Tag Archives: paperless manufacturing

Hope Springs Eternal

13 Apr

I recently read a blog over at engineering.com 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.



UX is not just UI

7 Apr

Reading a recent blog from Oleg Shilovitsky, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).  The marketplace is always looking for more ‘UI programmers’ to improve the look and feel of software company’s offerings.  Companies that I have worked for/with have toiled over how to make the product ‘look’ up-to-date, futuristic, google-like, etc.  Round those edges!  shadow  those buttons!

Here’s the problem.  After the first couple of mouse clicks (or swipes, drags, drops, etc.),  THAT’S when UX kicks in.  If all you have done is create a new Armani suit for that pig, your UI work has been nothing more than an exercise in futility.  If you have not made the experience better for the user, you’ve really done nothing.  Case(s) in point:

Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update (from theverge.com ) –

After months of leaks, some by Microsoft itself, Windows 8.1 Update will finally be available next week. Microsoft plans to distribute its latest Windows 8.1 update to existing machines through Windows Update on April 8th, although MSDN and TechNet customers can download it today. The software maker has been accused of going too far with its Windows 8 vision and forgetting the huge amount of people that still use desktop PCs and laptops. Windows 8.1 Update is the latest effort to address those concerns. “I think we did a little too much too quickly, and we didn’t do enough for the mouse,” admits Microsoft’s Chaitanya Sareen. Windows 8.1 Update is aimed squarely at mouse and keyboard users.

LESSON:  Don’t abandon your installed base when you update your look and feel.

‘Educational Software Vendor’ –

I have been assisting my wife while she creates course-ware for her employer.  The system they use (recently upgraded with a new look and feel), is EXTREMELY frustrating to use.  Desktop publishing tasks that are commonplace for most software products are difficult, possibly non-existent, for this vendor.  When I had to resort to copying and pasting raw html between documents, it became obvious that the new UI had not even remotely improved UX, in fact, quite the opposite.

LESSON:  It may be pretty, but make sure it’s usable.

‘Manufacturing Software Vendor’

This vendor developed an exception program managing manufacturing data.  The majority of the design cycles in development were spent in database schema design.  The classic simplicity and adaptability of this schema was a thing to behold.  The application that was layered on top was design to get the most out of the database schema.

The product manager then set to build a demonstration system to be used in sales demos.  Three hours later, he walked out of his office and was heard to say, “This application is TEDIOUS to use!”

LESSON:  Don’t spend all of your cycles on the architecture.

Why does this happen?  Three reasons:

   1) Software developers rarely understand the end use of their product and will opt for implementation choices that are technology centric, not user centric, 

     2) In the competitive software business, new features trump updates/fixes almost every time, and

     3) The end user community is rarely part of the development process.

The best example of end user involvement that I’ve heard goes back a number of years, when Intuit had only one product; Quicken.   I read (I believe in INC Magazine), that the testing protocol for Quicken was for a developer to visit an end user at their home, hand them the 3.5 in floppy (like I said, back a number of years), then shut up and watch.  If the user could not install and use Quicken on their own, then the product wasn’t ready.  I suspect as Intuit has grown and added products and complexity, this process is likely not followed anymore.

Does all this really matter?

You bet!  The last three companies I worked for were in the business of providing niche products and services that could have been provided by the end customer’s ERP/PLM vendor(s), if those vendors had really taken the time to understand and implement what their end customers were looking for!


Lately, my iPhone 4s has been acting up.  It routinely loses internet connectivity around my house, showing a strong signal, but not reaching the internet.  Apple recommends turning wi-fi off, then on.  That usually works, but is quite frustrating.  Yesterday, I was trying to open one particular email on my phone, but every time I scrolled down, the app would crash.

What was I thinking when these things happened?

“I wonder if Samsung phones have the same issues?”



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?


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.


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



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