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

Manufacturing Software and Paperless Manufacturing in 2017

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We regularly review the manufacturing software market.  Last year, we were twice caught off-guard by references to the “death of Manufacturing Execution Software” (MES) by both a major analyst firm and a competitor.

Manufacturing software isn’t dying.  With the changes to our industry, the growth of technology, and the need for companies to better manage resources and production, there has never been more need for strong software tools to support production.  Paper, a modified spreadsheet, or an ERP modified with some shop floor functionality, simply can’t provide the capability manufacturers need.  There is no magic bullet, super-system to solve all your enterprise problems and replace manufacturing software.  Predicting the “death of MES” flies directly in the face of what we see every day.

The Premature Demise of Manufacturing Software

In the first case, an analyst predicted MES vendors would need to specialize to survive the next 5 – 10 years.  I agreed whole-heartedly with this analysis; manufacturing systems do need to adapt.  The era of the 200+ MES vendors that do it all is over.  Technology is so prevalent with apps and devices everywhere, there’s no way a general, “everything to everybody” system can thrive. His solution, however, was an incredibly and wildly expensive master system that utilized every hot button technology analysts obsess over.

When I read similar content from a competitor, I thought back to the analyst’s prediction.  The thing they had in common, however, wasn’t the prognostication.  It was their blindness to more than 90 percent of the manufacturing market – firms that don’t make the Fortune 50.  Each was looking at the market of multi-million dollar software implementations with automation, IIoT and BA that only the fewest manufacturing companies can consider.

Process Improvement graph.

Take steps to improve production and profit with Paperless Manufacturing in 2017. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

 

This doesn’t mean MES is dying.  Manufacturing software for the rest of the industry is adapting, better utilizing technology to improve both functionality and efficiency.

Years ago, we started talking about Paperless Manufacturing as a focus long before others picked it up. We wanted to empower manufacturers to improve productivity and quality, eliminating compliance issues by eliminating error-prone and inefficient paper on the shop floor with a system and software tools that are easy-to-use and quick to implement out of the box.  Now everyone seems to be talking about paperless manufacturing (which isn’t another way of saying MES is dying).

Many analysts and major software providers focus on only the very largest manufacturers in the world, completely ignoring the largest segment of the market.  They both offer solutions for only the largest companies. Their position makes sense for those companies, but I struggle when they use that perspective to move the needle without considering the entire market.  It’s no wonder a majority of manufacturers struggle to find software designed for them, or believe manufacturing software is going to bankrupt their business.

Manufacturing Software Solutions for the Market

I don’t understand these analysts and massive software providers refusal to see the manufacturing world below $1 billion.  For these companies, there is no Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), no Smart Connected Assets, no Factory-Automated shop floor in the works.  These hard-working manufacturers need immediate, focused and sustainable help to survive the current challenges of global competition, worker shortages and a lack of interest among new workers for manufacturing.  Predictive analytics is fun to read about, but it’s not going to get the next order out the door.

The good news is there are systems and software solutions designed for these companies. With modern technology, there’s no reason why all manufacturers can’t support their production operations with software.  The right system can save money, improve production and quality, and get orders out the door.  Manufacturers and a production operations team shouldn’t have to struggle with inefficiency.

There are even software systems that can be installed and help improve production and efficiency this year (not all can, so be sure to understand the service and ask for qualifications and guarantees).  The law of averages tells me that for every US $10 million in revenue you have on the top line, you can conservatively spend between US $35,000 and $50,000 on a system.  That’s more than enough to move from inefficient paper to paperless manufacturing and all the benefits it brings.

You will need to create a short, focused list of requirements; some vendors can even help you with that.  Here are a few things to watch out for as you start researching the market:

  • Template-based systems (fill in the boxes or blanks) work well only for those companies that have consistent, never-failing production. These are useful in automated settings where input is minimal and variation is seldom.
  • Services-to-install are an area that some vendors will underbid on. Ask for a fixed-bid to complete the work, a guarantee of deliverables and make sure the vendor offers a very strong complaint process.
  • Upgrades must be included in annual support. Always buy the annual support to ensure you can upgrade.  New functionality will keep your production operations modern and focused.
  • Be knowledgeable about the vendor’s support practices before you sign on the dotted line. Ask how they support customers and call the support line before you purchase to see how you are treated.  Their handling of issues will be fairly consistent throughout your tenure with them.

Make 2017 the year you start doing something to improve your competitiveness, profitability and quality.

If you don’t know how to take the first steps, reach out to us at CIMx Software.  Our goal is to provide our manufacturing software to as many companies with a real need as we can, and we’re offering programs right now that can immediately accelerate your research and get you started.  We can help you assess your needs with a Shop Floor Analysis, a market review and other helpful tools.

Want to know more? Contact CIMx today, we’re happy to help.

Manufacturing is changing. Are you ready? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

2016 Year in Review for Manufacturing Technology

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

At first glance, 2016 was a year of promise linking production priorities with emergent technologies.  Speculation was rampant with industry buzzwords flying fast and furious – Smart Manufacturing, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Digital Thread, Data Mining, Cloud technology.

What is lost in the speculation of 2016 is the technical and industry hurdles we need to overcome before the speculation becomes a practical reality for our industry. Consider this:

  • The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will use machine sensors and automation to better manage production processes, identifying and eliminating problems before they happen…once we determine the format and infrastructure of the IIoT, significantly lower the cost of integration, and agree on how security will be managed.

  • Cloud-based apps offer companies the chance to reduce capital and infrastructure expenses and manage software remotely…as long as they relinquish control of their data and apps to the service providers and accept increased costs and potential downtime.

  • Smart Manufacturing heralds the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT)…so Production Managers with enough time, resources, and a willing and able IT resource to implement and support smart, connected devices can improve production outcomes.

  • Manufacturing customers see the promise of collaborative manufacturing and customization, and are expecting more from manufacturers, and manufacturers are using 3D printing and digital PLM tools to provide flexibility not found in traditional manufacturing processes…hoping they can maintain margins while frantically searching for new value streams to improve profits.

A Dose of Manufacturing Truth

As exciting as it was to speculate on the future in 2016, we’ve ignored the current manufacturing truth faced by many companies. Businesses don’t need speculation, they need practical solutions.  According to a study by Adobe, 82% of the companies still rely heavily on paper.  Four out of five businesses say they are trying to use less paper, but a third of the companies actually used MORE paper.  These companies aren’t thinking about the Digital Thread, they wonder how they can continue supporting their business.

An operations team struggling to manage massive paper build books and unsure how to access the latest revision of production plans isn’t considering smart-connected machines.  A company with a single, overworked IT resource isn’t ready for a Smart Manufacturing strategy.  A shop floor supervisor struggling to identify shipping dates and manage production schedules isn’t thinking about IIoT.

The solutions our industry is focused on and the suppliers offering them are still years, perhaps even decades, from providing a viable application for most manufacturers.  For example, an IIoT solution will require new machines, sensors to integrate with a shared database, a common machine language for all those sensors, a tool for mining the information for actionable data, and a method of automating the process. Currently, it’s expensive, with only limited applications.

The largest companies, with the money, resources and time to devote to speculation, are exploring the options and opportunities. Often, the goal is to monetize the technology and offer it on the market as a product or module for an existing application. The company hasn’t even worked out how to use it in their own processes.

Where We Were in 2016

Rather than speculate, I’d like to take an honest look at 2016.  Let’s see where our industry is now, rather than 10+ years from now.

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How are you using technology in production and operations? Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve come across companies that have implemented an MES, or have stitched together different applications to remove paper from their processes and better manage and record manufacturing digitally.  Today, these companies are working to improve their processes, optimize production, and further support the manufacturing value chain.

The push to further optimize can lead to additional risks.  Companies are working toward integrating their software systems, such as ERP, PLM and ERP, through a single system.  Most of these projects have run into trouble, as the complexity of the integrated software slows, rather than supports, enterprise processes.  Brian Carpizo, a Team Lead with Uptake, an IIoT company in Chicago, described the problem in an article in Forbes as “… the converged IT/OT world does not lend itself to one-vendor systems of record or some kind of mega-ERP. The problem is just too complex.”

CIMx regularly works with companies struggling with inefficient, legacy software systems that should have been retired years ago.  These companies purchased manufacturing software during the advent of MES in the early 1990s; some built their own systems using Microsoft Access or other computer software. These early systems used custom code, making it expensive and difficult to upgrade.

Today, companies still using that old software pour more money and resources into maintaining the inefficient status quo, a logic fallacy known as a “sunk cost” that blinds businesses to the opportunity for improvement. Continuing to wait leads the company further into Technology Debt.  These companies are looking for a smooth transition to a new system.

Finally, there are a significant number of manufacturers still clinging to traditional, error-prone paper-based manufacturing. From our experience, whatever the reason for waiting each year to implement even a simple software system to better manage production operations, the company falls further and further behind their competition. Often, management doesn’t realize how easy and inexpensive a possible software solution is to implement.

A Bridge Forward in 2017

I’m not arguing against Smart Connected devices and technology. Technology will have a positive impact on manufacturing, now and in the future.  Automation and the IIoT are promising, and there are companies leveraging the Cloud to improve current business outcomes.

But to focus on technology still years away from practical application while ignoring the struggles of the majority of the industry in 2016 isn’t really putting your audience’s interests first.  We’re excited by the opportunity new technology offers, and we’re looking at ways to best utilize it in our product offerings, but in no way was this reflective of the work done in 2016, or the status of manufacturing last year.

A review of the year should focus on the business, and not the future.  There are tools out there now to help businesses still relying on paper and inefficient technology.

Next week, we’ll take a close look at what you can do in 2017 to deliver a positive impact on your business.

Are you confident in your shop floor data and quality control? Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Manage Change on the Shop Floor with Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

With any software system, there’s a balancing act between flexibility and standardization.  Where flexible solutions give you agility, standardization is sustainably repeatable.  You need both in a system for your shop floor.

Manufacturing utilizes negotiable and non-negotiable rules to manage work and deliver repeatable processes.  Enterprise software solutions need to support these processes and change the “negotiable” rules where it is necessary.

A recent visit to a small airport showed the importance of accommodating change.

When Processes Get In the Way of Success

You see, I travel a lot.  It’s standard practice for airlines to reward frequent travelers with perks like early boarding or a special boarding area.

This trip, I was at an airport too small for a special area. So, at 7 in the morning with a crowd of tired and frustrated travelers seething because the plane was hours late, the oblivious gate agent rolled out this threadbare red carpet to welcome the frequent travelers.

“Please step off the mat,” she told a few weary travelers that were anxious to board.  The comment didn’t go over well as the one or two frequent travelers in the crowd hurried onto the plane and the rest were instructed to step back a few feet so she could roll up the carpet.

People argued.  I could understand.  It was early, and many passengers had been waiting for more than an hour. “It’s not me,” she said. “It’s the airline policy.”  The gate agent proceeded to calmly roll up the carpet, carefully put it away, and then settle back to her place at the gate.

Manufacturing Software and Production Agility

I’ve run this chain of events through my mind. I can relate to the need for processes and consistency. For manufacturers and others, repeatable processes are a sure sign of success… unless they aren’t.

Consider what “process and consistency” cost the company in this situation.

Did the benefit to the few customers that qualified warrant what looked like an entitlement for the rest?  Was it worth forcing angry and exhausted customers to continue standing on sore feet while you rolled up a stupid carpet no one in their right mind really cared about? Add to that price the loss of goodwill you would have gained if you just let the passengers on the plane.

Consistency and repeatable processes are critical for modern manufacturing, but flexibility and the ability to adjust to market conditions is a growing priority. Manufacturing software should manage change as well as consistent processes.

Systems that can’t manage change are going to limit a company, rather than increasing efficiency or competitive advantage.

Evaluating Current Manufacturing Software

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Manufacturing is changing. Are you ready? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There are two types of systems on the market – forms-based and workflow-based systems, and each manage change on the shop floor very differently.

A forms-based system uses forms, or fields for data, in the software. Users input data in one field, tagging the information, and retrieve it in another.  It’s easy to use and operate, but limiting when it comes to managing change.  If you don’t have the right form or fields, the shop floor will struggle to accommodate changes to processes.

Workflow-based systems are more effective at managing change.  A workflow system is designed to support a series of work activities that lead to completion. A change in processes or work requires only a simple change or addition to the workflow being supported by the software.

Reports are run on data collected by the system or the users, making it easy to run the reports required by the customer. You’re not bound by what data you can retrieve from the forms in the software.

With workflow-based software users can adjust their processes to accommodate change and still use the software as intended, rather than trying to cobble together a solution outside the scope of the system they purchased.

In the case of the clueless gate agent… the shop floor manager could see how current processes weren’t supporting conditions on the shop floor, and could adjust the workflow as needed, without having to contact the supplier for a new form.

There would be no need to piss off the customers so you could roll out a carpet.  Everyone leaves happy.

Want to learn more, or see how a workflow-based system works? Contact CIMx today for a free demonstration of our software.

Are you procrastinating away profit and productivity as you wait for a new software system? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Overcoming Failure: Simple Steps to Improve Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Not long ago, I wrote about a concept known as “sunk cost.”  The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a cognitive bias that compels us to cling to an investment even after there is little to no chance of a beneficial return. We feel an unnecessary commitment to decisions of the past, even where we’ve lost our initial investment, and so we keep pouring more resources into it.  For example, continuing to invest in a failed business or clinging to a relationship even after its gone bad.

I’ve heard Annie Duke, a World champion poker player, discuss the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and I’m fascinated by her lessons on sunk cost, loss aversion and Decision Science. She recently wrote a blog about supermarket lines and sunk cost.  There are valuable lessons for manufacturers in her blog when you consider the amount of money you spend on infrastructure.

Sunk Costs on the Shop Floor

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Don’t let sunk costs sink your productivity and shop floor software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

As Annie Duke explains in the blog, “Our problem is that we don’t recognize that we have later chances to make a new and better decision… Instead, we either think we are done deciding and ignore new information, or think the new decision should give weight to irrelevant factors.”

Much the same could be said of manufacturing. You have to invest to stay in business. Sometimes that investment is in software. Many companies, if not most, are loathe to spend money on these systems as the software or the people who sell it don’t seem honest or can’t be bothered to understand your problems; they’ll sell you whatever they can whether it works or not.

(CIMx tries to eliminate these problems through our sales cycle, but that’s not the focus of today’s blog.)

Once you pay for software, it becomes a sunk cost. You can’t consider the initial investment in the next decision you make. So, what do you do when the software isn’t giving you the return you need? What do you do when the system isn’t working like it should, or the supplier tells you the project is running late and significantly over-budget?  At that point, you need to consider your Return on Failure.

Maximizing Your Return on Failure

We have a history of working with companies that need to improve manufacturing software.  Companies come to us almost monthly with failed software implementations; some of these companies need help, others need an all-out system rescue.  We’ve helped with a total system replacement, ensured the data they needed was in the system, or just consulted and supplied services and software to help the manufacturer get back on their feet.  You’d be amazed at how many software providers desert their customers before the system they installed was fully usable.

In an article from the Harvard Business Review, authors Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas describe the theory of Return on Failure and how the most successful companies in the world use failure to grow rapidly and sustainably.  Return on Failure is measured by the information you obtain through the failure (call this “lessons learned”) and the amount initially invested.  No matter the investment, if you can maximize the information learned, you come out ahead.

To apply this in manufacturing, once you’ve selected and started to implement a system, all is not lost if you find it does not meet your needs.  Learn where the holes are.  Create a list of what’s still needed.  Rapidly identify what’s broken.  Then, and most importantly, apply the concept of sunk cost.

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How much is inefficient software costing you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The amount you’ve already invested in a system is irrelevant to the problem you’re trying to solve – a software system that’s currently not doing what you need it to do.  Unless the provider of the failed system can bail you out for the best price with the best result, why should you continue investing in failure?  The money you’ve spent shouldn’t factor into your next decision.  Are you worried about introducing another vendor and creating a bigger failure?  If you do nothing, then you’re accepting a shop floor digital infrastructure that will always be less than optimal. You’re basically crippling the profit driver of your company.

I would suggest it is MOST dangerous to continue investing with a supplier who has failed.  I’d also suggest a consultant can help identify the problems, but they can’t sustainably deliver an ROI for the future.  That’s not the strength of a consultant. You need a solution to the problem.

Increasing your Return on Failure involves learning from failure and creating a strategy for improving results in the future, and that’s where CIMx can help.

We’ve done it before.  Numerous times.  Our procedures are built to rapidly identify the gaps in your processes and determine the optimal strategy and solution.  With a full staff of engineers, shop floor analysis tools and products that can rapidly and robustly help you move data, we work with you to determine and implement a solution to get you up and running as quickly as possible.

Customers come to us not only with software implementations that failed, but also aging systems that are now failing or crippled by obsolete infrastructures.  We’ve even worked with customers (multiple ones if you can believe it) buying parts for aging servers off e-Bay.  Continuing to invest in systems like these represent sunk cost bias.  Continuing to pour money and resources into a failing system is not only foolish, but it’s holding your business back from optimizing production and profit.

Lessons Learned from Failure.

Each time we work with a manufacturer confronted with a failed (or failing) software system, we do our own lessons learned.  Here are a few areas that we can help, addressing each area Birkinshaw and Haas refer to:

Costly customers cost you dearly

If you are losing money regularly, you may not know your production costs.  Add manufacturing variability to that (customers changing one or more parameters on standard product), and the production estimate guessing game gets ever more dire.  With a solid system in place you can confidently estimate your production costs, and then run comparisons to determine the actual costs.  Track it daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.  You’re in control of the data.

Lack of market knowledge steals profitability

Do you know what’s really going on in your industry?  Plug competitive data into your analytics engine and see how your operation stacks up.  What if you were able to save 5% on the time it takes to complete a single shop floor operation?  Would that be the difference between a productive, profitable project and one that costs you and your customer time, money and aggravation?  The benefits you accumulate with a successful software system can be the difference between success and failure.

Alignment with the corporate strategy increases customer success

If your company were to make a broad change in how they manufacture for customers, could you identify how it would affect your ability to deliver for independent accounts?  Manufacturing software can provide a view, part by part, of how change impacts you and your customers.  If you were able to implement that change without increasing costs across your customer base, wouldn’t that increase your ability to compete?

Supporting a strong culture keeps you fully staffed

Failing systems have a negative impact on your team as well.  In a world where it is increasingly difficult to acquire and keep great employees, you need to do everything possible to help your shop floor staff to do their work.  Make their job easier by getting them the information they need.  Give them a system that empowers employees, providing access and feedback to both engineering and sales, increasing collaboration across the company.  We can provide you tools to do this.

Looking to the future provides continued improvement

Once you’ve got the right system in place, don’t stop there.  You need to continue to improve to remain competitive.  Business and manufacturing analytics provides a view into future trends.  We use trailing twelve charts to help us see forward trends.  Use this information to overcome production issues and make better decisions.

Next Steps to Increase Your Return

We’re proud of our expertise in overcoming failure for manufacturers, and want to continue helping companies in need of a technical lifeline, which is why we’re introducing a new program – the software trade-in.  We can’t take your current software licenses (and quite frankly, we don’t want them) but we’ll empower you to exchange them, license for license, with a CIMx Software system that will work for you.  We’re experts at rapid installation with a focus on strong investment returns, and our expertise will ensure you quickly replace failing systems with software that empowers production and manufacturing.

If you don’t want a heavy sales pitch, contact me directly to hear more about this, or talk to any member of my team.  We’ve made a business out of helping manufacturers improve production, and we’re ready to share our expertise.

Talk to you soon.

Use this handy tool to evaluate new shop floor technology to reduce risk and ensure an ROI. Image by www.colourbox.com

How to Successfully Replace Manufacturing Software

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are manufacturers out there struggling with outdated and inefficient legacy software systems supporting production.

Shop floor managers call us for help with these outdated systems – an Access database created long ago by a retired employee, or a piece of manufacturing software so old, it’s impossible to update and sits on a dilapidated server held together by rubber bands and prayers.

A Source of Manufacturing Inefficiency

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How much money is wasted due to inefficient software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing is the foundation of the company and the engine that fuels profit, and if the company doesn’t support production with the right tools, they are holding the business back. No amount of Kanban sessions or process improvements can make up for a digital tool trying to do something it was never designed for, or should have been shelved and retired years ago.

These older systems not only impact production and create inefficiency; they are a source of errors and hide a potential production disaster if the systems ever fail.

These shop floor managers know something has to be done, but struggle to get a clear answer from the IT department or a potential solution provider. Everyone promises their solution is the one they need, often completely ignoring current production processes in their excitement to implement their solution.

Identifying and Mitigating Software Risks

The shop floor can manage the problem and solution process by identifying risks early to determine the viability of a potential solution. Here are a few items to consider as you review next steps for your shop floor.

  • Data Migration.

If you have critical production data stored on a failing, outdated system, you need to consider how to move the data to the new system. Consider not only copying the data over, but using an Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tool. Some ETL will safely transform data to a modern format so it can be used in the new software and better support production.  Without utilizing an ETL tool, you may be stuck with unusable data in your new software.

  • Process Changes.

While you hope the new software tool improves processes, there are times the system will hinder, rather than help, production. Consider change orders and redline edits. If the new system offers a wealth of functionality that adds complexity to change orders, you may trap the shop floor with an unmanageable process.  Look at purchasing a workflow-based, rather than a forms-based, system when replacing outdated software. An initial pilot would also determine how the system will be used.

  • Increased Cost of Ownership.

It is worthwhile estimating not only the initial cost, but overall cost of ownership of manufacturing software. Often, the cost of software isn’t reflective of the benefit. The most expensive system may not offer the best solution.  Break down the cost of a potential solution, look at how it will be used, and estimate the potential ROI before making a purchase.

  • Gaps in Coverage.

Often, a software solution, especially cloud-based apps targeting manufacturing, will focus on a single challenge, rather than addressing the underlying problems facing production.  For example, purchasing a simple email app to manage production planning may seem like a quick fix to outdated software, but the gaps in coverage left by the solution expose you to other risks that may impact production.

Some manufacturers mistakenly value complexity over benefit in software. You don’t need all the complexity and functionality offered by many solution providers. Get input from the users and estimate how often and extensive their interaction will be with the software. If users spend more time serving the software than engaged in production, you don’t have an optimal solution.

Getting Started with Paperless Manufacturing

One way to overcome hesitation with a new software system is to look at change as an opportunity to eliminate the problems and frustrations the production team faces using outdated software. When we work with shop floor managers struggling with inefficient software, we start by looking at their current workflow.  The team often uncovers other process impediments that can be easily solved.

With an eye on the potential risks we’ve outlined above and the right solution provider, the new system can have a positive impact across the organization and unlock production potential you may not have known you had.  Want to know more, or talk to an application engineer about your outdated software systems? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

How a Workflow System Helps Manufacturers Improve Production

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I’m beginning to understand why so many manufacturing companies are frustrated when they work with software suppliers, and how we can make the process easier.

3d man in trouble

A digital solution to shop floor challenges is easier to find than you might thinnk. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I spoke to a shop floor manager, let’s call him Joe, struggling with several production databases kept in an old version of Microsoft Access.  Joe was worried the databases would fail. Rightfully so. The servers were old, and it was impractical to move the data to a new server. There was little benefit to upgrading to a new version of Microsoft Office. There were few on Joe’s team who even knew how to properly access the data.

Joe and his IT team researched other possible solutions with little success.  Some suppliers offered an expensive custom solution to match current processes, others required the current processes adapt to match the proposed solution.

Neither option was appealing, and Joe was close to giving up when he spoke with CIMx.

Paperless Manufacturing for the Modern Shop Floor

Given enough time, money and resources, developers can twist and cajole any manufacturing functionality you want out of software code.  Many software companies call this functionality a “module.”  The module is based on a perceived manufacturing need, and the features are focused on solving that need. Manufacturing is not a series of needs, but a workflow. A workflow is a series of linked and sequential events that leads to a state of completion.  The module product approach may work for a single “event,” but leaves serious gaps in the workflow a company will struggle to fill.

This is why the other solution providers required a change in processes (to make connecting those tools easier) or more expensive service charges (so they could fill the gaps).

Quantum is based on manufacturing workflow rather than modules.  The software quickly maps to shop floor processes, supporting existing workflow and providing a quick and less complex solution to manufacturing challenges.

In the case of Joe, the shop floor manager struggling with dated Microsoft Access databases, CIMx was able to provide a new data warehouse for the old files. By mapping Quantum to their current processes, users could easily access the data they needed throughout the workflow. The only real change was the use of Quantum, rather than print outs from Access.

At CIMx, we love connecting manufacturers with technology.  Seeing the software roll out at Joe’s facility, and teaching users how Quantum can make their job easier, was exciting.  It’s why we love our job.  Granted, there were a few reluctant to give up their paper work instructions.  The first time they accessed their planning with the push of a button, rather than a lengthy search across a crowded work station before thumbing through a paper traveler, many asked the CIMx team what else Quantum could do.

We call Quantum a Paperless Manufacturing system because it empowers users to eliminate paper and improve their existing processes, rather than eliminate and replace processes with new tools that may be more complex and less efficient.

If you have inefficiencies or challenges on your shop floor, including old systems or databases, and want to see how a modern software system based on workflow, rather than modules, can help you, then give us a call or contact us today.

Keep an eye on our blog, because over the next few weeks we’ll be making a major announcement, further helping manufacturers like Joe struggling with inefficiencies. We’re excited, and can’t wait to share more!

Looking for money concept. Isolated on white background.3d rendered.

Simple versus Simplicity: The MES App Conundrum

Some manufacturers latch onto solutions that never really address the core problems facing production.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few weeks ago I sat through a demo of a new shop floor manufacturing app.

The marketing pitch seemed promising. Rather than charging for hardware and functionality you don’t really need, the app offered access to a cloud manufacturing solution built for production. For a single low cost, you could, “harness the power of the cloud.”

You paid a few dollars, gave them a credit card, and the app was downloaded on a phone or tablet.  From the app, you could load up work instructions and additional documentation, fill in order and operation information, and create a routing.  From the shop floor, you access the instructions, click a button to leave a note or collect data, and press “NEXT” to close one operation and open another.

There was a dashboard with icons and additional information. A planning screen let me click and drag work around, and for a few dollars more I could get reports.

The smooth-voiced “hostess” of the demo promised the app, “…had all the functionality you need, without gimmicks.” The questions and comments after the demo were so full of praise for the “simple” power of the app, you’d have thought it revolutionized computer technology rather than put a shiny veneer on a document viewer.

The pitch was clear. According to the demo, software companies swore you needed a big manufacturing solution, when all you really needed was an app.

The Difference between Simplicity and Simple

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

If you aren’t solving a problem or improving production, any money spent on a “simple” solution is wasted. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know software, manufacturing software specifically, and I know apps and computer technology. The solution I saw at the demo could be built and finished relatively quickly – perhaps 6 to 10 months with good developers and a clear plan.

The solution was also simple – get your planning to the shop floor with minimal routing. Get rid of paper and paper build books and access everything you need from your phone.  You can eliminate the need for expensive implementation teams and a bunch of annoying service charges. Forget requirement lists, integrations and implementations; you can now buy a manufacturing solution in an afternoon browsing the iPhone App store. It was simple.

But it never really addressed the core needs we see from the manufacturers we work with. Companies today need to improve production and work smarter. They need to do more with less, improve margins and cut costs. They need better control and visibility of the manufacturing value chain. Emailing work instructions to the shop floor won’t do that.

In my mind, this app was like a piece of tape stuck to a dam. Sure the app (or tape) did its job, but it never addressed the overall problem. It sold “simple” to an audience that really needed a solution.

I’m not arguing for complexity. A Paperless Manufacturing solution that adds real value doesn’t need to be complex or mind-bogglingly expensive.

There is a difference between simple and simplicity.  A solution needs to directly address the core needs of manufacturers to improve production outcomes, improve profit and deliver real value to the business.  It needs to be an integrated solution, because value isn’t made at just one point in the production cycle. An app on your phone may be simple, but it’s not a manufacturing solution.  It’s an app on your phone.

What the app was missing was a cohesive digital link between production activities – the value of a true Paperless Manufacturing solution. It felt like the app developer never really asked a manufacturer what they needed or did. They took a guess that manufacturing needed simple and the cloud and ignored everything else. The company wrote an app, and then kept telling everyone it was “simple.”

Simplicity helps manage complexity, rather than ignoring it. Simplicity contextualizes information so you can focus on what’s important. Everything else involved in production is still there and still being managed, but it’s been prioritized.

This is the difference between simple and simplicity. Simple is what you get when you want to throw an app on the web to make a quick profit. Simplicity is built into a tool to help you work better, faster and with fewer errors – letting you focus on work, rather than the tool.

It’s a subtle, but critical, difference I believe the app developers never really understood.