Manufacturing Execution System • March 9, 2021

3 Pitfalls to Avoid for a Successful MES Install

3 Pitfalls to Avoid for a Successful MES Install

In today’s digitally interconnected world of Industry 4.0, a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is a necessity to the manufacturing process that is just as essential as electricity, HVAC, compressed air, water, or any other part of the physical infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Invariably, MES projects are usually based on a project plan with a cost-benefit analysis that requires some predetermined return-on-investment (ROI) to get funded. Given this reality, I thought I would share a few lessons learned on how to avoid three common pitfalls of a successful MES install

While many benefits can easily document a successful MES install, the challenge is achieving the forecasted benefits quickly (or even at all) based on how the project is planned, the pilot site is identified, or what decisions are made early in the design process. In many cases, this can be traced back to the ever-present conservatism in manufacturing, characterized by the adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Here are three examples of how manufacturers often throttle their ability to get the most out of their MES investment – all while believing these decisions are helping them to achieve a successful MES install.

1. Initial Scope of Deployment Lacks Sufficient Integration with Other Enterprise Applications

There is a natural tendency to ease into an MES deployment by choosing to focus on just part of your plant’s operations with well-defined processes that don’t include data or systems integration. If the initial phase is too complex, then the risk is that the initial project will take too long, so likely fail. The tendency is to err in the other direction and choose a pilot project that is too simplistic. 

While this conservatism might seem like a good strategy (especially if your company has never had an MES before), the challenge is that even when the MES implementation goes smoothly and everyone is happy, the benefits will likely be smaller than originally expected. This may result in a hesitancy to tackle more complex systems integration as part of your initial implementation. When this happens, potential performance efficiency gains related to systems performance or data visibility are negated or severely restricted. The way to avoid this issue is to set the scope for the initial deployment to cover enough of the value stream that the original forecasted benefits can be realized. 

2. Choosing a Production Process that is Too Limited

Another tendency is choosing a production or quality process that is too limited. The thinking is to start small so any implementation issues can be easily diagnosed and corrected. For example, this might be an assembly operation in a discrete manufacturing plant. There is a compelling logic here. Assembly is a process that usually tests all the critical elements of an MES, including scheduling, work process definition, tracking and traceability, and all the associated reporting. If the MES succeeds in assembly, the thinking is that it will then work everywhere.

The challenge is that by improving a self-contained assembly process, once again, only minimal benefits will accrue. This can then lead to skepticism of the overall investment. Fear emerges that the project will not yield the planned improvement.

To optimize your return on an MES investment, it is imperative to choose a process that offers a real test of the MES – while at the same time is not too complex to hinder success. This way, once success is achieved, there is sufficient validation to quickly expand the MES to all other business units. With the experience gained in a right-sized initial project, subsequent rollouts can have a much higher probability of success. It is incumbent on the project team to choose an initial MES target process that is neither too simplistic nor too complex.

3. Initial Scope Too Small to See the Impact of Change Management

To extract the most value from your new MES implementation, you must take a long-term perspective. What sustained performance improvement is possible? Unlock this goal, and your benefits will always exceed expectations. This often requires a cultural change to take place, as part of an effective change in how your production and quality processes are performed.

The best way to increase and accelerate the benefits from your MES project is to ensure a broad scope of the project is experienced by more than just the operations or IT team. With sufficient employee engagement so that enough people in the organization interact with the MES, the scope of change will be significant, impacting the desired cultural change you need for sustained, lasting performance improvement. And, long-term ROI. Limiting MES usage to a small percentage of people will not drive a behavioral shift or the subsequent cultural change that occurs with successful MES implementations. 

Read this article for a closer look at driving cultural change with an MES implementation, Fostering Culture Change with MES to Enable a Digital Transformation Framework

When it comes to gaining the most success from your MES implementation, much has to do with defining the right size and scope of your initial deployment. This includes making sure you include systems and data integration, choosing some of your more complex operations processes, and including cross-departmental representation. Achieving a broader usage and reliance on your MES is almost always the path to better ROI and greater project success.

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