5 Reasons You Need Real-Time Shop Floor Data Collection

A company relying on paper-based data collection isn’t giving their shop floor the tools they need to compete in the modern manufacturing market.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Are you getting the shop floor data you need? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you getting the shop floor data you need? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider this – operating a manufacturing company with paper-based build books and data collection is like trying to drive a car by looking backward, in the rear view mirror, instead of forwards.

The Problems with Paper

We look forward, and not back when we drive because it lets us react to changing conditions on the road. Looking backward will cause wrong turns and problems. You’ll hit a few things, get confused, end up driving much slower to avoid critical mistakes, and won’t see disaster until it happens. Along the way, you’ll miss opportunities and introduce more problems. You’ll reach your destination, but it won’t be the most relaxing or efficient journey …

… which actually does sound a lot like a shop floor still using paper. If you aren’t collecting real-time shop floor data:

  • You are always operating off dated information. Sure, in an emergency someone can run to the shop floor and answer a question, but how much disruption is that answer causing?
  • You create a vicious production cycle based on reacting to past production data. You get data weeks after a production cycle and plan a response. Then you wait for more data to see if the response brought improvement so you can plan another response and then wait again…
  • Simply gathering data is often more work than a benefit because the process can’t be automated. Since the data is historical and less valuable, some companies never bother to collect data, so the shop floor accepts problems and inefficiencies.

The Benefits of Real-Time Data Collection

Errors, quality escapes, avoidable problems and production missteps are all common for a manufacturer still using paper and relying on outdated data to manage production. Once a company begins using real-time production data, benefits quickly accumulate, including:

  1. Improve quality by identifying potential errors early, before they become more serious (and costly) problems;
  2. Increase customer responsiveness by changing the priority of an order when needed;
  3. Engage customers by responding more quickly to requests and answering questions immediately;
  4. Eliminate guesswork and empower management so they can make decisions with the most accurate information possible;
  5. Better respond to change on the shop floor by improving efficiency with data-driven process adjustments.

The Future of Manufacturing with MES and Paperless Manufacturing

With timely and accurate data, how much can you improve your shop floor? Image by www.colourbox.com

With timely and accurate data, how much can you improve your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Moving forward, companies using paper will find it increasingly difficult to survive against competitors that have already embraced data-based manufacturing.

For manufacturing, as much as we like to plan the future of our industry with technology, many companies still struggle with paper-based manufacturing. Take a look at the latest industry news, and it’s as if we’ve already forgotten manufacturers still printing build books every morning and collecting data on a spreadsheet to be collated later.

There is no reason to keep operating the shop floor with dated and inaccurate information, or to keep relying on paper.  There are MES out there, even ones that aren’t cloud-based, that can deliver an ROI in only a few months. With a phased implementation, you can install the system in a few weeks and start collecting real-time production data soon after.  In the following phases, you start implementing more advanced features of the system to match your exacting workflow needs.

Using a shop floor system is like wiping the confusion off the windshield of your shop floor, letting you drive production by looking ahead, rather than behind. Want to learn how quickly and easily it would be for you to start using data-driven manufacturing, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to answer questions.

Improve Production with Smart Data Using the Quantum Archive

Don’t waste your manufacturing records. By converting them to Smart Data, you can improve communication and access to information, and enable data-driven manufacturing.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How are you managing your manufacturing records? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How are you managing your manufacturing records? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers are facing an imminent (and potentially dangerous) records problem – a “data-geddon” you might call it. They have years (even decades) of manufacturing data and records sitting in outdated systems, or on servers or databases slowly falling apart or becoming completely unusable.

They keep these decrepit servers on life support through IT wizardry because they NEED the data for some reason, even though they can’t really use it. The data is in an ancient flat file or some other arcane format that hasn’t been used since the Apple Newton was released.  The data exists, but it doesn’t do much more than that, which is too bad because most manufacturers would argue data is one of their most valuable resources.  All that money companies pour into maintaining outdated systems and patchwork servers is lost, gone into the IT either just to maintain the inadequate status quo.

In the past, manufacturers didn’t have an easy solution for outdated software systems or records. They could attempt to move the data, but if the information is contained in a system that wasn’t compatible with the new server, the data could be lost or compromised. They could attempt migrating the data to a new software system, but this was expensive and could add additional complexity to an already difficult, and expensive, implementation project.

Quantum Archive, part of our Quantum Core manufacturing solution, is an alternative to these solutions. Using the Quantum platform, companies can easily and safely move their data off an old system or paper records to a new, more reliable and useful technology compatible with modern systems. Data migration and manipulation services are tailored to preserving and securing the data, eliminating excessive and unnecessary costs while providing manufacturers a secure pathway forward, meeting several critical needs:

  1. Move historical data from an obsolete, expensive system to a modern platform at lower cost, providing continual access and use of the data;
  2. Transition from old flat file technology to modern object-based technology ready for analysis and reporting;
  3. Avoid additional expense when upgrading a system by migrating the data not critical to the implementation to the archive, offering easy access when and if you need it;
  4. Easier access to the data, ready to be utilized in current workflows and processes;
  5. And combine data from several older systems into a new, linked database.
Convert your data to smart data to enable data-driven manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Convert your data to smart data to enable data-driven manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When complete, the data is secure, and the Archive can be upgraded at any time in the future to either the Quantum Core or Enterprise system, or to another software solution.

The goal of the Quantum Archive is simple – stop throwing money and effort away on an outdated information solution, and take a first step toward data-driven manufacturing. Companies using the Quantum Archive report immediate benefits. They see improved access to their data, complete order records, improved analysis and better communication within the organization. The annual savings of these initial benefits can easily exceed more than 10x the license cost for the archive.

Want to learn more, or see how quickly you can get rid of dusty old software and move to a modern system? Then contact CIMx today for a free consultation. We’re happy to help.

An Easy First Step toward MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Companies struggle with the decision to implement MES. We remove the fear with a simple first step any manufacturer can take, offering both an ROI and real benefit.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few steps with a new MES will yield amazing returns. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

A few steps with a new MES will yield amazing returns. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

With the advent of data-driven manufacturing and Industry 4.0, many manufacturers are looking at MES and paperless manufacturing. The problem is some are just looking. They see the benefits, but they worry about the risk or the cost, or they fear the new technology will hinder productive work for an unknown benefit. For these companies, it’s better to deal with the problems they know than take a risk on paperless manufacturing and MES.

In my mind, companies don’t see the project through small, manageable steps. They can only imagine the massive effort required to finish the project. The good news is you don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you shouldn’t, and anyone telling you that’s how it is done is setting you up for headache and failure (and probably selling you an overly complex and over-engineered system). It is much easier to implement the system in smaller phases, applying a single function to a product line. Roll out the project at a comfortable pace you control to minimize risk and cost.

The Secret to Quick MES Benefits and Success

Here is our suggestion for a very manageable first step in an MES implementation using our software system, Quantum. Start by taking your approved work plans and moving them into the digital system. At this point, don’t worry if the plans are perfect, they just need to be approved and correct. Often your application engineer can migrate the files for you during installation. All you need to do is review the digital planning, ensuring it is the same as your existing approved plans, before rolling into production.

At this point, you can start sending the digital work instructions and planning directly to the shop floor. If each operation is assigned to a work center, Quantum can auto-route the plans.  Workers can access the planning and begin work just like they did with paper-based operations. But, using Quantum, there are immediate benefits for the company, including:

  1. Routing your operations through Quantum will immediately populate the WIP dashboard. This allows you to track projects, and you can see where any project is at anytime and anywhere.
  2. Quantum will begin generating an as-built report for all work, which can be immediately accessed by a single button.
  3. Your planning is now under revision control and stored in a library of approved planning. You can access, copy and route any plan within Quantum.
  4. In addition, by using your existing work plans, there is minimal (if any) training for the shop floor to begin using Quantum.
  5. Finally, you can get rid of much of the annoying paper that creates errors and adds costs.

Stop for a moment and consider the savings and shop floor improvement from these benefits. Once you migrate the planning to Quantum and have digital access on the shop floor, you begin benefitting without even trying.

After the first step, there are a number of additional phases for you to consider. Some suggestions we offer our customers include:

  • Improve your existing planning with visual work instructions. Use a smartphone to take photos of work to include as an attachment to operations.
  • Add data collection to planning. It’s a simple process that will add depth to the as-built report and become the foundation for automatic tolerance checks and Quality Control.
  • Include operations for shipping to eliminate errors after production.
  • Utilize other functions in the system like machine maintenance plans, labor estimates and scheduling.
  • Add tooling, materials and supplies to enable traceability and increase supply chain monitoring.

… and more. With the flexibility of a behavior-based system like Quantum, you aren’t trapped in a schedule, or required to implement any of the functionality until you are ready. Move the project at your pace, focusing on items that offer the greatest return and benefit.

Don't let fear hold your shop floor and business back.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Don’t let fear hold your shop floor and business back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Using a phased implementation and a smart MES and MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management) platform like Quantum, you can minimize the risk and complexity of the implementation to focus on your key priorities. Don’t let yourself be handicapped by fear. If you haven’t already, take another look at MES and manufacturing software and consider how a controlled, phased implementation can benefit you.

Want to learn more, or see how much more you can do with paperless manufacturing? Then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.

4 Ways You Can Attract and Retain Skilled Manufacturing Workers

As the demand for manufacturing increases, the need for a skilled workforce will grow, but many companies are doing little to address the problem.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

MES Training Classroom

Make a change in your business before the skilled worker shortage has an impact on your bottom line. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There is a growing problem in manufacturing – a skilled workforce shortage, some are calling it. This shortage is increasing as workers retire and new workers aren’t trained or ready to fill them. According to “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond,” the results are ominous, “Over the next decade, nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. Many young people entering the workforce never considered manufacturing a viable career option. There are also better paying jobs out there for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates since the wages for manufacturing are declining according the National Employment Law Project (NELP). In addition, this problem is also self-inflicted. According to an article by Michael Collins in IndustryWeek, many companies eliminated their internal training programs in the ‘80’s because, “… apprentice-type training was lost in many American corporations, because it is long term training and doesn’t have a ‘good’ ROI.”

No matter the root cause, the industry is reaching the point where continuing to hope for a solution will have an adverse effect on our ability to continue meeting customer demands according to a survey of CEO’s and manufacturing executives. Luckily, there are solutions for a motivated manufacturer:

  • Make training a priority again. Companies need to see training as a long-term investment. With a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing, training could include a quick video of machine set-up attached to work instructions. If implementing a full apprenticeship program is too difficult, then look at other alternatives for shop floor training.
  • Invest in operations. Many manufacturers think of investments only in the long term. Understandable, considering many shop floor machines last 30 to 40 years. But, companies can’t continue to support outdated software systems which exacerbate the need for specialized training. Modern software systems, better managing manufacturing information, make it easier to replacing retiring workers.
  • Address the need for machine maintenance on the shop floor. According to the Collins article, “Why America Has a Shortage of Skilled Workers,” machine operation, maintenance and repair are an area where there is a critical need for skilled workers. Utilizing work instructions for machine maintenance and operation addresses this need with minimal effort. Work instructions offer “training” for the shop floor, with process enforcement and buy-offs mitigating the shortage of skilled workers.
  • Change the perception of manufacturing. Many young people entering the workforce perceive manufacturing as a dirty job with little opportunity, especially since the struggles of the auto industry.  Growing up with smart phones and modern computer systems, with a world of information at hand, there is little outward appeal to manufacturing for new workers. It is up to us to change that perception by creating a work environment that better appeals to younger workers.
Invest in a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing to manage information and alleviate the skilled worker shortage. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Invest in a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing to manage information and alleviate the skilled worker shortage. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers still using paper-based manufacturing processes and outdated computer systems are also competing for the next generation of skilled workers. These companies are doomed to fail because they haven’t addressed critical shortcomings in their operations.

The skilled worker shortage is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be overcome for companies willing to embrace the future of manufacturing. We can’t rely on schools and colleges alone to solve the problem, and adding more training and apprenticeships isn’t the answer. Addressing the negative perception of manufacturing as a career will help attract the best new workers, while on-the-job teaching with software solutions to support shop floor training, will position manufacturing for future growth. Want to learn more, or see how your shop floor production can be improved with a modern paperless manufacturing or MES system, then contact CIMx today for more information.

How Data-Driven Manufacturing Will Impact Your Shop Floor

More and more manufacturers are benefitting from paperless manufacturing and systems such as MES – proof of the power in data-driven manufacturing.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications from CIMx Software

How will data-driven manufacturing benefit you? Image by www.colourbox.com

How will data-driven manufacturing benefit you? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Change is coming to manufacturing.

Spend enough time reading material out there, listening to analysts or keynote speakers, or just studying the manufacturing market and you can see the signs of change.

As we begin grappling with change, we try to give it a name. Some are calling it “Industry 4.0.” They see the Smart Factory in our future, built on the Internet of Things with cyber-physical tools in every nook and cranny… and on and on… It’s no wonder so many are willing to wait for the industry frenzy to calm down before deciding on what to do next.

Even though we are careful to not get into the politics of trend naming, we see the changes coming to our industry as data-driven manufacturing, a term many others are also out there using.  It’s more than putting sensors on machines or collecting mounds of data for pretty dashboards, and automating everything possible. Data-driven manufacturing means collecting critical data in real-time, then utilizing the data to increase production and work better, faster and with fewer errors. Think of it as a Smart MES.

Consider this – using an out-of-the-box solution, one that is readily available today, you can:

  • Measure and observe a trend before it becomes a problem. With data-driven manufacturing, you can see weaknesses and potential problems in the workflow, and quickly implement a solution through the system.
  • Assess shop floor labor time against the estimated time to complete work, to create more accurate estimates and pricing.
  • Identify non-conformances and quality issues quickly using automated tolerances. Quality Control can respond and solve problems from their desk.
  • Implement process improvement plans through procedural enforcement, utilizing real-time shop floor data to increase and maximize efficiency.
  • Automatically create a complete production record, using object-driven data that can be used in reporting and data analysis.
Data-driven manufacturing is here, and you can make it work for you. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Data-driven manufacturing is here, and you can make it work for you. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

All of these benefits are available, in addition to the other functionality found in MES and paperless manufacturing systems. These benefits hint at the competitive advantages of a continually monitored, data-driven shop floor using a Smart MES over manufacturing operations struggling with paper-driven manufacturing. As more companies embrace digital manufacturing, companies still using paper are at a significant disadvantage.

Manufacturers need to stop seeing problems on the shop floor as simply headaches that need to be managed, and start seeing them as opportunities. A digital paperless manufacturing system such as MES or MOM is critical (and increasingly affordable and easy-to-implement) solution to shop floor problems and issues, and often represents the single biggest opportunity for operations improvement. Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you? Then contact CIMx today for more information.

What Will Shop Floor Control and Visibility Mean for You?

Many manufacturing software companies claim they offer visibility and control, but gaps in their functionality can leave an unsuspecting customer scrambling to fill the holes.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Does your manufacturing software offer real time shop floor visibility and control? Image by www.colourbox.com

Does your manufacturing software offer real time shop floor visibility and control? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

MES vendors love to claim their software offers, “manufacturing visibility and control.” It sounds good, and it’s an easy claim to make because any manufacturing manager with a bullhorn could stand on a catwalk above the shop floor and have visibility and control. He can see people working, and if he blows that horn people will stop working. A catwalk and a bullhorn is not the visibility and control manufacturers need when purchasing an MES.

These empty promises have led to confusion, and even anger, among small and mid-sized companies moving to a digital manufacturing solution. Companies claim they offer visibility and control, then leave customers to struggle with an inadequate system.

Here’s what you should look for in software claiming to offer real-time visibility and control:

  • Does it offer a single source of information on the production process? This is especially important for smaller shops. A single, small error or discrepancy between data sources can quickly escalate to a major disaster that leads to lost customers and production shut-downs.
  • Will you have a real-time dashboard of WIP, with active data collection on the shop floor? Some systems offer a simple list of the work being done, but there is no way to track progress or obtain the granular data customers expect from their vendors.
  • Can it automatically generate auditable production records? If your system is collecting production records, it should be able to generate a complete record of production, an important tool for meeting regulations and trending analysis.
  • Will it eliminate errors from faulty information or multiple data inputs? Automated tolerance checking and system connectivity will improve production visibility. For example, tolerance checking allows quality control to see errors before they escalate, and connectivity automatically sends shop floor data to the ERP for use in sales and customer service.
  • Does the system offer process enforcement? Process enforcement, supporting your shop floor team, can drastically improve efficiency. In addition, it is an important tool for process improvement, ensuring the gains made are maintained even after the program is over.
  • How will the system handle redline edits and work order changes? Simply sending emails with PDF work instructions isn’t real shop floor control. The system must provide revision control and a process for managing change.
  • Is there a messaging system or a way to send alerts? It may seem like a simple feature, but simply communicating in-system will increase collaboration and eliminate non-productive time it would take sending a message.
What can shop floor visibility and control do for you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can shop floor visibility and control do for you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

An integrated, robust MES should support your enterprise, dramatically improve production, and become the foundation of your manufacturing process. It can be more than a tool to “fix” a problem. A system claiming to offer manufacturing visibility and control should offer the robust functionality described, and lead to improvement, not just a repair.

If it doesn’t, then you might find yourself climbing a ladder above the shop floor with a bullhorn in your hand to get the functionality you need and your customers expect.

Contact CIMx today to learn what shop floor visibility and control and paperless manufacturing can do for your company.

The Innovation Conundrum in Manufacturing Software

In a scramble to out-innovate the competition and increase profits, many MES suppliers cram functionality into their software, leading to unnecessary complexity that drains productivity.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

After last weeks’ blog on Innovation, many asked about the difference between “good” and “bad” innovation. I can understand the confusion. After all, without criteria or real-world data, any assessment becomes a matter of opinion. People are fiercely protective of their tech investments, and no one wants to see themselves as a victim of unproductive technology, making it even more important to have effective methods of assessing innovation.

There are times in tech development and software lifecycles when innovation can hurt productivity. For example, Windows Vista has long been considered a failure for Microsoft. The software bloat in Vista, adding 15 million lines of code for functionality no one wanted or needed, is a reason for the failure. The compatibility issues and “user-hostile” features added to the disaster. Microsoft addressed many of initial criticisms of Vista, but the initial release was a clearly ineffective and misguided innovation.

Effective Innovation in Manufacturing Software

How much production and profit will you sacrifice to unnecessary complexity in your software? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How much production and profit will you sacrifice to unnecessary complexity in your software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When considering criteria for evaluating innovation, look at technology as a vehicle for accessing tools. For example, we don’t buy a smart phone for the processor, battery, or the AMOLED screen, but for how they allow us to access the tools (like the phone and messaging) and apps (like Trello, Google Maps, and Evernote) we use. Technology and innovation should either bring us a new tool we can use (notice the emphasis on use) or bring us closer to our tools (by automating processes).

Simplicity and usability are key criterion for effective innovation, allowing users to work better and faster – reducing errors and the effort necessary to complete tasks and work. Even new features which enhance the primary function of the tool should focus on simplicity and usability.

In fact, I would argue the most effective innovation isn’t noticed by the user. Changes enhance the overall experience without adding layers of complexity, or new buttons and additional information to process.

Innovation to avoid

Don't be fooled by innovation that won't improve your shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t be fooled by innovation that won’t improve your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The unfortunate truth is, in the tech and manufacturing software industry the easiest path to “innovation” is to add more buttons or features. Cramming a whole new set of functionality onto a product, utilizing a new interface with an explosion of connections and integrations may seem like an improvement, but it doesn’t make the tool more efficient or increase productivity.

Many times, the effort to innovate leads to functionality that isn’t necessary, resulting in complexity that decreases usability. In manufacturing software, this leads to functionality that sounds good on paper, but leads to headaches and lost production on the shop floor. Consider this – the PLM shouldn’t be your MES. Sure, the two systems can share a single source of manufacturing data, but any supplier trying to sell you a single PLM and MES package is sacrificing efficiency for both systems.

Embracing simplicity

Want further proof of the power of simplicity in innovation? Take a look at Apple products. Apple chief design Jony Ive often talks about simplicity and the need to develop products that work intuitively. “It isn’t about appearing to be simple but actually being complex, it’s about making the complex simple.”

This is a concept that many in manufacturing, and software development, have forgotten. There is a belief that we (as an industry) make highly complex products, and we need software tools that are equally complex (and expensive). Simplicity just doesn’t work for us. But, when you eliminate the preconceived notions and industry hubris, we still design and build products. The focus should be designing and building better products in less time and fewer errors.

If you keep that goal in mind as you select or develop a manufacturing tool, you’ll find the price of additional complexity far outweighs any real benefit.

Want to know more, or learn how an advanced manufacturing software tool can benefit your team? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.