10 Things To Consider Before Buying Additive MES Software11 March 2021
At some point in their additive manufacturing journey, most organisations will experience challenges when managing AM. Manual tasks eating up a lot of time, or a lack of traceability in the workflow, inefficient processes will prompt companies to search for a solution that can streamline operations.
The process of researching and selecting additive manufacturing execution and automation software deserves careful consideration, as initial pricing and features are only a small part of the ultimate cost and value of any solution.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to consider when navigating the process of choosing additive MES and workflow automation software:
1. Document Your Current Processes
It’s important to measure an MES software vendor against your strategic list of needs and wants.
One way to go about defining your requirements is to document your infrastructure and processes to understand how users perform their tasks.
When considering AM automation software, you’ll want to find out how project managers handle AM orders or what’s the current process of scheduling production jobs. Ask your Am team about the issues they are experiencing and any potential problems they see arising in the future.
Without detailed documentation of your current environment and needs, you will have no framework by which to judge your potential solutions.
Not only will this documentation help define the software requirements but can also be useful later in the software implementation phase.
Learn more about additive MES functionality in this guide
2. Look For A Strong Product Roadmap… But Never Buy Only On Future Promises
Make sure the additive workflow automation and MES provider has a strong product roadmap that can support your future direction. Because MES sits at the centre of your AM production, the system you select will likely be with you for many years.
This means that the relationship that you establish with your MES vendor will become a long-term partnership. So any solution you choose should be adaptable and able to evolve with your company as it grows.
While a vendor needs to have a solid and strategic vision for the future, you shouldn’t structure your buying decision based only on this vision, though.
Instead of focusing strictly on the road ahead, you could also take a look in the rearview mirror to get a better sense of what’s been delivered over the previous 12 months and why.
This will help you understand the product team’s velocity, whether the roadmap is realistic, and how a software provider integrates customer feedback into the product’s growth.
So the takeaway here is never select software based only on future product features. Consider the current functionality and buy what’s shipping today.
4. Engage Your Team
When selecting an automation software for AM, it’s crucial to engage your AM team throughout the buying process.
Any decisions made in isolation of the people who will use the software will result in the company needing to hard-sell the change.
When people feel sold to, they are more likely to resist. So ensure you identify key team members to be involved in choosing the new software and ask for their opinions and listen to their recommendations.
Generally, keep the total people responsible for decisions or recommendations to a minimum. In most business IT projects, this can be kept to 4 stakeholders, including the users, the management and the IT.
5. Consider How It Benefits Your Customers
Although your customers aren’t directly involved in the buying process, consider how it will impact them, especially if it’s the software they will be interacting with.
One way workflow automation software for additive manufacturing can benefit your customers is by providing a web-based ordering portal, which can simplify and accelerate the process of 3D printing order submissions.
For example, for L’Oreal’s 3D printing lab, easy 3D order submission was an essential requirement when choosing a workflow software. The faster L’Oreal’s engineers can place orders and receive their parts, the more designs they can iterate, thus accelerating product development.
When choosing software, seek to make estimates on customer satisfaction, in addition to hard metrics. This will help you to approximate the magnitude of impact and make better decisions in the long run.
6. Note Any Necessary Third-Party Integrations
Additive MES works best when it can connect with other systems, including ERP, PLM and business intelligence tools.
Without strong connectivity and wide integrations, it’s utility as a centralised production management system for additive manufacturing is compromised.
In your search for automation and MES solutions, ask vendors if they can provide integrations or open APIs to integrate with the systems you need.
AMFG, for example, seamlessly integrates with a range of enterprise software, including ERP, PLM, payment gateways and logistics integrations.
7. Talk To Existing Software Users, But Don’t Be Limited By Their Reviews
It is always a good practice to ask an additive MES solution provider for at least 2 references.
All implementations have issues, but understanding the causes and the severity of those past issues are what you need to find out before buying anything.
On top of that, you can use your network and social media to do your research. One way is by getting plugged into LinkedIn groups and seeing what your peers have to say about using production management solutions for additive manufacturing.
8. Get Hands-on With What You’re Buying
While it’s a common practice to show product demos, going beyond demos is what can give you a real feel of what it will be like to use the software.
There are several tools you can use to assess capabilities and establish confidence in the solution. Workshops, for example, are ideal when you and a software provider need two-way sharing of information or want to resolve specific uncertainties.
Another option is Proof Of Concept, which is typically used to resolve a technical risk or uncertainty. It builds out a piece of functionality to prove it possible. A POC may also be used to understand feasibility.
Furthermore, hands-on assessment and a short trial can help determine required user training, adoption friction and change management plans.
Whatever the options are, nothing beats the hands-on experience with the product – it’s the only way you’ll get the real perspective.
9. Understand a Software Cost
Since choosing your additive MES and automation platform will be a long-term investment, make sure that the cost of your investment aligns with your budget.
Before investing in any software, you should have a complete understanding of both current and future costs, as this will ultimately impact your ROI. For example, is the pricing based on production volumes, number of printers, number of factories and/or other factors? If there is a variable involved, is it in line with your expectations? Are there additional fees for custom integrations, implementation etc.?
At an early stage, a good approach is also to ask for a range including low end, high end and best guess price estimates.
10. Make a Final Analysis
When selecting the software for additive manufacturing management, you’ll most likely evaluate several options.
In doing so, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing the options against each other in a vacuum, thereby losing sight of the outcome.
What you need to do instead of direct comparison is map out all options against your organisation’s AM strategy.
Reviewing the risk, change effort, probability, cost and impact is a great framework for understanding the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each option and ultimately making the final decision.
Key takeaways for selecting the additive MES and automation software
Buying software for additive manufacturing management can be a long, stressful process. And in the end, you must also be prepared for change if you want to see positive results.
Listen to new thinking, understand how other companies who’ve had the same issues as you, revamped and improved their processes.
Ultimately, remember that buying an MES software for additive manufacturing is a partnership with two equal parties. Working together as a team with your solution provider, which cares about your success, and leveraging best practices will almost certainly result in good ROI returns.
At AMFG, we work closely with every prospective partner to ensure that we live up to these standards and provide every customer with the solutions to help solve their biggest challenges and drive meaningful business improvements.
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