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Manufacturing Systems

Those manufacturers who have what they would claim to be a ‘manufacturing system’ almost certainly are large manufacturers with an established ERP system. Though these can be very useful (though often painful and expensive to implement), the nature of modern manufacturing requires systems which are inherently more flexible and responsive to change.

There have been changes in the ways in which manufacturers have implemented large-scale systems (and in the way in which these have been designed and implemented by suppliers) with a move towards more component and modular systems. Some have gone so far as to use a ‘best of breed’ software strategy and to use EAI tools as the ‘glue’ to bind them together into an integrated system.

Those who have not yet implemented may be well behind or well in front of those who have. ‘Behind’ on the basis that ERP implementations normally take 2-3 years; ‘in front’ in the sense that they have no ‘baggage’ and can take advantage of some of the emerging, more flexible approaches.

Since the big ERP systems were first written, the world has changed. They were mostly written before the Internet hit centre-stage. Of course, they have responded (and many now have a web-based ‘front end’ for example), but an organisation looking principally to improve collaboration, supply chain performance or e-commerce may be better avoiding the big, well-established ERP systems and opting for a package written specifically to exploit e-business opportunities.

As ever, the key is to understand what you are trying to achieve.

Implementing a manufacturing system is not a business strategy; it may be one means of realising a business strategy. And always remember : software systems only assist; they need people systems to deliver. Though a good software system should help improve reliability, utilisation and throughput figures, it will only do so if used as part of a coherent approach to ‘system’ design (where ‘system’ includes working procedures, quality approaches, etc). IT – as a sledgehammer to crack a tough nut – rarely works.

Lean manufacturing stems from implementing good manufacturing strategies,
not good IT strategies.

e-business is a long time coming. We all know its (potential) benefits, but the early providers have found it hard to make money. There is a period of consolidation going on in the industry, and the systems available in a year or two will be different from those available now.

We might all soon have effective and efficient e-procurement, supply chain management, lean manufacturing and e-collaboration – the software components all exist now – but only if we truly understand the nature of our business, and then have access to the skills that can translate this understanding into technology-based solutions. Few organisations have really senior managers who understand this ‘translation’ process – too few have both strategic business awareness and a real understanding of IT.

Remember also that full ‘value chain’ collaboration demands a culture change – the ready transfer of information with suppliers and customers – never an easy task. If we can pull it off, we can get lower manufacturing costs, improved customer satisfaction, a more integrated supply chain and improved market penetration.

It is often sensible to start small – experiment with technologies, and associated changes in working practices – and build on small successes. It may take longer, but we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare; at least starting small retains flexibility.

See Fourth Shift www.fseurope.com
Frontstep www.frontstep.co.uk
Manugistics www.manugistics.com
SSI www.ssi-world.com

 

 

 

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