How to Successfully Replace Manufacturing Software

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are manufacturers out there struggling with outdated and inefficient legacy software systems supporting production.

Shop floor managers call us for help with these outdated systems – an Access database created long ago by a retired employee, or a piece of manufacturing software so old, it’s impossible to update and sits on a dilapidated server held together by rubber bands and prayers.

A Source of Manufacturing Inefficiency

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How much money is wasted due to inefficient software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing is the foundation of the company and the engine that fuels profit, and if the company doesn’t support production with the right tools, they are holding the business back. No amount of Kanban sessions or process improvements can make up for a digital tool trying to do something it was never designed for, or should have been shelved and retired years ago.

These older systems not only impact production and create inefficiency; they are a source of errors and hide a potential production disaster if the systems ever fail.

These shop floor managers know something has to be done, but struggle to get a clear answer from the IT department or a potential solution provider. Everyone promises their solution is the one they need, often completely ignoring current production processes in their excitement to implement their solution.

Identifying and Mitigating Software Risks

The shop floor can manage the problem and solution process by identifying risks early to determine the viability of a potential solution. Here are a few items to consider as you review next steps for your shop floor.

  • Data Migration.

If you have critical production data stored on a failing, outdated system, you need to consider how to move the data to the new system. Consider not only copying the data over, but using an Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tool. Some ETL will safely transform data to a modern format so it can be used in the new software and better support production.  Without utilizing an ETL tool, you may be stuck with unusable data in your new software.

  • Process Changes.

While you hope the new software tool improves processes, there are times the system will hinder, rather than help, production. Consider change orders and redline edits. If the new system offers a wealth of functionality that adds complexity to change orders, you may trap the shop floor with an unmanageable process.  Look at purchasing a workflow-based, rather than a forms-based, system when replacing outdated software. An initial pilot would also determine how the system will be used.

  • Increased Cost of Ownership.

It is worthwhile estimating not only the initial cost, but overall cost of ownership of manufacturing software. Often, the cost of software isn’t reflective of the benefit. The most expensive system may not offer the best solution.  Break down the cost of a potential solution, look at how it will be used, and estimate the potential ROI before making a purchase.

  • Gaps in Coverage.

Often, a software solution, especially cloud-based apps targeting manufacturing, will focus on a single challenge, rather than addressing the underlying problems facing production.  For example, purchasing a simple email app to manage production planning may seem like a quick fix to outdated software, but the gaps in coverage left by the solution expose you to other risks that may impact production.

Some manufacturers mistakenly value complexity over benefit in software. You don’t need all the complexity and functionality offered by many solution providers. Get input from the users and estimate how often and extensive their interaction will be with the software. If users spend more time serving the software than engaged in production, you don’t have an optimal solution.

Getting Started with Paperless Manufacturing

One way to overcome hesitation with a new software system is to look at change as an opportunity to eliminate the problems and frustrations the production team faces using outdated software. When we work with shop floor managers struggling with inefficient software, we start by looking at their current workflow.  The team often uncovers other process impediments that can be easily solved.

With an eye on the potential risks we’ve outlined above and the right solution provider, the new system can have a positive impact across the organization and unlock production potential you may not have known you had.  Want to know more, or talk to an application engineer about your outdated software systems? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

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