Manufacturing execution system (MES)

Most modern plants use a manufacturing execution system (MES) to manage and monitor work-in-process on a factory floor. An MES is a software control system which relies on up to date information to provide a snapshot of the current state of the products in the manufacturing process. In regulated industries it is also the repository for critical lot and process data. An MES needs to be fed information from the floor pertaining to the current state of the lots as they move through the process. In a modern automated plant, this information normally exists in the equipment itself. Automatically bridging the gap between your plants MES and Automation is the challenge we hope to address in this blog.

Automation Interface

Any conversation about automatically accessing machine data normally ends up with a description of OPC. OPC is a software interface standard that allows enterprise level application software  communicate with industrial hardware devices. An OPC server is a piece of software which converts the communication protocol of the hardware device into the OPC protocol, allowing the enterprise application software to communicate with the device via the OPC server in a standard way. This is the preferred method of accessing machine data and our MES to Automation Bridging solution utilises this standard.

MES Interface

At the core of most plants MES is a database containing information relating to the current state of the products in your manufacturing process as well as critical master and transaction data. The backend database is typically Oracle,  Microsoft SQL Server or another relational database. Any system that is designed to bridge the gap between Automation and MES must be able to transfer OPC data to and from a standard database.

Iconics BridgeWorX:  Providing the Bridging Functionality

BridgeWorX is a data bridging tool from Iconics which is perfectly suited to providing an interface mechanism between OPC machine data and the database of an MES. The transactions required to transfer the data are created using an intuitive graphical workflow designer and a flexible scheduler provides multiple options for triggering the transactions. Transactions created and executed using BridgeWorX become part of the integrated system and would be validated as part of the systems or process validation.

MES Bridging Scenarios

Let’s talk specifically about the kind of information that is transferred by the BridgeWorX and how it might be triggered.

Take the case of a lot which is about to complete at a particular process in an automated line. In this particular case it is the machine itself which would initiate the transaction by setting a register in its PLC. The BridgeWorX scheduler has a means of monitoring machine registers for state changes, via an OPC interface to the PLC, and using this state change to trigger a transaction. On execution, the transaction would read the relevant PLC registers which contained information relating to the Lot such as how many good/bad parts were produced by the machine for that lot. This data can then be transformed by the BridgeWorX transaction and automatically inserted into the appropriate table(s) in the MES database. Full audit trailing and timestamping would also be performed automatically.

A second scenario could be when a lot is starting on an automated process. The automated process may have a bar code reader which can determine the lot number of the product arriving at the process. The machine however may have no information about the lot in a situation where the number of SKUs in the plant was large and there was large variation in the lot sizes. In this case , on reading the lot number, a transaction could be initiated by again setting a PLC register. The transaction would read information associated with the lot, such as the lot quantity, and write this information to the PLC registers.


Other Bridging Benefits

As well as passing Lot information between the MES and the machine there are other benefits to implementing this type of bridging solution. eDHR data can be automatically extracted from the machine giving reliable and consistent device history records.

Machine setup is another natural extension of the solution. The MES could contain setup information which is required by the machine in order to produce a particular Lot. Label information and other attributes relating to the specific Lot as well as any critical process parameters are examples of the kind of data that could be passed to the machines registers by the transaction. In this case the machine would first read the lot information from the physical queued product and then initiate the transaction. The lot number  would be read from the machine by the transaction and a query would be run by the transaction against the MES database to obtain the required lot setup data. The transaction would complete by writing the setup information to the machines PLC.

In summary any data to be bridged need only exist on the MES or machine side to  be automatically transferred when required. This transfer can happen under machine control to ensure synchronisation and data integrity.


The solution outlined has the key benefit of tightly coupling the MES to the manufacturing process. Removing any human intervention in the interface increases reliability and reduces manufacturing time contributing to a faster and more reliable overall process.

Further Information

At Dataworks we enable the perfect hybrid of configurable off the shelf toolsets, such as ICONICS, and custom software development to deliver innovative solutions to match your specific business process requirements. This ensures we are the best at what we do.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you to bridge the gap between your plants MES and Autmation to deliver real benefits to your business call us today on 051 878555 or email to arrange an appointment.

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