Insider Secrets to System Integration for MES and Paperless Manufacturing

There’s confusion out there in the MES and paperless manufacturing market about what “system integration” means and what it can do for your company.  We cut through the confusion and offer tips for ensuring integration leads to benefits for you and your shop floor.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How can you navigate the myths and legends of manufacturing system integration? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How can you navigate the myths and legends of manufacturing system integration? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

System integration.

For many manufacturers, the term has taken on mythical, magical, properties.  Like some IT or software unicorn, many companies are questing for the holy grail of total “SYSTEM INTEGRATION.”  They call it the “digital enterprise,” “enterprise integration,” or “operation integration.”  Companies feed into the myth, believing they cannot achieve operational Nirvana without system integration.  Current IT trends and tools lend support to these beliefs, especially big data and advanced analytics – both require integrated systems.

There are benefits to system integration for savvy manufacturers.  It’s worth the investment, but many companies fail to fully realize the benefits in their single-minded focus on complete system integration.  They may even be hurting production.  The goal shouldn’t be a monolithic digital enterprise, but improved productivity and better business processes.

We want to take a brief look at system integration, focusing on the benefits and dangers rather than the technology (which can change quickly as new products and techniques are released), and offer tips on how you can design a more successful integration project.

What is system integration?

System integration is a computer technique where individual software components are combined into an integrated whole.  With interconnected systems, electronic data is shared and exchanged across the network, ensuring accurate information is available anywhere and at any time.  Integration improves communication and coordination.  By linking computer systems or software applications together, either physically or functionally, the entire computer network acts as a coordinated whole, eliminating information “silos” that occur when data is input in different locations.

There are several methods of system integration.  Most utilize a variety of techniques, not just new software or hardware.  Cultural adaptation and coordination, as well as an evaluation of business processes, are also required for a successful integration.

The Benefits of system integration

Follow our tips to ensure maximum benefit for your next system integration project.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Follow our tips to ensure maximum benefit for your next system integration project. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The primary benefit of integrated systems is improved functionality.  Data within the organization will be fully harmonized, creating a more capable system, improving performance and enhancing existing systems.  Reports will access more data, improving accuracy and decision-making while delivering better operational management.

Manufacturing pioneered the early study and use of system integration as companies sought improved operations through the use of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM).  In CIM, companies used computers to integrate manufacturing activities.  By integrating computer systems, such as product development, process planning, production, and delivery and after sales, companies could deliver accurate information where and when it was needed, and in the format that was required.

Companies that smartly invested in CIM were rewarded.  The US National Research Council asserts production can be improved through CIM by as much as 40 to 70 percent.  Design costs can be reduced by 15 to 30 percent, and overall lead time can be reduced by 20 to 60 percent.

Navigating the dangers of system integration

Simply pushing computer systems together, or imposing a new workflow process or computer application, is not enough to achieve beneficial system integration.  Many times, the drive (or quest) for system integration begins in the front office, not the shop floor, which can lead to a number of problems for production.  A system that benefits one department may not benefit or even work for another, hindering productivity, reducing benefit, and building resistance to the overall integration plan.

The fact is, the business processes and computer systems that work for finance, IT, or product design aren’t an optimal solution for production.  An ERP is a transaction-based system, and the data, output and processes are different than a behavior- or process-based MES or paperless manufacturing system. A transaction-based system catalogs data, while a process-based system manages workflow with information.  Trying to impose a transaction-based system on shop floor workflow is inefficient.  Any advantage gained from the system integration is lost as more resources are required to complete work.

In an effort to create a common data format or a shared operational system for the integration, many companies will sacrifice operational efficiency.  Manufacturers will lose the operational functionality they need.  A transaction-based system will never offer the tools necessary to optimally manage redline edits or deliver process enforcement, even if it works great for HR or design.

Consider the cultural side of the equation.  Can you imagine imposing engineering workflow or finance workflow on an assembly or production line?  It sounds silly, but many companies do that when the purchase a “suite” of pre-integrated software systems.  It delivers front office benefits by sacrificing operational efficiency.

Tips for successful software integration

Don't forget to consider cultural needs, as well as technological needs, when planning an integration project.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t forget to consider cultural needs, as well as technological needs, when planning an integration project. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider these tips as you evaluate the opportunities for system integration:

  • Set specific goals for the integration, and ensure those goals are met with a clear ROI. Many times, companies will continue to add functionality as their costs and project complexity grows exponentially.  Add in the costs a piece of functionality may have to one area, and for some projects an ROI will never be achieved.  Manage your initial expectations to focus on the initial key project drivers.
  • Look at not only a technical solution, but a cultural one as well. Start the process by breaking down the cultural boundaries in your company before rolling out a technical solution.  This will require buy-in and consensus.  Make clear not only the goals, but the expectations.  Give each area a voice in the final solution, and ensure their needs are met.
  • Look at delivering the project in phases, rather than a single, massive installation. Any enterprise-wide system integration is more than just software installation, it requires a cultural shift.  Tackling an enterprise project is not just technically difficult, but culturally difficult as well.  A phased implementation will eliminate many of these problems.
  • Look for added value in the project, and ensure it is real value, and not just functionality. For example, linking design and production on a single system is one tactic, but many times system integration can be as simple as sharing a single database with revision control and an approval process, and doesn’t require an entirely new software package.  The value of the project is achieved without the additional and unnecessary complexity.
  • Beware of vendors promising an “integrated” solution. Many companies are working to build “digital enterprise” software.  Their tactic  is to “purchase” solutions to be integrated into their own system.  The result of these purchases is often problematic.  The integration the vendor makes by smashing the system together may not match your current processes or needs, and will add complexity to the installation at your site.  The benefit the vendor gains by marketing an “integrated” solution does not translate to your shop floor or enterprise.
  • System integration doesn’t require a single “master” system to manage operations. Look at sharing data across relevant systems using an application-independent data format.  This project can easily be done in phases.  For example, send orders from your ERP to your MES, automatically generating orders for production.  Once a product ships, send the product data to the PLM to create a master record.  Strategically link your systems to maximize value and increase functionality, rather than making wholesale changes to your operation or workflow that lead to enterprise disruption and the never-ending project “roll-out” that is outdated by the time it finally launches.

 

Just like a magic unicorn, more often than not a single “enterprise” system sounds good, but the implementation is problematic.  Forcing change and new processes to ensure a single system isn’t integration.  It leads to unnecessary complexity, project delays, and problems.  When planning a project, consider the needs of each area, and how the system will benefit them.  Conduct the project in phases, with clear goals and expectations.  Want to learn more, or see how you can begin a phased implementation of a system integration project?  Give us a call or leave a message.

5 Ways Market Acquisitions May Hurt Your Manufacturing Business

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Market acquisition is changing the manufacturing software solutions market, but not always for the better.  We take a closer look at its cost to innovation and service to manufacturers.

Market consolidation – big companies purchasing smaller companies in order to make even bigger companies – has become a way of business.

Consider this, Google has purchased more than 160 companies since the company was founded.  In less than one year, they purchased 21 companies.  In 2010, Google bought a company, on average, every two weeks!  According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple averages an acquisition every other month.  Acquisitions are rampant, widespread, and especially common in the high-tech and software industries.

Market Acquisitions and Manufacturing

What can you do when your software vendor is sold to another company? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can you do when your software vendor is sold to another company? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing software solutions aren’t immune to the epidemic of strategic acquisitions (or, as we call it, “purchase, use, abuse, consolidate, wash and repeat”) trend.  Just this year, Dassault Systemes has purchased companies such as Quintiq, which offers supply chain optimization software, Accelrys, which manages research data, and Apriso, an MES.  Other manufacturing software companies are being gobbled up at a rate rarely seen outside a holiday meal.  Visiprise was purchased by SAP.  Dassault purchased Intercim (let’s be honest… not sure why you need two MES – perhaps one was lonely?)  Most recently, Siemens has signed an agreement to purchase Camstar, another MES.

The marketing spin factories are hard at work turning these purchases into stories of customer benefit.  They tell us about “expanded offerings” (i.e. more stuff you can buy), with “market synergies,” (i.e. more places to sell our stuff) “value delivery focus” (i.e. more ways you can buy our stuff) and even, “innovation accelerant” (i.e. more ways we can make you buy our stuff).

Big companies have a goal in mind with each purchase, and it’s not focused on the customer’s needs.  In fact, there’s a “I just bought a company” expense passed on to customers when an acquisition occurs.  We call it (mockingly) the “Purchase Pain Payment Plan.”  It’s this unspoken sacrifice all customers pay when a vendor decides it’s time to acquire or be acquired.

Customer Payment Plan for MES Market Consolidation

Let’s take a look at a few of the items you might come across in the payment plan:

  • The Service gaps and delays.

Face it, every software system is different.  As a company begins to integrate their internal service organizations with those of the newly purchased company, there will be service gaps.  The service plan you previously purchased slowly morphs into a new plan that better serves the vendor.  You may discover new service charges on your billing, or a flood of “Service Update” notices on legal letterhead.  Once the vendor adjusts their workforce (i.e. layoffs) the service gaps will widen, and you may see delays in service or changes in how the company responds to your needs.  Eventually, the problems and service questions will be worked out, but not before the company has you and the other customers where they want you.

  • How can you protect yourself when a new company is servicing your business? Image by www.colourbox.com

    How can you protect yourself when a new company is servicing your business? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

    Upcharges and the push for new functionality.

Many companies buy a smaller company to acquire their smartest employees or access their IP (intellectual property).  It is one way to fill out a product offering, eliminate a perceived weakness, or make up for a lack of innovation.  For example, Google purchased Emu to add context and an interactive element to text messages.  Many manufacturing software companies, such as Siemens, will purchase MES to complement their PLM or other software.  Vendors seek upcharges and sales of the new functionality, pushing customers to purchase and spend more with promises of amazing new software synergies that may (or may not) be of benefit to you.  These vendors will also exploit their new customer base for new sales, offering them their existing products or packaging them with the product they know the customer needs.

  • Adjustments to the upgrade path.

Software ages, and one way to ensure your software stays relevant is an upgrade.  Most companies offer an upgrade path, or a plan for upgrading your system.  This plan is thrown out the window once a company is purchased, as the teams that were working on your upgrade are now moved to integrating the new software or to other projects.  In fact, many times the vendor will push you to purchase a new system in order to move customers to the systems they are actively supporting, leaving customers that were happy with the software and system before wondering how they can work with the system being pushed on them now.

  • What will a change in vendor mean for you and your business? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    What will a change in vendor mean for you and your business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Scalability issues.

There is a fine balance between getting the service you and your company needs, and being overcharged for services you don’t want.  As a vendor grows through acquisitions (or being acquired) changes will be made in how the business is handled, your software is serviced, and in the relationship between customer and vendor.  Many times, this will lead to scalability problems, as customers begin paying for services, functionality, tools or features they don’t want.  Your use of the software system may be consistent, but as they vendor begins incorporating new products and employees, they adapt their billing change – which will be reflected in the cost of the software.

  • New features that aren’t focused on your needs.

Many times, an acquisition will herald a strategic change for a company.  They will not only purchase a company to fill a void, but bring innovation back into their processes with a solution that has been perfected and scaled for the market.  Problem is, the new direction may not be the one you need, and it may not even be the solution you originally thought you were purchasing.  As the vendor resources pivot to capitalize on the recently purchased innovation, previous customers are left wanting.

Minimize the Impact of Market Consolidation

The truth is, not all acquisitions are bad.  There are benefits, such as rapid growth, additional market penetration, economy of scale and service synergies.  Large companies, hindered by infrastructure and layers of management, rely on acquisitions to fuel innovation and growth.  Acquisitions can be catalysts for positive change, helping both companies find success.  A successful acquisition can propel an excellent idea and successful product to a much wider market.

Process Improvement graph.

The right strategy will help you navigate unforeseen market consolidation. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

But not all acquisitions are successful, either for the companies involved or their customers.  Even with a solid integration plan, there will be challenges that customers need to recognize and plan for, either with an alternate service or internal adjustments.  In the painful process of integrating companies, customers can easily become forgotten in the shuffle.  The key is to ignore the hype and marketing surrounding an acquisition and take a critical look at what it means for your business, your shop floor, and your team.  Plan accordingly and make sure your business needs are met.

In addition to the inconvenience an acquisition can cause customers and manufacturers, there is also a real danger to innovation.  As companies purchase smaller businesses to fuel growth and product line, innovation is lost to integration.  Energy is poured into making systems work together as a (somewhat) cohesive whole, rather than solving problems better and faster or creating new solutions.  Integrated systems often produce increasingly complex systems that create more problems than they solve.

Innovation has always been the fuel that drives manufacturing growth, and acquisition will never be a suitable replacement to innovation.

Do you have questions about your manufacturing software solution, or want to see how software innovation can benefit you?  Give us a call or leave a message.  We’re happy to help.

Information Management: The Greatest Gift You Can Give Manufacturing

Information management, when implemented on the shop floor, will unlock production potential that’s hindered in a paper-based environment

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever notice how much your shop floor relies on information?  Consider this:

  • You get in an order from a customer (information) so you create a work order (information) which contains work instructions (information) and send it on to the shop floor (information).
  • The shop floor follows the instructions (information), then collects data (information) on the work to ensure it meets specifications (information).
  • When complete, the product is packaged and sent as instructed (information) and records of production are stored (information) and the process analyzed (information) for improvement.

Granted this is a very succinct and abbreviated recap of the manufacturing process, but it’s hard to miss how vitally important information is.  And yet, many companies rely on outdated and inefficient information management techniques (including paper) to assemble, deliver, monitor and record manufacturing data.

… and they wonder why they aren’t getting the results they should.

Defining Information Management

So, what is information management?

What challenges can an effective information management system solve for your shop floor?  Image by www.colourbox.com

What challenges can an effective information management system solve for your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Information management encompasses the assembly, delivery, and eventual storage of all the data and information used in the production process.  A system that efficiently and effectively manages the transmission of information, which drives production, will have a tremendous positive impact on production.

An effective system gets the correct information precisely when and where it needs to be, with minimal effort from the users.   Now consider your current information management system.  Do users:

search for information through stacks and stacks of paper, bound or paper-clipped, flipping pages to find a key fact and holding up production while they frantically scramble for the data….

struggle with managing change when a customer requests different specifications, wondering how they will find every piece of data that must be revised as they run to the shop floor with the updated plans…

labor to correct the inevitable mistakes that occur when old work instruction or incorrect information is sent to the shop floor…

toil to collect data by scribbling on the margins of the work instructions or traveler, and then hoping mistakes aren’t made when it comes time to input it….

drown under piles and piles (and piles) of paper records, knowing that retrieving data from those boxes will be a nightmare…

An information management solution

Process Improvement graph.

Solve the underlying information management problems on your shop floor with a single, comprehensive solution – paperless manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) and paperless manufacturing systems directly address the information management challenges on the manufacturing shop by providing a vehicle for assembling, collecting, delivering, recording and archiving data and information.  The system ensures the right people get the correct information when and where they need it.  It provides a foundation and framework for your information, with each piece of data organized so it can quickly and easily be retrieved when and where you need it.

So, what does this mean for your shop floor?  Consider this, an effective system will:

  • Automate information processes. Companies without a system utilize laborious and error-prone processes to collect and distribute information.  For example, printing work plans, assembling travelers, and carrying them to the shop floor.  A good MES will do all that work for you, ensuring your team can focus on production and other tasks that add value.
  • Increase your information velocity. Ever consider how much time is wasted looking up information and just figuring out what you need to do?  How much improvement would your team realize if there was a single place to get correct information, and it was delivered right to them when they needed it.
  • Eliminate errors. Wouldn’t it be nice to be sure your shop floor was working from the latest, most correct work instructions?  What if you could know each employee was actually looking at the work instructions, doing the work in the correct order and catching quality escapes before they became a problem?

Put simply, an MES or paperless manufacturing system manages production information, providing more benefit than almost any other purchase.  It improves every aspect of the manufacturing operation.

Want to learn more, or see how your shop floor will benefit with information management through paperless manufacturing?  It’s much more than simply putting your work instructions on a computer screen – it’s eliminating errors, streamlining processes, and organizing your production operation.  It gives you control and visibility of your shop floor.

Contact CIMx today to see how paperless manufacturing will benefit you.

One Simple Step that Improves Manufacturing Productivity

Your shop floor hides dangers that eliminate more than 13 hours of productivity each week for every employee.  Learn how you can quickly improve productivity and profit with one simple step.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

As a culture, we are driven by technology.  There’s a chip in your coffee maker and a computer in your car, not to mention a smart phone that connects you to the greatest database in human history.  Technology can make our lives better and improve productivity.  With technology, it’s possible to get through your whole day without thinking (a skill many seem to have mastered already). But, some technology can be disruptive.  Rather than helping us work better, it hinders productivity.  Consider email – email can be a constant interruption, wreaking havoc on your day if you’re not careful.

The Dangers of Technology

Are you letting distractions hinder your shop floor productivity? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are you letting distractions hinder your shop floor productivity? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Many of us start the day with a list of priorities.  A good day would see every item on the list complete.    Unfortunately plans for productivity are often waylaid by the disruptive influence of email.  Each morning, you grab a cup of coffee (or your vice of choice) and sit down at your computer.  Then email starts beeping at you, demanding attention.  Email is like a thief, stealing your time for unplanned distractions.  Sure, some messages may be important, but most aren’t.  They certainly aren’t more critical than the items on your list.

In 2012, the Huffington Post reported that the average worker spends 25% of their day reading, attending to and answering email.  Just one short year later, that number jumped to 28%.  That’s roughly 13 hours a week.  What could you do with an extra 13 hours of productivity each week?  What could your shop floor workers do with that extra productivity?

Many manufacturers embed distractions in their workflow just as distracting, if not more, than email.  We plan for distraction in the workflow by having workers seek out information in massive binders or consult safety manuals, then wonder how we can improve productivity.

The Effect of Interruptions

Interruptions have ripple effects far greater than the interruption itself.  There’s an entire field devoted to Interruption Science, the study of what happens to job performance after an interruption.  Studies show that interruptions significantly disrupt workflow.  Employees need time to recover, leading to even more lost productivity.

The New York Times reports that 40% of workers cannot complete the task the same way after an interruption.  In fact, another study found an interruption during work increased errors by as much as 20%.  Companies know eliminating distractions and interruptions will drastically increase productivity and work quality.  For example, Toyota (with andon cords) and other companies have made it a priority to remove any interruption or distraction from the shop floor.  The goal is simple – protect the worker, improve production and profit.

 Increase Productivity with Paperless Manufacturing

Properly implemented, an MES will manage information and keep your shop floor focused on production by automating many of the tasks that were once “interruptions” in paper-based production.

Improve productivity and profit by removing a major source of shop floor distraction - paper. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Improve productivity and profit by removing a major source of shop floor distraction – paper. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Missing parts, unclear instructions, lack of certification and other critical issues cause distraction and interruptions to the shop floor workforce.  These interruptions, common in a paper-based work environment, quickly add up to 13+ hours of lost productivity each week.  If you look at any paper-heavy shop floor, workers are often doing one of two things – checking their work in a paper traveler packet, or ignoring the work instructions and doing work as they have always done.  Either way, you’ll pay for the interruptions with lost productivity or errors.

When a worker undertakes a task requiring precision, electronic instructions reduce confusion and provide everything the shop floor needs to complete the work without interruption.  Engineering specifications, safety instructions, machine set-up and more are only a mouse click away if they need it.  With all the information they need at hand, workers are more confident as they complete tasks, while the system provides a seamless transition from one task to the next, greatly increasing the overall performance of the shop floor.  Your team can focus on production.

Studies show distractions and interruptions lower overall worker productivity.  The goal of any shop floor manager should be to remove distraction and provide workers with everything they need to complete work better, faster and with fewer errors.  Paperless manufacturing manages workflow, automating many tasks, with productivity gain exponentially enhanced with distractions removed.

Consider this – how quickly could you deliver an ROI on a computer system that gave each worker 13 more hours of productivity each week?

Want to learn more, or see how our system can support workflow on your shop floor?  Give us a call or leave a message for a no-cost consultation on paperless manufacturing.  We’re happy to help and answer questions.

Are You Letting Your Most Valuable Manufacturing Resource Slip Away?

As one generation of employees retires, companies struggle to capture their knowledge and pass it on to the new generation.  We offer simple solutions to ensure a smooth transition and improve production.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Need to train new employees and capture expertise of retiring ones?  Start with an MES.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Need to train new employees and capture expertise of retiring ones? Start with an MES. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Here’s the situation: Manufacturers are losing valuable experience and essential best practices as a generation of shop floor employees retire.  Companies that seek to replace the retirees struggle with a lack of skilled labor in the job market.  New hires simply don’t have the same skills as the workers they are replacing.  Manufacturers struggle to overcome these challenges just as manufacturing market rebounds – orders are coming in, but companies don’t have the right experience or workers in place to meet the demand with the same quality.

Many companies are turning to MES and paperless manufacturing to solve the steady bleeding of experience and best practices, and it is working.

An effective solution to this problem must capture best practices and shop floor processes.  It must have process enforcement and revision controls to ensure new employees utilize best practices and don’t create inefficient habits.  The solution needs data collection, preferably real-time data collection, to measure success.  Paperless manufacturing does all this, and more.  Consider this:

  • Create a single source of manufacturing truth.

Many times a shop floor will struggle to determine manufacturing “truth.”  Best practices are kept in a book, but also in the expertise of a line manager.  The right way to set up a machine might be found in a manual, but also posted on the side of the machine.  Many times these truths compete, and new employees end up teaching themselves the “right” way to do things.  With an MES, you have a single source for manufacturing truth, and new employees more easily understand how work should be done.

 

  • Capture best practices and processes with a library of approved planning.

 

With paperless manufacturing and MES, you can build a library of approved work instructions using the expertise and experience of your veteran workers.  The system drives consistency because planners pull from this revision-controlled library of operations.  As you build the library, integrating this invaluable expertise, you know everyone using the plans will have access to the same standard trusted expertise, rather than starting from scratch each time a new order comes in.

 

  • Ensure best practices are followed with process enforcement.

 

Collecting best practices and capturing the expertise of veteran workers is a good first step toward a smooth transition between generations, but you need to ensure new employees follow these practices.  Process enforcement builds a behavioral system that makes best practice second nature, not a lesson to be memorized.  The system walks the new worker through the process steps accurately and completely.

 

  • Utilize visual work instructions.

 

Even with the best writers, written work instructions will never have the positive impact of a short video of an expert teaching an operation or setting up a machine.  Using a paperless manufacturing system and a cell phone, you can take a quick video of your veteran workers illustrating a best practice and attach it to a relevant operation.  Any future worker doing that operation will have one-click access to the expert lesson.

 

  • Measure results and adjust as necessary.

 

Many times, when a company doesn’t have a clear view of shop floor operations, problems can be hidden.  Over time, the problem becomes standard operating procedure.  Easy access to a complete as-built audit report, or real-time production data, gives a manufacturing company the ability to judge and adjust shop floor processes as needed.

 

 


As it is now, many manufacturers operate inefficiently, struggling to capture the expertise of workers before they retire, and wondering how they can replace them once they are gone.  Paperless manufacturing provides a solution in one easy step.  Retiring workers help build policies and procedures through revision controlled plans in the system.  New employees learn through the same system, benefitting from a single location for all approved planning and manufacturing truth.  In addition, companies using MES gain increased production and quality, and the other benefits found in the system.

 

Want to learn more, or see how your company can benefit from MES or paperless manufacturing?  Then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.  Let us show you how we can help.

Insider Tips for Avoiding High-Cost Service Charges

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Software companies know upgrades are necessary for your manufacturing solution.  They may even be budgeting for your high-cost service fees. Don’t get fooled – learn the truth here.

Face it, manufacturing is a constantly changing industry.  New processes, new technology, and new products mean the shop floor is adapting and adjusting.  A work flow that succeeds one week may be in need of an update the next.

So, as you plan the installation of a new MES or paperless manufacturing solution, consider how you will adjust and adapt as your manufacturing needs change.  Ask yourself – is your software vendor planning to upgrade?  How they will ensure the solution continues to stay relevant?  Is an upgrade an additional fee or a standard offering?

Do they even have an upgrade plan?  If not, what will it mean to you?

Understanding the Upgrade Plan

Any OTS (Off-The-Shelf) solution will offer core functionality.  This is the foundation of the software system.  No matter how innovative or powerful the core functionality might be, it will begin to lose usefulness and relevance.

Selecting software that can be easily and inexpensively upgraded can be a strategic advantage for production.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Selecting software that can be easily and inexpensively upgraded can be a strategic advantage for production. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

10 years ago, few were considering “mobile manufacturing” solutions.  Now, mobility is a core function for most MES systems, either through an app or built-in functionality.  10 years ago, shop floor data collection was a simpler task, and now business analytics demands more information at a quicker pace.  Government and international regulations are constantly changing, and older systems struggle to keep pace.

An upgrade from a software vendor keeps the core functionality relevant.  It keeps the software up-to-date on industry needs.  Often, it addresses issues in the industry before they have an impact on your shop floor.  An upgrade is an important tool for avoiding software obsolescence.

Simply put, an upgrade plan may have a minimal impact on your initial ROI or decision to implement one system over another, but it could be significant factor in the overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  Companies that don’t upgrade risk software that becomes dusty, fading into a legacy system that impedes growth and production.

Finding the Best Upgrade Plan for You

Don’t fool yourself – software vendors know there is the opportunity for additional revenue in basic upgrades.  In fact, many vendors calculate the revenue of upgrades into their planning.  Save yourself surprise service charges as your software ages by asking the vendor a few simple questions:

  1. Do you currently have an upgrade plan for your software? If so, how often do you offer new releases?  If they don’t have a plan for software upgrades, then you are likely purchasing custom software, or software from a company that won’t support the solution.  Regular software releases show the vendor keeps the software relevant.
  2. What is the cost of an upgrade or patch for your software? Can the upgrade be completed with internal IT resources, or will it require a service charge?  What is the cost for vendor services?  Ask these questions to get a better idea of what the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the software will be.  Many vendors plan on reaping the benefits of expensive service charges by offering software for a lower initial cost.  Don’t be fooled.  Look for vendors that offer free upgrades as part of the license fee.  Ask how they will charge for any services you might need.
  3. How do you plan for software upgrades? There are vendors out there that install software and then leave, letting the initial product age and decay into obsolescence.  It takes resources and effort to keep software relevant.  Ask the vendor what they are doing to keep their solution relevant.  Look for vendors that partner with their customers on planning upgrades.

Consider the Future

Many companies select a shop floor software solution, such as an MES or paperless manufacturing, with a specific goal in mind such as increased quality, paperless shop floor plans, or real-time production tracking.  Focusing on a single problem will ensure an early ROI, but without considering the future of the solution, you may be left with software that loses relevance over time.

Before making a final selection, step back and consider the future of the shop floor.  Look at other areas you can improve production with the system, and how future costs may impact your business and the solution.  Make sure you have a solution that will grow and adapt with your business, and not hold you back in the future.

Want to learn more, or see how you might benefit with manufacturing software, then give us a call or leave us a message for a no-cost evaluation of your manufacturing operations.

The Secret to a Successful Manufacturing Strategy

Manufacturing is changing, as disruptive technology force companies to adapt.  Learn how to manage disruption and build a successful business strategy with a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I was re-reading Garntner Predicts 2014 and found a quote that really brought focus to troubling trends I’d seen in manufacturing recently:

“With digital business, IT leaders must come to terms with what digital really means in the context of their work. It is bigger in scope than the typical company definition of IT, because it includes technology outside a company’s control: smart mobile devices (in the hands of customers, citizens and employees), social media, technology embedded in products (such as cars), the integration of IT and operational technologies (such as telecom networks, factory networks and energy grids), and the Internet of Things (physical objects becoming electronically tractable).”

Note: Bold is my addition.

Information Technology versus Operational Technology

Integrating Information Technology (IT) with Operations and Operational Technology (OT) is a critical task for any company.  It’s also a task that many companies are failing.

Too often, IT and Operations act independently.  Decisions are made and strategies developed in a vacuum, and then companies struggle to make it work.  Recently, I’ve seen companies seek solutions to operational problems, such as new regulations, quality escapes, cost overruns, or inefficient work flow.  With current technology and software tools, these problems are easy to solve.  This is the foundation of the digital business.  But, without an integrated IT and Operations, the solution many companies select isn’t optimized and will never deliver the capability or functionality the business needs.  They end up trading one set of problems for another.

The Solution

Consider this:

  • Are you ready for the age   of digital business?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    Are you ready for the age of digital business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Operations needs the digital tools provided by IT. With the advent of digital business, paper-based, inefficient manufacturing methods no longer support modern production.  With the right digital tools and IT support, operations will be positioned for success in the future.

  • IT relies on manufacturing. Manufacturing is the revenue generator for a business.  The more manufacturing, the more profit for the company and the more successful everyone is.  In addition, IT must support the digital tools used by Operations.  IT finds success by supporting Operations with tools that won’t place an undue burden on IT resources.

IT and Operations rely on each other.  They share similar goals.  But, too often, they have an adversarial relationship that does no one any good.  Moving forward, Operations and IT must work more closely together.  The digital business of the future demands integration.

No longer can IT sit in their office and focus solely on the computer infrastructure.  They need to understand how manufacturing works so they can provide a solid digital foundation and manufacturing tools.

Operations can’t focus solely on the shop floor, manufacturing in a vacuum.  Operations needs to understand how important the IT infrastructure is to their success, and see it as a critical foundation to production.

Digital business is a disruptive influence that requires all of us to adjust our thinking and the way we operate, but it also offers tools that can catapult a company to success.  Sure, integrating IT and Operations may seem counter-intuitive.  Operations can no longer just demand a solution or answer from IT, and IT can’t demand Operations blindly use their solution.  Collaboration is required.  It may be difficult, even scary, but there is tremendous opportunity there for the businesses that embrace the digital business and begin to see their business not as a collection of entities operating independently, but a cohesive whole operating toward a shared goal.

Moving Forward

The question is, how do you integrate IT and Operations?  One part of the answer is cultural.  We need to eliminate the information and operational silos holding us back.  Teams that bring the expertise of both Operations and IT need to be built, with a focus on developing solutions that work across the business.

Consider how productive your business would be with IT and Operations working collaboratively.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Consider how productive your business would be with IT and Operations working collaboratively. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Technology solutions must recognize the disruptive property of new technology, and meet the needs of the business, not just individual departments.   Systems designed 15 years ago (even ones cleverly packaged with a new name or in a new module) aren’t going to work under the new paradigm.  The digital business needs Web 2.0 solutions that adapt to the changing needs of the shop floor and IT.  They need to be configurable, to support current work flow, shop floor processes, and work instructions.  Advanced data collection and business analytics are part of the solution, but not the sole focus.  You need solutions equally integrated.

It’s a global change in how we look at shop floor systems, but, in the end, this is the only way to support a modern manufacturing business.  The advent of digital business is disrupting past methodology processes, requiring new methods.  At CIMx Software, we understand that, and we’ve developed solutions that bridge the gap between IT and Operations – delivering advanced software and technology to manufacturing in a way that not only gives the shop floor the tools they need, but offers IT simple installation and minimal support with a lower cost.  The software solutions we offer have been developed not only with the shop floor in mind, but IT as well.

Want to learn more, or see how you can become a digital business?  Give us a call or leave a message.  We’re happy to answer questions or take a look at your shop floor or IT needs, and suggest a solution for you.