Successfully Navigating MES Growing Pains

The MES continues to come of age as technology and shop floor needs change. We take a look at where the industry has been, and where your shop floor wants to be in the future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When I first started working in manufacturing software, the perception of an MES was a massive, monolithic SYSTEM that covered the shop floor in digital web. Users fed the machine, or were crushed by it. Development and implementation was a multi-year (and multi-million dollar) campaign suitable only for the most hale (and solvent) adventurers. The SYSTEM was designed by a software company using a comprehensive list of exacting requirements. Once in place, users were coerced into utilizing it, crammed and jammed into digital processes dictated by the software SYSTEM through forms, endless menus and new procedures, thus submitting to the will of the machine.

No thought was ever given to upgrades, future uses, or any changes. It was all about getting something – anything – in place.

That was the past, but today the world is different. Technology has changed, grown, and the shop floor needs and expectations are different. We’ll take a look at where MES is today, and where we might (or should) be going in the future, and what that means for companies looking at an MES.

The MES Ecosystem today

Today, technology has moved away from the older paradigm of enterprise software systems (even though you can still find SYSTEMs lingering on the market). Browse through the market and you can find several different types of paperless manufacturing and MES systems. Cloud-based systems, for example, offer SAAS (Software As A Service) pricing and benefits, quick installation and scalability, but many companies are reluctant to use the cloud for production, since it can be susceptible to connectivity and security issues. Selecting a cloud-based system increases risk (data, compromised security, and service loss) in addition to reduced flexibility.

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Other companies offer a Utopian Vision of an integrated software system, encompassing MES, ERP, PLM, QMS and more. They talk about collaboration and shared infrastructure, enterprise accessibility and global networks as key benefits, but also present challenges. These all-encompassing systems have become a new iteration of the old, monolithic MES SYSTEM. Many times, they are built on the same platform as those old systems, using the same code and same processes as past SYSTEMs. Implementation and development is, once again, a slow, laborious endeavor – high risk and expensive.

Projects and systems like this will solve problems and provide benefits, just like they did in the past, but at a cost. The restrictive processes enforced by the system will limit flexibility and cause problems at individual sites struggling to adhere to the system requirements – resulting in a loss of overall efficiency. Many times, a flaw in the workflow or system will be “managed” rather than eliminated because the cost of the fix is difficult in the strict confines of what the SYSTEM can handle.

Modular, or module-based systems have similar benefits and flaws. These systems will offer a higher initial flexibility, allowing users to initially select the functionality (or modules) they want to “build” their own system. The problem is, many times these modules are cobbled together older systems given a new name and a new UI, offering disparate functionality, requiring multiple integrations, and resulting in uneven support. Sometimes, the initial software was even built on an entirely different platform. Companies with these systems will have increased upgrade costs and, depending on the configuration of modules, limited flexibility.

Discover the Modern MES

Modern MES, built using the latest technology and platforms, are much more agile – operating less an all-encompassing SYSTEM and more as a foundation for improved production, with tools that increase efficiency and solutions to eliminate problems that hinder manufacturing. Rather than plugging a module or adding a new system, users turn on and use functionality as they need. Process changes don’t often require redevelopment of the programming, or even reconfiguration. More likely a simple change in how the software tools are used will more than satisfy shop floor needs.

Maximize your MES by ensuring you have a modern MES. Modern Systems can be installed quickly and easily, often in as little as a few weeks depending on the hardware and infrastructure in the facility. Most times a modern system will utilize your existing work plans. Another characteristic of a modern MES will be a lower cost of updates and upgrades. Adding functionality is significantly easier with modern software tools. This will lower the overall cost of updates, making them smaller part of the TCO Total Cost of Ownership). Support costs should also be lower, with most (if not all) of the standard maintenance being automated or requiring little IT support.

At their core, agile modern MES are less complex than the highly customized MES of the past, and more focused on the basic functionality necessary for modern manufacturing and the tools your shop floor needs to work better, faster and with fewer errors.

Putting the Paperless Manufacturing Puzzle Together

Companies need to realize the manufacturing environment is changing faster now than it ever has before, and the rate of change continues to accelerate. New tools and technology such as 3D Printing, Big Data, IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, and even customer expectations are forcing manufacturers to adapt like never before. To compete, companies need a paperless manufacturing or MES system that will adapt and grow with them.

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to MES and manufacturing system. Look for an agile, adaptable software that will support your shop floor even as change happens. Want to know more, or see what paperless manufacturing can do for you? Then contact us today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.

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