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Lessons Learned From Deploying MES And QA Systems Globally

Aug 28, 2008
The challenges facing todays global manufacturing ecosystem are not the same as those 50, 25, or even 5 years ago. Companies now have to learn to integrate systems across the globe and provide support for operations that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.

We used to schedule downtime during a holiday, but a holiday in the United States may not necessarily be a holiday in another country. New York used to be the city that never sleeps, but we are quickly becoming the networked world that never sleeps.

These international operations require manufacturing intelligence data at the fingertips of those who need to make management and logistic decisions. The manufacturing market challenges that companies face now include globalization, labor issues, competitiveness, and cost pressures.

Companies are finding that they need to improve their business practices with new strategies that support these challenges in order to survive and flourish. Scheduling is only one part of managing global operations.

Companies can improve consistency and predictability by improving their quality management practices both internally and in the supply chain. It is simply not enough to manage quality inside the production walls as it is much harder to respond to poor quality issues arising from components or sub assemblies if the supplier is the only one who can fix any issues that might arise.

Standard practices and metrics for manufacturing management are also critical to synchronizing global operations. To achieve this goal, it helps to standardize manufacturing and quality systems across the enterprise, and define standard integration interfaces between suppliers and internal operations.

Standard reports and a central data repository are also important so that everyone is working off one single version of truth. However, implementing standard processes, global systems, and a central repository is often easier said than done. Challenges include different languages, time zones, and security issues across the Internet.

Here are some lessons learned from big corporations deploying MES, or Manufacturing Execution Systems, and QA, Quality Assurance, systems around the world.
It is important to design interfaces between global systems so they can accommodate downtime. Systems should minimize impact to manufacturing operations during maintenance periods and must prevent data loss during these downtime periods. Offline methods should be able to recover connectivity and synchronize after any part of the enterprise system was down.

The corporation should define realistic performance expectations for systems prior to implementation. For example, are there any preexisting WAN capacity limitations that might hold performance back? Are there any elements that cannot be controlled or standardized, like suppliers hardware that could affect the use of an application? Have suppliers tried to minimize any security risks or problems with Internet connectivity?

Are there security measures in place that conform to industry practices and regulatory oversight, like those imposed by ITAR? These are all important questions to ask before beginning the process.

Companies should also keep in mind that the manufacturing systems should be continuously available to the shop floor when deciding whether to implement a system in a central or a distributed manner. They should figure the cost of one hour of production downtime to help make decisions on high availability platforms, and should have well documented service restoration procedures in place in the event of any problems or glitches.

The coverage plans should include a call list of key people that will be available round the clock so that the company does not have to solely rely on first shift support to fix problems. Potential language challenges should be taken into consideration when making the call list as well. Scheduled maintenance windows should be clearly communicated across the enterprise.

Companies should carefully consider data warehousing and business intelligence solutions that will be part of the enterprise system. Considerations should not only include user friendliness, but also performance and security requirements. Regions like China and Eastern Europe might require isolated networks.

If companies consider these issues upfront and design their systems to accommodate these requirements, they will be off to a good start. There are companies out there that have already embarked on these efforts and some are willing to share the lessons they have learned.

There are also system integrator companies that are specializing on global solution deployments. Companies should be sure to reach out and leverage the experience of those paving the way in this new global manufacturing ecosystem.
About the Author
iBASEt is a leading provider of high tech software solutions and services. More information about this topic and Manufacturing Execution Systems is available in the webcast entitled Tying Engineering, Quality and Operations into One Global Quality Management System.
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