4 Benefits of Manufacturing Software for Continuous Improvement


Matthew Littlefield, President and Principal Analyst of LNS Research in Boston, MA

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Progress toward Operational Excellence requires the strategic alignment and then optimization of key resources: people, processes, and technology. Each of these three resource categories contributes its own individual, unique value. But it’s important to note that there’s an enormous amount of interdependencies between them. For instance, people—a company’s leadership and culture—are virtually worthless without the supporting processes and technology.

Our research has shown, technology can help to accelerate considerable performance improvements. And following along the logic discussed above, it’s most effective when used to support an organization’s people and processes. Not long ago, this meant little more than deploying IT to help people communicate and find information more easily or to automate certain processes. These past deployments were often disconnected and have left many manufacturers with hundreds of disparate systems and software applications across facilities.

Today’s next-generation manufacturing software solutions, however, are changing that. In fact, modern manufacturing software solutions not only support people and processes, but can greatly compound the effectiveness of them by unifying workflows and information in a much more holistic fashion. In this post, we’ll discuss four examples of how manufacturing software solutions are enabling companies to get more value out of precious resources to drive continuous improvements and even accelerate progress toward Operational Excellence.

1. Better Visibility into Operations

Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI) is a staple within the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) software category. EMI software provides unprecedented levels of crucial performance information by connecting traditionally disparate shop-floor systems, enterprise systems, and database sources. These solutions are designed to transform different data and content sources (often in real time) into intelligence, and, according to a joint MESA International and LNS Research manufacturing metrics survey, helped companies drive an average 24.1% reduction in total cost per unit.

Next-generation EMI software is generally equipped with role-based dashboards, so personnel at all level has access to decision-making support that’s contextualized specifically for and relevant to them. The survey also revealed that 61% of companies are planning on implementing or have already implemented role-based manufacturing performance dashboards.

2. Production Enforcement

Another key to any manufacturing IT portfolio is Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software. MES software works with real-time production data sources to guide, control, and enforce certain aspects of the production process, including materials used and steps taken, the qualifications and roles of personnel, and ensuring the correct production assets are being utilized. MES has proven to assist companies with being more responsive to customer demands and help to increase production capacity and capabilities.

By acting as a catalyst for these improvements, MES software has also proven to help drive on-time and complete shipments performance improvements, with users reporting a 22% average annual improvement, as well as reductions in total cost per unit, with users reporting a 22.5% average annual improvement. Additionally, LNS Research’s MOM survey showed that 50% of executives who thought their organization was effectively managing manufacturing operations had already deployed MES software.

3. Quality Assurance and Control

Quality management is the cornerstone of many company’s operations value, and manufacturers have been acknowledging the need for next-generation quality software solutions for years. These solutions typically automate shop-floor-level quality processes, but also enable communication and collaboration on important enterprise quality issues. As more organizations are thinking about “closed-loop” quality management, the concept of streamlining quality process content and data across functional units, as well as proactively involving suppliers and customer feedback, next-generation solutions are becoming increasingly important in the manufacturing environment. 

The MESA/LNS Research metrics survey showed that 58% of companies already have quality management software implemented. Those with quality management software implemented experienced an annual average improvement of 20.4% in on-time and complete shipments.

4. Centralization and Consolidation

While different types of manufacturing software can help drive continuous improvements individually, they have a significantly greater impact when deployed and leveraged under one common system architecture and suite of applications. Manufacturing software vendors have been working to provide better, more comprehensive solutions for years, and today most are providing entire suites of MOM functionality. These suites typically include elements of the following types of functionalities/applications:

24% of companies have already implemented a comprehensive suite of MOM applications, while 21% are planning to do so within a year. With a holistic MOM solution, manufacturers are able to bypass many of the traditional integration challenges associated with disparate IT, centralizing and consolidating capabilities and intelligence with different solutions that are architected to integrate and share data with one another.

LNS Research has found that users of a comprehensive suite of MOM applications were able to outperform others in improving net profit margins, with an average annual improvement in net profit margins of 19.4% versus all other respondents’ 10.4% average annual performance improvement.

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