How to Win With a Manufacturing Shop Floor Pilot Program

Conducting a Pilot Program for your MES or Paperless Manufacturing system won’t guarantee project success, but there are clear benefits for the savvy shop floor.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever talk to someone in the manufacturing industry about a software pilot program?  Unfortunately, I don’t know of a topic more likely to kill a conversation at a dinner party (… “So, how’s your pilot program going?  Pass the biscuits, please!)  If it does happen to come up, you will quickly discover something we’ve come to accept.

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

We call it the Shop Floor Pilot Program Conundrum – a strange place where multiple realities merge.

Here’s what I mean.  The vendor might see the pilot program as an extended demo, or as an easy way to get their foot on the shop floor and another step in the software sale.  The manufacturing executive sees it as an inexpensive vendor service and low risk way to confirm product selection.  The shop floor sees it as a pain-in-the-butt project from corporate.  Savvy shop floors, however, see it as a way to kick the wheels of a new toy and proof the sky is falling, and shop floor errors can be fixed with the right tools.  IT might be wondering how much work this will mean for them.

Benefits of the Pilot Program

The conundrum in all this… they may all be right.  In the end, there’s no “wrong” way to view the pilot program, but conflicting ideas can lead to missed opportunities that negatively impact the final project.  So, in our quest to de-mystify the conundrum, here are a few things a shop floor pilot program could (potentially) definitely do for you:

  • Define an achievable requirement list.  Many MES projects suffer from “requirement bloat” as everyone in the company offers their opinion on what the system should do.  A good pilot program will splash some needed reality on the requirement list.  It will focus the project on achievable requirements that make a positive impact on the business.
  • Build shop floor acceptance for the program.  Giving the shop floor team, who will be working with the new system the most, the chance to work with the software is a great idea.  Once they see the software won’t lead to robots replace people, but will help them do their job better, faster, and with fewer errors, they’ll work hard to make the project a success.
  • Low risk first step before a much larger investment.  Spending a little money to install the software on one line is much cheaper than buying all the equipment to install it everywhere before you know how it works.  This way, you can identify challenges early and will have a better idea of final cost of the total project.
  • Build a stronger case for an ROI.  Before you install the software, an estimated ROI will be mostly conjecture.  With a pilot program, you will have real shop floor data you can attach to the estimate to prove the ROI.  Plus, nothing can build an advocate for the project than an executive seeing firsthand the benefits of the investment and how it will work.

There are benefits to a pilot program.  They can help define a project, prove the ROI, and minimize risk.  But, if you begin your pilot project with false expectations, you end up with confusion.  The vendor isn’t sure what they’re offering, the shop floor isn’t sure what they’re getting and the executives aren’t sure what they’re buying.  No one is happy.

Eliminate confusion, and make sure you understand what the pilot program can do for you.  Have you been part of a successful pilot program in the past?  If so, what made it a success?  What did you do to eliminate confusion?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

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