Making sense of the manufacturing software market

If you’ve spent any time looking for manufacturing software, you’ve probably come across two types of solution. 

On the one hand, there are tools whose virtue is their ability to solve many problems. On the other, there are more targeted, single use-case solutions. 

Both have their place, but it might not be obvious right away which is the right call for your operations.

In this post, we’ll break down the difference between platforms and point solutions to help you pick the one that works for you. 

Platform  vs. Point Solution: What’s the Difference?

When it comes down to it, you might not care whether you use a platform or a point solution. The thing that matters most is that whatever you purchase solves problems like it promises. 

There are appreciable differences, however, that can help you minimize stress in the long run. 

Platform, Defined

Platforms, simply put, are solutions that let you design new solutions. 

They’re tools for improving connectivity, control, and data collection on the shop floor. 

[If you want a deeper dive into the ins and outs of manufacturing platforms, check out this recent guide]

But what defines platforms is the fact that they’re generative. You can produce novel solutions that match your unique challenges.  

Advantages of platforms

Every manufacturing operation is unique. Even two manufacturers looking to solve the same challenge may have radically different requirements (integrations, regulations, machine types). 

What platforms offer is the ability to tailor a solution to your needs without the huge outlays traditionally associated with “custom” solutions. 

Building no code applications–or, really, just but modifying a template–engineers can get started with digital manufacturing fast. And they can add use-cases and scale as the situation calls for it.  

What is a point solution?

If platforms do many things, point solutions set their sights on narrower goals. 

Whether it’s digital work instructions, machine monitoring, or predictive analytics, point solutions throw the weight of their organization behind a single manufacturing problem or solution.

Advantages of point solutions

Traditionally, the advantage of point solutions is that they bring a level of focus and expertise missing from more ambitious solutions. 

The vendor makes the choice to do fewer things in order to focus on delivering their solution well. 

Assessing both sides of the argument 

So far we’ve covered definitions. Now let’s look at what they mean.

In order to outline the pros and cons of each we can look at some common concerns manufacturers face early in the buying process.

“We’re looking for something that can get started fast.”

Who isn’t! It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of time-to-value with any new technology. 

So it’s natural that this comes up early in the search process. 

Here’s something to keep in mind: quick time to value isn’t an inherent property of platforms or point solutions. It’s a question of vendor. 

For example, some Tulip customers have seen times-to-value as short as 4 weeks. Other platforms may take months just to implement. 

The best point solutions will offer similarly quick ROIs. Others will keep you stranded in pilot purgatory.

The important thing here is to look for vendors who can give you concrete examples–based on real customer stories–about solution speed and return. 

“We’re looking for something that will minimize complexity.”

There’s a reason manufacturers are reconsidering monolithic solutions

In the past, increases in functionality led to proportional increases in complexity. 

This isn’t necessarily the case any longer. At this point, complexity lurks in many different forms. And if you’re not careful, it’s something you can find with platforms and point solutions. 

Complexity can result from:

  • Limited or impartial integrations
  • Hardware/software incompatibilities
  • Ongoing, hard-coded configurations 
  • Vendor management
  • Lack of scalability

With platforms, it’s critical to ask how each solution will manage permissions, integrations, and the addition of new use cases overtime. 

You should ask the same point solutions, too. But there’s one additional concern: How much of a hassle will it be to manage multiple point solutions?

The key here is to ensure that the decisions you make now aren’t setting you up for a management nightmare later. 

“We’re looking for something that scales.”

If there’s one thing that successful digital projects have proven, it’s that scaling isn’t an accident. You have to account for it at the very beginning of a new technology initiative. 

So whether you’re looking at a platform make sure they can scale. Can you take your monitoring solution from 5 machines to 500? Will your digital work instructions work in every plant, for every product variant without herculean authoring efforts? Can you configure inventory tracking solutions to new conditions without having to start from scratch? Will it work with your ERP or MES?

The manufacturers who can answer “yes” to these question are those that will see the biggest gains and the most success in the long run. 

“If we want to add more functionality in a year, could we?”

This is perhaps the most important question.

And it’s the one that really separates platforms from point solutions. 

In our experience, manufacturers tend to start small with their digital initiatives. The formula is deceptively easy.

  1. Pick a sure fire use cases
  2. Roll out small
  3. Prove value
  4. Scale

Voila. 

It’s what comes next that gets interesting. After you prove value once, do you start the process over? Do you initiate a new search for needs, vendors, solutions, etc.? 

With point solutions, this becomes a fact of life. It can mean having a different vendor for work instructions, machine monitoring, inline quality, process visibility, and inventory tracking. (Or building new functionality in-house, which has its own set of drawbacks.)

With platforms, adding new use cases can be as simple as designing a new application or downloading a new template. 

No new vendors. No extra spend. No additional complexity. 

Platform or point solution? Which will make the difference for you?

Thus far we’ve seen the differences between platforms and point solutions. 

You’ve probably noticed that we have a particular angle on the question of which offers the most value. Guilty! 

But I hope I can convince you that we’re coming at this from a sincere place. We truly think that our platform does more, better, than you’ll find anywhere else. 

We’ve seen our platform help our customers improve their operations fast over and over. We’ve seen them add use-cases and go places with Tulip that neither of us imagined in our first conversations. 

So if you have any questions about how Tulip can help you, get in touch. But no pressure. If we think a point solution will work better for you, we’ll say so.