The Secret to a Successful Manufacturing Strategy

Manufacturing is changing, as disruptive technology force companies to adapt.  Learn how to manage disruption and build a successful business strategy with a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I was re-reading Garntner Predicts 2014 and found a quote that really brought focus to troubling trends I’d seen in manufacturing recently:

“With digital business, IT leaders must come to terms with what digital really means in the context of their work. It is bigger in scope than the typical company definition of IT, because it includes technology outside a company’s control: smart mobile devices (in the hands of customers, citizens and employees), social media, technology embedded in products (such as cars), the integration of IT and operational technologies (such as telecom networks, factory networks and energy grids), and the Internet of Things (physical objects becoming electronically tractable).”

Note: Bold is my addition.

Information Technology versus Operational Technology

Integrating Information Technology (IT) with Operations and Operational Technology (OT) is a critical task for any company.  It’s also a task that many companies are failing.

Too often, IT and Operations act independently.  Decisions are made and strategies developed in a vacuum, and then companies struggle to make it work.  Recently, I’ve seen companies seek solutions to operational problems, such as new regulations, quality escapes, cost overruns, or inefficient work flow.  With current technology and software tools, these problems are easy to solve.  This is the foundation of the digital business.  But, without an integrated IT and Operations, the solution many companies select isn’t optimized and will never deliver the capability or functionality the business needs.  They end up trading one set of problems for another.

The Solution

Consider this:

  • Are you ready for the age   of digital business?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    Are you ready for the age of digital business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Operations needs the digital tools provided by IT. With the advent of digital business, paper-based, inefficient manufacturing methods no longer support modern production.  With the right digital tools and IT support, operations will be positioned for success in the future.

  • IT relies on manufacturing. Manufacturing is the revenue generator for a business.  The more manufacturing, the more profit for the company and the more successful everyone is.  In addition, IT must support the digital tools used by Operations.  IT finds success by supporting Operations with tools that won’t place an undue burden on IT resources.

IT and Operations rely on each other.  They share similar goals.  But, too often, they have an adversarial relationship that does no one any good.  Moving forward, Operations and IT must work more closely together.  The digital business of the future demands integration.

No longer can IT sit in their office and focus solely on the computer infrastructure.  They need to understand how manufacturing works so they can provide a solid digital foundation and manufacturing tools.

Operations can’t focus solely on the shop floor, manufacturing in a vacuum.  Operations needs to understand how important the IT infrastructure is to their success, and see it as a critical foundation to production.

Digital business is a disruptive influence that requires all of us to adjust our thinking and the way we operate, but it also offers tools that can catapult a company to success.  Sure, integrating IT and Operations may seem counter-intuitive.  Operations can no longer just demand a solution or answer from IT, and IT can’t demand Operations blindly use their solution.  Collaboration is required.  It may be difficult, even scary, but there is tremendous opportunity there for the businesses that embrace the digital business and begin to see their business not as a collection of entities operating independently, but a cohesive whole operating toward a shared goal.

Moving Forward

The question is, how do you integrate IT and Operations?  One part of the answer is cultural.  We need to eliminate the information and operational silos holding us back.  Teams that bring the expertise of both Operations and IT need to be built, with a focus on developing solutions that work across the business.

Consider how productive your business would be with IT and Operations working collaboratively.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Consider how productive your business would be with IT and Operations working collaboratively. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Technology solutions must recognize the disruptive property of new technology, and meet the needs of the business, not just individual departments.   Systems designed 15 years ago (even ones cleverly packaged with a new name or in a new module) aren’t going to work under the new paradigm.  The digital business needs Web 2.0 solutions that adapt to the changing needs of the shop floor and IT.  They need to be configurable, to support current work flow, shop floor processes, and work instructions.  Advanced data collection and business analytics are part of the solution, but not the sole focus.  You need solutions equally integrated.

It’s a global change in how we look at shop floor systems, but, in the end, this is the only way to support a modern manufacturing business.  The advent of digital business is disrupting past methodology processes, requiring new methods.  At CIMx Software, we understand that, and we’ve developed solutions that bridge the gap between IT and Operations – delivering advanced software and technology to manufacturing in a way that not only gives the shop floor the tools they need, but offers IT simple installation and minimal support with a lower cost.  The software solutions we offer have been developed not only with the shop floor in mind, but IT as well.

Want to learn more, or see how you can become a digital business?  Give us a call or leave a message.  We’re happy to answer questions or take a look at your shop floor or IT needs, and suggest a solution for you.

4 Reasons Manufacturers Are Investing in Technology

With manufacturing on the rise in North America, and investment up, many companies are turning to new software and computer systems.

By Anthony Cuilwik, CEO of CIMx Software

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on recent trends in small business spending, the author wrote, “There is a point in every recovery when small businesses move from slashing costs to spending more on new plants and industrial machinery, trucks, computers, office equipment and furniture.”  According to the authors, we are just entering that period, when business owners start believing that purchases and expansions will be rewarded with new business and expanded profits.

We’re seeing evidence of this investment – 51% of all companies surveyed plan to increase capital spending in the next 12 months.   In another survey, 55% of the companies reported capital investment in the previous six months.  It’s exciting news, and another sign the economy has improved.

But, I couldn’t help but wonder what those companies were investing in…

Benefits of Software Technology to Manufacturing

The article mentioned new plants, industrial machinery, trucks, and furniture and office equipment.  These are all, potentially, good manufacturing investments, but none have the immediate impact a software investment such as paperless manufacturing has.  Consider this:

  1. Paperless manufacturing supports improved production.

Adding another machine or even another plant won’t deliver maximum benefit if you haven’t optimized your current production.  Paperless manufacturing improves production by removing errors and offering increased shop floor visibility and control, adding to the benefit of other manufacturing investments.

  1. Software provides a foundation for future improvements and growth.

Look to the future when investing.  As new processes, new technology, and new tools hit the market, paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation for a digital factory that integrates new products into your workflow.  When change comes, will your shop floor be ready?

  1. Paperless manufacturing provides a rapid ROI that is easy to track.

Most companies identify an ROI before making a capital investment.  With paperless manufacturing you can directly benefit a number of areas in the plant, helping to increase the ROI.  A software system   offers not only a solution to production challenges, but an ROI that can be invested in other areas.

  1. The right software solution accumulates value.

Unlike an investment in a truck or machine, behavior-based, rather than template-based, paperless manufacturing software will become more valuable over time, rather than depreciating.  To further add value to your investment, look at software that offers free upgrades and easy-configuration.

Putting It All Together

Process Improvement graph.

The right investment can position you for success. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The truth is, many manufacturing companies are investing in software and technology, and for more reasons than the ones listed above.  Technology, including paperless manufacturing, has never been as affordable as it is right now.  Customers are demanding service and shorter production runs that cannot be supported by an inefficient paper-based system.  Regulations are driving other companies to seek paperless manufacturing solutions.

As demand for manufacturing continues to increase and the economy picks up even more, those companies that have invested in a solid Information Technology foundation such as paperless manufacturing will find themselves with an advantage over competitors still struggling with error-prone, costly and inefficient paper-based processes.

Want to learn more, or discover how quickly and easily you can benefit from paperless manufacturing?  We’re happy to work with you to identify the areas on your shop floor and production that will benefit the most with a new system, and then select the system that will deliver the greatest benefit (even if it isn’t ours).  Using a phased implementation, we can generate a rapid ROI that will help pay for future phases, ensuring maximum benefit for you.  Give us a call and leave a message.  We’re happy to help.

4 Ways Paperless Manufacturing Can Benefit Composite Manufacturing

Composite manufacturing can often be more art than science, making consistent production a struggle.  Learn how MES can overcome many of those difficulties to improve production.

 By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Composites are made from two or more physically different materials that are combined to act as one, yet remain distinct.  Manufacturing composites is complex, and can be difficult, but it’s a vital industry, producing some of the strongest, lightest and most versatile materials in the world.  Composites are used in almost every industry – from Aerospace and Defense, to simple household items, to electrical equipment, and consumer products.  Companies rely on exacting specifications, rigorous recipes for each machine processes, exceedingly stringent quality control, and, in the end, on art as much as science to produce quality composites.

With the right tools, even the best manufacturers can improve results, increase production, reduce errors and scrap, and deliver better quality.  Here are four ways we’ve found a successful paperless manufacturing system can deliver benefits to composite manufacturing:

1. Revision control of all specifications, recipes and process documentation.

Paperless manufacturing delivers measurable improvements to composite manufacturing. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Paperless manufacturing delivers measurable improvements to composite manufacturing. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paper-based recipes, instructions, specifications and quality details add unnecessary complexity for little value.  Think about it – start with the paper-based specifications.  If you have customer specs in addition to internal specs, you are doubling the number of forms and papers.  Add to that the recipes for each of the machine processes.  Then assemble all the process instructions, build books, and other ancillary material – you end up with stacks and stacks of paper.  Can you be sure you are working from the latest, most accurate approved documents?

With paperless manufacturing, you digitize all that paper.  By managing information through a single source, users have access to only the most recent, and accurate, documentation through airtight revision control – even with the tangled web of cross-referenced documentation most composite manufacturers struggle with.  Previous revisions are archived, while only the most recent revisions can be opened and used.

2. Control, management and collection of quality information.

In composite manufacturing, variability must be measured and controlled, and any fixes or defect repairs must be thoroughly documented, matched to the specifications, and then made part of a permanent as-built audit report.  Using a paper-based system to manage quality information leads to errors and scrap.  Paper isn’t the right tool, and is inadequate for the process.

Paperless manufacturing manages and automates much of the process.  The system will automatically check the specification once data is collected, and the quality defect fixes are managed by process enforcement.  Each step is documented and archived in a permanent record.  Automated record-keeping is especially important for companies regulated by the 14 CFR Part 21 Quality Control requirements.

3. Synchronization of specifications, process variables, and actual workflow.

Learn how MES can help your shop floor.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Learn how MES can help your shop floor. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Precision is necessary for successful composite manufacturing, but many companies struggle to synchronize internal and external specifications, and the necessary process variables.   They’ve recorded best practices and standard operating procedures (SOP), but it doesn’t translate to consistent shop floor execution.

Paperless manufacturing and MES give you the tools to synchronize project work.  That starts by providing a single source of manufacturing truth – one place were project information can be managed and stored.  All documentation, build books, work instruction, and data collection are kept in the system.  Process enforcement allows planners to incorporate the specifications and process variables in the actual workflow used by the shop floor, ensuring specifications are followed.

4. Creation of an as-built audit and data collection to support trend analysis.

With paper-based workflow, the as-built audit (or complete documentation of the manufacturing process) is often more speculative than historical.  The documents and data collection are assembled from handwritten notes or memory of the process.  Work is done outside of the documentation, and then compiled in records that we assume (and hope) are accurate.

Trend analysis and process improvement are even more difficult when predictability is a question.  With paperless manufacturing, each operation and procedure can be scheduled in planning.  Using shop floor data collection, each step, procedure, action, and detail of the process can be recorded and archived, giving as complete a picture of the process as possible.  A complete and largely automated as-built audit is a critical benefit to composite manufacturing, and vitally important to the trend analysis necessary for process improvement.

Determining the variance to specifications is one part of eliminating errors and improving processes.  Studying an accurate as-built report to determine the cause of errors and flaws is equally important.


According to a recent report by accenture, “… modern, mature MES solutions fit into companies helps bring greater efficiency, speed and precision to manufacturing.”  MES helps bridge the gap between IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) by providing a foundation for the digital factory – delivering shop floor control and visibility.

Understanding the specific benefits a paperless manufacturing or MES system can bring helps in planning targeted shop floor improvements that specifically address the problems faced daily in composite manufacturing.

Want to learn more, or see how we can help you?  Give us a call or leave us a message.  We’re happy to help.

Paperless Manufacturing and the Skilled Worker Crunch: What You Need to Know

American Manufacturing is facing a skilled worker shortage.  Find out here what you can do to overcome the challenges and find success and profit as the industry rebounds.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Okay… some good news… Manufacturing in America is coming back.

 

How can MES help you overcome the Skilled Worker gap?  Image by www.colourbox.com

How can MES help you overcome the Skilled Worker gap? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Reshoring has become an industry buzzword as overseas costs rise and companies see opportunity in America.  At the beginning of 2014, more than 200 companies had already returned to America.  They’ve found advantages to working in America, including lower energy and shipping costs, greater innovation, and protecting intellectual property.

The forecast is looking even brighter – With manufacturing production growth forecast at 3.2% in 2014 and 4% in 2015, and not all of this growth is due to Reshoring.  Currently, manufacturing output is on pace for an increase of 4.9% year over year.

Here’s the bad news… the problem is many companies are struggling to meet the market demand or capitalize on the opportunities.

Recent surveys report nine out of 10 manufacturers struggle to find skilled workers.   In a survey by the ManPowerGroup, 64% of respondents said a lack of skilled labor resulted in productivity losses, directly impacting the bottom line and profitability. In addition, the survey reported skilled labor was the hardest job to fill, with nearly 60% of the respondents reporting a lack of skilled labor impacted company growth.

While a lack of skilled labor is having a negative impact now, the impact will be worse in the future. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reports a potential shortfall of 875,000 skilled workers in less than a decade.

Paperless Manufacturing: A Solution to the Skilled Worker Crunch

The remedy to the skilled labor gap, according to the BCG, is aggressive recruitment and in-house training.  As older workers retire, companies must find a way to both capture their knowledge and efficiently pass it on to a new generation of workers who can assume previous responsibilities and pick up new ones as technology changes.

The key is to take action now, before the skilled worker gap grows worse.  That means reaching out to colleges and trade schools to ensure students have the experience manufacturing needs.  Industry leaders and the government need to develop programs that synchronize the future industry requirements with the classes being taught now.  Furthermore, manufacturers needs to develop in-house training programs and tools, including paperless manufacturing.  Here’s a few of the ways MES and paperless manufacturing can help overcome the skilled labor crunch:

  • By integrating competency models into the company culture. Implemented effectively, competency models will “…  help organizations: 1) find and keep the best people, 2) enable better employee performance, and 3) improve business results,” according to the St. Charles Consulting Group.  Competency models capture what people must do to effectively complete their work.  A paperless manufacturing system is an important tool in manufacturing competency models, providing a foundation for capturing knowledge and skills through a library of approved planning incorporating existing best practices.
  • Improve existing worker skills through verification and validation of all operations. Using the process enforcement features of a full-featured MES or paperless system, you can ensure employees have the correct certification before they begin work, or ensure work is completed as planned through automatic tolerance checks, validation and data collection.
  • Develop new worker training through online video training, available with all work instructions, developing skills using an effective and cost-efficient method that minimizes shop floor disruption. According to a study by the US Department of Labor, 83% of all learning is done visually, and incorporating visual work instructions and on-demand training in the shop will not only improve skill retention and worker skills, but increase productivity and quality as well.

The Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Process Improvement graph.

Paperless Manufacturing offers benefits throughout your business. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The benefits of MES and paperless manufacturing systems are clear – including automated information flows, process control and visibility, greater efficiency, consistency and precision to manufacturing, and more.  Companies that embrace MES now gain those benefits, in addition to the tools necessary to overcoming the skilled labor gap – an increasingly important benefit to manufacturers as they consider the future.

While many companies readily invest in machines and tools, few realize the importance and benefit of investing in their employees and their skills.  Manufacturing, and American manufacturing in particular, is at a point of opportunity.  Now is not the time to wait, but to invest for the future.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Contact CIMx Software today to discover what we can do for you.

Solve Problems, Not Symptoms, with MES

Maximize the value of your paperless manufacturing system by targeting the root cause, and not just the symptoms, of your shop floor problems.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Save yourself time, money and frustration when solving shop floor issues by focusing on the problem, not the symptom.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Save yourself time, money and frustration when solving shop floor issues by focusing on the problem, not the symptom. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I had a neighbor once with a hole in her roof.  It wasn’t a big hole, but water dripped into her wall during a bad rain.  My neighbor didn’t fix the hole; instead she kept a bucket of paint and covered the water stain every few months.  “It’s easier to paint than get on the roof,” she once told me.

Many times, symptoms are easier to identify than the actual issue causing the problem.

When all is not going well on the shop floor – failed audits, quality control issues, slow orders, missing parts, confusion – it’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause.  Every single one of these issues impacts the schedule, which quickly becomes the culprit.  No matter the underlying issue, a missed deadline demands attention.  So, some cling to scheduling as the problem to fix, never discovering the real problem.

It’s slapping another coat of paint on the water-damaged wall.

Many customers look for dynamic scheduling solutions because they see a shop floor symptom (missed deadlines) and dynamic scheduling offers an easy solution (like a bucket of paint).  Truth is, a simple coat of paint isn’t going to solve much, and will never make much impact on your business.

A Closer Look at your Shop Floor Problems

We’re going to encourage you to look a little deeper.

Think about your personal schedule.  In the past 20 years, we’ve moved through a progression of devices – personal planners to smart devices.  No matter how diligent you are, or how robust the tool, scheduling isn’t going to increase the quality of your work.  Scheduling can only have minimal impact on efficiency; it simply selects the work to be done and places it in an open timeslot, then maybe offers innovative widgets to get you to do the work.  I admit, dynamic scheduling can synchronize the schedule of your shop floor, but that’s when the work of the tool is complete.  It’s not going to help your team achieve its goals.  Work quality isn’t going to magically improve.

To be honest, the benefits of scheduling on the manufacturing shop floor are limited.  Work can only move forward once each previous operation is completed, no matter the “schedule” you create.  An error or non-conformance isn’t going to solve itself because you know the “right” time to do the work.  Tighter scheduling is not going to correct the underlying problems hindering throughput.

Process Improvement graph.

No other shop floor solution addresses so many production challenges, or offers a bigger benefit. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Dynamic scheduling offers short term answers to shop floor problems.  Many companies solve problems by throwing more manpower at production, or eke out a little more production from a machine or two, but these are short-term solutions.  Tomorrow the same problem may come back.  Scheduling is a critical component for a shop floor, however, if the planning and workflows aren’t optimized, no amount of money (on a scheduling tool, overtime or additional operators) will solve the real problem.

It would be like spending money on buckets of paint and repair projects, while the hole in the roof waited for the next rainstorm.

MES and paperless manufacturing offer a broad range of tools and solutions for the shop floor.  No other product benefits the shop floor in so many ways, directly addressing the root cause of problems hindering production.  Many manufacturers find a solution to the original shop floor problem through the paperless system, and then discover other benefits they may not have known were there.

Talk to an engineer about shop floor issues, and work on the root problems causing the issues.  Expand the conversation beyond simply the schedule, and look at what is really causing the production delays.   We recommend an engineer be involved in the sales process from the very beginning, to identify issues before determining or selecting a solution.  Your shop floor team can provide both insight and focus on operations.

Many times, the solution to the problem is much simpler (and less expensive) than the solution to the symptom.  Once you’ve looked a little deeper at the real problem, the final solution will often deliver a wealth of other benefits.

Pushing the Envelope with MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Want to get the most out of your paperless manufacturing system? Evaluate the push technology in your system using a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

In manufacturing, a few seconds can mean the difference between success and scrap.  A single error can snowball and lead to missed shipping deadlines, lost profit and angry customers.  Consistency and repeatable processes is the key to success, while complexity leads to errors, waste and worse.

Push technology systems, which automatically deliver contextually relevant data to the shop floor user, have significant benefits for manufacturers.  Despite this, many companies still rely on less efficient pull technology systems for their MES and paperless manufacturing.  Pull systems require the user request the data each time, adding complexity and introducing opportunities for errors.

Pull Technology

Pull technology requires a specific user request for the release of data.  Typing the URL or clicking the link of a web page is an example of pull technology at work.  The user requests information using specific input and the information is delivered.  Logging in to a work station terminal, following system-based procedures, sorting through the work of the day, and then requesting the work instructions is an example of pull technology.

Pull technology can be error prone and requires effort and time from the user.  With some complex or overly engineered MES, this can be significant time, unnecessary effort, and any errors in the input can be costly.  Users request the wrong work instructions, or unapproved plans are released.  Template-based systems utilize pull technology.  Users input data in specific fields, and the system dictates the work process.  This introduces unnecessary complexity and additional training.  The effort needed to log in and find the work instructions is non-value added time.  With many systems, unnecessary steps are added simply to suit the system or accommodate system-based processes.  There is a tradeoff between making the solution easier to program and making it more efficient for the manufacturer using the software.

Push Technology

What can push technology do for your shop floor production? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can push technology do for your shop floor production? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

With push technology, data is automatically delivered to the user, either on a set schedule or when a specific circumstance or trigger is met.  An automatic calendar update is an example of push technology.   With automated information transmission, errors are eliminated.  The correct information reaches the right people at the right time in the process, every time.  Complexity is reduced, since non value-added procedures are removed.  With the right operation being sent at the correct time, you have better control over the process.

An example of push technology on the shop floor could include an RFID badge, barcode or fingerprint scanner keying a user to a work station.   With a swipe of the barcode or the RFID, the system is aware of the user at the station, and the prepared work is pushed to them.  Before the day begins, new orders have been pulled from the ERP or MRP systems, the work instructions assembled and routed.   Staff prepares the kitting and delivers parts, tools and materials to the work station.  The worker arrives can begin work moments after they arrive.

As the process becomes more automated, using procedural enforcement, repeatable processes, automated data collection, and automatic validation of tolerances, the shop floor can now focus on value-added tasks such as eliminating errors and improving production.  The administrative tasks such as verification of processes and data collected, while necessary, add less value and can be automated.  Push technology automates the administrative work to optimize production processes and profits.

Delivering on the Promise of Push Technology

There are shop floor solutions, MES and paperless manufacturing systems, on the market designed to deliver the benefits of push technology when appropriate.  As you evaluate potential solutions, ask a few key questions of the system:

  • Does the system use a newer platform technology? Web-based solutions enable the adaptable systems found with push technology.  If the system used an older platform requiring additional work to integrate or additional steps to simply start, then it won’t deliver the benefits found in push technology.
  • Will it match and benefit your existing workflow processes? Can you reuse your existing work plans and best practices?  If the system is forcing an entirely new process on your shop floor, or requiring you to rewrite or recreate your work instructions in a new format, then you have a system based entirely around pull technology.
  • How much training is necessary? How complex are the work screens?  If training is a significant cost in the implementation, or the screen is busy with buttons and input fields, then you can be sure your team is going to need to use that training and all those buttons with pull technology, rather than focusing on shop floor production.

The goal of a paperless manufacturing system should be to synchronize the people, information, and materials on the shop floor.  Utilizing push technology in the system ensures a tighter synchronization, getting the right information to the right people at the right time with fewer errors.  It’s another way you can ensure you’re maximizing the benefit of a shop floor system.

Questions, or want to see how paperless manufacturing can improve production and remove errors on your shop floor, then give us a call.  We’re happy to help.

Are You Getting the Whole Story from Your MES Vendor?

The decisions a vendor makes while building their system can have an impact on the viability and cost of your solution.  Learn how you can protect yourself from hidden costs and frustration.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Make versus Buy?  It is a question that has vexed many a manufacturer looking for the shop floor control and visibility an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) or paperless manufacturing system will provide.

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Building your own software system, the “make” in this equation, has its advantages.  You can design the system you want, and if you have the patience, resources, and money to make it happen, that’s the system you will get.  But, it will be significantly more expensive and risky than other options, and you will need to invest time and resources to secure the long-term reliability and maintainability of the software.

Buying a software system means reaching out to vendors, researching options and how they will work with your workflow and shop floor, and purchasing the solution you need.  It is less expensive, and you have software support (at least, with reliable vendors you do), but it does require initial work, and training and preparation on the shop floor.

There is no right or wrong answer to the make versus buy question for you.  That said, MES and paperless manufacturing vendors also face the option to make versus buy, and their answer can have a major impact on the product they offer you.

The Genealogy of MES Functionality

Today, with the rapid rate of change in technology and manufacturing processes, MES and paperless manufacturing systems will need new functionality to maintain their competitive edge.  The vendor needs to decide how they will fill the hole in their product.

Some vendors “make” the functionality by writing new code and continuing to develop their product.  There are benefits to “make” for customers.  By developing the functionality in-house, vendors ensure the addition is tightly integrated with the core product, and it works seamlessly with the other product capability.  The functionality should be thoroughly tested before it is released to the public, giving you confidence in the results.  In addition, any installation, implementation, and training will be done by the people who wrote the software, which is always a benefit.

Other companies elect to “buy” the functionality.  They see a hole in their offering, and do exactly what a potential customer does – market research, find a company or product that fills the hole, and then purchase the solution.  The vendor adds necessary functionality in their product, but it is a budget-based, not an innovation-based solution.

The Benefits of an Innovation-based Solution

There are problems with “buy” based solutions in MES and paperless manufacturing software.  First off, any purchased solution must be, somehow, integrated with the main product.  This is not always an easy process, especially when solutions use different system architecture.  Many products, filled with pre-purchased functionality (they sometimes call them “modules”) end up with a maze of integration points that lead to additional complexity and risk when it is integrated.

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It can lead to other problems as well.   In an MES system, every interaction has offsetting interactions throughout your production.  A non-conformance in one area has repercussions in notification, messaging, resolution, archiving, reporting, and more.  Without the right architectural approach, the loosely linked functionality is adjusted and readjusted each time you have a new requirement or you need to update the system.  Over time, the need to adjust the system to account for the genealogy of the individual systems that make up your software significantly increases the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of your system.  It becomes a confusing software mess that hinders production and adds cost.

Sure, the vendor may have found a quick and easy solution to their missing functionality, but you’ll be paying for that solution over the life of the software.  Have fun with that…

Behavior versus Transaction-based Software

This is a common problem for manufacturers that turn to their ERP vendor for an MES solution.

When we started in MES eighteen years ago, there were just half a dozen vendors on the market.  ERP systems were just being implemented in manufacturing, and MES focused on connecting the shop floor.

Over the next 10 years, ERP vendors searched for ways to expand their customer offerings and gain a critical edge on competition.  At the very heart of an ERP (any ERP) is the transaction.  The ERP focuses on documenting and managing the transactions that make up your business.  Because the ERP was a transaction-based system, it was far too complex for these vendors to integrate a simultaneous workflow-based system that is the foundation of an MES.  Vendors who tried to build their own MES usually delivered a template-based system (which uses transaction architecture) that requires significant training and will never mirror your existing workflow without customization.  Other vendors started buying MES and offering them as “add-ons” to their primary offering, the ERP.

All too often, a “buy” MES purchased by an ERP vendor is not likely to be integrated with the main platform.  Sure, they may have developed a plan for integration, but it isn’t going to be any better than another MES integrated to the ERP.  Since the vendor didn’t build the MES, they are going to have difficulty supporting it, and any additional functionality you’d like to add to the MES, or upgrades or updates, will be another purchase or a development struggle since MES is not their primary expertise.

This is why many companies don’t offer free product upgrades with new releases.

Consider where and how the system and functionality came from before making a purchase.  Are you talking to an ERP vendor about MES?  If your ERP vendor has an MES, chances are it’s a “buy” and not a “make.”  The vendor who built and developed the software will ensure better support, lower risk, lower project complexity, more software updates and upgrades, and a much lower overall TCO.

Be sure your vendor “makes,” and not “buys” the functionality you need for the shop floor.