Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way of Your MES

When manufacturers ask if they need both an MES and ERP, I mention a lesson Sigmund Freud shared nearly 100 years ago.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

In the 1920’s, Sigmund Freud recognized a truth that many manufacturers are only now beginning to recognize.

Is it reasonable to expect an ERP to maximize shop floor efficiency like an MES?  Photo by

Is it reasonable to expect an ERP to maximize shop floor efficiency like an MES? Photo by

Curious?  Here’s what I mean; in Freud’s “structural model” of the human psyche there are three constructs at work in the human mind – the id, the ego and the superego.  It is the interaction of these three systems that make us who we are.  They are dependent and inter-dependent.  Without all 3 systems, we can’t operate efficiently. 

The id is basic human needs and wants, without perception or judgment.  In your business, this drives work on the shop floor – the customer has placed an order and your team is focused on getting the work done.

The ego, in contrast, mediates between the id and reality.  The ego works towards fulfilling needs and wants, but creates a realistic strategy to reach them.  For a manufacturer, it is the rules and processes to support the organization – the ego dictates the order will be filled by sending it to the shop floor. 

Finally, the superego incorporates the values and rules of society to add a level of control to the id.  Where the ego will make a plan to meet the id’s desires, the superego will determine the “best” course of action.  In your business, the superego includes the planning required to make the business sustainable. 

Is your business operating at peak efficiency?

Is your business operating at peak efficiency?

Without getting too philosophical or diving too deeply into theory, the human psyche is a success because of the interplay and exchange between these systems.  The id determines what we need, the ego incorporates reality to formulate a plan for acquisition of what we need, and the superego determines the consequences to ensure you’ve formulated the best plan to meet the need.  Each system plays its part well.

Would we be so successful if one piece were missing?  No.  Much like a manufacturing business won’t operate optimally without a functioning and independent ERP, MES, and customer orders.

An ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning system) is the gatekeeper of all the data on your business – from financial performance, to HR, to customer lists, and work orders.  It’s the ego for the shop floor, offering a minimal direction to the shop floor for customer orders (the id) but not enough to make the parts correctly every time and certainly not optimally.  The ERP isn’t designed to maximize shop floor efficiency, and if it was the other functions would suffer.  Human resource records would operate like a work instructions, and business data would conceivably be formatted like a tool crib data.   

At its core, an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) connects the customer order in the ERP with shop floor work processes necessary to successfully produce the customer order.  The MES takes the order, breaks it down into individual processes, and provides a work flow to produce the parts efficiently.  It then adds data collection, revision control, and archiving to ensure efficiency.    When a customer order (id) comes in, the ERP (ego) plans how to fill it, then the MES (superego) adds order and efficiency to the process, ensuring everything works optimally.

Just like the human psyche, a manufacturer won’t operate efficiently (if at all) without each of these systems working in harmony.

This is not to say a manufacturer can’t “make it work” if a system is missing.  With an ERP and planning documentation you can print up a build book and run it to the shop floor, but this isn’t optimal or efficient.  It operates like a person without a superego; tell them to “grab a cup of coffee” and they literally just go out and grab one – yours or someone else’s.  With a superego in play, you know you have to go to the counter, select a drink off the menu, order it, and wait for it to be served. 

An ERP is focused on orders coming in, tracking profit, loss and assets at play.  It’s not designed to review the manufacturing process and provide the shop floor control manufacturers need in the modern market.

Manufacturers often wonder why an ERP can’t handle the tasks normally handled by an MES.  They see an ERP and MES as computer systems moving data.  But each is fundamentally differently, and much like the id, ego, and superego, they work best together, not separately.

As I said, Sigmund Freud recognized a truth many manufacturers are just now beginning to realize – success is many times dependant on the interaction of different systems working together.

Hopefully I’ve shed a little light on how an MES and ERP work together (and maybe a little light on the theories of Freud).  We’ll talk more the differences and strengths of an MES and ERP in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, let us know what you think.

1 thought on “Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way of Your MES

  1. Maryanne Steidinger

    as both an MES professional (I’ve been in the MES industry for over 15 years) and with a BA in psychology, I both appreciate and applaud your analogy. The inability to provide a distinction between MES and ERP has sustained now since MES has been created. It both confounds and astonishes me, but frankly believe it’s proliferated by the mispositioning of solutions to either drive down, or up, their functionality. Both have a place in the manufacturing enterprise and both have strong value to contribute. Thank you!


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