APS in 30 days, or why being agile pays off

15 Oct 2019 - Case study, Production management

What are the most time-consuming phases of deployment of an IT production management system and how the agile approach will shorten the time from commencement of implementation to actual system launch to just a few weeks? 

Growing awareness of and need for IT production management systems

Many manufacturing companies are already well aware of the need to enhance their IT tools by adding dedicated modules for tighter control and management of production processes. Such needs are often spurred by the company’s business growth, which makes its production planning, scheduling and execution more and more complicated and requires support offered by a specialist IT system to function properly and efficiently.The difficulty in taking a decision to launch implementation of an APS/MES system lies not so much in the company’s financial position or conflicting interests of individual departments, but increasingly on the organisational side. The most common organisational problems include the quality of ERP data and deployment time, which may last from a few months up to even several years.

Why system deployments take such a long time?

Unfortunately, the prospect of many months of hard work and internal conflicts of interest discourages decision makers, who keep putting off the implementation of APS/MES systems. In the meantime, staff rotation may occur in a company, which will further delay the deployment of a modern tool for planners, who are stuck with calculation sheets.

We could easily jump at a conclusion that deployments of APS/MES systems simply take a long time, just as the implementation of the ERP system. But is this really true? And if so, why? The time-consuming deployment is caused by the fact that most suppliers of IT systems start the project with in-depth analyses and extended project assumptions. As a result, they need to develop hundreds of pages of process-related documentation and then adjust and configure the system accordingly. Not to mention the necessary integration of the ERP system with APS/MES modules, which can also take many months. Such an approach may seem quite reasonable, but it involves great risks. In the final project phase, during user training, it may even turn out that half of the project concept in the documentation has actually nothing to do with the company’s current reality. So is there any way out?

Agile project management!

Luckily, the PSIasm (APS/MES) system may be implemented faster than it would take to buy a new car! How is this even possible? Do we need to compromise on something in return? Will everything work in the end? Such concerns are usually voiced by people with a sceptical approach to agile software implementation. So let us now take a closer look on how the APS/MES system deployment time can be actually reduced to a minimum. By using agile system deployment techniques, production scheduling and reporting based on the advanced PSIasm system may be launched in less than 30 days.

The three most time-consuming system deployment phases are: development of project documentation, integration with the ERP system, and user training. The first of these phases is still very important in the agile approach, but the process of development and updates of project documentation overlaps with other deployment activities. Project workshops which define the process-related and functional scope of system deployment are held on an on-going basis, and the software supplier and the manufacturing company can continuously monitor the development of and changes in project documentation, depending on the identified needs and requirements of planners. As a result, at the close of the project the scope of documentation is as complete as in the traditional (waterfall) approach, but we can avoid the unpleasant surprise of seeing how the content of such specifications deviates from the actual expectations of users.

The second and third stage (integration with the ERP system and user training) can also be shortened during system deployment, not only thanks to the agile approach to project implementation, but also to the PSIasm system itself and its innovative technologies.

System flexibility is the key to success

A robust APS/MES system must be configurable to a large extent to the company’s business reality. On the one hand, there is an ERP tool in place as an overriding system which determines the format of data and processes in a company; on the other, we have the shop-floor reality where production is actually carried out and there is no room for any compromise or simplification. The APS/MES system, given its limitations, simply cannot drive any changes in a company. Quite the opposite, it must fit into the company’s reality and effectively support the planners in production management.

The flexible APS/MES solution can easily work with the ERP system, as it comes with a functionality standard which makes it possible to model the extensive range of data derived from the ERP system without the need to introduce complicated changes in user interfaces. The system is very user-friendly and the time needed to learn how to use the application is short. Fast integration with the ERP system, a wide range of standard functions, and an almost immediate launch of the system keep the deployment and user training time as short as possible. The ‘30 days’ system launch mentioned in the title is absolutely possible, because the PSIasm system in the standard version is available practically right away, thanks to its state-of-the-art technological solutions.

The more you have, the more you want

The functional scope of a robust APS/MES system should meet the production management challenges at practically any company which has only just started deploying advanced IT tools of this kind. This does not mean, however, that new requirements will not be voiced by planners and managers after some time upon deployment. System flexibility and easy extension comes into play here, making it possible to introduce changes to meet the client’s new requirements efficiently and with no need for rebuilding the entire application logic. This being said, we should never forget the overriding rule of thumb: the APS/MES is there to fit into and support the company, not to make any revolutionary changes.

Why being agile pays off?

Deployment of the APS/MES system is by no means piece of cake, and may pose a great challenge for a client, as it engages the personnel and requires financial resources. However, with the agile approach and state-of-the-art technologies, deployment time may be cut down to just a couple of weeks. As a result, we will avoid a number of unpleasant surprises, and the effects of production planning and scheduling based on the APS/MES tool will be visible much faster.

Author: Piotr Becela
Consultant, production control systems at PSI Polska Sp. z o.o.

Piotr Becela specializes in production planning, scheduling and reporting. His work consists in designs, tests and deployments of process-related and functional solutions for the clients. He participated in a number of system implementation projects in Poland and in Asia. One of the largest projects was the multi-stage deployment of an end-to-end production management tool at the Chinese train manufacturing site in Qingdao.

See also:

PSIasm: Advanced planning and scheduling system