- “Why is manufacturing software so frustrating?”
- “What needs to be changed about traditional manufacturing software?”
- “What drives you crazy about ERP, MES, and other outdated software in manufacturing?”
LinkedIn Video Series: Manufacturing Software Doesn’t Need to be so Frustrating
If you follow SensrTrx CEO & founder Bryan Sapot on LinkedIn, you’ve probably noticed a new video published every week. The topics vary, but all focus on one similar idea – manufacturing does not need to be so complicated.
These posts often prompt engagement and lively discussions. Given those conversations, we thought it would be a great idea to highlight the key points made by people to continue those conversations on our blog.
The first of the video series focuses on why manufacturing software is so damn frustrating. Pardon our French, but there’s no other way to accurately explain the irritation of dealing with the complexities of traditional manufacturing software. Who agrees? In this video, Bryan specifically asks viewers for their opinions on:
- “What is manufacturing software so frustrating?”
- “What needs to be changed?”
- “What drives you crazy about ERP, MES, and other outdated software?”
For those who have not seen the video, view it below. We’re also including a link to the full LinkedIn post: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/bryansapot_manufacturing-software-activity-6678647475080855552-UE-y
As you continue reading, you’ll find a few of our favorite comments that really drive the point home – traditional manufacturing software is simply outdated. There are many factors, but it can be boiled down to that one thing – outdated manufacturing software is failing manufacturers.
Q. Two of the comments raise an interesting point. Many of these software platforms are designed by people who don’t actually work on the floor or have direct involvement with production. Why is this important?
A. The comments from Gary Wood and John Loucks make a valid point. I think there’s an incredible amount of lack of focus on the actual users, the people who use it every day. These software solutions were built by technical people who don’t really understand what users on the factory floor need. They don’t have an understanding of what that person’s daily role is and what they care about.
The target market for the outdated software is developers and the IT department, not the end-user of the software, which means it won’t really help solve their problems.
I like to think of the HubSpot versus Salesforce comparison example. For those of you unfamiliar, with HubSpot, you can completely manage the software on your own with very little training. Comparatively, Salesforce is a completely different beast that requires so much training before you can even start. One was very clearly designed for the end-user while the other was designed by IT, without the goal of helping the end-user do their job better.
Q. Why do KPIs not end up being helpful in outdated systems? What needs to change to really capture the key data that’s needed on the floor?
A. In reference to the first part of Szymon Arciszewski‘s comment, if you’re using an ERP system to understand productivity on the factory floor, performance indicators are going to lag, a lot. It will likely be days before the data is updated, making it virtually useless. And, typically, the people that really need that data to see how the floor is doing and make improvements, don’t have access to the data. Think about the supervisors or managers on the floor. They likely don’t have viewing or reporting access in the ERP which makes it pretty damn hard to pull that data.
And for the second part, these systems only tell you how much was made and how much should have been made. If you’re late on a job, you’ll know, but you won’t know why. The ERP system lacks context and correlation to be able to tell you what else was going on to cause those problems.
And in other systems, people may know this stuff, just based on gut feeling, but you can’t collect and contextualize that data, which doesn’t end up helping.
Really, what needs to change is thinking of the end-user. I know I sound repetitive, but it’s such a huge factor that the traditional manufacturing software companies completely overlook. People claim they do that, but they don’t really. In most cases, they look at it from the manager’s perspective. But, there’s a huge opportunity to engage employees on the front line and the people that make a difference every single day.
The idea is to improve processes, with those individuals actively participating, rather than just monitoring production to beat people up over their performances. The idea isn’t to discipline someone if they didn’t hit their numbers, but to help to improve employee effort and engagement by setting goals, tracking against them, making them visible to everyone on the floor, and driving improvement together.
The only way a manufacturer is going to be world-class, and the only way to stay in business, is if you actively engage your employees in a positive way that improves the employee experience, plant performance, and inevitably, the bottom line.
We’ve reached a point in time where manufacturers are starting to realize this and will take this approach in the future. And if you don’t, you’re going to get left in the dust.
Q. There was one question that spurred a spirited debate, but is based around the topic of open systems and a lack of innovation. Why is this a problem?
A. The comment from Steve Jennis really makes a valid point. Systems need to be more open and people need to cooperate better together. There’s no simpler way of putting it.
It drives me insane that manufacturing software is so closed off and expensive. And, to expand on that, even if a manufacturer is using a traditional ERP or MES system, there’s a shit load of standards and metrics, but those are never very clear and are always confusing to the people working on the floor.
Not only that, but no one wants to talk to each other because they’re afraid that any problems on the floor will be blamed on them, versus the actual system of record. It fosters a negative culture with very little engagement or accountability.
Interestingly enough, this comment spurred a debate about the benefits of having an “Elon to show how the old way sucks.”
The comment about Elon makes a valid point, and for those of you unfamiliar, there’s a lot of articles on Google that will give you a better background of what he tried to do with his own plants. Basically, he tried to automate everything, including the actual physical labor of making and building a car, which frankly, just isn’t possible right now. There was a huge overuse of robotics, and the effort to build machines that can build cars, without the use of people, kind of failed. The tech just isn’t good enough to do that.
But the idea behind that and the comment from Rick Bullotta is that while there is traditionally a massive amount of customization in manufacturing software, it’s virtually impossible to completely eliminate the human touch.
Most software, MES, ERP, basically anything that touches the shop floor has so much customization, but that can also be very overwhelming. Historically, it has made more sense to create customized versions of software, but this widely depends on the industry, requirements, level of maturity, and what the manufacturer is trying to accomplish. Those factors determine if it makes sense to build vs. buy.
Obviously Elon attempted this. His goal was to have a software system that talked to the floor, sent instructions to the machines, and tracked data automatically. But, this is the catch – it doesn’t really exist as an out of the box product and is notoriously very difficult to do well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible, but then you’re back to this age-old question of build vs. buy, knowing if you build, it will cost millions of dollars and years of trying to get it to work right. Which, in the case of Elon, didn’t completely pan out as he had planned.
There’s definitely room for improvement which is what we’re doing at SensrTrx – turning the productivity of the factory floor on its head, but it’s definitely not as easy as others believe it to be. Case in point, Elon.
Q. Caden Armstrong mentioned better UX design. Do you think that’s a major contributing factor?
A. 100%. Software design in the ERP and MES world is stuck in the 2000s. All of the wonderful things we’ve become used to on the iPhone, tablet, the Mac, even Windows, have not been brought to ERP or MES software world. Which, again, is why we saw a big opportunity for software like SensrTrx.
The traditional, outdated software of yesteryear requires a lot of training. It’s not something you can pick up and just understand. It’s difficult to figure out where the data is and what it’s telling you. The root of why it’s so hard is simply – the design is terrible.
There’s a quote from Pete Seeger that I like to reference when talking about design and UX.
“Any damn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.”
That quote exemplifies why focusing on the UX and ensuring software is simple, easy to understand, and pleasing to the eye can be so difficult.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we’ll be tackling the other videos and conversations that resulted, which focus on topics like whiteboards or production boards on the floor, daily production meetings, even the best manufacturing books for leaders.
Check back as we highlight these subjects, and as always, we love feedback so if you have valuable insight to add to the conversation, don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected].