Unravelling the Truth of Manufacturing Software Implementations

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Software companies are quick to make claims about their implementation process, but the answers often lead to more confusion than actionable information.

What’s a reasonable schedule for an MES or Paperless Manufacturing system implementation?

When I started in this business (years ago), two years was average. Anyone who claimed to implement a full system, configured for the customer, in less than a year was either fudging the truth or delusional.

I remember reading a press release from a company that claimed they installed a system in 8 months, but, reading between the lines, you could tell there were problems. For one thing, they called it an “installation.” Anyone could throw a program on a server and claim the system was installed. For another, and most telling, there were no quotes from the customer.  So either they forgot to tell the customer they were done, or there was a very unhappy shop floor.

Times and technology have changed, and so have our expectations, so what is a reasonable schedule? Where is the golden balance between speed, functionality and user compatibility?

We turn to children’s tales for help in our answer….

Goldilocks and Three Software Implementations

  • My Software Implementation was too short!

I will admit – there is something appealing about cloud implementations. There are companies now offering apps that let you use a credit card. Within an hour you could have an MES!!

… well, not really. There are MANY problems with this “quick-fix” software solution. For one thing, they use smoke and mirrors to mask the real backbone of their solution – email. For another, you are locking yourself out of key features. For example, revision control eliminates many shop floor errors and problems, but the email planning system doesn’t have the tight revision control modern production needs.  Customizable data collection and reporting are benefits you won’t find in an “app.”

There’s also the question of configuration. Every shop floor has different processes, so how will canned functionality in a cloud app work on your shop floor?  The app is going to dictate how you work.  Will it make your processes, stronger? Probably not…

Finally, have you considered who will own your data? All that planning in the cloud is no longer under your control.  If the cloud server goes down or is confiscated as evidence, where is you data? Back-ups are nice, but actually controlling your data is better.

A quick fix solution is just that, a quick fix to what may be a deep seated problem with your manufacturing value chain.  There’s promise in the cloud, but it’s technology that’s still developing.

  • My software implementation is TOOOO LONG!

Many software companies link apps together and market themselves as a “master” solution to all your manufacturing needs. There are reasons why these systems take so long (often years) to implement.

3d small people - angry

How long can your shop floor wait for a solution to be implemented? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In theory, this sounds like an amazing idea – a single solution linking the entire manufacturing process from end-to-end.  If it worked, you could easily manage the entire production enterprise.  You’d work with a single vendor and a single software system.

We are still years, perhaps decades, from a comprehensive enterprise solution that actually works. Some systems will be strong in one area, such as the PLM, and weaker in others, such as the MES. Enterprise software products are very different, so it’s natural for the overall system to favor one area over others.

Other times the “single” solution is really a series of individual apps the company purchased and stitched together like some software Frankenstein. Purchasing software is a quick way to acquire functionality, but ingesting that functionality into a suite will take years, and may never work. Buying a company isn’t necessarily going to make the overall product better.

On top of that, many of these “master” systems are complex and difficult because they are based on old technology. Rather than upgrading the software, and disturbing all the interconnections between individual apps, the company keeps adding new features and fixing problems with code that is never going to get better or become easier to use. Instead, the supplier just charges more and more money to work with the increasingly and maddeningly complex code, burying the creaky and problematic ancient system under shiny new features and tacked-on apps.

In the end, this is why it takes so long to implement these systems. Depending on the needs of the customer, the systems being integrated together, and the needs of the individual sites, a comprehensive solution is a massive and risky undertaking with suspect value. Problems will occur and the customer is left with “gaps” in their comprehensive solution.

  • My Software Implementation was Just Right!

Today, most suppliers offer Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) systems for implementation. With a COTS product, there is a core system that is configured, ensuring the software can be modified and installed much quicker, and for a lower cost, than a custom solution. There isn’t a perfect schedule for an implementation, but there are signs the savvy consumer can use to cut through the marketing miasma and learn whether it is really a modern COTS product.

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

How can you balance speed and functionality in a shop floor implementation? Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Ask the supplier how long each of the custom requests will take before the implementation. If the development time seems extremely long, then the system they are offering may be older or more complex, which can increase the schedule and make the system difficult to maintain.

Depending on the complexity of the requests, most configurations should take no more than a month or two.

Another factor that can significantly increase the schedule of an implementation is preparing the planning. Some manufacturing software uses a form- or template-based system, which can severely limit flexibility. If the supplier has to create new forms, or demands you adapt planning for the software, it is likely they use templates. The software works, but it will increase your reliance on the supplier (for changes) and the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Finally, does the supplier have a software upgrade plan? Are the upgrades free, or is there a cost?  If there is a significant cost for an upgrade, or the company doesn’t offer an upgrade plan, then you may be dealing with a customized software system. Changing or upgrading the software in the future will be very expensive, leading manufacturers to just wait and continue struggling with an obsolete solution.

Benchmarking Manufacturing Software Implementations

With modern software built on an adaptable platform, implementations should not be a complex process. The software should be able to utilize your existing planning (our system does), and it shouldn’t be difficult to train users.

In fact, you would be surprised how quickly a system can be installed and in use on your shop floor without relying on a torturous cloud-based solution.

We recently completed a software configuration and remotely installed a Paperless Manufacturing system for a new customer in less than a month. Training took place over two days with an application specialist working with users on the shop floor.

The customer is currently in the process of updating their planning to utilize new functionality, but once that’s complete they’ll be rolling out the software to all the users. It’s been an easy process, the customer explained.

Years ago, system implementation was a scary, expensive process that caused many manufacturers to wait on purchasing software. Today, implementation shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether to implement or not.

If it is, then give us a call or contact us today. We’re happy to discuss solutions and see if there is anything we can do to help.

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