Monday, September 27, 2010

Common question - What MES should I use?

I just returned from the CBI MES conference and found that the main theme or at least that many the attendees were interested in finding the right MES. Yes I know - “it is maybe easier to achieve world peace”. It seems there is no clear answer – no surprise! “It depends”, was a common answer, some said “it is what you make of it”, and I completely agree.

In my many years of studying the “Shop Floor Management” (aka Manufacturing Systems) problem I found that apart from all the technical and functional aspects, the common element that makes an MES implementation and operation successful is user involvement. The users (across all functions) really have to want it! MESs are complex and sometimes cumbersome. They touch many different functions in a manufacturing business, most critically they manage the value stream – or where value is being made. That makes their adoption and acceptance brittle.

In most cases MES products are aligned with specific industries and hence it is pretty straightforward to make an initial short list. But this is not always true, a vendor may be trying to penetrate your specific vertical opening up potential to influence them – and possibly also get a good deal. There are obviously many other factors that can and do play in. “It depends” is always a true statement when talking about fit of a specific MES product to your environment, and therefore it is always important to know what you need.

So how do you determine what you need? Most people will tell you, and correctly so, that you have to use formal (true and tested) models such as the MESA model or the ISA 95 standard. This is the boring but necessary part of the preparatory and selection phases for the MES. I am not saying you should skip the detail; it is by all means necessary. We all know that the devil is in the details, but using these models with no clear focus will not help either. You should use these models to make sure that you have not forgotten or omitted something not to define your problem. That is something only you and your company know, and in most cases it is very specific to your company or business. I prefer to use the 5 whys method to get to the root-cause and then write up as a series of problems – in simple language.

Another important thing to remember is to build on success as Lean practitioners advocate. It works best with a focused Kaizen-like event where a specific need is addressed. When people in the company observe or have taken part in a successful change the value seems transparent and obvious - and you don’t have to even explain or sell it. It is infinitely easier to convince people this way. In fact the only really successful MES projects, at least in my experience, have been when the operators and engineers embraced the system because it addressed a specific problem they had. Yes I know this seems trivial and is also the basis of modern product management, but it is really much more challenging than it seems.

So what have we learned from all of this? As many of the speakers at the conference re-iterated; you need to have a clear focus of the problem. It makes it is easier to build a business case to justify the investment – trivial really. But at the end of the day you have to want it, otherwise it will never happen.


Martin Daegling, NNE Pharmaplan said...

I fully agree with you. It is utmost important to have a clear and communicated understanding of what a company wants to achieve or solve with the implemantation of a MES. I agree that it is rather easy to generate a shortlist of MES vendors after a few peconditions have been set. As Gilad outlines the "devil lies in the detail". And here I think another important point of choosing the "right" MES vendor comes into play: does the MES vendor of choice speak my language and understand how I work? Often enough a certain MES product might be best suited to match my requirements. Suddenly during project execution the customer finds out that the understanding of certain key functionalities of the MES differs on both sides, possible customizations do not match the defined needs of the customers, and so on. Expectations on the customer side are high, and suddenly the MES vendor delivers a solution he has understood is the right one - only it does not fulfill the customer's wishes. So a crucial part of the selection process is to find out if the MES vendor also a good fit with regard to company culture and the way the customer works.
Since the devil lies in the detail, we must have responsible people at the customers, who make crucial decisions at various stages during project execution. Decisions, which react on changes of whatever kind due to unforeseen or poorly communicated issues with or around the MES solution. You need decision makers on the customer side to drive and make a MES project a success. This is only possible if the customer has dedicated people with a clear focus of what they want to achieve.

glanger said...

Martin, thanks for your insights. Great to know that I am not alone on this one. Yes a working relationship with your vendor of choice can mean success or failure - and I have been on both sides of that equation.

- Gilad

Alexandra COSSARD said...

Thanks to highlight the importance of communication and common understanding.
I think it is crucial to start a project on the right way !
It allows to earn much time during the next steps, and avoid bad surprises...

glanger said...

Thanks Alexandra...