Outlook and Email is not Manufacturing Software

As many manufacturers outgrow their process plan solution, some end up using email to manage their critical production processes.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Do yourself a favor.  Pick a day this week and look at your Outlook Inbox.  How many messages do you get a day?  Do you know how to find that?  If not, here are directions.  How many messages are in your Inbox right now?  How many remain unopened?

3d small people - angry

Relying on email or messaging software will create more production problems than they solve. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

On any given day, I’m receiving several thousand emails.  Over 95% end up in my spam filter.  The other 5% are distributed based on content, some going into automated folders for review later, or directed to the main folder for immediate review.

Without these filters and rules, email can be overwhelming.  Even with my systems and my rigorous controls, problems happen and messages are lost or misplaced.  I can’t rely on Microsoft Outlook to run my business.  Yet, there are manufacturing shop floor systems out there that run your shop floor using the same tools.

We sit right in the middle of our industry – MES and manufacturing software.  We are used in the very largest companies in the world to put rockets into space, huge commercial planes into the air and are with you during critical, invasive hospital procedures.  We’ve worked with soap, wire, carbon fiber and glass.  We’ve completed medical and aerospace audits and we’ve even worked with wood cabinetry.

The largest manufacturers in the world might call on us to implement an enterprise system that connects one or more large-scale facilities into standard processes or even cross-plant performance reporting.  Smaller and mid-size businesses might use us to keep track of orders on their shop floor and tell their customers ship dates for products.  And all the companies in between need us to keep their shop floors working smoothly, productively and with few if any errors.

As these smaller and mid-size businesses try to push their revenues up, they find they’re outgrowing their software tools. The job shop system that ran routings around the floor falls short when they try to expand the product line or customize orders for customers.  So many of these manufacturers look for a quick-fix, and turn to email-based shop floor solutions that use Outlook as a messaging tool to help.  Ouch.

Outlook is not the right tool for this.  Sure, mail has the little red flag to mark something as important and even “read receipt” messaging to make sure that your colleague received the information.  But should you use it as a tool for production?  Hardly.  Email is unresponsive, unhelpful and generally slow in terms of production planning and shop floor work.

When looking for a tool that will help with production and the shop floor, consider this:

  • Email should not, be your primary means of communicating an issue. If the operator or worse, your Quality Engineer, is constantly monitoring their screen for email alerts or notifications that an important message awaits, they do not have their eyes on your actual production – which is bad news.  Our system, similar to many, can send an email when a certain process finishes, a problem arises or someone’s waiting on approvals or a piece of work.  We hope, however, that the email is well-aged by the time the engineer looks at it.
  • Ask the software supplier where and how, specifically, Outlook or messaging of any kind is used within the product. Ask them to describe how important issues are handled and what happens when one team needs to speak to another. You don’t want production delayed while the shop floor waits for someone to read a critical message.  A system without push technology might lead to workers wandering the shop floor rather than running jobs at their work centers.
  • Consider how the system captures messages in the production record. A system using email as a primary means of communication is probably not adding them to the final build record or the record that’s created is simply a string of these communications reported without a connection to the associated work completed.  That can be a problem, especially when you need an accurate production record.

In the end, a quick fix may seem an easy solution, but open you to greater risk and other production problems. Need more help?  Reach out and tell us what you need.  You’ll find that we open every email that gets through the filter, but you’ll probably have more luck, just like your shop floor, in not relying on Outlook for your most critical items.

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