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

How will data-driven manufacturing benefit you? Image by

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.

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

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

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 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

Does your manufacturing software offer real time shop floor visibility and control? Image by

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

What can shop floor visibility and control do for you? Illustration by

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

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

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

Don’t be fooled by innovation that won’t improve your shop floor. Illustration by

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.

Calculate the Benefit of Innovation in your Manufacturing Software

Optimize your investment with a disciplined approach to judging innovation in MOM, MES and paperless manufacturing systems using a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

The other day I bought a new cheese slicer. Of the 4 or 5 different models, I choose one with an “innovative” design. I like innovation (who doesn’t?) and figured it HAD to be better.

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by

The first “innovation” was an ergonomic handle with an odd swirl of rubber and ridges for my palm, and I hated it. It was designed for a much smaller chef, because the swirl put my fingers in a vise and the ridges dug into my palm. The other innovation turned out to be an adjustable cutting guide that actually worked, letting me control the width of the slice – opening up a whole new vista of cheese slicing delight!

I know the term “innovation” has become white noise in the manufacturing tech industry. Everyone uses it, and all sales copy includes (what does this mean) variants of the term (innovation, innovative, revolutionary, advanced… blah, blah blah…). There is a real need for innovation in manufacturing software, especially MES and MOM systems. Our industry is grappling with accelerating change – new technologies, customer expectations, market shifts, new regulations, and more. Innovation is a strategic advantage, and can be the difference between barely surviving and thriving. To manage change, manufacturers need suppliers who innovate.

Ignoring the marketing to discover true production benefit in innovation can be an almost impossible task. Companies duped by innovation promises may end up with a system that never works as promised, or with a system that can’t adapt as your manufacturing needs change.

Here are five questions to help you determine the benefit in manufacturing software systems:

  • Does the innovation add real benefit?

Innovation is about recognizing a need and applying a solution. A key element of that simple equation is NEED. Adding complexity, cost, or processes to a system isn’t innovation if it’s not addressing a need. In fact, increasing complexity is counter-intuitive to innovation.

  • Is the innovation built on a solid foundation?

An adjustable cutting guide on a cheese slicer that doesn’t slice cheese isn’t really a benefit. Likewise, an innovative reporting system on an MES that doesn’t offer shop floor control isn’t useful. Don’t get distracted by marketing. Make sure the system is built on a solid foundation and effective solutions.

  • Is the supplier “buying” innovation?

As a company grows, it becomes more difficult to innovate. Innovation requires agility you don’t find in massive corporations. This leads some big companies to buy smaller companies and products for their innovation. They package the systems together and call it “revolutionary” and innovative. Don’t be fooled. Real innovation doesn’t come from throwing software products together. It requires organic growth and development after the “Eureka” moment.

  • Where will the innovation go from here?

It’s important to see an innovative new feature or function as part of a cohesive product. Many failed innovations never find a fit in the processes offered by the overall product, especially in a software ecosystem. Consider the struggles Apple is currently having with the Apple Watch. It is an innovative product, but many consumers struggle to see how it fits in the overall Apple ecosystem. You shouldn’t have to wonder how to use a feature.

As manufacturers grapple with change, innovation from software suppliers will be of strategic importance. You need a MOM or MES system that is agile, flexible, adaptable, and easy-to-use. Software companies can’t just “promise” innovation, they need to show it. Hopefully, the questions above will help you evaluate suppliers who promise innovation.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can add immediate production benefits and revolutionize your shop floor. Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.

Easy Solutions to Legacy Software for Manufacturing

Many companies cling to dusty, inefficient software, hindering production and holding back shop floor growth. In a few simple steps, you can move your shop floor to a sustainable, modern software solution.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Confidence Button Showing Assurance Belief And Boldness

Confidence Button Showing Assurance Belief And Boldness

Legacy software.

We’ve seen companies struggle with old, dusty, inefficient and unproductive software systems written years ago in an outdated software language, and kept on hardware that can’t even be replaced. IT resources are tasked with keeping the system working, but the best they can do is minimize outages. Many times, the system may be used for a single function – to create a single critical report or capture critical manufacturing data, and then all of production becomes beholden to the single, fragile and temperamental piece of software.

Still, the company believes they have no choice but to cling to the glitchy software program, keeping that critical function on software that could fail at any time. They’ve reasoned themselves into a corner.

This may have been true a few years ago, but today there are modern software tools that can not only quickly and easily replace the legacy software, but deliver measurable benefits. You can overcome the limitations of legacy software with confidence and move to a better, more cost-effective solution. The steps to the solution aren’t difficult, or expensive. Start with…

  • Retrieving the Data.

The first step is retrieving the data from the old system. This requires accessing the database, converting the data to a neutral file, then organizing and tagging the data. CIMx has database retrieval experts on staff, and we have the experience to not only complete the work, but finish it faster and with fewer errors or problems. The team will scan the data for errors and problems, ensuring it can safely be used on the new system.  Preparing the system can be done concurrently with retrieving the data, and it starts by…

  • Mapping the Processes.

Using a modern and adaptable MES or paperless manufacturing system, you can map the processes and functionality of the legacy system to the new software system. Many times, this will only require building a script or adding a function or operation to the MES. You should also prepare the database to accept the data you’ve retrieved and copied from the old software system, ensuring the data is correctly stored so it can be used in future operations. In most (if not all) cases this won’t require customization, but a simple configuration or use of an already existing process in the system, and then you’re ready to…

  • Move the Data.

Once you have the new MES or paperless manufacturing system prepared, move the data from the old software to the new. Please note, you shouldn’t remove the data from the old system, just copy it over. You’ll load the data, and then review it to ensure no mistakes or problems occurred in the transfer. Repairing the data will correct most problems, but you still want to…

  • Test the New Software.

Now that you have the data moved and the operations and functionality in place in the new software, it’s time to test. Run a series of test cases on the new system to ensure the processes and functionality are running correctly. Make adjustments if necessary. Once testing is done, you’re ready to…

  • Run the New Software.

It’s time to test the new software system in production. In the beginning, you will run the new software simultaneously with the old Legacy system. Each will perform the same operations in parallel. This will give you the assurance you have the functionality of the old software while you are running the new software live in production. During this time, you can see how effective the MES is in replacing the old Legacy system, and make adjustments as needed because eventually you will…

  • Replace the Legacy Software with New System.

After testing the new software and making any necessary adjustments, you can begin rolling over all the functionality of the legacy software to the new system. This may be as simple as having the team use the new software instead of the old. While having the two systems run parallel, you can easily move over to the new system in phases, starting with one production line or area before moving to another. The final goal should be having the entire plant running on the new software system. Then you can celebrate and shut the old software down completely.  While much of the schedule will be dependent on the data being retrieved, normally the process can be completed in weeks or, in a difficult case, two months if the MES has built-in integration and migration tools.

Is your old and dusty MES a disaster waiting to happen? Illustration by

Is your old and dusty MES a disaster waiting to happen? Illustration by

There are a number of advantages to this process, and to moving away from an old system to a new one. In addition to more uptime and stability, your data is now in a more secure database. Many times, this means it is easier to use in analytics. By putting it in an MES, you can also more easily link the functionality of the legacy software to the integrated production records. In addition, you have an integrated and complete manufacturing software solution with the MES. Production goes to a single system for all the information they need for operations.

When you consider how easy it is to deliver all the necessary digital functionality you need for the software in a single system, it’s an easy choice to phase out old software that can’t provide the functionality and efficiency you need. Want to learn more, or discuss how CIMx can help you replace your antiquated software? Leave us a message today for a free shop floor review of you software. We’re happy to help.

How You Can Get Real Value for Your MES

Time and technology have changed, but many software companies are still selling dated manufacturing solutions. Get more value from your MES with a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

More money doesn't always mean a better solution. Illustration by

More money doesn’t always mean a better solution. Illustration by

We’ve gotten a lot of comments on our Two-Comma MES blog. Some agree the benefit of some MES may never justify an (extreme) two-comma cost. Others are quick to defend the high-cost, arguing a world-class manufacturing software system will have a world-class price. If you cut corners on your MES, and install a “cheap” software solution, you cut corners on productivity – the profit-driver for manufacturers.

There’s truth in both positions, and there isn’t an “optimal” price for manufacturing software. That said, times have changed, and the MES of the past no longer offer the value (even if slick marketing is hiding the creaking old code of some systems) they once did. We need to change how we approach the MES purchasing process.

Breaking Down the MES Budget

Assessing value starts with your budget. How much benefit can you buy for your budget? The IT budget is normally 1% to 3% of a company’s annual revenue.  For a $50,000,000 company, that would leave a budget of $500,000 to $1,500,000. From that budget, you need to pay for support, licenses, hardware, software, license fees and infrastructure costs. How much of that will be left for an MES? With the budget left, is there any way to financially justify the extreme cost some companies demand for their software?

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, it just doesn’t make sense to install a high-cost, system if you’re not getting flexibility. Systems like that are normally difficult to upgrade or adapt. Overly complex and over-engineered systems can’t handle the demands of modern manufacturing, even if the system looks modern, is it flexible and can it manage change? Will the effort and cost to maintain system efficiency represent a sunk cost that will quickly bury any initial benefit?

Tips for Finding Paperless Manufacturing Value

A powerful, effective and incredibly efficient MES doesn’t have to cost two-commas. It can be easy-to-use, easy-to-install, adaptable and flexible without a high cost. Here are a few tips for finding value in your search for an MES:

  • Don't get buried by the cost of your two comma MES. Illustration by

    Don’t get buried by the cost of your two comma MES. Illustration by

    Avoid the modules: Modules sound like a great option. Presented like a giant MES vending machine, you pick your feature, nothing more and nothing less, then it comes together magically. It doesn’t work that way. A “module” is often a separate app built by an entirely different company, which means configuration and integration costs. The more modules you add, the higher the cost. Companies offer a lower base cost, then drive profit on the “modules.” An integrated MES platform, with all features and functions built natively for the system, will deliver more functionality for a much LOWER cost.

  • Beware of forms-based systems: Companies that promise to “configure” a system for you specifically are likely using forms. They “make” it for you by mirroring your current processes through a form in their MES. They add to the initial cost of the MES a configuration “charge,” and know that any time you want to change the form, due to a process change or manufacturing need, you’ll go back to them. A forms-based system seems perfect at first, and then loses efficiency over time. A truly flexible, and lower-cost, option will use your current work instructions on a framework within the MES. Any work instruction or plan can be used in the software, delivering all the tools and functionality you want or need, in the format you want.
  • Flexible support options: Some companies, especially companies using an older software system, will hide the true cost with a confusing array of support options. There may be tiers of support, an entire configuration team you pay for, a base cost with an array of additional costs. It may seem like “comprehensive” support, but add it all up and the “support” will have destroyed your budget. Look for a solution provider who can offer a set cost for support expenses, or who is willing to offer a cost-not-to-exceed contract for work.
  • Utilize a phased implementation: With a phased implementation, you have greater control over the pace, focus and cost of a project. You select the features and functionality that offer the greatest return and put them in place first. Other systems, especially ones that require extensive configuration or messy integration of modules, will limit how you use and roll out the software. You’ll have a much higher initial cost, longer training, and often an open-ended implementation phase where expenses pile up. With a phased implementation and an integrated software system, the software is installed once and you turn on and use whatever you want whenever you are ready.

In the past, a 6 – 18 month installation and implementation period for an MES was standard. A multi-million, two-comma cost was to be expected. MES has grown up since then. The technology and market have changed, and manufacturers are benefiting with lower-cost systems that are adaptable, flexible, easy-to-use and –learn.

Don’t be suckered by flashy promises of a high-cost software company. Look for value in your manufacturing software solution, not two-commas.

Paperless Manufacturing and Procrastination

You may not realize it, but many companies procrastinate away profit and production. We offer easy-to-use tips for eliminating tech-procrastination.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

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

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

In the book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, Tierney and Baumeister discuss how to set realistic goals, monitor progress, pick your battles, and look beyond immediate challenges.  Studies show, by doing these things you will decrease stress and increase your personal energy and health.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to my job and how paperless manufacturing helps companies increase their own productivity. Of course, there is a whole chapter on procrastination and how it affects willpower. I have found procrastination to be a huge factor for companies considering, but not moving forward with a paperless manufacturing project. Companies know they need to do something, but discover it is much easier to do nothing, even as profit, success and productivity drain away.

Many procrastinators (including corporate and business procrastinators) overestimate the size of a task which can cause anxiety before the project even starts.  Therefore, potential solutions are put aside and expensive production errors continue as they have for years past. Companies ignore an easy solution out of ignorance, not because there is any real problem.

There are some simple tips you can use to avoid procrastination and move forward with a beneficial paperless project:

  • Focus on starting, not finishing – by doing this, you avoid getting overwhelmed. Decide what can be done right now, the finish line will come, but no one gets there in one stride.
  • Break things down into short tasks – implementing an MES system is a large investment, so it won’t happen overnight. There are several steps in the process, take them one step at a time. This is an advantage of a phased implementation.
  • Celebrate small advances – by doing this you avoid getting discouraged during the process. Each task completed is a step closer to shop floor success and more productive manufacturing.
  • Find others who support your cause – by doing this, you are creating a circle of support to help push the project forward, even on days when you may feel overwhelmed, your MES team can trudge on.
  • Don’t let budget hold you back – there may not be an active budget for a paperless initiative, but if you don’t get started on building your case there never will be. Gather the information you need, you may find budget once you show the powerful benefits MES can provide.
  • Create a benefit list – develop a list of MES functionality and how each feature will solve your shop floor problems. This will help you stay focused on the project and will be a huge selling point for your business case down the road.
  • Don’t give up – there are always setbacks during a big project. Don’t get discouraged.  If you need to, find a way to rework your goals in order to keep advancing. 

Getting started

Creating a list of questions regarding your shop floor inefficiencies is the first hurdle to overcoming procrastination.  What could we be doing better?  What are we going to do about it?  What challenges do we face?  How can we overcome them?  What can MES do for us?

After you answer these questions, research MES systems and see which systems can solve the problems you’ve identified in your manufacturing processes.   Bring your questions to us, we would love to help.  Our team can identify what you need, how to solve your critical production problems, and work out a rapid ROI. We’ll take you through each step in the process. Contact CIMx today for more information.