What is Complex Discrete Manufacturing? What is MES?

Posted by Annette Grotz on October 3, 2018

Complex Discrete Manufacturing and MES

Manufacturing Day is a celebration of modern manufacturing and provides manufacturers a great way to inspire and recruit the next generation. To pay tribute to this annual event, which occurs the first Friday in October, Deltek is launching a new dedicated blog series.

Complex discrete manufacturers can be found generating products within a variety of industries, including aerospace and defense, robotics, medical, industrial equipment, and others. These products are typically complex, have specific, yet diverse configurations, long production lifecycles, and many engineering changes along the way. Contractual requirements and regulatory measures add to the complexity.

Complex discrete manufacturers need longer product cycle times and numerous subassembly levels in their bills of material to manufacture highly engineered products. Most of these products are made to order or engineered to order based on customer specifications. They can take years to complete, and therefore, require a manufacturing history dossier that drills down to the discrete serialized product unit.

This chart demonstrates how Complex Discrete Manufacturing differs from batch, or less complex manufacturing.

MES Graph

Five major characteristics that define a complex discrete manufacturing environment are:

  1. Long cycle times, low volume, make-to-order or engineer-to-order
  2. Complex product with deep bills of material (BOM) and complex routings
  3. Highly skilled labor (certain qualifications may be required) performing manual assembly and fabrication work using special materials such as composites and/or complex machines that may have calibration certification requirements
  4. High flow of engineering changes affecting work-in-process, of which mechanics must be made aware of as quickly as possible
  5. Data collection during production includes manual data entry, verifications and signatures; documentation must include a complete history for every produced unit, and traceability of the components installed and material used.


What is MES in Complex Discrete Manufacturing


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So Where Does a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Fit In?

Manufacturers of all types are notorious for their ability to keep legacy systems operating. Unfortunately, most of these legacy systems involve numerous manual or paper processes, which slow production and make it difficult for employees on the shop floor to get real-time data for more accurate analysis. A system that integrates and automates is needed to point the efficiency trajectory up.

    “A Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is an information system that drives effective execution of manufacturing operations. Using current and accurate data an MES triggers, guides, verifies, and reports on plant activities in real time—from order release, to manufacturing, to delivery, to the finished goods inventory. MES systems have been evolving and broadening functionality, to manage internal quality and the supply chain. The term Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM), which came from the batch and process industry, is also used as a synonym to MES. Regardless of the term you prefer, the definition and requirements listed in this paper are the same.”

    Definition courtesy of iBASEt, a Deltek partner expert and leader in the MES solution space.

A MES system by its very nature can make multi-level BOMs and complex routings easy to set up and easy to change with notifications to all necessary teams going out in a matter of clicks, getting the right information to the right people, at the right time. Who works on what and for how long is data a MES system can automatically capture. A MES system also puts quality measures into place both from a work process and traceability perspective.

A good fitting MES system will not add to the complexity. An effective system with an intuitive interface that pulls in all operational processes and data will help all teams not only manage their operations, but provide the ability to be proactive as well.

Next Steps

Learn why manufacturers are looking to integrate their manufacturing operations systems with their financial management system and other core operations, to improve process efficiency and cost containment across their entire enterprise. See how Costpoint Manufacturing Solutions can help.


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This blog is a summary of the first section of the eBook “What is MES in Complex Discrete Manufacturing,” written by Conrad Leiva, Vice President of Product Marketing and Alliances at iBASEt.

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