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Are You Getting Limited Visibility of Your Shop Floor? What Options Are Out There to Solve the Business Issues in Your Industry?

IAre You Getting Limited Visibility of Your Shop Floor? What Options Are Out There to Solve the Business Issues in Your Industry?
April 17, 2014 Roy Thomas Jump to Comments
Are You Getting Limited Visibility of Your Shop Floor? What Options Are Out There to Solve the Business Issues in Your Industry?

This productivity metric has a direct impact on cost per unit, schedule adherence and many more measures within a factory.

A constant challenge facing most operations professionals is how to improve the productivity and efficiency of the shop floor. This productivity metric has a direct impact on cost per unit, schedule adherence and many more measures within a factory.

One of the first challenges I see is that most facilities are still managing their shop floor on a system that by its very design, limits visibility. Are you still collecting performance information using paper or collating such information on Excel spreadsheets? If the answer is yes, then you are probably struggling to track your shop floor operations as that data is subjective and always out of date. Plus, you are spending too much time collating and understanding your data from manual systems - and using valuable ‘work’ time on non-value added administrative time. You could be using this wasted time to actually take action…. if only the information were available to you in real-time.


So what options exist to make the transition from paper to real-time (paperless)?

I typically see five different approaches:

  • Replace paper with an in-house built system.
  • Hire consultants that can give ‘some’ version of a system.
  • Use the equipment manufacturers (and there might be many machines on one line) HMI displays and write some reports.
  • Deploy a full-control MES system.
  • Deploy an easy-to-use/out-of-the-box MES solution specific to your industry.

First, there are in-house built systems: in-house built systems are good for a very short time. With changing trends and needs, it is hard to keep them updated and maintain them regularly. Moreover, in most cases, its generally one person who has built the in-house system and thus the knowledge about the ins and outs of the tool stays with that person. If that person leaves, that know-how goes with him and you know that you will be in huge trouble if that were to happen.

The second option is to hire a consultant. We all know that the consulting model is built around getting hired by a company, then delivering quick wins (initially by sharing reports and templates) and then extending the consulting engagement Over a period of time, you end up with what seems like an unlimited engagement that doesn’t typically maximize your returns/benefits.

So, what’s next? Don’t you already have some metrics out there that came with the equipment? One may say that you can use the machine manufacturers HMI displays to track shop floor operations, but is that really feasible? Will that give you the holistic view of your product lines? Will that be easy to use for the different roles in your factory? And will that limited machine view contain all the information necessary to make line-based decisions?

The answer is ‘NO’ - the machine based HMI view can only have limited success in impacting your operational efficiency.

The final option is usually to choose a full control MES – as this purports to have all the information you will need to monitor and control your lines. This option is an expensive one, as it involves a lot of hardware and controls systems engineering as a pre-requisite. While it may produce data and reports, an MES can be very complex and aimed at very technical individuals, for example, systems engineers. Very rarely does it help you gain any insight into your operations. In other words, it fails at turning data into actionable intelligence for those that need to consume the information. As well, it limits your ability to drive efficiency improvements on the shop floor.

Choosing the right solution

So, what choice do you make? The landscape that you work in is very complex, and it’s not always easy to know what the optimal choice for your business is. How can you improve operational efficiency yet not embark on a complex/lengthy project that may prove costly. What can really get you a rapid ROI while delivering the benefits to the users? There are lots of things to consider, but let’s take a look at the most important items you should think about when thinking of a solution:

  • First things first: cost – is that something you and your business can afford?
  • How about implementation time? How long will it take?
  • When can you start seeing results? Are we talking weeks, months or years?
  • Think about the resources you will need. Do you need to hire separately or are there current resources that can do this as a side project?
  • How about Time-to-Benefit? I have mentioned this before, but want to emphasize – understand carefully as to when you will be able to reap benefits from your selected option.
  • Is your choice an out-of-box solution that’s designed for your vertical? Can it be configured for your specific business requirements?
  • Lastly, think about the needs of the different roles in your organization (operators, production manager, quality specialists, etc) that will be using this solution. What will their experience be? How will they use it?

There is certainly a lot to think about, and it could be overwhelming. My point here is to highlight these tough decisions and ensure you clearly make the right decision that aligns to your business needs.

At the end of the day, the solution should provide you the maximum return on your investment while positively impacting efficiencies.

In my next blog, I will discuss more on how to choose an appropriate MES solution that fulfills the cost vs. resource vs. time to benefit criteria for your vertical - so stay tuned…

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