It might just be possible to use a chainsaw to prune the roses, but selecting the right tool for the task at hand might just save those beautiful blooms. Complex discrete manufacturing may seem a world away from the back yard garden, but choosing appropriate tools is just as important in either context. A recent trend toward genericized MES is short-changing manufacturers by treating every manufacturing operation as the same as every other manufacturing operation. Customized MES is the solution to manufacturer headaches caused by using the wrong tool for the job.
MES Solutions Should Be Industry-Specific
Gartner analyst Rick Franzosa pointed out that MES solutions are specific to the industries they serve. Such systems have a variety of requirements that go far beyond visibility and procedural enforcement. “The shift by enterprise vendors to configurable MES puts the onus on the end customer to effectively configure the solution for its industry specific processes and manage the life cycle of the deployment,” he said. “There is no ‘miracle configurator’ that can support a multitude of industries.”
Yet that is the pitch used today by many MES vendors. Manufacturing leaders who buy into the hype may find themselves involved in lengthy implementations, constant bug fixes and having to buy consulting services to ensure their new MES continues to operate.
For MES, Standardization Can Be a Dirty Word
Franzosa explained that MES implementations tend to be more diverse than other enterprise applications. For MES, intricacies arise from company to company and even from plant to plant within the same business.
Although there is an incredible need for MES specialization in manufacturing, the idea of a customized MES solution can sometimes go against the grain in large enterprises where standardization is the mantra. These companies may have successfully integrated five different CRM systems to produce a unified corporate CRM system. It’s understandable that top management could conclude that the same initiative would be applicable to MES. Why not have one super-configurable generic package that can be deployed across all operations?
Why Customized MES is the Solution
In manufacturing, there is too wide a divergence of processes, workflows and products to make generic MES solutions work. Those implementing enterprise-wide manufacturing solutions on generic vendor platforms, added Franzosa, do so at the risk of losing industry specific functionality.
Mergers and acquisitions within the MES space have added even more impetus for customized MES. Large vendors sometimes adopt growth strategies that consist of invading new verticals. It’s much easier for them to push generic MES than it is to acquire the decades of domain knowledge required to develop MES for a niche manufacturing market. Sadly, this burdens IT with a hefty configuration workload.
It is recommended, therefore, that manufacturers challenge their MES project teams to treat process improvements and business goals with a higher level of priority than the choice of a specific platform. By doing so, they can zero in on the platform that mostly closely aligns with overall objectives.
For those being pressured to follow the generic roadmap of a particular vendor, Gartner suggested that third-party MES providers specializing in your vertical always be included in product evaluations. Niche vendors are much more likely to provide solutions that work out of the box. By using their extensive domain expertise, they can directly meet the process needs of their own niche. This minimizes or even eliminates the need for customization.
“Enterprise vendors look for the broadest and common needs that could result in greater customization,” said Franzosa, “while niche vendors are more narrowly focused and typically require less customization.”
Customized MES Within Industry Vertical
Gartner recommends aggressively vetting implementation providers using reference customers to ensure they have sufficient expertise in your industry vertical. There is no substitute for MES experience in the proving ground of the manufacturing floor. No amount of customization is going to substitute for experience in your industry.
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