visibility, and boosting your product quality will be critical to ensuring recovery and long term sustainability.

The takeaway for manufacturers is that Management Operating Systems and/or Manufacturing Execution Systems are extremely useful tools if a business wants to achieve sustainable improvements and it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario.

  • Companies who do not have MES or MOS would benefit from implementing MOS and integrating MES software into their operations to improve production capacity and reduce cost per unit produced.

  • Companies who already have a MOS should consider introducing a MES which would allow you to automate part of the MOS procedures and integrate these into your existing IT structure.

  • Companies that have implemented or are part way through a Lean, Six Sigma or TOC implementation could benefit from including (in the implementation) MOS and integrating MES software into their operations to increase competitiveness by making continuous improvement more effective and sustainable.

  • Companies who already have a MES would benefit from managerial and user training to incorporate continuous improvement procedures based on MOS principles, to use the production data gathered already by the MES system to help drive continuous improvement and operational excellence and reduce costs across all operational activities.

Thank you to our Grey Haired Guru, Alex Van Ravenswaaij for his contributions to this blog.



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