LED manufacturing-execution systems: sometimes less is more

Sept. 14, 2011
While an MES for LED fabrication offers a vast array of functional possibilities, PHIL WALKER’s advice is start with an out-of-the-box solution.
Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time with LED manufacturers who are looking to purchase a manufacturing software system. Some already have basic components of a system and want to round out their capability with additional features. Others have some disparate data systems and are looking toward an integrated manufacturing-execution system (MES) to provide some holistic data management, equipment management and manufacturing tracking.

There is a lot of easily accessible information available on the Internet, in trade magazines and at conferences and events to help rank MES providers and provide key points to consider during the purchase and implementation processes. This includes advice about handling the potential pitfalls and challenges of MES selection and deployment. However, I’d like to touch on just one very key point that is particularly important to the LED manufacturer: Focus on minimizing customization or feature improvements during initial MES deployment.

It’s easy to get swept up into all of the functional possibilities an MES system can offer. There are custom user interfaces, custom reports, highly specialized and unique process flows, and even customized interfaces to seldom-used third-party data systems. It sounds functionally wonderful—and it can be. But the more customization built into the system, the greater the likelihood of longer deployment time and higher initial costs—in some cases double or triple the initial installation expense. Long-term maintenance costs are higher as well.

Our advice: start with an MES system as close to out-of-the-box as possible. This enables you to have a rapid deployment of fundamental capabilities and gives you a quick return on your investment. As you settle in with your system, you will get a better sense of what customization you really need to support your unique business, compared to a lot of nice-to-have features that don’t really add value to your operation. You can then work with your MES vendor to target specific projects and add functionality tailored to your specific needs, both current and projected.

The decision to deploy an out-of-the-box solution becomes easier if the MES also includes LED industry-specific functionality. So be sure to understand the capabilities of the basic system. For example, you may wish to look for systems supporting send-ahead lots, specific testing protocols, lot splits, die-level traceability, and even bin-yield causality. In many cases these are key to LED manufacturing efficiency.

Some customers, based on current needs or even future plans, are looking for functionality to support larger parts of the supply chain including wafer manufacturing and module assembly. Making sure you have a vendor with a capable LED MES solution that can deliver a standard solution, yet scale as your business grows, is key to providing a manufacturing baseline for efficiency and growth — one that is not too big, not too small, but just right to accommodate your business now and through all the cycles of its growth.