Manufacturing Execution System • September 6, 2017

Is an ERP Solution Enough for Complex Discrete Manufacturing?

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software packages require a significant investment of time, effort and money. They are an important tool for manufacturing, but present limitations in the complex discrete environment. Those who expect the ERP to be able to handle all operations on the shop floor can become disappointed. The truth is ERP systems, while important, are not enough to provide a truly seamless process. Batch manufacturing companies may be able to get by with an ERP system on the shop floor, but complex manufacturing companies do not have the same luxury. On its own, an ERP is not enough for the complex manufacturing environment.

Complex Discrete Manufacturing Presents a Unique Production Environment

Complex discrete manufacturing is different from other manufacturing sectors, because the process is configured to order, and engineered to order. Cycle times are long, and many BOM (bill of material) levels are improbably deep, at 6, 10, 30 levels. Each product coming down the line is slightly different due to variants and engineering changes. That’s why engineering must be involved in material review processes, disposition, and rework instructions.

A complex discrete manufacturing environment requires:

  • As-designed equals as-built validation.
  • Traceability of changes, deviations, and approvals.

The Manufacturing Black Hole

The traditional method of operations focused on publishing to the shop floor, which basically means tossing engineering drawings over the wall. Between engineering and business, manufacturing was rather a “black hole.” This led to informal feedback and complaints that resulted in an informal feedback loop that made it very difficult to achieve efficient manufacturing and quality, because that feedback loop is hard to track, and creates alternate pathways of information.

The old process was full of paperwork and manual validation, and data collection was problematic. Because of these types of inefficiencies, extra processes were added to ensure validation. Such process don’t always add up to added-value.

The typical data flow between product lifecycle management (PLM) and ERP, which in the preponderance of cases remains “paper on glass,” is problematic. The constant reconstitution of BOMs in manufacturing, not closely tied to an engineering definition, is a breeding ground for inefficiency and error. Definitions in manufacturing can deviate so much and so frequently it’s hard to reconcile without a solution to bridge the gap between PLM and MES.

Improving Processes Beyond ERP

As companies are increasingly moving from cost cutting to growth strategies, processes must be improved to accommodate growth, because the number of new products is rising, and the time-to-innovation is shrinking. In addition, the amount of configurations and variants are increasing as rising customer expectations, especially customized goods, become commonplace. Production rates are increasing to meet these demands, and it is becoming clearer than ever that process must improve beyond ERP.

Improving Tools Means Improving Results

Successful manufacturers are doing more with less people (and often less-experienced ones), in less time, with fewer errors. As Gartner noted, successful manufacturers are increasingly market driven, drive innovation to their products and services, and build value in their supply networks. They need to be quicker and more agile, both internally and within the supply chain.

Those are good reasons to enhance a process that has been working, albeit at less than highly efficient levels.

MES for Product Lifecycle Execution

For complex discrete manufacturers that have been struggling to attain efficiencies by relying on a PLM-ERP dataflow, the addition of MES streamlines the information flow so that manufacturing is no longer a “black hole,” but rather is transparent across the enterprise. This transparency enables genuine Product Lifecycle Execution from supplier management through manufacturing to MRO, while providing tangible benefits, including:

  • Lean shop floor practices that eliminate waste with a paperless shop floor
  • Controlled quality processes and data throughout the product lifecycle
  • Agile change and configuration processes to minimize delays and quickly respond to unplanned events and constraints
  • Rapid change deployment from product engineering to the shop floor to meet the demands of volatile markets

Better Systems Bring Performance Advantages: Incorporating MES

By having MES between PLM and ERP, manufacturers have the advantages of integrating engineering and quality online in one system. This closed-loop structure connects engineering and business systems without unnecessary integration, and also handles deviations and corrective actions. The engineer no longer has to work in two different systems, and the ERP is synchronized by the MES.

Is ERP enough for complex discrete manufacturing?

We don’t think so, and neither do scores of manufacturers that have experienced an uncomfortable disconnect between engineering and manufacturing when relying wholly on ERP. Explore the specifics of how MES bridges the gap between PLM and ERP systems in our eBook, What is MES?

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