MES Lite: What is it and Do I need it?

  • Published:
    Jan 4, 2024
  • Category:
    White Paper
  • Topic:
    Life Sciences

MES Lite is an industry term often used to describe a “paper on glass” work instruction version of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). However, this term often confuses manufacturers, many of whom assume that it simply represents a low cost, fast-entry variation of MES. It also blurs the age-old outline of an MES – an end-to-end system with functionality for tracking batch manufacturing processes from raw materials to finished product.

While it’s true that a "thinned out” MES may end up fitting into lean budgets, that’s not what truly defines this solution type. There’s actually an array of Lite options that customers have to sift through before identifying what will work best for them.

Read on to learn more about this MES variation and how to navigate through the options out there.

Defined by Focus Not Cost

The perpetuating misconception is that MES Lite just means cheap and fast. Instead, the inherent purpose of a lighter MES solution is to zero in on a particular problem to solve. That problem could be budget, time, or a specific subset of an MES use case.

MES Lite offerings are defined by their focus. An effective MES Lite solution solves a specific problem and use case set. It is not intended to be a standard end-to-end MES system with an overabundance of capabilities. It contains the minimum capabilities to meet your bottom line needs.

That focus presents itself in different categories. Over the years we’ve come across three common types of MES Lite offerings:

  1. Fit-for-purpose MES Lite
  2. DIY MES Lite
  3. Headless MES Lite

Fit-For-Purpose MES Lite

The “Fit-For-Purpose” type includes solutions that typically offer less core MES features, and represent a “paper on glass” experience. It’s unlikely to contain batch workflows, or equipment and material management. Imagine shopping for furniture at a major retailer where the pieces are what they are and come assembled. You may be able to select your color or fabric of choice, but the furniture you see is the furniture you get. That’s a fit-for-purpose “Lite” MES.


  • Customers only have to manage the recipes they configure and not the application functionality.
  • Applications are typically well tested for the intended MES use case.
  • In regulated environments, users only have to validate their configuration and can leverage the vendor’s validation of the application.
  • Many MES needs are out-of-the-box..
  • It can be deployed faster and cheaper because it does not expand as large of a use case.


  • Customization is typically not an option.
  • If additional features or enhancements are needed, users have to wait for a release from the vendor.


The first type of DIY MES Lite is a no-code, composable MES. A no-code composable MES Lite consists of products or platforms designed to be a customizable toolbox that users can leverage to build their own MES business capabilities. Say you’re looking for a wardrobe cabinet, but first you have to design it, pick your drawers, shelves, pullouts etc. and then assemble it yourself.


  • Users can customize the application functionality by piecing together available parts.
  • Users can create a sense of ownership by piecing together their own solution.


  • Users are responsible for validating not only the configuration of the features used, but also the configuration and customization of the application they build with the toolbox.
  • Users are responsible for maintaining the application they compose together.
  • Many times while the composable parts are built to integrate together, the end-to-end flow of traditional MES use cases are not optimized. They are optimized for composability not usability.

Headless MES Lite

An extreme version of a DIY approach to MES lite that's emerging is called a headless MES. A headless application is a system that operates without a graphical user interface. The backend functionality is available to the user without a front end application. For an MES, it would typically include a fully formed MES data model with an API where a user can build their own front-end user interface on top of it.


  • Customization is endless and versatile.
  • It can be excellent for processing complex actions, automations, and data transformation tasks.
  • It can be integrated into different platforms, websites, apps, and other systems more easily.


  • The user is responsible for building, validating, and maintaining the entire user interface and configuration.
  • The user has to have the skillset to program their own interface in leveraging the API.

So where do you begin in determining what type of MES you need whether full or lite? Fit-for-purpose or DIY? First, consider your manufacturing goals. 

The Triple “P” Approach

There are a few key things to consider to help understand the type of Lite MES solution that’s right for you. We use the below 3 Ps as a guide.

  1. Purpose
  2. Process
  3. People

Purpose: List the objectives for procuring an MES

Before evaluating options, consider your manufacturing purpose. List out your organizational goals alongside the challenges an MES platform should address. This may include: a reduction in deviations, digitizing processes to make data more accessible or searchable, or increasing the speed in which you manufacture your batches. Identifying your goals, common processes, and expected ROI early on can help reduce the friction in selecting a new MES.

Process: Identify the processes that will be digitalized to solve the objectives

Planning out your digital journey is also key. A buyer should consider the processes they need to digitize, plans for scaling, and if connected teams will need access to data. MES Lite providers may meet basic demands for paper on glass digitization, but will not contain a full range of scalable, manufacturing capabilities.

People: Evaluate your teams & their skillsets

Buyers should also keep their teams in mind. Two groups are important to consider: MES end users and MES system supporters. End users are the ones who will use the product on a regular basis. These are your scientists, operators, quality managers, shop floor supervisors, etc. Your MES end users will have a vested interest in the system’s capabilities as they will interact with the product on a regular basis. What skills do they have? What limitations or weaknesses do they have? Are there blockers making it difficult for them to implement? What would make them enthusiastic about adopting this new product? What problems do they want to see addressed?

System supporters are the ones who keep the product up and running, handle upgrades, the performance, the configuration, etc. You will need to either ensure you have the team in place to support a complex MES, or select an MES based upon your team’s skillset. How many system supporters do you have? What skills do they have? How much capacity do they have to manage the MES implementation? What limitations or weaknesses do they have? What will be a blocker or hard for them to implement? What would make them enthusiastically adopt the new product? What problems do they want to see addressed?

“If you are looking for a cheaper, faster, more usage-based MES, don’t have to ask for MES Lite. Instead describe the problem, use case you need to address, and align everyone on that mission. Then look for a vendor offering processes and packages that align with your specific manufacturing needs and budget goals.”

— Emilee Cook, Apprentice Director of Product Strategy

Where Do We Go from Here?

So what’s the bottom line? Once you have gone through each “P," evaluate your MES options line-by-line against your purpose, process, people goals, and constraints to identify the option that will optimize your success.

If you aren't going to digitalize the full end to end process yet, you might want to consider a Lite DIY simple platform or a Lite fit-for-purpose solution. If you don't have a high number of system supporters to maintain the MES, we recommend you avoid any DIY MES as it requires higher governance. If you consider your process quite standard in the industry, why reinvent the wheel? We recommend a fit-for-purpose MES that provides the standard capabilities. Looking for one scalable platform to manage your batches, data, resources and teams? Then we recommend looking at MES providers with more robust functionality that enables you to plan, execute, and release an end-to-end batch with full tracking.

Apprentice is releasing a new pricing and packaging model to support the wide spectrum from MES lite to multi-enterprise MES. Our new options allow you to start small and scale only where you need.

Looking for a lite MES? Check out our new lower packages Digital and Core with scaling user models to support all sizes of manufacturing activities from lab to the shop floor.

Looking to connect multiple sites and collaborate with your CMO? Check out our Pro package with our latest Connected Manufacturing Network features.

“If a vendor offers you an ‘MES-Lite’ solution, remember to take a close look at what problems you’re solving for and if that option can meet your short and long term growth and productivity needs.”

— Emilee Cook, Apprentice Director of Product Strategy

Regardless of the direction you take, assessing your goals against the benefits of each system version will provide the evidence-based direction you need to aid your decision making. Identify your use cases, align your teams on that mission, and assess what MES functionality you need to get the job done.

Start Your Digital MES Journey Today

Apprentice’s Tempo Manufacturing Cloud offers a wide spectrum of solutions from MES Lite options to multi-enterprise connected MES that allow you to start small and scale where and when needed. Connect with us to learn more about our latest options and how you can customize your journey toward an MES built around your specific manufacturing needs.