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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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Extreme Gobbledygook - Funny

In connection with my recent post about describing what I do a colleague reminded me of the famous Rockwell spoof about the “Retro Encabolator”. I thought this would be interesting to share and yes, this is really kind of nerdy and techie-humor but none the less funny. This takes gobbledygook and to another level – enjoy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Next week at CBI MES conference

Next week I will be at the CBI MES conference in San Diego. It is set to be very interesting conference with a good representation from MES vendors but more importantly there is broad participation from the life science industry both Med Device and BioPharma. A great opportunity to learn how these companies have been able to leverage technology to improve performance and compliance. I will have my notebook ready since I need to get some good real-life examples for a session that helping to plan for the ISPE annual meeting. I have also been able to involve MESA and we are planning to promote the European Conference and other events.

I also look forward to the conference because I have never been to San Diego and the venue isn't to shabby either J. I hope to see many of you out there and do some catch-up. Follow me on Tweeter to get live updates from the conference if you are interested.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Lean technology" a Manufacturing Systems perspective

My colleagues and I are in the process of preparing an educational session that will be held at the ISPE annual event in November. So as usual I spend some time looking through my archives for relevant material that I already have – I call it 're-cycling' :-). This time I came across something that I never published or used and so I thought I would share it here. It is an attempt to explore the synergies of the Lean and Manufacturing Systems concepts. Read and tell me what you think…

Manufacturing Technology; A familiar phrase considered part of the everyday vocabulary. What about Lean Technology? Not a common phrase, but the idea of lean manufacturing supported through technology should be as much a part of the vocabulary as Manufacturing Technology. Lean thinking advocates simplification of manufacturing units so they can be more easily shifted to enable the flow of value. So in essence the “lean technology” concept supplements lean thinking by combining state-of-the-art manufacturing with advanced software systems in an integrated environment.

Using information systems in lean manufacturing is not a new concept, nor is it new to the lean movement. Many examples exist that prove that manufacturing (software) system can support a lean organization. Unfortunately most commonly information technology systems for manufacturing tend to become large monolithic systems of great complexity. They are designed to provide generic functionality to fit major industry verticals that can be configured specifically for each implementation. At the same time the uniqueness and the complexities of the specific manufacturing operations make the ability to only configure these solutions more a myth than reality. Most of the system vendors will of course argue against this - however the reality is that in order to meet the requirements of the manufacturing businesses they are forced to implement complex customizations. That is what I wrote on my post about Customize or Compromise.

Although lean thinking advocates the application of a set of specific common concepts, the actual implementation of these concepts in real life tends to be unique to each production line and plant. Information systems that are used to support these lean lines and plants have to be able to provide common functionality to support these concepts. Yet, they also have to be able to support the uniqueness of each implementation. Furthermore they need to be able to support the changes that are inherent in a lean system due to the continuous improvements as they are accomplished.

In summary here is my suggestion for the general functionality of a Manufacturing System that can support a Lean manufacturing environment. (BTW I know that these go against the grain by not using a problem-oriented approach – I will have to redefine this ASAP)

  • Value stream: We all know that value is identified by the specific needs of the customer hence the Manufacturing System should be usable and implementable to support only these specific processes that add value. In other words the system once implemented should not require or be constrained to use extra processes or involves extra steps if they are not directly part of the value flow.
  • Implement flow: The Manufacturing System should employ a value centric process model that is easily managed and accessible to all the relevant people. This will allow a transparent view of the value flow and thus allow engineers and operators to ensure production flow, be it a one-piece flow, supermarkets, or other relevant Lean solutions.
  • Execute Pull: This is kind of the obvious requirement that involves the enablement of pull execution and dispatching of WIP. This may include features and functionality to enable or enforce flow and managing kanbans, supermarkets, balancing, etc.
  • Enable Perfection: Enable perfection by providing the production and process visibility needed for the continuous improvement efforts. This is the part of the system that provides Intelligence (a topic that I have written a few relevant posts about). In addition the Manufacturing System should provide adequate configurability, extendibility and customizability that support continuous improvement.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is it that I do?

Have you ever tried to explain to somebody what it is that you do, who is unfamiliar or not that interested in what you do. I have that problem with my wife and family all the time. When I try the interest-loss is immediate – somewhere after the middle of the 3rd sentence. When I ask my kids what they think that I do – they say that I sit in front of the computer all day and talk on the phone, which in a way is quite precise. Typically a specific keyword from my description sticks and so when asked what I do, it comes back as; ‘I think he is fixing software’, or ‘oh yes he is training’.

Although this may seem trivial the exercise in explaining what it is that you do is very valuable. When marketing in the new media it is important to tell the story in simple language – I call it the ‘children’s’ explanation. A simple plain English description of what it is that I do, without using any technical or industry jargon and without complicated adjectives. The less ‘gobbledygook’ the easier it is for people to understand and by the way it also helps to keep their attention. As in the Hebrew adage – “If you explain it slowly, I will understand quickly”.

Try it you will be surprised how hard it is and how much value it brings.

Here is mine:

I help people and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry that produce medicine, drugs and tools for doctors with their computer systems. The use computers to make sure that their products have no defects, as wells as to make sure that they produce their products exactly the way the recipes instruct. The computer systems save and maintain all the information during the production so that it can be used to analyze what happened if there is a defect, or how to improve the production process. The computers also help automate some of the steps in the process.