As a Life Sciences consultant, I get involved in many different aspects of MES [manufacturing execution system] projects. In a recent project, I helped define the project execution plan. I knew Emerson’s biotech customer was highly concerned about the overall usability of the solution design as well as the acceptance of the solution by the operators.
In this particular case, the Syncade MES project is being implemented to replace a legacy system. This means the operators were already used to working a certain way and they would be highly critical of any solution that was less usable than the system they already had. In order to manage this dynamic, I suggested to our project team that we include a Conference Room Pilot (CRP) as part of the project plan.This project includes many different workflows. The first of kind workflow developed was for weighing and charging solid materials to a bioprocess. After we developed this workflow with the Syncade MES system, we held the conference room pilot.
This activity included the Emerson project team demonstrating the workflow to the customer, and then providing the operators with hands-on time with the system themselves. This accomplished two important goals.
First, the project team was able to get feedback on the design from its most important constituents – the operators. By providing an opportunity for early hands-on time with the solution, detailed feedback on usability aspects was shared.
The second important goal was to socialize the new solution with the operators. By providing an opportunity for meaningful feedback, we were able to make the operators feel like they had a hand in the overall solution design.
During the CRP, we also provided the ability to trial mobile worker devices. This biotech manufacturer’s current legacy system was developed before the age of table computers. Today, there are many choices for wireless mobile devices. Choosing the right user terminal is not an easy task and users are looking for the right combination of mobility, screen real estate, and input devices (scanners, keyboards, etc.) During the CRP, we were able to let the operators try a variety of wireless terminal devices to aid them in the selection of the best device for their environment.
The conference room pilot was a big success. Too often, it is not until the FAT [factory acceptance test] where the operators have a chance to interact with a new MES or automation system. By that time, it is too late for meaningful feedback. With the feedback received during the CRP, we can modify our approach to designing the remaining workflows, and make changes to the first of kind workflow.
The result will be a solution that is accepted by the end users. This approach has many advantages, but it needs to be planned into the schedule from the beginning, and of course, it costs more. From the experience we had with this customer, I believe it a best practice that should be used for all MES projects.