iBASEt recently held its annual Excelerate conference in Newport Beach California, a destination sure to attract a broad and engaged audience to 90-degree heat in October. And there was plenty of reason to be engaged.
iBASEt is a vendor of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Enterprise Quality Management Systems (EQMS), and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) systems focused on complex discrete manufacturing, mostly in the aerospace and defense (A&D) market, and also with some customers in Industrial Equipment, Medical, and Nuclear.
The conference started with a Keynote from my colleague Matt Littlefield on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM). As usual, Matt was well received. He set the bar for the rest of the presenters and outlined a broad view of operational and information technology (OT & IT) in the changing manufacturing world. Matt explained the importance of collaboration between engineering and manufacturing and that this collaboration varies in different industries. The three Vs--velocity, volume and variety of data--allow us to compartmentalize different types of industry and the characteristics of MOM solution required.
The Integration of PLM
Michel Gadbois, VP of Sales at iBASEt, followed Matt and focused on the integration of PLM to iBASEt. He shared the stage with a colleague from Siemens, Tom Hoffman, and they concentrated on the link between carrying out complex process planning on Siemens Teamcenter manufacturing and execution on iBASEt Solumina. The theme of the presentation was the Digital Thread, something that is growing rapidly in engineering driven businesses (and indeed others) due to the need to move information between different applications as products move from idea, through development, implementation programs and maintenance, repair, and operation.
Maintaining this thread in highly complex programs such as aircraft development and manufacturing can bring huge cost savings and increases in quality. The focus of iBASEt’s Digital Thread is firmly on ERP, PLM, MES, and EQMS. Michel pointed out that, for larger companies in the A&D value chain, there are only two or three PLM and ERP vendors into which iBASEt has to integrate, but for smaller companies there is a wider choice and so standard solutions are much less likely to exist. While this can be a hindrance to integration the possibility to carry out process planning in Solumina leaves plenty of scope to simplify the integration, at least to PLM.
The focus of the talk was strongly on Teamcenter capabilities and Michel explained that iBASEt markets its solution as a PLE – Product Lifecycle Execution – system. LNS Research feels that this is an unnecessary complication of nomenclature and would back that up by noting that the term PLE was hardly used again in the three days of the conference. In system integration discussions like this the issue of master data is always around the corner. In complex discrete manufacturing PLM is almost always the system of record for manufacturing As-Designed data and this is one reason for the discussion on doing process planning in PLM rather than Solumina – PLM tools generally do not have the facility for importing process plans from other systems, but can of course export them to MES for production execution.
On the other hand Solumina is almost unique amongst MES systems in having high-end integrated process planning and execution capabilities, a big bonus for A&D manufacturers. This discussion will probably become moot; the advent of IIoT is starting to change thinking on master data and the system of record. Distributed data is the norm in a connected world and so we do not believe that the data that makes up the manufacturing bill of materials (mBOM) all needs to be in the same place. What is needed is the ability to bring it together from various smart connected devices and applications as and when it is needed on the shop floor.
iBASEt Strategy and Customers
The afternoon started with Conrad Leiva, VP for product strategy and partnerships, with a presentation that concentrated on smart manufacturing and had some great insights into how the IIoT and digital manufacturing should be seen as the base on which the entire smart manufacturing paradigm can be built. Conrad also stressed how iBASEt heavily supports appropriate standards to simplify integration with other systems. He was also joined by a partner from ATS Global, a manufacturing software consulting firm, who discussed standardized integration capabilities for Solumina to plant floor systems.
The floor was then left to BAE Systems to describe the implementation program for its multi-site roll out of Solumina. This presentation described probably the best organized and executed MES implementation that I have ever seen. BAE Systems won commitment from operators to executives and built a complex but complete project organization that involved all stakeholders. Even its selection process was super thorough with a detailed study being carried out across 12 possible software vendors before the company chose iBASEt. The first five sites were started in just two phases and now roll out to other plants has started. Very impressive.
New Functionality and New Markets?
The current iBASEt Solumina systems comprises six main parts including supplier quality, EQMS, MRO, and of course, MES. One of the major new functions about to be launched is manufacturing intelligence (MI). The functionality is much like most MOM-based MI solutions, except that it is based on IBM’s Cognos business intelligence system. iBASEt is working to make its whole database taxonomy available in Cognos; data will be uploaded then Cognos will do the necessary MI functions in its database, therefore avoiding performance degradation for the shop floor. It is very clear that Cognos will be more than sufficient for the simple Pareto charts, trends, and dive down KPIs that will be available to customers. It will be more interesting to see if the price is right.
Finding new vertical markets in which Solumina will fit out of the box promises to be somewhat tricky. iBASEt has clearly focused on medical devices and equipment as a possible good fit. We got the opportunity to talk with one medical device customer at the conference, and while they are very happy with the ability to manage data in a regulated environment, they are concerned that the data volumes from making millions of small medical devices every year may overwhelm the Solumina database. Medical equipment would seem a much better fit if iBASEt can overcome the fact that two of the world’s main scanner manufacturers also happen to be major MES vendors! Indeed, time will tell how well iBASEt can compete when it comes up against the big boys, few of whom have much market share today in A&D.
IBASEt is still a small software vendor despite its position of strength in the A&D market. As the IIoT becomes more central to its sophisticated customer base and as they move towards a smart manufacturing paradigm, iBASEt will need to position its products in the context of an IIoT platform and applications. Clearly, iBASEt would be wise to find partners to fill out its overall software solutions. Today’s focus on partnering with PLM vendors is interesting but perhaps risky if not augmented by other options. The PLM vision is great for complex discrete manufacturers that require management of huge amounts of design and manufacturing data and must share it with their suppliers. Collaboration platforms like Teamcenter promise much, but execution on such a large scale has been slow and may not be delivered entirely by these platforms.
iBASEt needs to ensure that its traditional strengths are not threatened by the narrowness of its partnerships: many technologies and platforms matter to the A&D industry. MRO matters, ERP matters, and so does PLM. Vendors of all of these systems will build out integration platforms to serve the enterprise. A MOM system like Solumina can be central to the implementation of the digital thread that sews together all the information and functionality of these systems; it should not be considered just an extension of PLM and its process planning capabilities.
To finish I would like to put an idea out there: During this year’s conference season, LNS Research has been invited to many user groups (and a few analyst only events by big players) in the manufacturing software industry. One clear trend seems to be evolving – small is better. When we say that small is better, we are probably reflecting something quite different than may be immediately perceived: small companies have happy customers who are keen to share their success with their peer group and even some grumpy analysts. This gives the impression that smaller vendors have happier customers. We challenge the big vendors, and you know who you are, to prove us wrong.