Tag Archives: paperless manufacturing

Defining the ERP and MES Connection

When problems crop up in production, savvy manufacturers immediately search for a solution.

Many turn to manufacturing software like Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or begin looking to their existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for the functionality they are missing. Confusion creeps in at this point. As software providers expand their offering through development and acquisition, the lines blur between MES and ERP.

Removing the confusion and clearly defining the roles of the MES and ERP will eliminate this problem and help as companies plan for the future of their business.

The Role of the MES and ERP

Just as no accountant should ever use an MES to balance the books or run financials, no ERP will ever offer the functionality necessary for complex manufacturing. It can’t be done.

The MES delivers the workflow-based functionality required for discrete manufacturing. With a system based around the production value chain, it manages work and operations, and links data in a production cycle. Mistakes and quality escapes are flagged, allowing rework paths to be implemented. You can send a bill through an MES, but it’s not the optimal solution to billing.

The front office requires transaction-based functionality for financials, customer management and human resources. Data is input and tagged, creating data links, but at that point the process stops. There’s no workflow control because it’s not necessary. You could track a change order in a transaction system, but inefficiencies will cause the shop floor to struggle.

Some companies market their products as a “Manufacturing ERP.” They offer minimal manufacturing functionality tacked onto their core ERP product, often as a pricey module. It looks great in demos and claims to support some production processes, but a transaction system will never deliver the workflow control and visibility discrete manufacturers need. The inefficiencies result in “workarounds” your operators develop to overcome features that don’t work.

Fitting your Software Systems Together

Many companies initially turn to their ERP for manufacturing solutions, mistakenly believing a single software solution will lower costs and IT requirements. It doesn’t. A supplier selling an MES and ERP solution has either put a shiny “MES” veneer on top of basic ERP functionality or purchased an existing MES and completed an integration that you can’t control and they won’t be updating. You end up with an expensive solution with built-in inefficiencies, expensive upgrades, and gaps in manufacturing functionality.

The ERP and MES are separate, standalone systems that work best together when the user (your company) designs the integration points. This way, your front office has a software solution designed and built for their needs. Similarly, the shop floor and production team have the specialized functionality, visibility and control to keep up with the pace and complexity of manufacturing.

Since you aren’t buying expensive modules or customized functionality to awkwardly extend a software solution, you lower the overall cost. You have a clear upgrade path for both the MES and the ERP, and never struggle with an outdated solution.

Your company works from an integrated, cohesive production and business database. The reports use accurate data, sourced from the systems best positioned to collect and intelligently link information to increase production and efficiency while cutting costs.

Getting Started with Data-Driven Manufacturing

Once you’ve decided to eliminate inefficiency and embrace data-driven, smart manufacturing with a system like Quantum, the next question is where to begin.

Many mistakenly believe a software infrastructure project must start with the ERP, but the truth is it often makes more sense to implement an MES first.

Companies report a much quicker ROI for manufacturing software. The right manufacturing system will cost significantly less than an ERP, can be installed quickly and will pay immediate dividends through cost savings, and lower scrap and waste. The MES will reduce the scope and cost of the ERP by clearly defining the requirements of the enterprise system. With the MES in place, you won’t be pressured to purchase additional modules or software.

With manufacturing software you shield production from the disruption that often accompanies an ERP installation or upgrade. You can safely update other software when you are ready, with the comfort that your production data and shop floor are secure.

Want to know more, or see what benefits you will discover with manufacturing software? Contact CIMx for a free shop floor analysis with one of our Application Engineers. As always, the report is yours even if you decide Quantum isn’t the system for you.

Manufacturing Software and Paperless Manufacturing in 2017

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We regularly review the manufacturing software market.  Last year, we were twice caught off-guard by references to the “death of Manufacturing Execution Software” (MES) by both a major analyst firm and a competitor.

Manufacturing software isn’t dying.  With the changes to our industry, the growth of technology, and the need for companies to better manage resources and production, there has never been more need for strong software tools to support production.  Paper, a modified spreadsheet, or an ERP modified with some shop floor functionality, simply can’t provide the capability manufacturers need.  There is no magic bullet, super-system to solve all your enterprise problems and replace manufacturing software.  Predicting the “death of MES” flies directly in the face of what we see every day.

The Premature Demise of Manufacturing Software

In the first case, an analyst predicted MES vendors would need to specialize to survive the next 5 – 10 years.  I agreed whole-heartedly with this analysis; manufacturing systems do need to adapt.  The era of the 200+ MES vendors that do it all is over.  Technology is so prevalent with apps and devices everywhere, there’s no way a general, “everything to everybody” system can thrive. His solution, however, was an incredibly and wildly expensive master system that utilized every hot button technology analysts obsess over.

When I read similar content from a competitor, I thought back to the analyst’s prediction.  The thing they had in common, however, wasn’t the prognostication.  It was their blindness to more than 90 percent of the manufacturing market – firms that don’t make the Fortune 50.  Each was looking at the market of multi-million dollar software implementations with automation, IIoT and BA that only the fewest manufacturing companies can consider.

Process Improvement graph.

Take steps to improve production and profit with Paperless Manufacturing in 2017. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

 

This doesn’t mean MES is dying.  Manufacturing software for the rest of the industry is adapting, better utilizing technology to improve both functionality and efficiency.

Years ago, we started talking about Paperless Manufacturing as a focus long before others picked it up. We wanted to empower manufacturers to improve productivity and quality, eliminating compliance issues by eliminating error-prone and inefficient paper on the shop floor with a system and software tools that are easy-to-use and quick to implement out of the box.  Now everyone seems to be talking about paperless manufacturing (which isn’t another way of saying MES is dying).

Many analysts and major software providers focus on only the very largest manufacturers in the world, completely ignoring the largest segment of the market.  They both offer solutions for only the largest companies. Their position makes sense for those companies, but I struggle when they use that perspective to move the needle without considering the entire market.  It’s no wonder a majority of manufacturers struggle to find software designed for them, or believe manufacturing software is going to bankrupt their business.

Manufacturing Software Solutions for the Market

I don’t understand these analysts and massive software providers refusal to see the manufacturing world below $1 billion.  For these companies, there is no Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), no Smart Connected Assets, no Factory-Automated shop floor in the works.  These hard-working manufacturers need immediate, focused and sustainable help to survive the current challenges of global competition, worker shortages and a lack of interest among new workers for manufacturing.  Predictive analytics is fun to read about, but it’s not going to get the next order out the door.

The good news is there are systems and software solutions designed for these companies. With modern technology, there’s no reason why all manufacturers can’t support their production operations with software.  The right system can save money, improve production and quality, and get orders out the door.  Manufacturers and a production operations team shouldn’t have to struggle with inefficiency.

There are even software systems that can be installed and help improve production and efficiency this year (not all can, so be sure to understand the service and ask for qualifications and guarantees).  The law of averages tells me that for every US $10 million in revenue you have on the top line, you can conservatively spend between US $35,000 and $50,000 on a system.  That’s more than enough to move from inefficient paper to paperless manufacturing and all the benefits it brings.

You will need to create a short, focused list of requirements; some vendors can even help you with that.  Here are a few things to watch out for as you start researching the market:

  • Template-based systems (fill in the boxes or blanks) work well only for those companies that have consistent, never-failing production. These are useful in automated settings where input is minimal and variation is seldom.
  • Services-to-install are an area that some vendors will underbid on. Ask for a fixed-bid to complete the work, a guarantee of deliverables and make sure the vendor offers a very strong complaint process.
  • Upgrades must be included in annual support. Always buy the annual support to ensure you can upgrade.  New functionality will keep your production operations modern and focused.
  • Be knowledgeable about the vendor’s support practices before you sign on the dotted line. Ask how they support customers and call the support line before you purchase to see how you are treated.  Their handling of issues will be fairly consistent throughout your tenure with them.

Make 2017 the year you start doing something to improve your competitiveness, profitability and quality.

If you don’t know how to take the first steps, reach out to us at CIMx Software.  Our goal is to provide our manufacturing software to as many companies with a real need as we can, and we’re offering programs right now that can immediately accelerate your research and get you started.  We can help you assess your needs with a Shop Floor Analysis, a market review and other helpful tools.

Want to know more? Contact CIMx today, we’re happy to help.

2016 Year in Review for Manufacturing Technology

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

At first glance, 2016 was a year of promise linking production priorities with emergent technologies.  Speculation was rampant with industry buzzwords flying fast and furious – Smart Manufacturing, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Digital Thread, Data Mining, Cloud technology.

What is lost in the speculation of 2016 is the technical and industry hurdles we need to overcome before the speculation becomes a practical reality for our industry. Consider this:

  • The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will use machine sensors and automation to better manage production processes, identifying and eliminating problems before they happen…once we determine the format and infrastructure of the IIoT, significantly lower the cost of integration, and agree on how security will be managed.

  • Cloud-based apps offer companies the chance to reduce capital and infrastructure expenses and manage software remotely…as long as they relinquish control of their data and apps to the service providers and accept increased costs and potential downtime.

  • Smart Manufacturing heralds the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT)…so Production Managers with enough time, resources, and a willing and able IT resource to implement and support smart, connected devices can improve production outcomes.

  • Manufacturing customers see the promise of collaborative manufacturing and customization, and are expecting more from manufacturers, and manufacturers are using 3D printing and digital PLM tools to provide flexibility not found in traditional manufacturing processes…hoping they can maintain margins while frantically searching for new value streams to improve profits.

A Dose of Manufacturing Truth

As exciting as it was to speculate on the future in 2016, we’ve ignored the current manufacturing truth faced by many companies. Businesses don’t need speculation, they need practical solutions.  According to a study by Adobe, 82% of the companies still rely heavily on paper.  Four out of five businesses say they are trying to use less paper, but a third of the companies actually used MORE paper.  These companies aren’t thinking about the Digital Thread, they wonder how they can continue supporting their business.

An operations team struggling to manage massive paper build books and unsure how to access the latest revision of production plans isn’t considering smart-connected machines.  A company with a single, overworked IT resource isn’t ready for a Smart Manufacturing strategy.  A shop floor supervisor struggling to identify shipping dates and manage production schedules isn’t thinking about IIoT.

The solutions our industry is focused on and the suppliers offering them are still years, perhaps even decades, from providing a viable application for most manufacturers.  For example, an IIoT solution will require new machines, sensors to integrate with a shared database, a common machine language for all those sensors, a tool for mining the information for actionable data, and a method of automating the process. Currently, it’s expensive, with only limited applications.

The largest companies, with the money, resources and time to devote to speculation, are exploring the options and opportunities. Often, the goal is to monetize the technology and offer it on the market as a product or module for an existing application. The company hasn’t even worked out how to use it in their own processes.

Where We Were in 2016

Rather than speculate, I’d like to take an honest look at 2016.  Let’s see where our industry is now, rather than 10+ years from now.

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How are you using technology in production and operations? Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve come across companies that have implemented an MES, or have stitched together different applications to remove paper from their processes and better manage and record manufacturing digitally.  Today, these companies are working to improve their processes, optimize production, and further support the manufacturing value chain.

The push to further optimize can lead to additional risks.  Companies are working toward integrating their software systems, such as ERP, PLM and ERP, through a single system.  Most of these projects have run into trouble, as the complexity of the integrated software slows, rather than supports, enterprise processes.  Brian Carpizo, a Team Lead with Uptake, an IIoT company in Chicago, described the problem in an article in Forbes as “… the converged IT/OT world does not lend itself to one-vendor systems of record or some kind of mega-ERP. The problem is just too complex.”

CIMx regularly works with companies struggling with inefficient, legacy software systems that should have been retired years ago.  These companies purchased manufacturing software during the advent of MES in the early 1990s; some built their own systems using Microsoft Access or other computer software. These early systems used custom code, making it expensive and difficult to upgrade.

Today, companies still using that old software pour more money and resources into maintaining the inefficient status quo, a logic fallacy known as a “sunk cost” that blinds businesses to the opportunity for improvement. Continuing to wait leads the company further into Technology Debt.  These companies are looking for a smooth transition to a new system.

Finally, there are a significant number of manufacturers still clinging to traditional, error-prone paper-based manufacturing. From our experience, whatever the reason for waiting each year to implement even a simple software system to better manage production operations, the company falls further and further behind their competition. Often, management doesn’t realize how easy and inexpensive a possible software solution is to implement.

A Bridge Forward in 2017

I’m not arguing against Smart Connected devices and technology. Technology will have a positive impact on manufacturing, now and in the future.  Automation and the IIoT are promising, and there are companies leveraging the Cloud to improve current business outcomes.

But to focus on technology still years away from practical application while ignoring the struggles of the majority of the industry in 2016 isn’t really putting your audience’s interests first.  We’re excited by the opportunity new technology offers, and we’re looking at ways to best utilize it in our product offerings, but in no way was this reflective of the work done in 2016, or the status of manufacturing last year.

A review of the year should focus on the business, and not the future.  There are tools out there now to help businesses still relying on paper and inefficient technology.

Next week, we’ll take a close look at what you can do in 2017 to deliver a positive impact on your business.

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

3d small people - angry

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.

Simple versus Simplicity: The MES App Conundrum

Some manufacturers latch onto solutions that never really address the core problems facing production.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few weeks ago I sat through a demo of a new shop floor manufacturing app.

The marketing pitch seemed promising. Rather than charging for hardware and functionality you don’t really need, the app offered access to a cloud manufacturing solution built for production. For a single low cost, you could, “harness the power of the cloud.”

You paid a few dollars, gave them a credit card, and the app was downloaded on a phone or tablet.  From the app, you could load up work instructions and additional documentation, fill in order and operation information, and create a routing.  From the shop floor, you access the instructions, click a button to leave a note or collect data, and press “NEXT” to close one operation and open another.

There was a dashboard with icons and additional information. A planning screen let me click and drag work around, and for a few dollars more I could get reports.

The smooth-voiced “hostess” of the demo promised the app, “…had all the functionality you need, without gimmicks.” The questions and comments after the demo were so full of praise for the “simple” power of the app, you’d have thought it revolutionized computer technology rather than put a shiny veneer on a document viewer.

The pitch was clear. According to the demo, software companies swore you needed a big manufacturing solution, when all you really needed was an app.

The Difference between Simplicity and Simple

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

If you aren’t solving a problem or improving production, any money spent on a “simple” solution is wasted. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know software, manufacturing software specifically, and I know apps and computer technology. The solution I saw at the demo could be built and finished relatively quickly – perhaps 6 to 10 months with good developers and a clear plan.

The solution was also simple – get your planning to the shop floor with minimal routing. Get rid of paper and paper build books and access everything you need from your phone.  You can eliminate the need for expensive implementation teams and a bunch of annoying service charges. Forget requirement lists, integrations and implementations; you can now buy a manufacturing solution in an afternoon browsing the iPhone App store. It was simple.

But it never really addressed the core needs we see from the manufacturers we work with. Companies today need to improve production and work smarter. They need to do more with less, improve margins and cut costs. They need better control and visibility of the manufacturing value chain. Emailing work instructions to the shop floor won’t do that.

In my mind, this app was like a piece of tape stuck to a dam. Sure the app (or tape) did its job, but it never addressed the overall problem. It sold “simple” to an audience that really needed a solution.

I’m not arguing for complexity. A Paperless Manufacturing solution that adds real value doesn’t need to be complex or mind-bogglingly expensive.

There is a difference between simple and simplicity.  A solution needs to directly address the core needs of manufacturers to improve production outcomes, improve profit and deliver real value to the business.  It needs to be an integrated solution, because value isn’t made at just one point in the production cycle. An app on your phone may be simple, but it’s not a manufacturing solution.  It’s an app on your phone.

What the app was missing was a cohesive digital link between production activities – the value of a true Paperless Manufacturing solution. It felt like the app developer never really asked a manufacturer what they needed or did. They took a guess that manufacturing needed simple and the cloud and ignored everything else. The company wrote an app, and then kept telling everyone it was “simple.”

Simplicity helps manage complexity, rather than ignoring it. Simplicity contextualizes information so you can focus on what’s important. Everything else involved in production is still there and still being managed, but it’s been prioritized.

This is the difference between simple and simplicity. Simple is what you get when you want to throw an app on the web to make a quick profit. Simplicity is built into a tool to help you work better, faster and with fewer errors – letting you focus on work, rather than the tool.

It’s a subtle, but critical, difference I believe the app developers never really understood.

Good Samaritans, Guarantees and Paperless Manufacturing

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

The core of customer service in manufacturing software is ensuring the system works as promised. By focusing on the sale, many companies lose sight of customer service.

We never really think about customer service unless there’s a problem. It’s too bad, because manufacturing software suppliers are missing out on an opportunity…

I realized this when I lost my FitBit. I was on a bike trail near my house when my FitBit fell out of my pocket.  This was no fault of the device – I put it in my pocket to count steps as I rode, and ended up losing it on the side of the trail.

There wasn’t much I could do but mourn my lost fitness partner. It motivated me to get up from my desk and take extra steps.

Amazingly, a few days later FitBit let me know a Good Samaritan found my lost device and mailed it back to the company, asking if they could locate the owner – me.  And they did!

But the remarkable story doesn’t end there.  Fitbit began testing the watch before they sent it back and discovered it wasn’t working.  It seems humidity or weather caused a problem, so FitBit provided a newly-refurbished model to me at absolutely no cost… not a single dollar!

That level of customer service caught my eye.  How could CIMx make customer service a focus?

Focusing on the Customer Experience

For CIMx, Customer Service starts with the sales process.  Our goal is to solve problems, and not just sell software.

Computer devices around 3d small person.

Fake product demonstrations create confusion for many manufacturers. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers are confused by industry-speak and fake product demonstrations offered by other suppliers.  To demonstrate functionality, some suppliers show a video or use software more like a video game than a manufacturing system.  They have to, because they’ll need months of service work and “configuration” to get their product to match your specifications and expectations.

Consider it the shiny video gloss on an ugly system.  There is a core software product there, but it’s not ready for public consumption until they sell you configuration services.  This leads to confusion when the product delivered is nothing like the system at the demonstration.

The savvy prospect knows this.  We often hear we are the only vendor to show a live product demonstration – planned paths and paths driven by real-time questions.  We recently spent 5 hours going through product questions on a live system.  The prospect told us they had never seen a live manufacturing system until that day.  How many times have you seen a multi-hour software presentation built around live Q&A without a single product failure?  We are proud of what our software can do.

We know manufacturing, software, MES and Paperless Manufacturing. When you work with us, you aren’t talking to just another salesperson, but an expert in the field.  We spend time answering questions and educating prospects because we know how frustrating it can be working with a company so focused on the sale they only tell you what you want to hear.

To be honest, there were times in the past where we focused so much on educating we lost a sale.  These days, we’re still known for our consultative approach.  No, we are not consultants, but we play the role because we know manufacturing and technology so well, in addition to offering an amazing software system.  Consultants are paid for their time.

We help manufacturers navigate the confusing (and potentially frustrating) process.  We help them understand what they really need, and how to avoid pitfalls that could destroy any potential ROI or benefit of a system.

A Guarantee for Paperless Manufacturing

We also guarantee both our products AND our services.  Let me say that again.  We provide insurance for you that what you buy is what you get.  We were the first and still the only company I know in our industry that even comes close to this offer.  When we put a proposal together, we stand behind it.  We will deliver on-time 100% of the time.  We will deliver 100% of what we promise.

To me, that’s the core of exceptional customer service. When you purchase a product, you are investing resources and taking on risk the product may fail, or not meet your needs. Without offering a guarantee like that, the supplier is putting all the risk on you. They are being a salesperson and not a partner.

In my mind, FitBit embodies this concept of customer service.  They promised to be my partner in physical fitness.  And in helping me even when I failed (and lost my Fitbit), they went above and beyond in that promise.  They helped me even when I couldn’t help myself.

I’ll be a FitBit customer for life.

Being a partner in manufacturing and technology is our goal with every customer and prospect interaction, helping create CIMx customers for life.

Want to learn more, or talk to an expert about your manufacturing needs?  Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis and see what paperless manufacturing can do for you.

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.

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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.