Every year, more and more technology options are coming onto the market for improving manufacturing process performance. A generation ago we had a toolkit consisting of off-the-shelf databases and custom-written applications that could capture manual and automated data, present it in simple formats on thick-clients and in printed reports. Knowing your options and asking 5 basic questions will help you identify the right manufacturing system technology for your environment.
Today, the options are seemingly endless:
- Custom-written applications still hang on with low-cost developers and powerful new languages.
- COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) Manufacturing Systems are available from literally hundreds of manufacturers. They include industry-specific applications designed to address the narrowly-defined problems of single industries to general MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) applications intended to address the wide ranging data collection and analysis problems most manufacturers face, including continuous, hybrid and discrete manufacturing, energy and utility tracking, quality, efficiency and hundreds of other related manufacturing data functions. These systems range from pure server and thick-client based systems to systems heavily based on remote Virtual Servers, web pages and thin-client functionality to everything in between.
- ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Systems are also extending functionality into the manufacturing space and providing manufacturers with seamless applications extending from the manufacturing floor through top management.
- HMI (Human Machine Interface) and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) System vendors, in a similar manner, are adding functionality that moves into the space traditionally defined as the MES-layer, including efficiency tracking, SPC/SQC, centerlining and work process management.
- SaaS (Software as a Service) companies offering pure cloud-based applications that provide many (if not all) of the functions of the traditional site-based manufacturing systems applications is a budding new industry. These systems have minimal local footprints, are quick and cost-effective to implement and often require minimal training to use and administer.
With this large, growing and rapidly changing landscape of options for solving manufacturing data problems, how does a manufacturer determine the best solution? How does one even define “the best solution?” Is the traditional project team methodology still effective for evaluating the technology options considering the landscape of options and features can be completely different by the end of the project effort than it was at the beginning of the effort? (Was the project team methodology ever effective?) For software projects to succeed, there must be an alignment between Technology, People, Processes and Business. Evaluating Technology is much easier as a standalone than it is in the context of people, processes and the business. Vendors of software will gleefully provide reams of technical specifications and descriptions of features and countless case studies.
To evaluate technology effectively, one must get past technical specifications and determine how well it will support, NOT the current business processes, but the business processes that will need to be in place to take advantage of the technological functionality available with the new system. When evaluating the right manufacturing system technology for your company, be sure to ask the following 5 questions:
- How well will the system support the transition from the current processes to those new processes?
- How well will the people of the organization be able to take advantage of the capabilities of the system?
- Is the organization flexible enough to change the jobs performed by the people, and the processes they perform, to take advantage of the functionality and data the system makes available?
- Does the business see the new application as a tool to use in meeting its business objectives?
- Is the business committed to evaluating new business tactics in order to make the best use of new capabilities?
To be effective, a manufacturer must avoid asking the too simple question, “What will this system do?” and focus on the vastly more important question, “What is this organization capable of, and committed to doing with this system?”
Entegreat’s entire history has been spent assisting companies to assess, design and implement systems to improve manufacturing efficiency, and to connect manufacturing to other key areas of the business - - by (1) architecting and implementing a myriad of commercial manufacturing systems platforms; (2) utilizing an extensive library of methodologies and services assets as accelerators to provide specific function or performance enhancements; and (3) delivering Entegreat’s own cloud-based offering for manufacturing and energy management. Contact us today for an initial consultation to assess your current situation and to work with you to build your specific roadmap to the future.
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