Bruce Lilly

                                                                            Professional Writer and Editor





Book review 

     Information Technology for Manufacturing: 
            Reducing Costs and Expanding Capabilities  

      By John Clemons, Mark Cubine, and Kevin Ake, with Bruce Lilly 
      St. Lucie Press, 2003 
Review by Julie Fraser  
   Principle and analyst  
   Industry Directions, Inc.  
   Newburyport, Massachusetts

The introduction to Information Technology for Manufacturing suggests that there is gold in manufacturing plants – you just have to work hard to identify where it is and then mine it.  There is also gold in the pages of this book, and fortunately, you don’t have to work hard to find it or appreciate its worth.  

No matter how much or how little you know about manufacturing or manufacturing IT today, you will learn something from this book. It provides useful insights through clear prose and real-world examples. 

Information Technology for Manufacturing is written in an easy-to-read yet informative style.  Just like the authors, some of whom I’ve known for many years, the wisdom of extensive experience is couched in comfortable and conversational terms.  There is nothing academic or arrogant about this book’s approach.   

The book begins with a review of dramatic changes in a few key manufacturing industries over the past 20 years and some general trends impacting all manufacturers’ businesses.  These include quality and safety, the power of retailers and regulators, mergers and acquisitions, tighter relationships with suppliers and outsourcing.  They tie these overall trends into specific plant-level issues - whether it’s capabilities you need or gain, costs you can cut, or costs you incur.  To keep up with this pace of change, we agree with the authors, software can be crucial. 

A review of manufacturing IT explains that corporate and engineering groups have long pursued separate paths with IT.  Each built a separate infrastructure to deal with very different problems.  This background information illuminates why ERP systems have helped those in the plant so little – and have actually had a negative impact in most cases.  The authors admit that ERP solves some thorny problems for manufacturing enterprises, but also point out the costs and the mismatch of the benefits sold to what is actually available from these financially-oriented systems.  They also credit the ERP software providers with making great strides. In the past few years, corporate has dominated with ERP, Y2K and efforts diverting attention away from plant needs. 

If you are trying to justify investing in manufacturing IT, the book begins to get most interesting when it points out that while plant needs have been largely ignored by corporate IT, the paybacks can be enormous.  The equation becomes clear when the authors point out that as much as 76% of a product’s value added in the supply chain may come from manufacturing, depending on the industry.  They also illustrate that Manufacturing IT investments may better leverage ERP, which has generally had questionable paybacks. 

As the book’s subtitle suggests, it points out that the foundation for ROI for manufacturing applications is in reducing costs and expanding capabilities.  It is also liberally sprinkled with actual case examples with data about how much implementations cost and quantified benefits.  These stories give you a feel for the opportunities companies in a variety of industries have discovered through the use of manufacturing IT systems. 

Since manufacturing IT provides the tools for mining the gold in a plant, they describe what tools are useful.  The authors break the portfolio of manufacturing IT systems into five categories:  

    1. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) 
    2. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) 
    3. Decision Support Systems (DSS) 
    4. Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) 
    5. Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS)
Each of these elements in the manufacturing IT portfolio are explained, as well as some of the critical differentiators in systems and what industries are most likely to benefit from specific types of systems.  The authors make it clear that not every manufacturer needs extensive functionality – or even a commercial system – in every area.  They also reinforce the fact that ERP systems, even the modules with similar names, usually were not designed from a manufacturing perspective, so are not equivalent. 

The last five chapters of the 12 in this book address the real-world issues of making this portfolio of manufacturing IT solutions pay off in a company.  They begin by acknowledging that choosing and implementing appropriate manufacturing IT in a plant is difficult and explaining why that is.  One of the book’s goals is to bring much of the information needed, which has been scattered among many sources to date, together into a single source. 

Information Technology for Manufacturing describes the fundamentals required to make projects successful.  A chapter is devoted to each of the phases of an IT project lifecycle: 

  1. Strategy: Stating what benefits you hope to achieve and developing functional requirements that explain what you must have to achieve them in your context, building an architecture.
  2. Framework: Designing solutions using standards and models appropriately, choosing software and laying out project cost and justification to get the project funded.
  3. Implementation: Planning and managing the project to get it done on time and within budget based on resource allocation and flexibility to meet changing reality.
  4. Support: Providing ongoing training and software updates to adapt to business changes as well as continue to improve.
Beyond this roadmap to success, it includes an entire chapter on pitfalls.  While the authors start with the “top 10” most common pitfalls, they list many others.  And most impressive, the chapter lists how to avoid pitfalls and then a five-step process for how to climb out of them once you’ve fallen in.  This chapter even includes the seven habits of highly effective manufacturers, a list of fundamentals that, as part of the corporate culture, will keep a company on track. 

The conclusion points out that the authors have personally witnessed the measurable and sustainable success companies can achieve with the approach they’ve laid out.  The authors are practitioners – consultants and systems integrators.  So Information Technology for Manufacturing is not theoretical, but imminently practical.  Every company must “find its own path to IT success, because there are as many paths to success as there are companies.”  This guides the reader through all of the thought processes needed for that ongoing journey. 

It even has appendices that explain the relevant standards and conceptual models as well as a glossary of the myriad acronyms widely used in manufacturing IT.  This is something that anyone getting started in manufacturing IT has had to do for themselves.  These appendices are a useful reference, and can help get everyone on the same page. 

This book is a great starting point for someone trying to ramp up their knowledge of manufacturing and manufacturing IT.  It’s also ideal for those changing industries, as it clearly discusses the challenges encountered in various industries.  Those developing software or systems for manufacturing will benefit from this cogent explanation of what is currently available and its opportunities and pitfalls.  Perhaps most important, it’s a valuable resource for anyone trying to ramp up a manufacturing IT project and gather all of the right constituents together from across the enterprise.   

Whether your challenge is selling a project up, down, across departments, or against the backdrop of previous failures and skepticism, the fodder is in there.  This practical book defines:  

  • ways to gain a financial pay back from manufacturing systems
  • the portfolio of functions to examine, 
  • what projects require to become reality,
  • the four project stages of strategy, framework, implementation and support, and
  • pitfalls and how to avoid them or climb out of them once you’ve fallen in. 
Information Technology for Manufacturing is, as the introduction suggests, a map and manual for how to mine the gold in manufacturing plants.  Since this book uses real, concrete scenarios to convey the concepts nearly anyone can read it and really learn.   

For a long-time manufacturing maven like me, reading this book was like sitting on a favorite uncle’s knee as he told me stories about the world and lessons he’d learned to be successful.  It’s a great introduction, update, or addition to your knowledge about manufacturing and the IT systems that serve it.  Information Technology for Manufacturing moves along at just the right pace – and so does the flow of ideas.  If the authors get their way, manufacturing IT that benefits plant personnel will move along at a better clip, too. 

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