Manufacturing Execution System • February 11, 2019

Selecting Manufacturing Systems: How to Get It Right

Rick Franzosa of Gartner wrote an interesting blog recently with tips on how to select the right manufacturing operations management (MOM), manufacturing execution system (MES), or any supply chain execution system for that matter. After making the point that one-size-fits-all is a pipe dream, he differentiated between niche and enterprise vendors.

Back in the early days, niche players identified a unique and complex slice within the manufacturing space. They developed MES and MOM applications tailored to specific markets. Semiconductors, aerospace, food processing, chemicals, consumer goods, electronics, pharmaceuticals – each one required a different type of software complete with specialized features and workflows.

More recently, enterprise software vendors have sought to expand their portfolios by adding MES functions or modules to their large-scale suites. In many cases, they acquired a niche vendor and then tried to extend its tightly focused feature set to make it apply to all manufacturing operations and companies of all sizes.

Franzosa made the point that while technology can be adapted to perform tasks outside of its core competency area or comfort zone, it probably will not perform as effectively as originally intended. That’s why he advises those considering a new MES/MOM system to find out where a solution originated, and to examine the type of culture, expertise and strategy of the company that acquired it.

Let’s take the first point: origin. If an enterprise vendor has acquired MES from a smaller vendor, that software possesses a specific set of capabilities that it excels at. The farther you stray from that use case, though, the less likely it becomes that the solution will be sufficient. Enterprise vendors may compensate for any deficiencies by introducing broader capabilities. But MES developed for continuous process manufacturing, for example, will struggle in batch or discrete manufacturing operations, regardless of how many bells and whistles are introduced to make it look more appealing.

Another tip from the Gartner blog is to take the time to find out why the enterprise vendor acquired the MES solution and what it is doing with it. Was the MES vendor acquired solely to grow new business or to be able to sell other products into a certain market? If so, this may lead to product dilution, features becoming too generic, or a raft of bolt-on new functions to support other industry use cases. Franzosa said this can even lead to a product that no longer meets the needs of its original market. Another repercussion of a desire to design a one-size-fits-all MES is that it becomes bloated, complex, and overly expensive.

Integration, too, is often a challenge. Some vendors accumulate a great many software assets from smaller firms that used to be their competitors. It can take years to fully integrate all of these products into a unified whole. In some cases, the dream of full integration never materializes. That’s why you sometimes get pricing models and maintenance plans that are different for each application within an enterprise suite. At other times, vendors seek to charge new customers for implementation work to integrate the various products within a suite. Any lack of integration shows up visibly when users are forced to switch GUIs as they move from one application to another. It’s one thing to acquire a product and quite another to consolidate it with existing offerings.

How about company focus? If a very large company gets half its revenue from operating systems or databases, and only a few percent from MES, what is the likelihood that it will consistently invest and innovate in a space that isn’t crucial to its bottom line? Further, enterprise vendors sometimes buy several vendors in the same space, said Franzosa. At that point, they often prioritize one of them and cherry pick features from the others to suit their needs. This can lead to neglect of maintenance and support in the cannibalized MES platforms.

By digging into enterprise vendor suites, asking questions about product history, origin, strategy and direction, it is possible to evaluate the best choice for a specific situation. The DNA of iBase-t’s Digital Manufacturing solutions are firmly in the complex discrete manufacturing space where it has decades of experience. From its early days as a contractor for McDonnell Douglas, the company has been a software innovator in aerospace and defense manufacturing. Its focus is on digitizing and automating the complex manufacturing shop floor.

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