The MES build or buy decision - is there an ideal approach? (1/2)

Today, we will address the key pointers and try to provide a clear, well defined and logical approach to help organization work towards MES build or buy decision
(PresseBox) (Porto, ) Modern manufacturing is quite the high tech affair, where plants are automated and production is meant to be highly efficient, production planning highly flexible and there is a constant pressure to reduce time for new product introductions, higher throughput, better quality and 100% compliance to standards. Typically in such an environment the role of software applications like ERP, CRM, SCM and MES/MOM becomes mission critical.

Most organizations today choose not to build their ERP/CRM systems. The logic they use is: why build an application when there are many which may perfectly suit their requirements at a fraction of the cost? But, when it comes to the MES application organizations are faced with a dilemma: should they tailor make an application so that they have complete ownership or go to a vendor whose application may or may not fit their needs perfectly? However, both these choices need to be considered in detail, all the while understanding how modern MES applications at offer today are more flexible and customizable than ever.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: DO I REALLY NEED AN MES?

Like any strategic decision, the first step towards an MES is to establish whether or not the organization actually needs such an application. This need may be realized though many signals from the organizations own and competitive landscape. An organization which has mostly automated manufacturing, where the workforce is more to control the process rather than execute it, would definitely look for a more automated application for monitoring the process.

Also, when an organization needs to have an end-to-end visibility across its value chain, it may choose to go for an MES, even if the production process itself is not the most automated one. An MES application may also be needed when other players in the industry are leveraging the same for benefits, which may no longer be available if the status quo is maintained.

CONSIDERING BUILDING AN MES? ASK YOURSELF: CAN WE DO IT?

Once the need for an MES application is realized the next big question is whether to build the MES or buy it. The first question any organization considering to build an MES on their own should ask themselves is: Can we?
Yes, MES applications are complex in nature. Building it would need a full-time dedicated IT team, which not only knows the industry best practices, the MES application and how it is supposed to function, but at the same time are also aware of the coding, validation, database, regulatory and user experience related requirements.

Typically MES applications are always a work in progress, in the sense that they need to be flexible to adapt changes. These may be minute ones (like a change in key recipes) or major modifications (like reconfiguring the entire operational sequence and scheduling). The question which should be asked here is whether or not the in-house team will have what it takes to make these changes and what will be the time required and cost.

LET’S CONSIDER A FEW SCENARIOS

First in which the organization realizes that they have a capable enough IT team (which is rarely the case), second where they can hire the required personnel, and third where the company realizes that their current staff would be better utilized implementing a software purchased from a professional vendor.

In the first scenario, even if the organization currently possesses the IT skills required to build an MES application, there are few concerns which would need to be addressed:
  • Is the current staff aware of the industry best practices when it comes to designing an MES application (from a software perspective)?
  • Will the current team continue to work with the organization for a considerable amount of time in the future?
  • Are the current IT staff updated with the latest trends and practices in the software industry?
  • Are they aware of the validation process for software implementation, operation and progress (validation alone may cost three time the actual application if outsourced)?
  • What about reporting, will a tailor made software be able to provide the kind of reports and analytical data desired by the C-Suite?
  • Are the required database management skills available?
  • Current IT personnel may be able to make a functional software but what about constant user training and support?
  • Finally: does a TCO analysis performed favor making the software in-house (in most cases it wouldn’t)?
In the second scenario, where IT staff needs to be hired from scratch, there are few very clear barriers to begin with, one being getting the best IT personnel to be interested in working for a predominantly manufacturing oriented organization. The second challenge would be to judge their skills as the management team might lack the expertise to assess their recruits.

The third challenge would be to retain key personnel for long enough in order to make sure that the current application once developed, will be maintained and can be modified as needed. The issue here is that even though the organization owns the source code and the software, when attrition happens they might still need to look outside for maintaining the SW or making changes to it.

The last scenario is when the organization chooses to buy the application and go to a Vendor specializing in the MES application development, deployment, validation, training and maintenance. For most organizations this might be an ideal solution, and in the next post we will tell you why.

To read the second part click here.

Download White Paper: Five Ways Medical Device Industry Leaders Maintain their Manufacturing Edge by Julie Fraser, Iyno Advisors

Download Case Study: MES allows medical device manufacturer to increase compliance, efficiency and control by Critical Manufacturing

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