Avoid The Expense Of Customization: Choose The Right MES For The Right Job

Choosing the right MES software is dependent upon extensive research from the facility and a proof of concept from the MES vendor. One without the other is a gamble that inevitably leaves you walking away from the table empty handed.

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Tom Hennessey, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for iBASEtTom Hennessey, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for iBASEt

Choosing the right Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software is dependent upon extensive research from the facility and a proof of concept from the MES vendor. One without the other is a gamble that inevitably leaves you walking away from the table empty handed. Of course much like losing your money gambling, failed software implementations are a taboo topic in the manufacturing industry and are often never discussed. Because these failed software implementations are swept under the rug, other facilities looking to implement software never hear the cautionary tales of life after an implementation doesn’t go as planned.

While the advantages of implementing an MES are clear, many organizations will undermine these benefits by investing in the wrong solution. The fact is no one wants to admit to a poor decision that costs the organization millions of dollars, so avoid error by utilizing the steps provided below to make the right decision, the first time around.

No. 1 - Define Business and Project Goals

Before you begin your research it’s important to know the goals you wish to achieve from implementing an MES solution. Too often people go straight into product demos, rather than taking the time to evaluate how an MES solution would enhance their specific strategic initiatives. This approach might work when selecting some small applications, but an MES project is an opportunity to reevaluate the practices for managing the manufacturing process taking initiatives like Lean, digital thread, quality management and regulatory compliance also in consideration. Identifying, defining and linking your project goals with your business goals is the first (and most important) step to begin your search for an MES solution.

Once goals have been identified, you will better understand how the MES solution will ensure strategic initiatives are met in order to receive needed results. Examples of goals you should consider when searching for an MES solution include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Productivity, Lean Manufacturing
  • Quality and Six Sigma
  • Enabling the Digital Thread
  • Consolidation of legacy applications and systems
  • Regulatory Compliance

No. 2 - Assemble the Team

The team you put on the project from selection to implementation will make the difference between success and failure — from management sponsors to project manager to subject matter experts (SMEs). Implementing an MES solution is a comprehensive undertaking, one that requires coordination from many of your organization’s functional departments. Therefore, once goals have been defined, it’s time to assemble a team of sponsors within the organization to be the champions of this endeavor.

The key to assembling your team should start from the top down. Obtaining senior level executives as sponsors and champions provides a longer-time perspective so that short-term “savings” can be weighed against offsetting longer term, strategic benefits. Project management practices are also very important including risk management. It’s not enough to just have a few IT people and expect them to manage the whole reengineering process. It is important to include SMEs with viewpoints and objectives across departments that support manufacturing including Operations, Manufacturing Engineering, Quality, Production Control, Inventory and Tooling Management.

Internal resources might not be sufficient to support the project, so also consider hiring external consultants or systems integrators if needed.

Bottom line: To realize the full potential of any new system, everyone must engage in the project. The executives should lead the charge by making the software implementation a major company directive. This will align business processes, increase employee ownership and buy-in, and ultimately ensure a successful implementation with a rapid ROI.

No. 3 - Know your Industry Requirements

At first glance it seems that most manufacturing systems have a similar functional footprint, however upon further investigation you will realize a few contain very specialized functionality that cater to specific industries. There are multiple levels of manufacturing processes with different levels of requirements, making it critical to keep the requirements of your specific industry in mind. You would think it’s impossible that the same MES designed for mass produced products like smartphones would be sold into a market as highly complex and engineered as aerospace; yet with a persuasive sales team, it happens all the time

Once you know which MES providers cater to your manufacturing requirements the next step is to select a framework to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. The frameworks we suggest you utilize include ISA95, QMS (ISO9001/AS9100/ISO13485). A framework like ISO9001 describes a Quality Management System for Product Realization and will help your requirements organized. For the product realization processes standards like ISA95 describe MES/MOM functions, and is a useful framework to use as a starting point.

No. 4 - Do your Homework on the MES Vendors

Many MES vendors will claim to be a fit for your specific market despite the fact their software was built for an entirely different niche market. These vendors trying to “fit” their MES actuations into industrial segments outside their original intent will contend that these solutions can be adapted. The downside of moving forward with an MES software not designed for your market means extensive customization, expensive and length implementations, slow or non-existent time to value, and long-term dissatisfaction due to a lack of fit with their core industry processes.

After you have done your due diligence defining business and project goals, assembling a team and understanding your industry requirements it’s now time to ask your software vendors to show you how they will handle each requirement line-by-line in a detailed non-customized demonstration. In addition, find out if they’ll let your internal experts get their hands on the system for a short period of time before purchasing the software. Since support from the executive team and adequate training is often the difference between success and failure, it’s imperative to understand if there is any concern regarding potential cost overruns. This will reduce your potential risk of selecting the wrong system.

Tom Hennessey is Vice President of Marketing at iBASEt.