No More Silos: Interoperability Is Key
Today, manufacturing data exists in silos. We all know it. We all know we need to do something about it. No one wants to tackle it. Getting people, systems and data to talk together is hard, and we have immediate challenges to deal with—inventory levels, downtime, supplier quality. But what happens down the road when your different systems don’t talk? Well, your competitors overtake you with new products you can’t get out the door.
Historically, technology purchases and implementations have been siloed. Every department makes a purchase to fix their specific problem. The result is different software products not talking to each other. Accordingly, the outcome is a negative overall impact on the business. People needing to spend tremendous amounts of time trying to understand data and reports that didn’t align because the data didn’t match up. Senior management not being able to understand what was happening on the plant floor and why. An impact on quality when the “as designed” didn’t match the “as manufactured.”
When software systems aren’t integrated, the net result is that people work off of different data and different assumptions. Then you have poor manufacturing practices and an inability to make rapid changes to respond to market demands and competitor's moves. With siloed software, the competition wins.
Some companies have tried to solve this silo problem by using one platform to cover all functional areas (ERP, PLM, MES, SCADA etc.). But, I don’t think that’s the answer either. In reality, manufacturing is your crown jewel. For a manufacturing company, there’s nothing more important than the performance of its plants. So you cannot sacrifice business benefits and go with one uniform software platform. While this solves the silo problem, it defeats the purpose because it simply does not drive enough business value, which is ultimately the goal.
I think the answer to solve this problem is to continue leveraging best-of-breed software systems for your major core areas (ERP, PLM, MES, SCADA etc.) but to look at interoperability. Each product in your solution stack needs to be part of the ecosystem and co-exist with the other offerings. No more silos.
For example, take PLM and MES. Traditionally, these two systems have not talked to each other. You have an engineer sitting in one building and designing a product to be built a certain way. Then those designs hit the plant floor, and there are changes made during the manufacturing process. An operator doesn’t have the right parts on hand. The engineering design isn’t specific enough etc. It can take months or even years for these changes to ever make it back to Engineering, and the result is often a decrease in quality and an increase in cost. This is a case where there is immediate business ROI by reducing silos and connecting core manufacturing systems (PLM and MES).
Ultimately, what you want is technology that enables the business and easily talks to each other. You still need best of breed because you need to have the technology to improve manufacturing, not the other way around. But, interoperability is the key. Reduce the silos and watch while technology improves your competitiveness—helping to deliver a better product to your end customers.