Manufacturers today are hurting. There's no doubt. Whether you’re growing or not, you are working with less workforce, tight timelines, and a supply chain that disappoints at best. Some of you are paying express shipping to get your parts in hand; one manufacturer we were talking to was “buying seats on planes for my steel – heavy, not cheap.”
But when you have late orders, inventory shortages, workforce fluctuation, and customers that expect you to meet their demands, you need a tool designed specifically to help with it all. Many manufacturers turn to Manufacturing Software to get the job done. Let’s say you’ve made the decision to purchase a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to solve these and other issues that you’re experiencing.
Today, we’re handling the “what” part of our ongoing conversation. How do you know what system to buy or use?
MICROSOFT ON THE SHOP FLOOR
The first choice you will find yourself making is whether your financial system can handle the work. Maybe you add the Microsoft Office suite to that list. These are tools you have available already so extending them onto the shop floor might seem to make sense. You have the licenses and your people are most likely already being creative in using those tools to solve your issues.
For some, the issue may be monetary. Software can be expensive and trusting the process of installation can be a high bar for those who have been burned in the past. However, if the Microsoft suite were meant to do the work you need and you’re using it and still struggling, then it is not the answer.
In order to keep track of work in MS Office, you have to put in place many rules for who and how changes to documents can be made. These easily fall apart when the person in charge of them gets focused on something new, is moved to a different position, leaves, or just gets busy. There are no inherent controls to the information in MS Office. The freeform nature of the tools makes them infinitely flexible for the user but unusable and unpredictable on the shop floor.
ERP ON THE SHOP FLOOR
ERPs handle “things” well. A thing in a manufacturing facility could be a dollar, an hour, an order, an account, a product, an invoice – items you track on the balance sheet, the income statement, and especially in production. But those things aren’t the only thing or even the most important thing in production; that’s reserved for your people and your processes. People and processes are inherent on every shop floor from prototyping shops to fast-paced assembly lines and process manufacturing.
For people and processes, you need a system that knows the difference between an hour and an hour of production, where the time to complete the work might be 53 minutes or an hour and 10. Either way, you need to know what time it actually took to do the work and what that means for the rest of your production schedule. You need to know what to do when something goes wrong and, ideally, enter the issue in the same system that is keeping track of everything so it can make the prerequisite adjustments to time, cost, schedule, and work queue.
An ERP might work great in the front office, but it’s not meant to do any of these things. You can’t just track a job. You need a system that understands the nuances of that work and can flex with it. ERPs are not built with flexibility because their key function is to track your financial and HR processes with rigor. Rigor that stands up to the tolerances of financial reporting. In manufacturing, that rigor is all-around flexibility of the information.
MES ON THE SHOP FLOOR
You need flexibility in your manufacturing software up to a certain point and no further. You need to give your people the specific information you want them to follow to do the work at hand. When something goes better or worse than expected, you want the software to flex to accommodate that, to provide them written guidance on what to do next, whether to correct it or to move on earlier than expected.
Many ERPs and MRPs have very expensive manufacturing add-on modules and many services to complete the installation. They bolt-on to the system you have, trying to interlock work with customers and sales orders. It’s a heavy lift for manufacturers who have challenges that are costing them money and reducing their bottom line. And these do not traditionally supply you with the flexibility you need.
Take your sales orders in your ERP and then let the system that was built for your shop floor take it from there. An MES inherently, unlike an ERP or MRP, understands the workings of the shop – what it means to finish a job early, to do rework, to be short on inventory. It should both recognize and troubleshoot these issues for you automatically. It should also track the number of times these issues are happening so you can fix them proactively.
HAVING THE RIGHT TOOL
Having the right tool is more than the right choice. It’s the right path for you and your team. It will give you the information you need to make the right decisions for your team. It will give you automatic workflows for typical scenarios but allow you to make your own choices where those are not the direction you want to take.
When you are considering what to buy, open the conversation but keep the selection process tight. Limit your options to systems that can actually do what you need them to do.
Next time, we’ll talk a little more about who. Who is the right choice for you? There are hundreds if not thousands of products that represent themselves as an MES. When you are considering who, let us help you identify the key things they should bring to the table. You decide what’s most important for you.
Over the course of this project, we will continue to investigate the who, what, when, where, why, and how of purchasing a manufacturing software solution. These pieces should serve as a step-by-step guide to get you there.
Ready to move forward faster? Engage with us to talk about assessing or mapping your systems and processes. We’re only an email away, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact CIMx Software to see how paperless manufacturing can improve production control for you.