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Exploring the Modules “Myth” in MES and Paperless Manufacturing

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Many products out there offer “modules” for their MES or Paperless Manufacturing system, but the additional functionality often comes with potential problems for the customer.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Last week I bought a new bed. Made of dark wood, very sleek and modern, it was to be the centerpiece of a remodeled bedroom.

Problems quickly became apparent as I assembled the bed. Who knew it needed a $120 dollar brace to support the box spring? My current mattress didn’t fit the modern design (even though the instructions insisted it did). The headboard couldn’t be turned when assembled, so the bed would only fit along one wall in my room.

It was a beautiful bed in the store, but the individual pieces never fit quite right. Many MES and paperless manufacturing projects using “modules” turn out like that – none of the pieces fit right.

Hidden dangers of MES Modules

Before you consider a system offering modules, ponder a few potential problems you may be building into your system:

  • Module sticker shock

Many times, a vendor will demo a highly configured or customized version of their software for a potential customer, and then offer “modules” instead of a complete, fully integrated product. This leads to a massive case of sticker shock when the installed system, pieced together from different modules, is nothing like the product featured in the demo.

  • The module service-frenzy

Once you buy your modules, you need to have them installed and integrated. This means you aren’t just purchasing the software, but the services necessary to put it all together in a usable package. These costs add up. Savvy vendors know that, so they offer a lower initial cost for the software and make up the difference in service charges. It may seem like you are saving money purchasing “only” the functionality you need, but unless you are buying a complete system you are going to pay for additional service costs.

  • Module genealogy

The truth is – it’s a dynamic MES and paperless manufacturing market. Companies are often bought, sold, split or combined, and many times the module a company offers was purchased from another company. Rather than building functionality organically, the vendor tries to cram a whole new product into their offering. The module was never designed as part of the original product. Integration will require custom coding and adaptation. The modular product quickly becomes very complex, and the final product is never an optimized solution.

  • The Franken-module

Integrating the software with existing systems is a key step in a successful installation, and a complex integration will add to the cost and risk of any project. When considering a MES or paperless manufacturing system using modules, consider each module as a separate installation. Each module must integrate not only with your existing systems, but with the other modules. Modular software systems quickly become exponentially complex and expensive. As you select modules for installation, consider how much integration and customization will be required to make it work.

  • Module training day(s)

In a modular system, each piece must (somehow) work separately from the others. It may require a separate login, or use a different User Interface or even a separate database. This adds to the complexity of operating the system, and leads to additional training for the system and operational complexity. Over the life of your software solution, those costs, which at first seem minor, can quickly add up.

Exposing the Module Myth

There are vendors that offer MES modules like a “menu” of functionality. They present it to potential customers as a “configured” system designed to meet their specific shop floor and enterprise needs. But software doesn’t work like that.

If you purchase different software packages then cram it all together to create a modular product, that product is custom software. Pull out a few pieces for an installation, that’s a piece of custom software. This will lead to higher costs, more risks, and potentially more problems on your shop floor. You end up with a confusing system of Rube Goldberg-ian complexity.

A lower cost, wholly integrated software package that allows you to turn on and off the functionality you want or need will install and configure more easily with a much lower total cost of ownership. Plus, you won’t have to return the system when you realize it’s missing a few vital components.