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

Sustainable Products, Consultants and Paperless Manufacturing

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Manufacturers have options when selecting a software solution, but often they lose sight of the most important requirement during the selection process.

On a recent flight, I sat next to a fuel transportation consultant with a background in software implementation.  As he talked about himself (incessantly), he explained he was a legend and master in his chosen industry. I instantly identified his sales pitch.

That’s really what it was – a sales pitch. Consultants are interesting that way.  The consulting industry – both corporate and independent – doesn’t make money unless you hire them. They don’t usually have a product to show or sell, only themselves, so they have this shiny, made-to-be-hired aura that promotes their skill and expertise.

Consultants need you to keep paying for their services; the end of one project may mean a lapse before another paying project comes.    Hiring them to install software, a job with a definitive end, seems counterproductive to their business model.  What is the impetus to complete a software installation in a timely manner?  Why should they make it sustainable or teach you how to adapt the software?

There may be very honest and skilled consultants out there, but the entire sales model seems designed to undercut the customer and minimize sustainability.

The Hard Facts of Building an MES

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

Custom built software solutions will quickly bury manufacturers in unforeseen costs. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many companies hire a consultant to select, modify or build a software system.  Short of trying to build a custom system internally, using a consultant is the most expensive option.  Here are some sobering data points to consider:

  • If you choose to build an MES, you’ll need at least 3 to 4 full-time staff and 18 months or more to get an initial beta offering launched. The cost, at minimum, will be $500,000 to $750,000.
  • The team will spend the first 6 months getting the requirements and design nailed down. It will be another 12 months of coding and development work.
  • The beta is not a full system. There will be missing features and no depth. Plus, the beta won’t fully support production. The next 2 to 3 years will be spent finishing work on the software.
  • This complete system will (hopefully) meet your specifications. But, if someone on the team leaves, the project will be delayed as a new employee gets up-to-speed or the rest of the team fills in and this may impact the software in the future.

Most companies that have built their own system eventually turn to a vendor offering in the future.  Custom software is too expensive, and isn’t adaptable. These systems simply aren’t sustainable.

Struggling Against Software Obsolescence

If you hire a consultant to build a manufacturing system or serve as an implementer (in that case, the consultant can double-dip on charges for selecting, reselling and installing the software), plan on roughly the same schedule as an internally-built custom system.  With a professionally outsourced consultant, the first beta offering may be far more robust than one built by an internal team, especially if they are modifying an existing system.  Unfortunately, to manage any modifications or changes to the system in the future you may need to keep the consultant on staff – resulting in extremely high overhead costs.

Here’s another inside fact – consultants do not like to work on each other’s code base.  Each has their own individual style.  Whether their code is the majority of the work or just a connector, making any change, even minor ones, is difficult.  In our experience, the number-one reason a company will replace a software system is obsolescence – that system installed by a consultant can’t be updated.

Sustainable Paperless Manufacturing Solutions

This is why CIMx offers a thin services model.  We build our products sustainably – so system connections, modifications and configurations (both at the time of install and in the future) are manageable by us and your internal teams.  Once we complete an installation, customers are free to make it their own (although many continue to ask us to do the work for them).  Knowing that we built it and can execute these changes quickly and effectively is comforting and cost-efficient.

Improvement WEB 041415

Increase the value of a solution by ensuring sustainability. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the world of MES, CIMx is unique – we offer a product completely built in-house.  We don’t suffer from the web of integrated, separately-purchased toolsets of many competitors.  Software suppliers who purchase other businesses to acquire a new tool for their MES platform (we call it growth by acquisition) and then market it as a synthesized package, end up working like a consultant, struggling to keep the system up and running.  Back end programs don’t talk or work together, so the supplier struggles to maintain the system and the customer continues paying service charges for a product that shouldn’t have been sold as an integrated product in the first place.

I’m sure there are very good consultants out there willing to work with a client to deliver the best solution possible – one that is designed to be adaptable and sustainable.

But there are others like the gentleman I shared a three-hour flight with. After our quick conversation about himself, he proceeded to play Panda Pop for the next 2 ½ hours.  Perhaps someone with enough attention to using a cartoon panda to pop balloons can deliver a project with forethought and sustainability. Perhaps his ability to sermonize about his skills won’t preclude his ability to actually listen to his clients and thoughtfully deliver the solution they need.

He was focused and persistent.  Maybe he’ll have the same degree of focus when he’s building or implementing your system, but is it a risk you really want to take with your shop floor production?

Or you could minimize the risk and find a solution provider focused on sustainability – with an update plan for the software. Give us a call if you want to learn more, or discover how CIMx builds sustainability in our product. We’re happy to help.

Efficient Manufacturing

5 Benefits of Simplicity for Paperless Manufacturing

Technology doesn’t have to be complex, no matter what some manufacturing software suppliers tell you.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There’s a conundrum in the perception of simplicity in manufacturing software.

Software that is too complex – the kind that requires 12 clicks to complete a simple function, and has a user interface that looks like a science fiction movie vomited on the screen, will not improve production. Most of us can agree on that. The complex system may offer some benefit, but system users spend more time serving the needs of the software than on production.

But many companies still cling to all that unnecessary, vomitus complexity.

Discrete manufacturing and manufacturing in general, is a complex process, and there is a nagging belief that complex manufacturing requires complex software. The belief compels companies to pay for complexity, thinking it is the only way software can support their processes.

Manufacturing Productivity Doesn’t Require Complexity

They feel safer with all those steps, and sub-menus, and screens within screens within system trees… it’s like a safety blanket – a big digital blanket of complexity… that is totally unnecessary, and likely hurting production profit and efficiency. Consider this:

  • Time spent working in a manufacturing software system is still non-value added time. Clicking buttons and navigating menus is not active production. If an engineer can complete a task in 3 minutes using one software system, and the same task takes 3 hours in another system, you need to carefully consider which system is truly enhancing productivity.
  • Automation requires precision to be successful. Automating tasks is great… when it works. If you automate a process that results in errors and problems, then the complex automation may be adding more problems than solutions.
  • Combining software systems isn’t necessary to improve productivity. Cramming your MES, ERP, PLM and more together isn’t going to make your life easier. The software tools an accountant needs are very different than the tools for a quality engineer. The goal isn’t a single log-in screen, but a single, shared source of data for the company – which can be done with savvy computer connections rather than unnatural interbreeding of functions.
  • The User Interface of the software is just as important as the technology backbone. Software systems built solely by developers may be a technological wonder, and still be almost unusable. Without input from users, a system could leave the shop floor struggling to integrate the needs of the software into their already complex manufacturing processes.
  • Complexity in software should happen behind the scenes, and not on the screen. The best software systems focus on usability, improving productivity not only with the software tools, but also the user interaction. This means the system eliminates unnecessary interaction, simply feeding data when and where the user needs it, and prompting the user for input only when necessary.

Better Results with Paperless Manufacturing

Before purchasing a system, make sure you get input from the users. Consider the tasks necessary to use the software. Is it asking more, or less, from your workers? How difficult will the training be? If it takes multiple training sessions just to add planning to the system, you may have software that will hurt, rather than help, your productivity.

Want to learn more, or get a demonstration of a CIMx Software solution to see how easy our system is to use, then contact us today. We’re always happy to help.

Don't get buried by the cost of your overly complex MES. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

The Waiting Game, MES and Paperless Manufacturing

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

As manufacturers decide to wait to implement a modern manufacturing system, they fall further and further behind their competition.

Not long ago, we started working with a manufacturer still using paper to manage the shop floor.

They printed 80 pages of work instructions for every order. Some days they would have 30 or 40 orders on the shop floor at once – 2,400 to 3,200 pages a day they were managing. They collected data using paper. Afterward a clerk typed the data into a spreadsheet. They tracked orders using email, and as-built records were assembled by hand.

The manufacturer wanted to double their output and improve production records. We worked with them to map their processes to our software – Quantum. Using the system, they could automate production records and increase production. It was a shop floor solution that offered tangible, measurable improvements.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer decided to wait and continue to operate in an inefficient, out of control production process.

The Cost of Waiting

At first, waiting seems like a safe choice, but if your current system is not optimized it’s a decision that leads to increasing risk and cost. Consider this:

  • If a shop floor problem that would be solved by the software is costing your company $1,000/day, then you need to consider every day you wait is a $1000 loss you can never get back – with the cost quickly compounding over time.
  • The data you aren’t collecting, or collecting incorrectly, is data that’s gone forever and will never help improve manufacturing outcomes.
  • Sustainable process improvement requires the process enforcement and accurate analytics provided by manufacturing software. Attempting other methods leads to shop floor frustration.
  • Improved quality is one benefit of an MES. Current scrap reduction is part of the ROI of a system.
  • Manufacturing continues to adapt to and implement modern technology. MES provides the foundation of modern manufacturing, and waiting will only make the transition more difficult in the future.

Waiting is not a solution to production problems. Once a potential solution has been identified and you confirm the long-term viability of the solution, waiting on implementation will drastically increase the risk and cost of production, with the shop floor falling further and further behind.

If you want to learn how MES or paperless manufacturing can help, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis.  We work with you to quickly define the best solution for your shop floor challenges. The analysis is yours for no cost or obligation, and it provides an easy first step toward increased production. We’re happy to help.

Understanding the truth about manufacturing software solutions will help you unlock the potential of your shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Four Clues to Evaluating Current Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

If you take the pulse of the manufacturing software market, you’ll be surprised by what you discover.

We recently did an early demo of our product for a manufacturing prospect gone cold. A new Application Specialist was learning the job, and we offered a short demo as a way to engage the prospect and for our employee to get some experience.  We expected our main contact and maybe one or two others to show up. We were surprised when 20 executives and managers joined.

The limited discussions we had with this prospect had all been at a very high level. To have access to this many decision makers and influencers this early in the process seemed out of place.  I’ve been wondering what compels an executive to sit through a demo this early in the process, but the patterns are clear.

The Four Clues

We’re seeing signs of change in the MES market. Consider this:

  1. Manufacturers are hungry to learn more about MES and digital manufacturing.

It used to be our first calls were with quality managers or engineers, but today we are just as likely to get a call from a Vice President or Executive. The c-suite is taking an active role in the process early-on because they realize how critical the manufacturing software decision is.  They also fear getting taken by suppliers who are less than honest.  The MES purchase today is a critical foundation for the future. Sitting through a demo is an investment.

  1. Companies are searching for software solution truth.

Prospects are looking for a way to see through the empty promises offered by some software vendors.  The IoT (Internet of Things), Smart Manufacturing and the Digital Thread are terms companies use to confuse buyers into getting a solution that doesn’t really do what they need it to.  Prospects tell us regularly that software suppliers are unable to present their solution in the demo; they show illustrations of it (read more below) but rarely the real thing. Companies are beginning to question claims about functionality. They want to see the software, not a presentation.

  1. The term “out-of-the-box” has been hijacked.

Prospects are telling us that most demos they see from other MES vendors are “canned” (some are even using PowerPoint slides and short videos to “demonstrate” functionality).  Where they are able to see a real system in use, the prospect can’t ask the vendor to veer off script.  And even though almost every MES supplier markets their solution as “out-of-the-box,” for some systems a “live” MES demo requires extensive configuration of the system itself, making it unsuitable for most prospects.   The core product probably has some functionality that works out-of-the-box (OOTB), but it’s not enough to demo so vendors hide behind scripts and scenarios.

  1. A “robust” training program is not necessarily a good thing.

Want to know if a software vendor is bending the truth when they talk about their product? Ask how long training will take.  A lot of required training before using a system is not the sign of a “better” product, and a poorly designed product isn’t going to help you solve problems.  If you really don’t trust their answer, check out their website.  Verify the number of training videos or courses they offer.  Robust functionality with a laundry list of training courses that take days or weeks to complete can often signal inflexibility.

Optimizing Your Software Purchase

The long-term customers and prospects we work with are always searching for ways to improve production.  With 20 years in the industry, we have a lot of experience helping manufacturers.

Lately, we’ve had more and more prospects searching for OOTB functionality. They want to see the software, not a PowerPoint presentation.  Consultants and services companies that build custom systems or connect modules are posing as OOTB software suppliers, with sales people making promises the software team can’t keep.

“Can you demo from the live product?” It’s the one thing manufacturers challenge us to do all the time.  We can, and it’s the thing they comment on regularly.

Software vendors should show you what they can do today. Without a live demo, can you count on the system to work?  With enough time and money, anyone can build you something to do exactly what you ask, but the only way that you’re going to see a strong return on investment (ROI) is if the core system meets your needs. You shouldn’t have to rely on another module, software services, customization or extensive “configuration.”

Give us a call for more tips on MES or paperless manufacturing systems.  Whether you’re a CIMx customer or not, we’re tired of industry disinformation and happy to answer your questions, so contact us today to learn more.

By the way, our Application Specialist gave a fantastic demo of the product with just one month of work under his belt.  It’s hard to imagine software vendors with rigid systems and unnecessary complexity and don’t demo live could have had him demo-ready that early.  With CIMx, it just works.

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

Outlook and Email is not Manufacturing Software

As many manufacturers outgrow their process plan solution, some end up using email to manage their critical production processes.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Do yourself a favor.  Pick a day this week and look at your Outlook Inbox.  How many messages do you get a day?  Do you know how to find that?  If not, here are directions.  How many messages are in your Inbox right now?  How many remain unopened?

3d small people - angry

Relying on email or messaging software will create more production problems than they solve. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

On any given day, I’m receiving several thousand emails.  Over 95% end up in my spam filter.  The other 5% are distributed based on content, some going into automated folders for review later, or directed to the main folder for immediate review.

Without these filters and rules, email can be overwhelming.  Even with my systems and my rigorous controls, problems happen and messages are lost or misplaced.  I can’t rely on Microsoft Outlook to run my business.  Yet, there are manufacturing shop floor systems out there that run your shop floor using the same tools.

We sit right in the middle of our industry – MES and manufacturing software.  We are used in the very largest companies in the world to put rockets into space, huge commercial planes into the air and are with you during critical, invasive hospital procedures.  We’ve worked with soap, wire, carbon fiber and glass.  We’ve completed medical and aerospace audits and we’ve even worked with wood cabinetry.

The largest manufacturers in the world might call on us to implement an enterprise system that connects one or more large-scale facilities into standard processes or even cross-plant performance reporting.  Smaller and mid-size businesses might use us to keep track of orders on their shop floor and tell their customers ship dates for products.  And all the companies in between need us to keep their shop floors working smoothly, productively and with few if any errors.

As these smaller and mid-size businesses try to push their revenues up, they find they’re outgrowing their software tools. The job shop system that ran routings around the floor falls short when they try to expand the product line or customize orders for customers.  So many of these manufacturers look for a quick-fix, and turn to email-based shop floor solutions that use Outlook as a messaging tool to help.  Ouch.

Outlook is not the right tool for this.  Sure, mail has the little red flag to mark something as important and even “read receipt” messaging to make sure that your colleague received the information.  But should you use it as a tool for production?  Hardly.  Email is unresponsive, unhelpful and generally slow in terms of production planning and shop floor work.

When looking for a tool that will help with production and the shop floor, consider this:

  • Email should not, be your primary means of communicating an issue. If the operator or worse, your Quality Engineer, is constantly monitoring their screen for email alerts or notifications that an important message awaits, they do not have their eyes on your actual production – which is bad news.  Our system, similar to many, can send an email when a certain process finishes, a problem arises or someone’s waiting on approvals or a piece of work.  We hope, however, that the email is well-aged by the time the engineer looks at it.
  • Ask the software supplier where and how, specifically, Outlook or messaging of any kind is used within the product. Ask them to describe how important issues are handled and what happens when one team needs to speak to another. You don’t want production delayed while the shop floor waits for someone to read a critical message.  A system without push technology might lead to workers wandering the shop floor rather than running jobs at their work centers.
  • Consider how the system captures messages in the production record. A system using email as a primary means of communication is probably not adding them to the final build record or the record that’s created is simply a string of these communications reported without a connection to the associated work completed.  That can be a problem, especially when you need an accurate production record.

In the end, a quick fix may seem an easy solution, but open you to greater risk and other production problems. Need more help?  Reach out and tell us what you need.  You’ll find that we open every email that gets through the filter, but you’ll probably have more luck, just like your shop floor, in not relying on Outlook for your most critical items.

How many modules will it take to get the functionality you need? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What to do when an ERP vendor wants to be an MES

There is a big difference between an ERP and an MES, as companies using their ERP on the shop floor have discovered.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Every day, we work with manufacturers to make them more productive, and every day we hear stories about Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems trying to replicate an MES. The ERP supplier promises they can replicate the functionality of an MES in their system, offering a single solution for the manufacturers software needs.  Why buy multiple systems when you can get everything in a single purchase?

Trust me – this never turns out well. If you really want to improve and support manufacturing, you need an MES. Manufacturing is one of the most complex processes in business today, and a few features tacked onto an ERP aren’t going to help.

Defining the ERP

3d man in trouble

Can your ERP really support optimized production? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

An ERP is a transactional system.  It can keep track of things – employees, vendors, customers, orders.  An MES is based on workflow and processes, completely different than a transactional system.  If you need to build something then send it to a customer, an ERP can track an order and the payment, but how does a system like that help you plan work, implement changes to the plan, and give you visibility into processes and workflow?

On the shop floor, the ERP can easily keep track of a routing; it’s a thing.  A routing is a list of work centers (things) and it can put those centers into an order. The ERP can list out what you will need to complete the work, and maybe even attach a document or spreadsheet.  That simple listing works perfectly fine in the core mechanics hard-wired functionality of an ERP – leading many to believe there is an MES lurking inside the ERP. Mapping workflow isn’t a natural function within a transactional system.  It can’t tell you where the order is, when it’ll get to the next step, or whether the order will finish on time.  Worst of all, an ERP can’t help you when things go wrong.

Identifying the Gaps in an ERP

And things go wrong on the shop floor.  Parts are missing.  Machines break down.  Operators make mistakes.  The ERP fails you completely when it comes time to adjust workflow or automate processes to mitigate production disruption.

Sure, with custom-built tools, complex integrations and savvy coding, the ERP can be linked to shop floor machines.  A unique screen can be added so operators log in, tracking when work starts.  An ERP offers the illusion of workflow control, but it’s a shiny veneer on shallow functionality.

Most systems like this quickly fail under the pressure of supporting production, and the shop floor is forced to develop homegrown work-arounds. We’ve seen shop floor workers holding dirty plastic folders with the actual work instructions on a supposedly “paperless” shop floor supported by an ERP. It’s even worse with job shop software that uses email as the vehicle – nothing like putting the fate of production in the same tool an email spammer uses!

These systems simply weren’t designed to support workflow processes or the shop floor, and putting in a request for manufacturing functionality with an ERP implementer who doesn’t fully grasp the complexity or requirements of production is setting the whole team up for failure. Having an ERP company go out and buy an MES so they can market itself as an “all-in-one” solution is basically letting the ERP vendor charge more for a solution they don’t really support.

The Benefit of an MES

Only a system built to handle workflow can optimally support manufacturing.  The system has to connect the individual steps in a rhythm that can be redirected, rescheduled or rerun as things change, and it has to minimize complexity.

3d small people with a checklist

What can MES and Paperless Manufacturing do for you? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

If the software has separate modules for Work Instructions, Data Collections and Non-conformance Management (all critical components of a shop floor system), then there isn’t a natural connection between these processes, and it’s likely operations will need to develop “work-arounds” for the missing functionality. When you start connecting modules for processes with other modules for functionality, the complexity grows.

When a company licenses, sells, and implements modules independently, you know it’s either a modular MES (lots of problems and costs there) or an ERP trying to be an MES. The core system doesn’t have the functionality you need.  The modular MES vendor will build it for you; the ERP vendor will try to cobble together some solution to sell you.  Both will fail. Neither will give you the flexibility you need.

Manufacturing has different needs than the front office. You wouldn’t ask Human Resources to use a CNC machine, and the sales team isn’t going to use a dynamic scheduler, so why are you asking Operations to use the same tool as Procurement? If you consider manufacturing the core of your business, the profit driver, shouldn’t you give them a tool designed for their unique needs?

An ERP is great for the front office, but it will never offer the same benefit as an MES for production.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Call us and ask questions.  We’re always willing to help.

Manufacturing has different needs than the front office. You wouldn’t ask Human Resources to use a CNC machine, and the sales team isn’t going to use a dynamic scheduler, so why are you asking Operations to use the same tool as Procurement? If you consider manufacturing the core of your business, the profit driver, shouldn’t you give them a tool designed for their unique needs?

An ERP is great for the front office, but it will never offer the same benefit as an MES for production.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Call us and ask questions.  We’re always willing to help.

A robust MES provides a solid foundation for improving quality. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Getting to Zero in Manufacturing

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

For production, the goal shouldn’t be minimizing quality escapes, but eliminating them, and that requires the deep understanding of processes you only get with an MES.

A few months ago, I needed my furnace repaired. Winters in Ohio can be brutally cold, and we needed a solution fast. The repair company rushed the replacement part from a warehouse in Arizona (because the best place to keep furnace supplies is in the brutal heat of Arizona), only to have the part arrive broken.

I was furious (and still cold), the repair company apologetic, and the manufacturer defensive. After looking at potential solutions, we ended up going with another part supplier.  This single, broken furnace part led to a lost sale, a potentially lost customer (the repair company didn’t know if they could use the supplier again), additional charges, and a lot of aggravation – all because of a part that didn’t work.

As a manufacturer, how do you let a part out the door that doesn’t work? With so much potential risk, how do you not have processes in place for ensuring problems like this don’t happen?  The repair company tested the part the minute they received it, and quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t broken, there was a problem with the manufacturing – a problem quality control should have caught.

Identifying the Source of Quality Escapes

3d small people with a checklist

What can MES and Paperless Manufacturing do to improve quality? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The problem in situations like this isn’t really the processes, but the lack of shop floor visibility. They don’t know what happens between the time an order comes in and the moment it ships, so unless EVERY single part is checked, there is going to be errors and problems that slip through.

For these manufacturers, quality control is reactive, rather than proactive. Broken parts are (hopefully) found and removed before they are shipped, preventing the immediate problems but ensuring you deal with the same issues again and again in the future.

The problem is not just broken products, but also parts or materials that don’t meet specs.  Rework will mitigate this loss, but finding it later after the complete production run adds to the cost of the rework.

The real cost of quality defects is much larger than many manufacturers realize. In the end, the cost of defects is significantly higher than the cost of a comprehensive solution to eliminate the defects.

A Comprehensive Solution for Improved Quality

To effectively address quality control, and stop shipping broken parts, you need a solution with the power to address the entire manufacturing value chain. Consider this –a Quality Management System will give you tools for disposition programs and for analyzing data, but it won’t offer the process enforcement and automated feedback loops necessary to eliminate the root cause of errors. Better production planning will help the shop floor to do their work better, and a simple data collection system will give you more data to analyze.  These systems are good at what they do, but none offer a complete solution capable of addressing the factors contributing to quality control problems.

Only an MES or paperless manufacturing system offers the complete manufacturing value chain visibility and control you need to truly address quality control.

With an MES, you have complete production visibility, with accurate and automated production records. With data collection, you can see in real time where the errors are occurring, and can design automated feedback loops to ensure problems are eliminated as they happen. You have control and visibility of the supply chain, ensuring parts and supplies meet exacting standards. By automating processes, monitoring production, and integrating best practices into production, you can begin to automate steps in a comprehensive quality control program that is a foundation of smart manufacturing.

This is what your customers have come to expect from a modern manufacturer, and there is no reason you can’t deliver what they expect.

Want to learn more, or see how you can start a modern quality control program, then contact CIMx for a personalized shop floor analysis with an application engineer – a simple first step to improving manufacturing quality.