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As seen in Automation World, in today’s world there are many variables that can drive an organization to investigate the viability of implementing a manufacturing execution system or MES. One of the more important things that can be overlooked or discounted in the larger effort to evaluate and plan is the value of a true pilot or proof of concept strategy.
It’s tempting to focus on the whole picture when it comes to connectivity between plant floor and enterprise resource planning or ERP, or the evaluation and definition of processes, material flows, and quality strategies. However, attempting to map out and design a comprehensive solution from square one can often end up moving into a spiral of scope change, re-design, enhancements, and retrofits as you start to roll the solution across multiple locations.
By spending the time and money up front to fully understand the variables involved, your MES implementation will benefit dramatically.
Here are several things to consider before you begin:
A single plant, area, or line implementation can help you design and roll out a more comprehensive solution and limit cost and complexity during further, wide reaching implementations.
Project Examples and Considerations
While working with a client that was implementing a comprehensive MES solution integrated with SAP software and encompassing multiple sites, we found that performing comprehensive process mapping at each site before the design phase allowed us to identify not only the core functions required across all plants, but let us plan for and adopt design considerations for processes that would not be active in the solution until several facilities were already online.
After the initial design and build, an implementation was performed at a single site and the solution was given several months to burn in during normal operation.
By taking this step, we were able to make some significant changes based on real world observations of the impact on operators, plant management, and the solution itself.
One of the significant design considerations that underwent an overhaul during this burn in process was the re-organization of data storage. The initial strategy for storing manually ascribed data was to use out of the box methods provided by the software vendor. This system used a generic table structure to store this type of data and relied heavily on keys and look-ups. During the burn in phase, various departments and users experienced difficulty using this data. After some additional design sessions, the client agreed that a method incorporating standardized custom tables would offer the same supportability they required, while also allowing for enough flexibility to accommodate all users.
Other modifications identified during the burn in phase:
This activity did not completely halt the addition of enhancements and scope change as the solution matured during the roll-out, but it did help to reduce the number and overall impact of those changes.
This is just one example of how a pilot or proof of concept strategy using a thin slice on the front end, versus the big bang of jumping right in without adequate preparation and study, made a difference in the amount of time needed to complete the project and the successful outcomes on the back end.