The Innovation Conundrum in Manufacturing Software

In a scramble to out-innovate the competition and increase profits, many MES suppliers cram functionality into their software, leading to unnecessary complexity that drains productivity.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

After last weeks’ blog on Innovation, many asked about the difference between “good” and “bad” innovation. I can understand the confusion. After all, without criteria or real-world data, any assessment becomes a matter of opinion. People are fiercely protective of their tech investments, and no one wants to see themselves as a victim of unproductive technology, making it even more important to have effective methods of assessing innovation.

There are times in tech development and software lifecycles when innovation can hurt productivity. For example, Windows Vista has long been considered a failure for Microsoft. The software bloat in Vista, adding 15 million lines of code for functionality no one wanted or needed, is a reason for the failure. The compatibility issues and “user-hostile” features added to the disaster. Microsoft addressed many of initial criticisms of Vista, but the initial release was a clearly ineffective and misguided innovation.

Effective Innovation in Manufacturing Software

How much production and profit will you sacrifice to unnecessary complexity in your software? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How much production and profit will you sacrifice to unnecessary complexity in your software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When considering criteria for evaluating innovation, look at technology as a vehicle for accessing tools. For example, we don’t buy a smart phone for the processor, battery, or the AMOLED screen, but for how they allow us to access the tools (like the phone and messaging) and apps (like Trello, Google Maps, and Evernote) we use. Technology and innovation should either bring us a new tool we can use (notice the emphasis on use) or bring us closer to our tools (by automating processes).

Simplicity and usability are key criterion for effective innovation, allowing users to work better and faster – reducing errors and the effort necessary to complete tasks and work. Even new features which enhance the primary function of the tool should focus on simplicity and usability.

In fact, I would argue the most effective innovation isn’t noticed by the user. Changes enhance the overall experience without adding layers of complexity, or new buttons and additional information to process.

Innovation to avoid

Don't be fooled by innovation that won't improve your shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t be fooled by innovation that won’t improve your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The unfortunate truth is, in the tech and manufacturing software industry the easiest path to “innovation” is to add more buttons or features. Cramming a whole new set of functionality onto a product, utilizing a new interface with an explosion of connections and integrations may seem like an improvement, but it doesn’t make the tool more efficient or increase productivity.

Many times, the effort to innovate leads to functionality that isn’t necessary, resulting in complexity that decreases usability. In manufacturing software, this leads to functionality that sounds good on paper, but leads to headaches and lost production on the shop floor. Consider this – the PLM shouldn’t be your MES. Sure, the two systems can share a single source of manufacturing data, but any supplier trying to sell you a single PLM and MES package is sacrificing efficiency for both systems.

Embracing simplicity

Want further proof of the power of simplicity in innovation? Take a look at Apple products. Apple chief design Jony Ive often talks about simplicity and the need to develop products that work intuitively. “It isn’t about appearing to be simple but actually being complex, it’s about making the complex simple.”

This is a concept that many in manufacturing, and software development, have forgotten. There is a belief that we (as an industry) make highly complex products, and we need software tools that are equally complex (and expensive). Simplicity just doesn’t work for us. But, when you eliminate the preconceived notions and industry hubris, we still design and build products. The focus should be designing and building better products in less time and fewer errors.

If you keep that goal in mind as you select or develop a manufacturing tool, you’ll find the price of additional complexity far outweighs any real benefit.

Want to know more, or learn how an advanced manufacturing software tool can benefit your team? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.

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