Affordable MES For SMBs

Affordable MES For SMBs

Can only large companies with plenty of funds afford an MES? Are small and medium sized manufacturers destined to be stuck in the complexity of Microsoft Excel for ever?

MES can be quite an involved undertaking for a large company. Engineers and IT professionals must rationalize operations bringing intellectual coherence to them. Transactions must be defined and understood. Existing applications must be sorted through and organized. Even for a smaller company it takes a lot of work. Some companies seem to strive for complexity in applications.

New products, especially that follow some of the trends of affordability and ease-of-use, interest me.

I was recently approached by a technologist from Estonia who had heard my podcasts and figured I’d be interested in his company’s new product—Katana MRP. [Note: the term takes me back to my early years in IT software installing MRP II. I didn’t ask about the name. But translations into English sometimes get interesting.]

Katana MRP is a manufacturing and inventory management software for small and medium sized manufacturers. The software is cloud and subscription based. Affordable for even the smallest makers/manufacturers (Plans starting from $39/mo. The main value stands in the simplicity of use.

Among the benefits to the manufacturer include better stock level optimizations and manufacturing planning leading to less time spent on operations and more time to product development or selling/marketing.

My contact, Oliver Vesi, told me, “The feedback from over 500 users shows that a lot of the value stands in the easy-to-grasp interface that makes the state of your stock and manufacturing perfectly clear. The second best outlined value is integrations. Katana MRP integrates with the most used accounting and e-commerce platforms, so the sales data and stock needs run in and out automatically.”

Following is a list of main features.


Manufacturing grid. Track the status of each manufacturing order from material planning to production execution. Complete overview of your production pipeline.

Material availability. Have control over the availability of materials required for fulfilling each manufacturing order. Take necessary action by purchasing more materials or changing the priority of orders.

Production planning. Set priorities of orders and manage tasks for your shop floor personnel.


Sales grid. Track the status of each sales order from order creation to delivery. Manage material availability for each order and conveniently create required manufacturing orders. Get a complete overview of your sales order fulfillment pipeline.

Manage sales and purchase orders. Each order can be edited to include information on customer or supplier, items, quantities, sales or purchase prices, tax levels etc. All your sales and purchase orders are accessible from one place.


Automatic inventory management. Your inventory levels update automatically based on your sales, purchasing and manufacturing activities. Calculate costs using moving-average-cost reflecting all purchase and manufacturing related expenses.

Real-time inventory control. Make inventory decisions based on the quantity of products and materials you have available for sales or manufacturing. Control in hand, committed, and expected stock amounts in real time.

Stock level optimization. Set an optimal reorder point for each product and material. Make procurement or manufacturing decisions based on optimal stock level calculations.


Product and material cards. Each product and material can be edited to include information on category, product code, variants, reorder point etc. All your portfolio items are accessible from one place.

Variants. Each product and material can include variants such as colour, size or material. Manage a wide portfolio effectively via variants.

Production recipe (bill-of-materials). Keep track of costs and quantities of all your materials required for assembling a product.

Production operations (routing). Specify the steps that are used to manufacture a product. Calculate costs related to production labour.

Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are we too old to be creative? I don’t even know you, but I know the answer.


When I reached 30, I was really bummed. Over the hill. No great mathematician, so they said, ever had a significant discovery after age 30.

But then, I was no mathematician. But still, was life over?

Be Creative

Actually I have never been more creative and productive than over the past 20 years. And I’m way past 30, now. And The New York Times this month ran an article with some proof that creativity does not necessarily end at 30. It leads with a 94-year-old inventor.

It states, “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

Keep reading. Try new things. Learn a different language. Go for new experiences. Ask questions.



Speaking of geniuses. Did you hear about the TV advertisement that instructed your Google Home (OK Google) to search for ingredients of its sandwich? There is another reason not to have one of those devices that is always listening to you. The other being Amazon Echo (Alexa, buy a book…). I do not have one installed. There is one disconnected in my closet. Here’s a New York Times article on the ad and one from TechCrunch.

The question is how obnoxious do you need to be to be an effective marketer?

I hate, Hate, I say, those pop-ups on Websites. And all the other tricks I see to get you to click. Ever seen those things at the bottom of the WeatherBug app? Even the marketers know that most clicks are due to error. People are frantically trying to click the vanishing X that makes the ugly thing go away. Then they click the ad and get carried off to some place they don’t want to go.

But Website owners need money. Marketers will pay well even for obnoxious, accidental click ads. The poor users, well, we just get a degraded experience. No wonder we don’t go to the Web like we once did.

Digital Thread

Can HMI/SCADA Software Be the On Ramp to the IIoT Digital Thread?

Craig Resnick, vp at ARC Advisory Group wrote a provocative article on the role of HMI/SCADA and the IioT.

These are interesting comments about the state of manufacturing software, “The Digital Thread often combines manufacturing software that provides real-time, role-based HMI dashboards with Ethernet networking technology, using Big Data, HMI/SCADA and analytics software, sensors, controllers, and robotics to help optimize industrial asset performance and availability in an edge to cloud world. This enables end users and OEMs to collect and analyze asset performance and operational data in the network, often from connecting disparate systems, from the factory floor to ERP, providing an ‘industrial-strength’ data analytics solution that combines role-based manufacturing HMI dashboards with real-time manufacturing KPIs for decision support.”

“The Digital Thread has, for example, driven the convergence of HMI/SCADA and MES platforms. Increasingly, these converged HMI/SCADA and MES platforms help users visualize both key automation and business metrics and KPIs, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and energy savings, to help maximize the productivity and profitability of their businesses.”

This idea of things converging around MES is intriguing. There are so many applications gaining traction, along with interesting standards for data transfer, databases, analytics, visualization. All this, and I’m not sure where the money-making places are right now. Maybe writing smaller communication apps and mobile apps that can be sold to big companies?

Modular Manufacturing Management Software

Modular Manufacturing Management Software

The major manufacturing management software trend of the year is modular. Let’s make it easier to buy, install, configure, and use.  The latest company with a major upgrade is Parsec. The company has announced launch of the latest version of its modular manufacturing management software: TrakSYS. A unified, 100% web-based platform with multiple, fully-integrated modules, TrakSYS can be used as a full manufacturing execution system (MES), or deployed to solve one or more business challenges — from performance and quality to e-records, maintenance, workflow, and more.

TrakSYS gathers critical operations data from machines and people, and delivers insights to help operations run more productively, safely and profitably. Leveraging 30 years of experience in delivering manufacturing solutions, Parsec designed this version of TrakSYS to simplify manufacturing operations in a variety of industries –  from pharmaceutical and packaged goods to food and beverage, automotive and more.

“Manufacturing is complex, but your software shouldn’t be,” said Eddy Azad, CEO for Parsec.  “The key advantage of TrakSYS lies in its flexibility. TrakSYS has all of the power of traditional MES, without the ‘weight’ and cost. Manufacturers can simply turn on the features they want at any time and customize a solution that specifically addresses their needs.”

Manufacturing Management – Simplified

Under the strain of increased regulations for accurate, accessible electronic recordkeeping, manufacturers need a real-time view of manufacturing operations. The pressure to increase quality and quantity, while reducing costs, also has manufacturers seeking a deeper understanding of trends and patterns and new ways to drive efficiency. Custom software and traditional MES solutions can be used to address these concerns, but they are costly and complicated to manage.

Azad, explains, “It’s all about making software easier to use and more cost-effective to deploy, maintain and scale.”

One Platform, Many Applications

TrakSYS is an integrated platform that contains all of the functionality in one package. The modular nature of TrakSYS brings complete flexibility to deploy only the functions that are required, without a major software upgrade. TrakSYS business solutions include OEE, SPC, e-records, maintenance, traceability, workflow, batch processing, sustainability, labor and more.

“Whether a factory has one line or 100, uses manual or automated production processes, relies on PLCs or an IIoT infrastructure, TrakSYS can help. We designed this powerful version of our proven software with the idea that software should help manufacturers to do their job, not become the job,” added Azad.

The latest version of TrakSYS is now available.

Rockwell Automation–A Software Company?

Rockwell Automation–A Software Company?

I put on the pair of magic glasses. Immediately I was transported to a magic land of another reality. I saw things floating in front of me. I could walk around objects and view them from every angle, but I couldn’t touch them.

There was a white dot. I focused on the dot and brought my hand up to eye level forming a fist with fingers on top. Then I opened my fist like a jasmine bud you drop into hot water to make fragrant tea. And a computer screen appeared before my eyes.  I raised a finger, pointed to a button, brought my finger down and then back up as if clicking. And a machine started.

No, I had not smoked something. (Although people suspect that in my days at university… well that’s another topic for another day!)

Perhaps you’ve seen the TV ads for the Samsung phone with Virtual Reality (VR) goggles? I was wearing a real product–the Microsoft Hololense. This is Augmented Reality (AR). I could see people walking through the first machine. I could see the actual machine in the second scenario. I controlled the fan speed of the real machine without touching anything. People watching would only see me waving my hand.

Yes, this was last week in Atlanta at Automation Fair sponsored by Rockwell Automation. At a stand called modestly enough The Future of the Connected Enterprise, they showed these working examples of AR in a manufacturing setting.


Let’s be honest. In 20 Automation Fairs I’ve attended, I’ve never felt like I’ve seen the bleeding edge of technology. Cool new products? Sure. Rockwell kept advancing with the times. The Logix engine was an advance in the state of the art followed by Studio 5000. But that has been some time ago. This year just felt differently.

First there was a live demo during the media day that included information solutions. Next was the Innovation Zone demo of AR. Finally was a dive into Information Solutions–something initially highlighted by new CEO Blake Moret.

First an admission and some definitions. I stole the headline of the piece from both ControlGlobal and Automation World. I think I saw it in both places on the Web last week. Now the description–Rockwell calls “Software” its software for HMI, programming, and the like. What really has been building is “Information Solutions.” More accurately, the headline should have been, “Rockwell Automation, An Information Solutions and Services Company.”

An Information Solutions Company

11-10-16-scalable-analyticsInformation Solutions and Process Solutions are headed by the same VP/GM, John Genovesi. Process had been growing for several years, but it seems to have leveled off lately. Information Solutions was front and center featured this year. My industry research this year revealed that IS accounts for the bulk of revenue increases within the “Connected Enterprise” strategy. And that makes sense.

One of the deep-dive interview opportunities offered me this year was the Information Solutions group. Spokesperson Khris Kammer told me that there were four pillars to discuss this year–Scalable MES, Scalable Analytic, Connected Services, and Collaboration/Teams. I’ll have more detail on product releases from the first two. Connected Services was touted by Moret during our interview.

The traditional challenge for MES has been its monolithic nature. If you want MES, you must buy a big chunk. Rockwell has been working on this customer challenge and barrier to entry. Rockwell introduced “suites”, but that did not address the entire problem. Now are “fit-for-purpose” apps–quality, production, performance. Read more below.

Analytics became the domain of data scientists through “Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence” (EMI) which was a spin-off from enterprise Business Intelligence. Rockwell partners with Microsoft PowerBI, but it also worked on the scalable aspect to bring customers in a little at a time. Built upon existing products Historian and VantagePoint, developers built Analytics for Devices and Analytics for Machines–a cloud-based broader solution. Read more below.

Connected Services blends service in networks, security, and managed services. This has been a growing part of Rockwell’s business and now receives the attention and focus of landing as part of the Connected Enterprise strategy.Collaboration features a Web-based, HTML5 app called TeamOne. The team demonstrated it to media in perhaps the first live demo at a Rockwell keynote. Figuring that pretty much everyone already brings a smart phone to work, this app is IT-friendly and allows chatting, information access, video capability, and more among selected members of a team. These personnel may be in the same area, scattered around a facility, or even remote if necessary.

Scalable Analytics

“Our Connected Enterprise vision has always had analytics and collaboration at its core,” said Genovesi. “As we expand our Information Solutions offerings, a primary goal is to make analytics more approachable and right-sized for the customer. New analytics solutions help our customers move ahead on their Connected Enterprise journey, no matter where they are today.”

The new offerings expand capabilities for analytics across the plant floor for devices, machines and systems, as well as throughout the enterprise. In this approach, analytics are computed and gain context closest to the source of decision at the appropriate level in the architecture to return the highest value – from edge devices to the cloud on a variety of new appliances, devices, and on- or off-premise cloud platforms.

FactoryTalk Analytics for Devices appliance provides health and diagnostic analytics from industrial devices. It crawls your industrial network, discovers your assets and provides analytics by transforming the data generated into preconfigured health and diagnostic dashboards. The system also delivers “action cards” to your smartphone or tablet if a device requires attention.

At the machine level, FactoryTalk Analytics for Machines cloud application provides equipment builders access to performance analytics from deployed systems to help support their customers via the FactoryTalk cloud. For manufacturers, this capability capitalizes on connected technologies to help drive higher availability and output while reducing maintenance costs.

Rockwell Automation now provides a predictive maintenance solution that can predict failures before they happen and generate a maintenance work order to avoid costly downtime.

Scalable MES

Rockwell Automation has released the following applications, with more to come in the future:

FactoryTalk Production Application a scalable MES solution that addresses the challenges associated with enforcing processes in manufacturing. This application integrates with ERP, and tracks the order and recipe parameters necessary for production.

FactoryTalk Quality Application allows manufacturers to easily and efficiently model and enforce their plant’s in-process quality regimens at a scalable rate. Manufacturers can use the Quality application on a project basis and scale up when value is proven.

FactoryTalk Performance Application is a modular application that assists manufacturing companies with factory efficiency and production improvement. By providing visibility into the operations performance, this application allows for lean and continuous improvement, preventive manufacturing, improved asset utilization and operational intelligence.

Each expanded MES application is implemented on thin clients for a modern user experience and reduced, IT infrastructure cost. Users can add on each application to their current framework, helping protect their current investments while realizing these additional benefits.

Automation Fair Number 25 Unveils Rockwell Automation’s New Leader

Automation Fair Number 25 Unveils Rockwell Automation’s New Leader

blake-moret-2016There is a discernible change in atmosphere around Rockwell Automation these days. The statement is not meant in anyway to reflect on former President and CEO (and still chairman) Keith Nosbusch. Newly elected President and CEO Blake Moret appears to be settling in to the new role, and he brings a distinctly new personality to leadership.

I was greatly honored that due to some schedule changes that created disruption with the usual media interviews on Tuesday he still worked out some time late Monday afternoon for a private interview.

When I left my last position, I searched for a focus and name for a new, Web-based media site. The Manufacturing Connection made the most sense—and I could get the domain name. Then I went to the first Rockwell Automation event following and found a new theme—Connected Enterprise. We’re all thinking about the importance of connections.

Moret started with the Connected Enterprise theme. His vision for the company’s direction includes and expands upon the theme. It’s not only EtherNet/IP (they still talk about “standard, unmodified Ethernet”). Networking is important. Beyond the network are connecting people, projects, services.

Not only did Moret present the importance of the Information Solutions business, the topic came up later in a general session. Rockwell has definitely grown the capabilities of its software solutions. Its analytics capabilities appear to be robust (Rockwell is using it internally in its own manufacturing processes) with the goal of continually improving its ease of use.

The foundation of Rockwell Automation’s Connected strategy lies with plant floor devices. “Since the majority of devices come from us,” Moret said, “we can connect easily to obtain the information necessary for the MES and enterprise levels.”

Several integrators pinged me before my trip to ask me to investigate the repercussions of the acquisition of system integrator Maverick Technologies. “We’ve always had a dual approach,” Moret told me. (That reminded me of my sales engineer days in the 90s when I had Rockwell quote a couple of projects as the integrator.) “We have no intention of walking away from our partners. But there are customers who want a single source of responsibility. We can handle those projects now.”

“And, by the way,” he added, “we doubled the number of Chemical Engineers in the company with this acquisition. We added a lot of domain expertise.”

The transition seems to be smooth so far. Leadership changes are a critical event in an organization. Handled well, the organization gains renewed vitality and direction. Rockwell Automation is on the right path.


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