Death By 1,000 Cuts: How Legacy Manufacturing Software Is Hindering Productivity

When small- to mid-size manufacturers are looking for solutions that helps boost productivity and enhance factory floor operations, popular brand names typically seem like the option that is least risky. 

But those popular brand names are from legacy, monolithic software options—what I like to call enterprise solutions—and hamper business operations because of their "one-size-fits-all-factories" approach. 

There’s an assumption that brand image equals reliability but upon implementation, these enterprise solutions become a death blow to SMBs because their factory doesn’t have the internal resources necessary to adjust. This leads to engineers becoming more reliant on outside vendors to run the shop floor; having to hire extra IT staff and consultants, or implementing niche system integrators to make the software work effectively. 

These manufacturers are then left feeling frustrated or held hostage by the systems that were supposed to help them and revert to manual tracking processes via clipboards and whiteboards. A catch-22.

Fundamentally, enterprise solutions preach operational freedom and flexibility, but in reality, they don’t take into account the nuanced challenges, needs, or budget constraints faced by small- to mid-size manufacturers, which make up 98 percent of the industry — the true backbone of our American supply chain.

Sixteen years leading factory floors—including at General Motors, Tesla, and Alta Motors—has made me a bit of an efficiency fanatic. I’ve seen manufacturers miss out on productivity gains because their systems can’t make adjustments or implement new tools. 

America’s SMB factories today must be nimble and adaptable, something that’s only possible if they can take advantage of genuinely flexible solutions that their experts can manage themselves. A solution that becomes a tool in the shop floor's toolbox to meet new supply chain demands, accommodates scaling and seamlessly offers insights that support the needs of our modern American supply chain.

How to gain (or lose) efficiency

Previous generations of manufacturing software slowly tackled one issue at a time and were designed to assist fixed factory operations. Process changes were time-consuming and counterintuitive compared to the onslaught of supply chain problems and related modifications.

As Vince Lombardi once said, “Football is a game of inches, and inches make the champion.” 

Ryan Kuhlenbeck speaks on factory efficiency loss

The same applies to manufacturing. Efficiency is rarely gained or lost in large chunks, rather it’s found in multiple small gains that can be implemented quickly. The cumulative impact is massive — to gain 30% in efficiency, you need to find the smaller 1% efficiencies and adjust thirty times.

Ignoring subtle inefficiencies causes a gradual decline in overall factory productivity when left untouched. This is the true definition of death by a thousand cuts. 

Flexibility and customization are the most important values 

Mid-size American manufacturers have vastly different operational needs, resources, and budget constraints compared to large manufacturers which is why enterprise solutions that possess a “one-size-fits-all factories” system won’t help.

The key is to find a digital solution that holds the potential for further impact. If you’ve picked the right solution, the priority issues should only amount to half of the total achievable gains. Your digital infrastructure should accommodate a constant expansion of tools to meet your needs when future challenges arise. 

Flexibility and customization are the two necessary ingredients to ensure manufacturing software truly adds value to the needs of small- to mid-size factories. The key grievances might not justify investing in digital transformation but serve as a catalyst for change. A new breed of software that prioritizes these factors enables SMB manufacturers to address the hidden nuanced inefficiencies stymying their overall production.

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Step into the future of factory operations with Pico MES. Start your journey toward a more efficient, error-proof factory floor today.

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