The Role of Manufacturing Software

July 23, 2013
Last month, we talked about manufacturing technology and the aging workforce, and the efforts organizations are taking to preserve and leverage tribal knowledge. When it comes to doing that in the manufacturing industry, manufacturing software has been a game changer.

In general, software has revolutionized how business is conducted. It’s opened up the capability to capture and analyze large amounts of manufacturing operations and performance data, and for organizations to communicate and collaborate on issues, which was traditionally one of the biggest roadblocks for large and distributed companies.

Industrial Automation and Safety Systems. At the level of the system architecture that is closest to physical machines and processing equipment, industrial automation and safety systems are the first line of defense. If, for instance, a vessel is getting too much pressure or a temperature gets so high that it becomes dangerous, in some cases companies are still relying on people to shut them down. By automating these most critical processes, it mitigates risk and improves safety.

Workflow and Electronic Work Instructions. Manufacturers can provide in-context manufacturing step instructions and training, and validate that particular work instructions are followed during manufacturing processes, by mapping process workflows into software. Eliminating reliance on homegrown and local processes; these solutions can require approvals for particular actions and also trigger the need for and routing of escalation when issues surface.

Manufacturing Execution System (MES) Software. On the shop floor, MES software can ensure that manual and semi-automatic manufacturing plans, recipes and procedures are followed and enforced. Large companies can build and make changes to MES-driven processes from a central engineering/IT location and distribute them to shop floors globally.

Remote Management/Mobile and Collaboration Software. Reducing the need for on-site experts, organizations can use remote management, mobile and collaboration solutions to securely make changes and adjustments to processes from anywhere in the world. Although this doesn’t necessarily capture knowledge, it allows companies to harness specialized talent when needed.

Operator Training Simulator (OTS) Software. Simulating operational practices with OTS software helps to train employees on new processes and operations, but it’s also critical for honing the ability to respond to new or unusual situations. By realistically simulating the manufacturing environment and all of the critical operational interactions, employees can use OTS software to become proficient in this “safe sandbox” environment, leaving them better prepared for real-world situations.

Maintenance Management Software. Today’s maintenance management software solutions can capture, organize and enforce maintenance procedures. These solutions can be extended even further beyond maintenance planning and procedures to include the proper lists of tools and materials, and can even include instructional videos to assist maintenance personnel in the proper diagnosis and repair of manufacturing assets. Maintenance information can be collected and delivered, in context with the work being performed by maintenance personnel using mobile devices, right where the action is taking place.

Balancing People, Processes, and Technology
With many companies bringing back, or at least considering the reshoring of manufacturing activities, we can see positive signs that manufacturing careers will regain popularity in the younger generations. Regardless, manufacturers will continue to find new ways to optimize key resources across people, processes and technology to enable environments for continuous improvement.

To read more thought leadership regarding manufacturing software, quality management software, and industrial energy management software, visit the LNS Research Library. The library offers a variety of resources aimed at helping executives improve business performance.

>> Mark Davidson, [email protected], is principal analyst at LNS Research ( He previously served in various leadership roles for Invensys.