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Manufacturing steps onto the enterprise IT stage Disparate software tool proliferation begs for an integrated solution.

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Ask almost any worker in a manufacturing company what ERP system they use and the answer is instant-and limited. Perhaps they will say they use one vendor now and are moving to another soon, but that is about the extent of ambiguity across an enterprise when it comes to major business systems. Ask most OEMs what R&D software they use, and you will quickly hear one of the big three PLM software names, no matter who in the enterprise you ask.

Now consider the following question: What software system do you use for manufacturing? Normally there is a pause to collect one's thoughts followed by, "It depends on which site," or often, "We use A for line control, B for optimization, C from our machine vendor for traceability, D for process planning and launch, X for paperless documentation, Y for test, and something IT built for quality information and reporting." Or, from those who have accepted the issue as the problem it truly is: "We don't use one system for manufacturing."

The concept of a single, comprehensive information solution collapses when one enters the manufacturing, quality and process engineering offices, and certainly the factory floor. Software product proliferation is rampant in electronics factories. Fortunately, as business leaders in manufacturing enterprises look for better "time-to-value," quality and visibility to the operations that actually produce their value, a new focus is on manufacturing information technology. This focus has led to a new category of "enterprise level" software called manufacturing operations system (MOS) software.

To explore the purpose and value of a MOS system is to consider first how it naturally emerged-as result of market needs and conditions. The value of consolidating software solutions was appreciated long ago on the manufacturing enterprise's business side. This drove the scope of ERP into virtually every aspect of business and financial management operations. The past decade has seen massive investments in such systems by business leaders in all forms of manufacturing enterprises. Today, these companies would likely shudder at the thought of not having a single integrated solution for their business operations.

The next evolution involved R&D. Once the financial and business operations were running more efficiently as result of ERP investments, business leaders turned their attention to time-to-market. Taking a product concept to a finished design affected competitiveness. Product lifecycle management (PLM) systems brought design, collaboration, version control and simulation under one massive software system. Millions of dollars were invested in these systems as well.

Then came the final problem: Manufacturing enterprises, having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in ERP and PLM, began to consider why they continued to have key business issues. The business offices ran well. Financial reporting, customer management, accounting, sourcing, even HR were improved. R&D was turning out better designs faster and under better control. Information access was greatly improved. But despite all this, the enterprise was still too slow in ramping to a quality, full speedproduction run. Changing designs mid-production or even between products or jobs was too slow. And once products shipped, traceability and quality metrics were cumbersome and slow to obtain. In summary, companies' time-to-market was fast due to PLM and ERP investments, but they realized that to ship product, the factory had to ramp and run efficiently. The problem, it seems, was lengthy "time-to-value" - the time required to get a quality product shipped to a customer so it can be turned into revenue. Finally, management's attention turned to factory operations.

The problem was rooted in disparate software tool proliferation. This occurred because rather than addressing factory information in a holistic manner as PLM and ERP addresses R&D and business, operations investment in software had been reactionary. For each requirement placed on the factory, a new software system was spawned. When traceability was demanded, a line-level software tool was purchased. When process planning and launch was too slow, a CAM tool was purchased. The test department logged its data in a system they purchased, while the quality department ran a data collection tool of its own design. This story has many variants, but the theme is always the same. In many cases, manufacturing information systems do not operate on one data source, and there is no means to monitor, view or mine the information across all of them. In reaction, IT departments or integrators have tried to knit these systems together. This has led to significant staff overhead dedicated to designing reports and other tools intended to collate this disparate data. This means internal IT engineering or third-party integrators-and more overhead.

The 'Third Pillar'

There is now a desire to have what might be called the 'Third IT Pillar' in the enterprise-the software system devoted to manufacturing. This concept has come to be called MOS. Its goal is to exist as a complementary system to ERP and PLM and to consolidate the systems and visibility to everything that goes on within the factory office and factory floor.

Consider first the financial benefits of consolidation of these disparate manufacturing systems. When a single system covers manufacturing operations and, by nature, provides seamless reporting, monitoring and analytical data, the enterprise needs only to build an integrating bridge among PLM, ERP and this system. Rather than hundreds of integrations and databases, the task of integrating only two major systems is manageable, and consequently much less expensive to build and maintain. Exploring further into cost savings, the enterprise need only form a relationship and invest in maintenance with one vendor rather than many vendors. In terms of data fulfillment, the legions of report writers and IT personnel typically employed to develop data for engineering, regulatory agencies, customers or executives can turn their attention to other tasks, as the information is now available through one system.

Jason Spera is co-founder and chief executive officer of Aegis Industrial Software Corp. (;
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Title Annotation:Productivity Tools
Comment:Manufacturing steps onto the enterprise IT stage Disparate software tool proliferation begs for an integrated solution.(Productivity Tools)
Author:Spera, Jason
Publication:Circuits Assembly
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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