MES systems can significantly benefit your company, but the implementation may be somewhat overwhelming and can pose challenges that could be difficult and time-consuming to overcome. In the following article, you will learn about issues that you can potentially encounter in your MES implementation and practical recommendations on how to avoid them.
Grzegorz Fura, the Vice President of Services and Co-Founder at Andea, shares his views and experience gathered over almost 20 years, working with MES systems. He lists the main challenges that may occur during the implementation process while stressing on the importance of being flexible. He also provides insights on how to spot these challenges early on to ensure they don't lead to a failed project. So, what exactly can go wrong with an MES implementation?
DIFFICULTY WITH DEFINING REQUIREMENTS
Accurately defining the solution requirements is vital. In most cases, mistakes, surprises, bugs, or problematic issues faced during the project are due to negligence in the realm of defining requirements from the onset. This stage demands involvement from management, key project personnel, and SME's (Subject Matter Experts). These being the competent specialists from various factory departments, who actively supervise these departments and know their requirements best. Getting SME involvement is crucial, and they are often quite busy, so it is challenging to secure their time, presence, and attention.
INSUFFICIENT INVOLVEMENT FROM INTERNAL TEAMS
A program or a new solution that will change people's way of working will fail if people do not have a say of how it should be implemented. That is because of a lack of empathy. People will only buy-in, help, and use your system once they feel it is "theirs"; they helped implement it or at least provided feedback that was taken into consideration.
MISSING MASTER DATA BEFORE A GO-LIVE
One of the most critical and often ignored facets of MES implementations is that it is driven by master data. It is also downplayed, as setting it up takes time. Without a final and complete set of master data, you cannot have a successful go-live. Another reason for missing master data during rollout is the lack of a firm deadline for validating it. Ask yourself how the data will be created; will it be entered manually, imported from the ERP system, or copied from an Excel document? Each of these activities might be time-consuming and could delay your go-live!
THE PROJECT IS OVER BUDGET AND BEHIND SCHEDULE
Very often, companies estimate a project budget before having a clear list of requirements. That is because the executive team needs these estimates to determine if the project will be approved. These early estimates then end-up being the actual budget for the project. As the project goes on, adjustments or new requirements will inevitably come up, and they might not be within the forecasted budget. If possible, do not finalize your budget and timeline before defining the final scope; but if you must, always plan for additional feature requests and the unknowns.
THE SYSTEM IS SLOW
As with any complex solution, there might be numerous reasons for your system to run slow. In most cases, this happens because of bad planning and a lack of precise requirements. That is often a sign of negligence in the design phase – as the number of screens or background processing might lead to performance degradation.
THE ROLLOUTS ARE NOT AS EASY AS EXPECTED
"Just because you went live with the solution at one site does not mean that you know how to roll it out," says Grzegorz Fura from Andea. This statement could not be more accurate, and many managers have experienced it firsthand. Planning rollouts that were not considered in the MES implementation strategy from the beginning is asking for trouble. A thoughtful deployment needs to be conducted with the people from the plant onboard and should include developing global process templates and double-checking site requirements. Even simple differences like using a "dot" vs. a "comma" as a decimal separator can lead to bugs and system instability!
TOO MANY BUGS AFTER GO-LIVE
The reason behind technical breakdowns and bugs is often the same: lack of proper requirements from specialists. Their know-how and experience could have helped avoid this glitch, but no one asked for their feedback in time. A widespread reason for bugs in production systems is testing the solution on dummy data and using only a "happy path testing" approach. Cure - try to create a test scenario that will closely resemble the manufacturing environment. The more bugs you identify before rollout, the less expensive it gets later to fix them.
LOW USER ADOPTION
Your system is user-friendly, meets all the functional requirements, and the implementation went smoothly, but your employees are not using it. There are many reasons for low user adoption: lack of knowledge about the solution, a non-intuitive interface, or the earlier mentioned lack of involvement in the process. The fundamental way to fix is to make sure you have project sponsors who can promote the solution and ensure there is an employee buy-in.
Successful implementation of a global MES is a critical step in achieving manufacturing excellence, but it is not an easy task. Implementing an all-encompassing system is usually a significant undertaking that needs to involve many people, teams, and it requires a specific scope of skills. However, having a correct attitude towards these challenges and being flexible and open-minded could be the key to overcoming these obstacles.