Our last post was prompted by a Cambashi white paper that showed the semiconductor industry in the midst of great opportunity while facing imminent questions regarding their manufacturing execution systems (MES): Is MES supporting or impeding growth in these halcyon times? Is it time to change MES?
To answer these critical questions, a close look at legacy systems is essential. Cambashi contends that many semiconductor companies have systems that would be considered legacy by any measure, having been installed and operating in production facilities for a decade or more. The analyst notes that this is long before quality standards started to rise based on needs for and expectations of faultless quality. They argue that the systems present enough problems that they are “ripe for change, despite the costs and risks of changing out an operating MES.”
The legacy limitations are detailed on several fronts:
- Software shortcomings. Traditional MES was focused on tracking and recording production, not improving outcomes. Legacy systems, even the older ones, can deliver information to keep production running in facilities; but, getting information out for analysis and adaptation is a different matter. Many companies have created add-ons or workarounds to get production data from their MES, but this approach is neither easy nor effective. The challenges in accessing information translate into difficulties in performing essential tasks, such as preparing for audits, conducting historical analysis, comparing performance across sites, monitoring exceptions, improving processes, and analyzing root causes.
For the high-value segments of the industry, older MES are even more problematic in that that are designed for one-time configuration and set up, struggling mightily to keep pace with product changes and changing customer demand. Custom programmed additions may be instituted to cope with this, but they are costly, hard to maintain, and provide poor data integrity and limited visibility into production.
- IT implications. Multiple systems and custom programming results in “spaghetti code” that is inherently difficult to maintain and expensive to support. Ironically, MES developed in the ‘70s to replace custom-intensive shop floor control systems. Now there’s a sense of déjà vu as companies struggle to accommodate new products and shorter market windows with legacy MES.
- Hardware. Many legacy applications run on hardware platforms that are no longer supported. You know there’s a problem when spare parts for mission-critical MES have to be sourced on eBay.
- Staffing. Staffing IT to support old applications is also difficult. As professionals with skills that are no longer taught retire, replacing them is a major challenge. Even in this difficult employment environment, few people want to work on outdated technologies.
These limitations represent a serious drag imposed by legacy MES systems. Fortunately, the advent and evolution of modern MES provides semiconductor concerns with an alternative to ongoing fixes through enhanced functionality and powerful benefits. We’ll detail those in our next post.
Semiconductor Industry Report - The Right Time to Change