Saturday, March 22, 2008

Re-inventing the CIM Wheel?

Lately I have been involved in launching a new product portfolio that consolidates two major manufacturing system’s software domains – manufacturing execution and manufacturing quality. All the discussion around the positioning and value proposition of this new “Integrated” product brought up and discussed ideas that were not in fact new. Although for years, there has been consensus that manufacturing is best operated in an integrated manner the common business practice around adoption and implementation of such systems is still very much departmentalized. In the 80’s the concept of Computer Integrated Manufacturing or CIM as well as other initiatives brought strong focus on the integrated nature of manufacturing and more importantly putting the customer in the center, in other words customer focus. It seems that the originator’s of these concepts where already seeing what is obvious in today’s business environment.

It does not cease to amaze me to what level we keep “reinventing the wheel. In fact in this case we were re-inventing the “CIM Wheel”. Yes remember that concept? Anybody with a degree in industrial or manufacturing engineering has hopefully had some exposure to this concept – right?

There was talk about “breaking down the walls”. Design for Manufacture, Design for X, Concurrent Engineering, etc – remember these hot topics from the 80’s and 90’s? However looking at the picture in today’s manufacturing businesses it is surprising to see that the walls are still there and sometimes they have been re-arranged and reinforced. It seems that the proliferation of information technology with all its rewards and benefits is also used as a tool for reinforcing these walls. How many times has somebody used the “it’s their system…” as an excuse. Another aspect of all of this in comparison to 30 year ago is the emergence of new IT department with CIO leadership that sometimes turns out to be keeper of all the gates between the walls!

So what is it that makes it so hard for us to re-use these old concepts? I am not sure. One notion is that the people that are currently moving into executive or positions of increasing influence where in fact educated during the 80’s and 90’s where these concepts where most prevalent. But is that the only reason? I suspect not. I believe that they are in fact valid today as much as they where 20 or 30 years ago. In fact one of the main barriers at that time was technology, which has advanced explosively and today provides us a rich and usable platform to achieve truly “integrated” manufacturing systems. I believe that today we prefer to use the term interoperability but in essence the goal is the same.