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Hope Springs Eternal

13 Apr

I recently read a blog over at from Verdi Ogewell about the new Joint Venture between PTC and GE Intelligent Platforms.  One the one hand, this is exciting news.  PLM vendors, one by one, seeing the benefit of TRUE Product Lifecycle management, not just the design side, but all the way through prototype, production, service and retirement.  PTC now joins  the ranks of Siemens (with Tecnomatix and Simatic IT) and Dassault Systemes (with the Delmia family including former Intercim and Apriso product lines), in adding Manufacturing Execution to their arsenal.

The thing is, creating a joint venture or making an acquisition is just the start.   The PLM-MES combination has been a work in progress for many years.  Why have we not seen widespread success?

Here are a few thoughts:

1) The focus of PLM as an engineering project management tool does not translate well into ERP driven manufacturing execution.  Actual production (in many industries) has too many variables.  What if the part called out in the BOM is not available, what substitutions can be made?  Can the design tool actually define the best method of manufacture?  Maybe the ‘Model-Based Plan’ calls out a machine that is down for maintenance, or a process that is currently a bottleneck.  Do we hold production until the machine is available in order to use the plan created by the PLM system?  Tell that to the plant manager…

2) The driver for any manufacturing concern is fulfilling orders.  There is nothing in the PLM environment that takes order management into account.  That’s an ERP function.  Having a PLM system manage the engineering side of the equation is fine, but the technology is woefully inadequate for paying the bills by getting orders out the door.  Work will shift to other workcenters, schedules will change, suppliers will be late with deliveries. Driving the PLM design to MES does nothing to solve these issues.

3) Also, history has shown that JVs and acquisitions don’t immediately solve anything.  How many PeopleSoft and Oracle eBS users are clamoring for Oracle Fusion?  The truth of the matter is most of these acquisitions/JVs spend a great deal of time effectively taking an EXTERNAL integration problem and turning it into an INTERNAL integration problem.

4) Everybody wants to be on top.  A good friend of mine was involved in a gigantic ERP/PLM/MES implementation at a major US corporation.  I asked him at one point how the project was going, he chuckled and said, “Very little progress, right now it’s a holy war between ERP, PLM and MES on who owns the BOM.”

I think the bottom line on why tying these technologies together is so frustrating is that, well, you are attempting to solve problems across multiple domains, with multiple drivers and conflicting priorities with a single toolset.

In the end, I applaud GE and PTC for their approach; ‘bridging the gap’.  However, the gap they are bridging (in their own words) is between Windchill and Proficy.  They have now joined the arms race with Siemens, Dassault, Oracle and SAP.

For those who live in the world of a global supply chain, there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions.  Your supplier/customer/partner/acquisition will most likely NOT share your vendor stack.  What then?

Maybe we should make sure that each domain has the best tools in place to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their subject area, and that these tools embrace whatever integration technology standards are out there to make sure that vital communication exists between these domains, regardless of vendor.



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.



One Fine MES

26 Feb

I’ve been catching up on my old ‘industry vertical’ lately, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

There are some interesting parallels with the introduction of mobile, social, and cloud technologies in manufacturing (referred to by Gartner Group as the Nexus of Forces)  to what the music industry faced in the 1990s with the creation of digital music formats (MP3) and digital players (iPods, etc.).

In an article entitled “Predicts 2014: Manufacturing Operations“, Simon JacobsonLeif Eriksen and Marc Halpern of Gartner speak of the Nexus of Forces as follows:

The Nexus of Forces represents the confluence of mobile, social, information and cloud technologies. Together, these technologies are transforming the way people and businesses use information and collaborate.

Looking back to the two-pronged ‘attack’ on the record industry (MP3 format and internet file sharing), copyright infringement and music piracy were the issues that played out in court, as high profile musicians (Metallica and Dr Dre) as well as the  Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), made certain that sites such as Napster would no longer be able to share music for free.  The problem was, the cat was already out of the bag.  Portable digital music was here to stay.  While the RIAA and record labels continued to try to stop the inevitable,  the portable digital music train left the station.   in April of 2003, Apple opened the iTunes store.  in the short 10 years since then, the sale of CDs has plummeted:

When music sales reached their peak in 2000, Americans bought 943 million CD albums, and digital sales weren’t even a blip on the radar. By 2007, however, those inexpensive digital singles overtook CDs — by a wide margin — generating 819 million sales to just 500 million for the CD.

So, what does this mean to the world of Manufacturing Execution Systems?  Legacy MES and ERP systems were designed for a totally different paradigm.  Data security and control were paramount, user experience was not even a term that was recognized as important in the industry.

In the 1990’s, we warned that the new workforce would expect the same sort of computing experience on the shop floor than they had at home.  At that point, we were just talking about browsers.  In one implementation that I was a part of, the shop floor users moved very quickly from “I’m not going to use a computer” to “why doesn’t this look like Yahoo?”.

That was then.  What is happening now is a sea change.  Companies that would not consider wifi due to security concerns are now looking seriously at moving data offsite to ‘the cloud’.  The Facebook generation is demanding the same sort of mobile and social tools that are part of their everyday lives to be made available in the workplace.  And, if these tools are not available in the workplace, users will use those technologies outside of the framework of their company’s business systems.

This represents a real challenge both for manufacturing industries, and the software vendors that support them.  The answer is not simply distributing tablets to the shop floor.  There will need to be a new generation of business process management, data security and mobility software to support this next generation of shop floor systems.  This Nexus of Forces is a challenge and an opportunity for software vendors and manufacturers alike.

So, when it comes to the Nexus of Forces, are you going to be iTunes? or are you going to be the RIAA?


Is Your Head In The Cloud(s)?

6 Mar

It’s great to see some level-headed discussion on ‘THE CLOUD’.

Oleg Shilovitsky blogged today about “PLM Competition 2010s and Anti-cloud PLM rap?”.  On the one hand, his blog speaks of AutoDesk’s entry into the Cloud PLM space with AutoDesk PLM 360, and the market dynamics that could change if this product gets legs in the marketplace.

He balances that with comments from a blog by Peter Schroer, President and Founder of Aras Corporation, entitled “The Cloud Won’t Cure What Ails You”.  Here’s a direct quote from Peter’s blog:

The cloud is not a magic elixir. It’s not going to re-engineer your business, optimize your strategy or help you lose 10 lbs (unless you’re carrying a server).  All the cloud is going to do is move your data or apps from down the hall or down the street, to someplace else that you probably won’t ever put your finger on. That’s it folks.

Thank you, Peter.  As I stated in my last blog,  there is no easy answer, no free lunch.  If your process is broken, or you have no process, putting it ‘in the cloud’ is not going to solve anything.

First, understand your current process,

Second, design the ‘should-be’ process,

Third, choose a best-in-class tool that can easily automate this desired process and will grow with you as your business changes,

THEN, determine whether it belongs on the cloud or not.

Learn more here



If It’s All About Process, Why Focus On Features?

22 Feb

The following was tweeted from the PLM Conference at the Westin in Munich this morning by Gabriel Gheorghiu:

“Marc Halpern (Gartner) some of the best #PLM implementations done without PLM software. Processes matter most #plm2012

If this is true, and I believe it is, then why on God’s green earth do companies still go through the same drill, asking for a feature list, looking at features, providing RFIs/RFPs that talk about features (example: 314 features in an RFP that we answered last year).

What do features matter?  It’s ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS.  It doesn’t matter how shiny it is, whether or not it’s on the cloud, what technology platform it runs on.  Here’s all that matters:

Do you have a reliable, efficient process?

Does this software make that process better?

’nuff said


Standardization – What’s YOUR job Mr. Software Vendor?

21 Feb

There is a discussion going on over at LinkedIn  about whether or not a single MES system can be used across multiple plants.  The topic of standardization is a hot one.   Individual plants (and individuals) believe that they are ‘different’, that one size does not fit all.  We all believe that we are unique, that no one does exactly what we do.  In the case of manufacturing, there is some truth to that.  Efforts to ‘standardize’ manufacturing have the tendency to stifle creativity.  They also tend toward creeping bureaucracy.

Uniqueness is not always a good thing.  As someone once told me “Do it once, it might be a mistake, do it twice it’s a habit, three times it’s a tradition”.    There are a lot of traditions out there in manufacturing that would lend themselves to retirement.  If the rationale for a process is “But we’ve always done it this way”, then maybe you have to dig a bit deeper.

So what is the software vendor’s job in all of this?  Standardization?  Uniqueness?

In a timeless blog from 2009, David Meerman Scott provided the “Top Gobbledygook phrases used in 2008 and how to avoid them”.  Our friend ‘Unique’ checks in at #3 on the list of most overused phrases in B2B press releases, right after #2 “Pleased To” and #1 “Innovate”….

… but we have all bases covered with #14 Flexible and #18 Scalability!

So, now that we are all pleased to uniquely innovate, what are we really saying here?

The point of my title is that how a software product is designed and implemented goes a long way in balancing the business need for standardization in the face of  the users desire for ”uniqueness’.  Hey, if it was easy, ANYONE could do it!

The key for software vendors is standardization that fosters uniqueness.  What does that mean?  If you’re too unique, you may miss your target.  If you’re approach is ‘forced’ standardization, you aren’t allowing your customers to use their uniqueness to their advantage.

Being unique is a good thing, otherwise we wouldn’t make such a big deal about it in our B2B press releases!  A BETTER thing is to foster the uniqueness that the end-user requires in a structured framework that the business requires.  Give them what they want, make it simple, hide the rules and complexity.  Now THAT’S innovation!  (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

more here


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



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