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Date posted: October 25, 2016

We know why enterprises implement product lifestyle management (PLM) solutions—better product quality, lower costs of development, rich design data, and less waste. But a significant benefit of PLM that rarely gets touted is the role it can play in supporting regulatory compliance. A recent column by David Edwards in Robotics & Automation News does a nice job of addressing this aspect.

While no one disputes the necessity of regulatory compliance, it’s hardly a topic of note when it comes to product development. But failure to comply with industry regulations can render the advantages of PLM rather impotent. The column underscores why companies should pay attention to PLM and compliance management:

From a product designer’s perspective, compliance through PLM delivers notable strategic advantages. Achieving compliance in the initial design stage can save time and reduce engineering changes in the long run. What is more, this design-for-compliance approach sets the bar for quality product development, creating a unified standard to which the entire workforce can adhere. Moreover, the support of a PLM platform significantly simplifies the compliance process, especially for businesses operating in sectors with fast-changing or complicated regulations.

A good example is AS/EN 9100, a series of quality management guidelines for the aerospace industry. Globally recognized, they are set to change later this year. The target date for companies to achieve the new standard is December of this year—a difficult deadline to make without the support of dedicated software.

Another example relates to the defense industry. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are notoriously strict exporting standards, delivering both civil and criminal penalties to companies that fail to comply. “Fines for ITAR violations in recent years have ranged from several hundred thousand [dollars] to $100 million,” explains Kay Georgi, an import/export compliance attorney and partner at law firm Arent Fox in Washington. “Willful violations can be penalized by criminal fines, debarment (both the export and government contracting varieties), and jail time for individuals.”

These sectors are two of many subject to strict regulatory compliance standards. According to the author, manufacturers should look to PLM solutions that deliver full traceability of the product development process, from conception to manufacturing:

For those in charge of managing compliance, access to this data is incredibly valuable, for both auditing and providing evidence to regulatory panels. By acquiring industry-specific modules, businesses can rest assured that their compliance is being managed appropriately for their sector, avoiding nasty surprises or unsuccessful compliance.

Bottom line: while PLM is widely considered an effective tool to simplify product design, it surpasses that basic function by providing a “single source of truth” for the entire development process.

Using PLM for compliance equips manufacturers with complete data traceability, from the initial stages of design, right through to product launch. What’s more, industry-specific applications are dramatically simplifying the entire compliance process by guaranteeing businesses can meet particular regulations from the very outset.

Date posted: October 20, 2016

It’s not hard to understand the increasing focus on maintenance as a business or operations process; the imperative to drive out efficiencies and drive down capital investment through better leveraging current assets has turned the spotlight on maintenance management. The debate that has ensued: Is maintenance better served by being part of enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution systems (MES)?

A post by guest blogger Luigi De Bernardini on Automation World comes down on the side of MES, that “maintenance management is much more effective if brought to the operations level, where it can be integrated with other production processes and managed much closer to where things actually happen.” The author contends (and we agree) that this approach is strengthening, as demonstrated by the number of companies implementing maintenance as part of an MES/MOM project.

One of the drivers of this momentum is technology. “The possibility to connect assets and acquire information from them automatically—moving from preventive to predictive maintenance—requires managing all the data collected. This is a task that comes easier to a system designed to manage operational rather than business processes.” That task will be advanced further—and the operational orientation will gather greater momentum—as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Manufacturing 4.0 take hold.

De Bernardini reviews a worthwhile case history. The manufacturer’s situation was rather typical: It had an ERP system in place (managing accounting, finance, stocks, master items, and MRP). All its maintenance activities were managed externally to the system, using paper-based forms and Excel spreadsheets. No data was acquired directly from operations, and the information was not even manually integrated with production data. From a maintenance perspective, it was a greenfield state. The manufacturer had a constraint-free choice of integrating maintenance into ERP or MES. They chose MES:

The maintenance plan was integrated with production scheduling in order to minimize the impact of any activity on production time or product quality. Information about stoppages are collected automatically and delivered to maintenance personnel in real time, and are also used to automatically trigger work orders in the case of situations impacting production. All activities are tracked and execution time measured in order to calculate KPIs both on production and on maintenance, analyzing how the two processes interact and correlate. All information is available both in real time to enable production and maintenance operators to make informed decisions, and on a historic basis to analyze the behavior trends and optimize the organization. Everything was designed to be paperless.

The result was a single, totally integrated system that managed not only the maintenance numbers, but also the maintenance activities, optimizing integration with production. The solution has only been operating for a few months, so there’s little hard data on return at this point. But a number of benefits have become clear:

  • The impact of maintenance activity on production is reduced through the integration of two processes, and the planned availability of production assets is increased.
  • Production asset downtime is reduced because of the prompt response of maintenance operators as soon as any abnormal situation triggers an activity.
  • Data is available in real time; because it’s managed directly in place, it is more accurate than the data previously collected ex post. This gives a better view of how the processes interact and enables better organizational choices.
  • Maintenance activities take less time with all the documentation available on mobile devices. This not only reduces the time needed to collect the necessary documentation, but also decreases the number of errors.
  • Collaboration has increased because of the more transparent information availability.

It’s hard to imagine these results could have been realized in such a short time if the manufacturer had chosen ERP over MES.


Date posted: October 12, 2016

A manufacturing execution system (MES) is a great tool, often lauded for its ability to link the “shop floor to the top floor.” Here’s how Gartner defines it:

Manufacturing execution systems manage, monitor, and synchronize the execution of real-time, physical processes involved in transforming raw materials into intermediate and/or finished goods. They coordinate this execution of work orders with production scheduling and enterprise-level systems. MES applications also provide feedback on process performance, and support component- and material-level traceability, genealogy, and integration with process history, where required.

From an enterprise perspective, the real value of MES is in the feedback it provides about production, and how that can be leveraged to improve production processes on an ongoing basis. But if those on the front lines of production don’t buy into the tool, its utility diminishes over time. A recent article by James Wood on Manufacturing Global addresses this concern head on, pointing to how MES can be used to engage factory workers, thereby preserving and extending its value over time. Here’s how he describes the situation:

Designed to empower operators and promote visibility into manufacturing operations, very often the solutions become complicated; instead of gaining value, the very people who should be benefitting become sidetracked. What data should be collected? When should it be reviewed? How long are we going to have to do this? Whose idea was this anyway?  

Once these types of questions start to creep to the forefronts of users’ minds, the slow, inevitable decline of the solution intended to support their day-to-day work begins. The initial engagement and empowerment realized by the teams will ebb away, and it is like pushing a boulder uphill trying to re-energize staff to stay on the path to manufacturing greatness. Often solutions are seen as too complex, due to the apparent will to collect terabytes of data, falsely believing that data will drive enlightenment. …

While modern MES is less complex than its legacy ancestors, and can bring real advantages across the enterprise, its power lies in the engagement of operators on the plant floor and the organization of the enterprise to realize financial and operational benefits through best practices tailored around the MES solution. Wood explains how that happens:

  • The ability to capture data and provide feedback to the operators in real time is the first part of an effective MES solution. Winning over operators is often seen as one of the most difficult aspects of implementing MES, but careful messaging and considerate planning can show operators “what’s in it for them,” as MES data often provides the concrete evidence to assertions a worker has made repeatedly to skeptical management. It empowers their observations in a way that enables positive change.
  • The key to unlocking latent knowledge of the equipment and processes is to implement a set of best practices that show the shop floor staff that their voices be heard and acted upon. This starts from engaging with the teams during shifts, huddling at key points during the production day, and making sure everyone can comment on the standard metrics the MES solution is driving them to review. This helps ensure that an MES solution becomes a mindset, not simply another software solution.
  • Executives must also be engaged with MES. Having management listen, review standardized data, and align improvement activities to the company goals show that the data being collected on the shop floor is driving action throughout the business. This MES-collected data should feed up the chain so that production supervisors, plant management, and executives all have a clear picture of production activities.

Wood emphasizes constant communications and “tweaking of the process” to ensure that MES is leveraged to the max. One particular recommendation he makes: consider use of a performance coach in establishing and maintaining best practices:

Often the introduction of a performance coach can assist in this best practice goal-setting—what works in one business may not suit another, and often the barriers go up when a consultant is parachuted in and dictates the best practice regime. A performance coach does exactly as the title suggests— evaluates the working environment, assesses what will work, and then partners to coach in the best practices as opposed to forcing them to fit assuming one size will fit all.

Bottom line: user engagement and best practice implementation are key to ensuring you get the return you’re looking to get from your MES. What say you? How engaged are your frontline workers with your MES?

Date posted: October 7, 2016

Kudos to IQMS!

By Marty Weil

We rarely post about those we have worked with, but sometimes events transpire that demand you tip your cap. Such is the case with IQMS, the Paso Robles, California-based provider of manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and manufacturing execution systems (MES).

IQMS has placed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America for the sixth year in a row. IQMS qualified for the list with an organic growth rate of 75 percent over the past three years. Inc. magazine gathered its 2016 list of elite companies by measuring revenue growth from 2012 to 2015.

The 2016 Inc. 5000 is the most competitive crop in the list’s history, with the average company on the list achieving a three-year growth of 433 percent. The combined revenue of the companies on the list is $200 billion, and they collectively generated 640,000 jobs over the past three years, or about 8 percent of all jobs created in the entire economy during that period. Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found here.

“The Inc. 5000 list stands out where it really counts,” says Eric Schurenberg, president and editor-in-chief of Inc. “It honors real achievement by a founder or a team of them. No one makes the Inc. 5000 without building something great, usually from scratch. That’s one of the hardest things to do in business, as every company founder knows. But without it, free enterprise fails.”

The increasing customer demand that has fueled IQMS’ strong, long-term growth can be attributed to the manufacturing-centric approach of the IQMS system. It uniquely combines robust ERP and MES functionality into one comprehensive system designed to help manufacturers optimize their operations. Additionally, because all data is managed by the same database, customers have an unparalleled unified view across their manufacturing operations, business processes, and supply chain that empowers them to compete more effectively in today’s global market.

“Empowering manufacturers to maximize their operational efficiency and effectiveness using IQMS software is our top priority, and the strength of that commitment is reflected by the rapid rise in customers choosing IQMS to run their manufacturing operations,” says Gary Nemmers, president and CEO of IQMS. “We are honored to be included on the Inc. 5000 list for 2016, which recognizes the strong growth of IQMS, which has been driven by the successes of our customers.”

Bravo, IQMS! Job well done—again and again and again and again and again and again.

Date posted: October 5, 2016

No, Mae West, that’s not a banana in our pocket—it’s enterprise resource planning (ERP). And you can bet those looking for a return on that enterprise investment are happy indeed to see it there.

We recently posted on the development of cloud-based ERP, specifically the path being cleared by CFOs coming on board with the idea of moving their core enterprise application to the cloud. A number of reasons were cited as drivers for this movement. Here’s another: leveraging smartphones and tablets to get ERP data off old servers and into the hands of decision makers wherever they are, whenever they need it.

A recent column on the Australian website INTHEBLACK has an interesting discussion on the emergence of smartphone-friendly ERP as a means of mining and using the data often lost in traditional ERP deployments. In that situation, getting desired data is often so delayed it results in a rear-view mirror perspective of what’s going on in the organization. In today’s rapidly moving global markets, that’s not a view that will keep companies abreast or ahead of the competition.

Makers of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are trying to address this problem with a new generation of tools such as ERP “dashboards.” These can serve up regularly updated reports on a smartphone or iPad and aim to give management clearer vision out of the windscreen and a firmer grip on the wheel.

INTHEBLACK gives two examples of how this is working in widely different markets: entertainment (i.e., registered clubs) and agriculture. At clubs, management responsibilities include organizing food, beverages, gaming, functions and membership services, as well as managing staff. Many clubs’ annual revenues run to millions of dollars, and there are significant compliance issues to navigate.

“Joe” is a New South Wales club CEO who doesn’t want his real name published, because he’s using his ERP to keep an eye on one of his senior staff. “I’ve got figures day on day, week on week—I’ve got a dashboard,” he says. “I open it up, with the beverage manager sitting in front of me. Let’s look at gross profit on bar since November. It’s been 64 [percent], 63, 64, 64, 65, 64, 65. What is it this month? It’s 58—that’s 7 percent down, and I’ve got that anomaly instantly. He finds $4,500 of stock. Do I think he’s lifting? No, but he’s got to know I’m watching closely.”

The bottom line: everyone in business is watching closely, and the insights they’re looking for are likely to be in ERP.

The technologies holding the promise of changing the view of ERP from costly and complex systems spinning along in the IT department without delivering much direct insight to management to a much more incisive tool are dashboards and mobile devices.

Today’s systems are also getting better at adding data from outside sources. The problem with old ERPs was that companies often had to shoehorn their processes into what the computer system would allow. That’s no longer an option for innovating businesses. There has to be flexibility, and to get that, the ERP is increasingly a hybrid solution woven from different vendors’ systems.

For example, agricultural businesses might want to integrate information from the ERP with long-term weather forecasts. Today this is eminently doable.

According to Denise Ganly, research director at Gartner, today’s ERP is less about transactions and more about analytics and information. This has led to what Gartner calls “postmodern ERP,” where data may be drawn from multiple systems supplied by a raft of different vendors, some in the cloud and some in-house.

Gartner estimates that 77 percent of organizations currently operate this kind of hybrid environment. Oracle’s Australia-based general manager of applications says that Australian enterprise is at the 80:20 point now in terms of adoption of mobile ERP: 80 percent of organizations continue to rely on manual intervention to get insights out of their ERP, and 20 percent are early adopters embracing dashboards and mobile devices to get instant insights. What’s not in question is that today’s ERP is clearly not your father’s, and like the rest of the advancing digital world, it’s positioned to deliver what you desire much more rapidly than ever before possible.

As Miss West once noted, it is better to be looked over than overlooked. Such is the case for smartphone- and mobile-enabled ERP.