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Same As It Ever Was

23 Mar

A few thoughts on the promise and peril of the next generation ERP/PLM/MES alphabet soup.

There is cause for optimism, for sure, when we look at the cloud and mobile technologies being developed and deployed.  Working as the head of client services for a SaaS eProcurement vendor with 98% cloud-based implementations, I could sit at my desk (or in my home office), and diagnose (and fix) client issues, sometimes before the client was aware of them.  The only clients that actually had to do any of their own maintenance were the handful of clients that hosted the solution behind their firewall.

Not to minimize the impact of these technologies in eProcurement, but complex manufacturing is a totally different animal.  In much of the reading I’ve been doing lately on ERP/PLM/MES, I am seeing the same issues discussed that were the hot topics in the 1990’s

  • eBOM and mBOM synchronization (not to mention ‘as-planned’, ‘as-maintained’)
  • Streamlining of quote generation
  • Supplier quality management
  • Intelligent data exchange from MRO/Manufacturing back to the engineering department

Have we really advanced all that far?  I believe there are three issues that stand in the way of actually solving these problems, and none of these issues are new:

1 - Legacy systems never die.  Major manufacturers still have ties to systems developed in the ‘dark ages’, and the ERP/PLM/MES vendors wind up having to either integrate, replicate or mimic these systems in order to keep products moving out the door.  At one aerospace & defense firm I worked with, the IT staff had completely turned over since the ‘legacy’ BOM system had been developed, so any time there were changes to be made that impacted this system, it was trial and error.  Run a series of test transactions and see what comes out the other end.  The complexity of the code combined with the lack of knowledge of the rules governing that application’s behavior made it virtually impossible to replace AND virtually impossible to maintain.

I know of companies that were buying Digital VAX parts on eBay to keep some of their legacy environments running!

2 – Many firms implement new systems by looking in the rear-view mirror. In a previous company, we had the opportunity to replace a legacy process planning system with our newest offering.  When the project was done, we were asked to expand the application into other areas of the business.   One of our new ‘prospects’ asked their internal project manager if there was anything they would have done differently when they put in our system.  She said:

“Our biggest mistake was looking at this application as a replacement for the legacy application.  By doing that we restricted our scope to what the old product did, and did not take advantage of some of the features of the new product.”

Other well-known examples of ‘backward facing':

  • Systems with field size limitations that can be traced back to the 80 column restriction in punch cards.
  • The ‘floppy’ icon that is still used as the ‘save’ icon, years after the death of floppy drives.
  • The use of ‘Files’ and ‘Folders’ in computing environments.

There is some comfort from adopting familiar symbols and approaches, but this makes the paradigm shift even more difficult.

3 –  We’re only human. (OK, quoting TWO songs from the 80’s).  Regardless of technology, be it mainframe, client-server, PC, tablet, smartphone, cloud, the person actually “cuttin’ chips” has to be engaged in the process.  We’ve all heard stories of carefully designed and documented engineering changes, approved, planned, released to the shop, and summarily ignored by the machinist who has been making this part the same way for years.  There is an aerospace supplier in central Connecticut that had a titanium ring as a planter in the landscape in front of his shop.  The engineer had specified 100 holes equally spaced around the ring, where the mating part had 101 holes equally spaced.

We do make mistakes, and while technology can alleviate some of these issues, it can also amplify them.

I’m not here to throw cold water on IoT, SaaS, mobile, social, etc.  This is truly an exciting time for manufacturing technology.  We just need to remember people and process as we charge forward.

- RTR

 

It’s All About Your Niche, Do You WANT to Leave There?

9 Apr

Back to reading my original blog muse, Oleg Shilovitsky.  In a recent blog (“Ugly vs. Cool”) he took PLM vendors to task re: their product user interface.  It got me thinking:

What do my previous company, CIMx Software, and my current company, Vinimaya, have in common?

Although there are many differences, and many other reasons for their success, both software companies are, in part, successful because of the failings of another industry’s functionality and user interface.

Ask any PLM vendor and they will say that they support manufacturing.  Truth be told, they have products designed and built for the design engineer and management of design projects.  The user interface is designed by engineers and for engineers.   The schemas and taxonomies of the PLM system do not support the workings of the manufacturing shop, and the user interface is way too complex for the casual user.  In the case of CIMx  Software, there have been numerous attempts by the engineering organizations at CIMx customers to ‘standard ize’ on the PLM environment for manufacturing and shop floor.  At one particulart customer, there were close to 1/2 dozen ‘pilots’ of the PLM system in manufacturing engineering.  They all failed to provide what CIMx had out of the box.

The same can be said for ERP ‘eProc’ applications and Vinimaya.  If ERP vendors provided simple federated search across all of their internal and external suppliers with a user interface like Google or Amazon, there would be no need for SmartSearch™.   That’s not the case.  eProc systems tend to have the same laborious click-heavy, multi-screen UI issues as most ERP and PLM functions.

Why is this so?  It boils down to two elements, legacy and domain expertise.

1) Legacy.  One of my favorite quotes about the software industry is “God created the universe in six days because he didn’t have an installed base”.  It is extremely difficult for established vendors in a particular space (ERP, PLM) to completely re-write their large monolithic systems.  They can certainly apply a web ‘veneer’ and update icons and other visual elements, but it’s the same old code underneath.

2) Domain Expertise.  I recall the amazement in the voice of a colleague in the MES space when he had to explain to their PLM partner the  concept of a work order.  You may know the technology behind and engineering bill of materials backwards and forwards, but that does not mean your expertise has any value down on the shop floor.

So, where do you want to live, Mr. ERP vendor?  Mr. PLM vendor?  The more you decide to venture outside of your area of core competence, the more you will have to be concerned about functionality and UI, and the less likely you will be able to compete with the likes of CIMx and Vinimaya.

- RTR

They’re Doing It Without You!

14 Feb

I owe this inspiration to SAP’s Paul Boris.

There is a long-running dialog on the LinkedIn Manufacturing Execution Systems Group, started by Luigi De Bernardini , entitled “Does any ERP need an MES?”  It’s been up for about two weeks.

BTW: Paul’s answer was

“That question is really like asking do you really need a heart AND lungs ?”

… but that’s not the the inspiration.  The inspiration came from his opening paragraph, which was both humorous and insightful, and I told Paul I would steal it:

“I believe everyone who manufactures anything has an MES – it might be a specific Manufacturing Execution System, Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets or even Many Employees Scurrying around (sorry) – but they have something.”

After laughing out loud, I realized this really brought home something that is key to all software vendors selling in the Manufacturing Space.

Nobody is sitting around waiting for your application, Sparky!

They have stuff to make.  They have to order material, build stuff, cut chips, deal with the day-to-day issues that manufacturers face.  They are lean.  They have no time.  Covey Quandrant 2 activities?  Not so much.

When they finally DO have time to look at your shiny new application, be careful to look at their body language, facial expressions.  What are they telling you, once you are actually paying attention to them?

“… it looks impressive, but how long will my shop be down in order to make this work?  I don’t have ANY time,  so where am I going to find implementation time?  PLEASE don’t tell me I have to ‘re-do’ my old work in your system.”

Why do these shiny new applications fail to generate excitement in the plant manager’s heart?  Because they don’t take into account that the work is being done now without them.

You have two choices:

1) Build a compelling case for why the shop should be disrupted for months (if you can)

2) Build an application that can be implemented without disrupting production

Learn more about option 2  here

- RTR

Commenting PLM, Workplace Efficiency and my iPod

2 Feb

On the Zero Wait-state blog,  Steve Ammann wrote on the benefits of PLM in creating workplace efficiencies for introverts.  He referred Susan Cain’s recently published book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”

The author states that open cubicles and meetings cause distractions that can hamper productivity.  Quoting:

“Just how detrimental even the smallest of distractions can be is detailed within Cain’s New York Times editorial “The Risks of the New GroupThink”. Within this piece, she cites research that workers who face interruptions and distractions make up to 50% more mistakes and take twice as long to complete any given task. “

I remember my introduction to ‘meetings’ when I joined the workforce as a freshly minted mechanical engineer in a large aerospace company.  No agenda, no goal, just twelve angry men talking over each other.  90 minutes later, the only agreement was to schedule another meeting.

Even in the small software company environment later in my career, we seemed to gravitate toward meetings.   We had one harried manager in a previous company who felt compelled to attend every meeting, and would visit each member of her team several times a day to see “how things were going”.  She felt that she was being proactive, and supportive/protective of her team.  Of course, she also worked 10 – 12 hour days, because the meetings and visits took all of her 8-5 time.

Her ‘team’ would come to me and complain…

“Why won’t she leave me alone so I can do my job?” 

While I would never be called an ‘introvert’, I do find that my best work is done with my office door closed and my iPod just loud enough to block any background noise.  I find my mind wanders if it’s too quiet; I need to have something to listen to.  I wind up joining conversations that are going on outside my door.  Next thing you know, I’ve lost an hour or three. 

I have coworkers that are just the opposite, a radio/iPod would wreck their concentration.

What intrigued me about this blog was that I had never thought of PLM as a technology that would enable introverts in this way.  Never ‘connected the dots’!  Great insight!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close my door, crank up my iPod, and get some work done.

- RTR

Commenting on Cloud Cartels

31 Jan

Interesting technology blog over at the New York Times today.  The blog is commenting on a Forrester business and technology outlook report for 2020.  … and 2020 is not too many years away!  In summary, the Times blogger said

“The short version is that cloud computing will come on quicker than you think, it will be controlled by a very few companies that will fight for the right to own your data, and businesses need to think about what software they can write that will differentiate them from all the other customers of these giants.”

The only thing constant here is change.  Here’s a few names for you:  Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General, Sperry Univac.  The titans of the computer industry.  I personally attended a DECWorld extravaganza in Boston ‘back in the day’.  DEC took over Commonwealth Pier in Boston,  leased two ocean liners (the “Queen Mary” and the “Norwegian”) as floating hotels.  Digital is now a footnote in computer history (though we do have customers that still run legacy applications on DEC VAX hardware, in some cases buying spare parts on eBay).

There’s an old saw in the software business:

 “God created the universe in 6 days because he didn’t have an installed base”. 

The bigger the installed base, the tougher it is to continue to innovate.  Support of old versions of hardware/software drain resources.  This is the cycle that will continue.  Some may be agile enough,  following the Wayne Gretzky philosophy of business (skate to where the puck is going to be), others will fall by the wayside.  While the Times and Forrester state:

“The substance of the report, however, is plain: cloud and mobile computing combined will rapidly improve, dislodging many incumbents in enterprise computing, and vastly empowering a few others, becoming what Forrester calls “computing cartels” that control millions of servers in data centers around the globe. These cartels, the report says, will include Amazon, Cisco Systems, Google, I.B.M., Microsoft, Oracle and a few competitors.”

I can’t help but wonder…

In 2022 what will the “Forrester business and technology outlook report for 2030″ be saying?

Will someone like me be writing, “remember Google?”

- RTR

 

Commenting On The Adventures Of Process Man

31 Jan

I read a HIGHLY entertaining blog today from Stephen Porter (Zero Wait-State PLM) “Forgotten Hero-Process Man

In this blog, Stephen describes how Batman had a distinct disadvantage to other ‘super friends’ as he had no super powers, only gadgets.  He morphs that conversation into the ‘forgotten’ superhero “Process Man” who is vital to the success of any project implementation. 

We have a long-time customer that has used our legacy product for over 15 years.  A number of years ago, they acted as an internal reference for another site.  The manager of this site asked “What would you do differently if you put CIMx in today?”.  Our customer answered [paraphrasing],

“I wouldn’t have treated it as a replacement for our old system.  That mindset really limited our use of their technology.”

I remember at the time thinking how profound a statement this was.  We had always prided ourselves in being customer centric.  In fact, our slogan when we started CIMx in 1996 was “customer driven solutions”.  Is just doing what the customer asks enough? 

By the way, this same customer, after funding an enhancement to our product that we had cautioned against, said in frustration:

“How could you let us talk you into that?”

Sounds like a job for….  PROCESS MAN!!!

Over time, we learned that the most important part of the ‘sale’ is the assessment.  It’s not about the tools, it’s about the process.  As I learned in Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training. 

“Millions of twist drills are sold every year, but people are buying the ability to make holes.”

So let’s hear it for Process Man!  Process Man truly is the unsung hero. If you don’t understand the current and future process, you are missing the benefit of the technology you are investing in.

Companies that choose to merely automate their current process are doomed to make crap faster.

- RTR

Reality-Based Software

23 Jan

The ongoing discussion started by Jim Brown (Tech Clarity) re: “A Maturity Model for Product Data Accessibility?” at the PLM CAD CAM Network group in LinkedIn continues to be thoughtful and insightful.  Jim responded recently with this quote regarding ‘sloppy data’

For the record, I wasn’t suggested that individuals should be sloppy – the pursuit of accuracy and order are important.  But instead saying that we live in environments that tend towards chaos no matter how hard we try, and we need to keep doing the job that customers pay for (designing and producing great products) in that reality.

YES!!!!

It is so common in our industry to assume we know best.  I hear software people talking about “educating the customer”.  Not so fast, Sparky.  I maintain we have MUCH more to learn FROM our customers and prospects than we can ever teach them.  Do we have something to offer?   You bet….  but don’t prescribe before you diagnose.

In the paperless manufacturing space, this “know it all” behavior is rampant.  We can improve your bottom line, provide new efficiencies that you never thought possible, make your key traceability and quality data accessible electronically.

All you have to do is… change everything!  Those MS word work instructions?  Sorry, you have to re-enter them in OUR environment, so they’ll be ‘useful’.  No, we don’t have a converter, but cut and paste should work for those 10,000 docs, right?  Those ERP routings?  Everyone knows that the ERP routings are incomplete, we’ll just take over that task as well.   Oh, by the way?  for this to work MOST efficiently, we need to own the BOM as well..

Is it any wonder that most companies (especially in the small to medium business space) look at paperless manufacturing with a sense of dread?  If they had the time to turn their organization upside down, they wouldn’t need the help!  At the end of the day, they need to produce product.  Everything else STARTS in 2nd place.  I imagine re-keying in existing information is well down the list.

The approach that needs to be taken by software vendors is what I am referring to in the blog title: 

Reality-based Software.   

Paraphrasing Jim Brown, software vendors need to do the job that customers pay for in the customer’s reality not the vendor’s reality.  Learn more here

-RTR

The Problem with [PLM/ERP/MES] Integration… Is it People?

20 Jan

Since I started blogging, the ‘inspiration’ comes from two sources. 

1) Interesting things I read online or elsewhere (I am not completely paperless)…

2) Bolts of lightning

This is one of the 2nd variety.  A few of us here at CIMx were having a philosophical discussion on manufacturing process, when the dots were connected, the switch was thrown and the lightning bolt commenced. 

Is there something missing in the integration discussion?

Integrations have gotten more complex.  Technologist will continue to advance technology.  Flat file transfer becomes neutral interface tables which becomes XML and web services.  Automated error recovery.  Electronic alerts.

So why do integration projects still run overtime, over budget?  Why do the most painstaking designs still produce code that doesn’t do the job when push comes to shove?  Could it be… people?

In a previous company, I developed an integration for an automotive OEM.  This integration provided updated scheduling information for the production of stamping dies.  There was a 2″ looseleaf notebook that described the process that they used in excrutiating detail.  I codified that process and produced the integration.  Done deal….

Except it didn’t work.  After lengthy discussions and discovery, we determined that the detailed process never worked.  In their paper environment, manufacturing engineers would manually fill out the information and feed it to a clerk.  The clerk would then change the information and re-key it into the scheduling system.  The missing piece was the logic in the clerk’s head that described what the data really  meant and how the system should see it.

I’ve heard story after story in a similar vein.  There’s always an exception, always a unique case.  Computers are only as smart as the program they’re running.  People can analyze, synthesize, make exceptions, break the rules, to get the job done…  and they will

The moral of the story.  It’s not the technical connection of data you need to work on.  It’s the people side of the process….

- RTR

Quality Management Software – A Victim of Culture?

16 Jan

I’m looking forward to what Matt Littlefield (LNS) will be writing about Quality Management Software.  This is an area that, in some ways, appears to be a victim of its own culture.

Let’s go back to the days of stone tablets (‘scuse me) paper-based processes in manufacturing.  Like last week, for example.  The quality department and quality processes were always adjunct to actual production.   Design engineers would design a product and would work with quality engineering to define those critical characteristics that need to be tracked through manufacturing.  Let’s say this is an aircraft part/assembly that is being built for a larger OEM, or, for that matter, built by a supplier.  Throughout this supply chain, there is the need to produce a ‘first article’ (for quality), with a corresponding AS9102 filing to document this first article.  Inspectors work with the shop to insure that all of this first article data is collected (on paper) and forms are filled out to comply with the OEM/customers process.

Once in full production, the quality organization is then tasked with providing inspection resources to insure that part/product quality is maintained.  If there is a question on the floor?  Call an inspector.

I visited a consumer products company, a big ERP user, to meet with their quality organization.  They were looking for a paperless system.  I was a bit puzzled, as the products they made were made by highly automated systems.  When we sat down in the quality office, the reason was clear.  We were surrounded by Iron Mountain storage boxes full of data collection sheets.  In this highly automated plant, there were requirements to collect quality data, on an hourly basis, on paper forms.  These forms were then reviewed by a quality person, and an OK was given to ship product.  This OK (or rejection) coming days after the product was completed (the product was stored in a warehouse, awaiting quality approval).  Even in this highly automated plant, quality was separate.

So, how does this make quality management systems a victim of their own culture?  It’s the paradigm.  Quality is something external to the production process.  QMS systems tend to become an electronic version; another system that manages a specific user community.

What if quality was just part of the process?  What if these quality issues and processes just became part of an overall electronic business management environment?  There are MES vendors that have taken this approach, but it shouldn’t start and end there.  When you look at most ERP, PLM and MES solutions, quality is still a separate module, not part of the main business workflow.

Until that happens, Quality Management Software might just become an electronic replacement for “the way we’ve always done things”.

-RTR

MES Global Domination… or not

13 Jan

I have been following an interesting discussion started by Steven Schrecengost on one of the LinkedIn MES groups, “Should I standardize on one MES globally, regionally or allow each plant to choose?”

This is one of the age old questions.  The answer (and the comments) predictably follow the path of “who’s asking?”

IT: 

Standardization is key,  we need to be able to manage all plants from our data center, the more alternatives, the more chaos.

Plant Manager: 

My plant and my people have unique skills, uniques processes and unique challenges.  There is NO WAY the system that corporate chooses for everyone will work for ME.

Here’s the problem, Sparky.  They’re BOTH CORRECT.  But there’s more…

Let’s say that each plant in this enterprise is doing roughly the same type of manufacturing (assembly, fabrication, continuous process, whatever).  In that specific domain, it will probably be easy to find an MES environment that will be configurable enough to fit the need, from a vendor with domain expertise in that specific area.

However, that may not be possible.  There is a company that we’ve worked with that has semiconductor ‘foundry’ operations, electronic assembly, sheet metal fabrication, machining, all in the same division.  Pretty difficult to have a ‘one size fits all’ in that heterogenous environment.

The issue then becomes how configurable is configurable?  You are going to look for a vendor that can provide a system that does not require extensive customization to meet the needs of different styles of manufacturing.  You also need a system that provides the same view of key data (Master Data) to the enterprise, while allowing almost limitless flexibility to the plant.

More information here

-RTR

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