Making Sense of the MES Module Conundrum

If you buy a manufacturing software solution as “modules,” how much benefit and potential is lost with only a partial solution? What are you missing?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How many modules will it take to get the functionality you need? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How many modules will it take to get the functionality you need? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In 1997, MESA (Manufacturing Execution Systems Association) defined the scope of MES with 11 different functions. These functions include areas such as Quality Management, Labor Management, Data Collection & Acquisition, and Performance Analysis. Over the years, the scope and models used by MESA have changed, but the goal has remained the same – to provide a view of what can and should be accomplished with an enterprise system (MES) to increase performance.

Here is my problem – many suppliers offer piecemeal “module-based” systems as MES or Paperless Manufacturing. With a clearly defined scope for an enterprise system, how can you offer only a partial solution to a shop floor and expect them to operate at maximum efficiency? It’s like giving someone a few pieces of the puzzle and telling them to make it work.

For example, some companies offer Shop Floor Data Collection as a “module” to the main software system. It is an additional cost, and additional work to install. Sure, it may be marketed to the manufacturer as a bonus that can be “added” when they are ready, but without shop floor data collection you don’t have a complete solution. Other companies may offer Performance Analytics in a “Service Pack” with an additional cost, Maintenance Management in a Tooling Module, and Product Tracking and Genealogy as yet another installation because it’s not part of their core “Manufacturing Management or Paperless Management” solution.

It makes no sense! How can you offer a partial system and call it a “Manufacturing Solution?”  Why aren’t these pieces fully integrated into a cohesive solution? Why does the product have to be doled out piece by piece? Is this really a better way to manage information on the shop floor and control the elements of production?

The Foundation of a Total Solution

An MES should provide the foundation for production. Information enters the system and is managed and controlled throughout the production process before it is moved to another enterprise system. The problem with the flawed “module” approach to MES implementation is it leaves holes in the foundation – holes that create errors and inefficiencies. Production just disappears in those gaping holes as your team scrambles to fill the hole with non-productive effort.

A complete shop floor software solution should provide the foundation of information management for production. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

A complete shop floor software solution should provide the foundation of information management for production. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider this – if your “manufacturing management system” is just pushing orders to the shop floor and not collecting data, you don’t have a complete view of manufacturing or any way to effectively introduce process improvement. Quality control will be hindered and process enforcement incomplete. By removing an important function of a complete system just because it’s in a different module, you hurt the effectiveness of the entire system.

It would be like buying a car with the steering wheel missing, and the dealer asking you if you want the “4 Tires Upgrade.” Having only a few pieces of the puzzle offers only part of the solution. You might be happy with those parts, but the overall solution, and maximized system effectiveness, is still out of reach.

A Better Shop Floor Solution

So, why do companies offer modules if they are so problematic and ineffective? Many times it is because the system they offer was once focused on a single MES function. It might have started its life as Inventory system or a simple ERP, and the MES functionality was added later. It might even have been a whole different system that was purchased and smashed together to make a “new” product.

When looking for a manufacturing solution, position your shop floor for growth and improvement by making sure you have a true MES or Paperless Manufacturing solution. Don’t focus on a list of functions or individual requirements, but look at process and make sure there are no “holes” in the solution. The system needs to provide a complete foundation for production management.

This is why CIMx doesn’t offer modules. We offer the complete solution to every customer. Once installed, customers turn on and use the functions they need, and can add new features and functions at their own pace because the entire solution is in place and waiting.

Don’t be fooled by the Module conundrum, and end up purchasing a partial solution that leaves your shop floor searching for the missing piece of MES puzzle. Want to learn more, or talk about what a Paperless Manufacturing solution could do for you? Give us a call, we’re happy to help.

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