Follow these tips to avoid out-of-control MES and Paperless Manufacturing software costs, and save money while solving shop floor problems.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Purchasing an MES or paperless manufacturing system shouldn’t be stressful.  A vendor should offer an honest price upfront, and be able to deliver value and functionality at a reasonable price.  But, that’s not how the process usually works.  These 6 simple tips help ensure you have the shop floor software system you need at a price you can afford.

Tip 1: Understand Your Shop Floor Needs

Once work has begun on configuring and setting up your system, changes (even necessary ones) will add to the final cost of the software.  An incomplete picture of how the system will operate and support your business may lead to additional work and expenses.  For example, additional software integrations after work has begun will require changes, adding to the cost.  Make sure any vendor you talk to asks for a complete and accurate picture of how your operation works rather than trying to sell you on how their software works and solves all your needs.  Avoid problems by assembling internal resources and subject matter experts for your project team early in the process and be prepared to brief suppliers who ask for the details.

Tip 2: Beware of Custom MES

A custom MES, a one-of-a-kind system designed and built specifically for your shop floor, is a great option if you have the money and time to spend on development.  But, it is an expensive purchase.  The TCO (total cost of ownership) will be significantly higher.  You need to pay for all those developers and software engineers working on your solution. Changes or updates in the future will be solely funded by you and your business, which can easily double (or more) the initial cost of a custom solution.

Future changes to your shop floor or work flow processes will require more change, more testing, and more expenses, or your system will slowly become less efficient and less optimized.  Look for a system that doesn’t require extensive configuration or customization.  Install the system that meets your major needs with minimal work out of the box to control your initial cost and lower your TCO.

Tip 3: Avoid Modules

Many companies sell “modules” you select to “build” your own system.  It seems like a great option, but it will significantly add to the initial cost and the TCO of your purchase.  In addition to the standard integrations, each module will require integration with its neighbors.  Many times these “modules” are purchased separately, leading to costly service charges.  The project becomes more complex and costs skyrocket. The initial integration isn’t the last payment you’ll make for the “modules.”  Any software updates or patches will need to address all those modules and expenses grow.
Look for a complete solution with features you can turn on and off as needed, without requiring complex internal integration of modules.

Tip 4: Buy Directly from the Vendor

Consultants are an appealing option for many MES customers.  But, companies who use a consultant are often left with a solution that is much more expensive than it should be.  Consultants often integrate the software, configure it to your work processes, then train your employees and maintain your system.  However, the consultant isn’t the best or most cost-effective resource.  Most software companies offer these services.  In addition, they own the computer code that is the core of your system – after all, they built it.  This means they are in the best position to quickly solve problems, deliver patches and software updates, and answer the questions you have.  A consultant will take more time, and deliver a less-than optimized solution for a higher cost.

Tip 5: Look at the Team

Many vendors will offer an entire “team” of experts as you plan your installation.  Some vendors present the team as a benefit, but how many people are really necessary to install your system?  You are paying for each team member.  The costs quickly escalate as you add service charges and consultation work for the team.  Many times, a large team means more customization and complexity.  If you see an installation growing, or you are offered a whole team, ask why.  Additional resources may be necessary, but you shouldn’t have to pay for them until they are needed.  One knowledgeable and talented individual who can manage the installation is much more valuable than a team.

Tip 6: Focus on Behavior-based Systems

MES and paperless manufacturing systems fall into two categories – template-based systems and behavior-based systems.  A template-based system uses forms and templates, and the highly-formatted data input and output drives consistency, requiring users conform to the system processes.  A behavior-based system adapts to your shop floor processes.  Users edit and reconfigure screens, opening and attaching documents as needed, and the system adapts and supports your workflow.  Template-based systems require more configuration and customization.  Users must be trained in an entirely new system, often requiring new processes and work plans.  Behavior-based systems reuse your existing work plans, and can quickly, easily, and inexpensively be reconfigured to new processes.

It’s unfortunate, but many MES vendors are quick to make promises before a contract is signed.  As the project progresses, service charges are added, additional expenses are found, and the project timeline grows until the original budget is lost in an avalanche of change orders and fees.

Protect yourself from unnecessary service charges and budget-busting expenses with these tips.  Remember the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor as you work with vendors.  While paperless manufacturing and a digital shop floor will improve production and quality, eliminate errors and deliver shop floor efficiency, the price you pay depends on the decisions you make before the contract is signed.

Want to learn more, or hear how CIMx Software can improve your shop floor for less, then give us a call or send us a message today.  We’re happy to help.