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

Identifying Customer-centric MES Customization

Your company may need a viable custom MES solution, but not all software companies will offer it to you.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Not long ago I read a Business Insight by Shep Hyken, author of The Amazement Revolution. Hyken and CIMx share a core passion: creating a Customer Service culture.  Generally, I agree with Shep’s philosophy, and love him as a speaker.  Putting the customer first is the basis for a true win-win in business.

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If you’re not careful, a simple configuration can eliminate your ROI over the life of an installation. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the Business Insight article, Shep talked about Flexibility as a key to great service (his example focuses on dining at a restaurant).  He said (and I agree), “The best companies are flexible ones.  They understand their customers’ different needs and adapt to them.  Not everyone is the same.”  He goes on to discuss how some customers need a lot of customization in the sales process and product offerings while others don’t.

It’s true.  Some prospects allow us to guide them through our standard discovery-based, consultative sales process.  In Shep’s article, these are the restaurant patron that allows the server to offer them choices (what side, how it’s cooked, etc).  Other prospects want to forge their own path.  At the same table, these are diners that have very specific requirements for how their meal is delivered, with something extra or on the side.  Just as both diners think the meals was customized for them and are happy, our prospects also need to be completely satisfied, whether they use our process or their own.  They need a project delivered on-time, on-budget and to their specification (we feel this is so important, we guarantee it.)

In both cases, the customer is the focus.  They’ve received exactly what they wanted.  In his final paragraph, Shep states, “You may have to pay for customization.  But, if you get what you want, it is worth it.”

Dangers of MES Customization

Here’s where Shep and I part ways.

In the software industry, customization is a dirty word with good reason.  Customized software can be expensive, and it’s often not sustainable.  Customers want customized solutions, and most companies are more than happy to deliver at a premium cost. The difference between software providers is some will deliver a viable custom solution that minimizes the cost over time, while others will set you up with an expensive solution to increase the service costs over the life of the installation. It all depends on how their business model is set up.

Some software companies use marketing to hide the expense of customization (even as they secretly forecast ludicrous expense charges every time their customer needs something done).  Whether they call it Business Rules, Configuration or Modularization, the process is the same – the customer gets the specific additions and changes they need.  In adding customization, however, some providers are setting you up for future failure.

In our industry, companies know you will be a repeat purchaser.  Once you invest in the original purchase, you will invest again – whether in annual support or in upgrading.  So how a company builds the software, how they support the tool and how they provide the customization will impact the customer over and over again.  Not all companies will implement customization with the customer’s needs in mind.

They will build a “personalized” system with all the customization you want, building in complexity that requires you to engage with the supplier repeatedly in order to maintain your business processes.  Other suppliers deliver the same level of personalization and allow you to maintain your own processes over time; as internal departments have changes, the system supports them inherently.  It’s critical to understand how this works prior to purchasing a system, because eventually you will need to update, upgrade or make changes to the system.

Can You Support the Custom Solution?

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Do you know what configuration will mean for your business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

If the software provider designs solutions that require product changes to support your installation, your TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) will be much higher. It will be much more difficult to find an ROI. In fact, you may never find the expected return on the investment, and in the future, you may elect to hold off on updates and upgrades with the solution slowly devolving into obsolescence. All this is the result of the tools that the supplier used to deliver your specific needs.  Core product aside, you will have specific requirements during installation and you need to know how these will be delivered to know your true TCO.

Before purchasing, it pays to understand how the customization will be implemented, and utilize a supplier that doesn’t rely on high service charges. Here are some questions that you can ask to get to the heart of the issue:

  • How will the changes that I’ve asked for be implemented?
  • When I implement the next release of your software, what happens to these changes? Please be specific.
  • What costs are there for me at upgrade?
  • If I asked you to demonstrate how to make a change to the software on my own, what could you show me?

It goes back to our core Customer Service Culture. We know that overtly complex customization and expensive service charges are great for short-term business gains, but are never the basis for a long-term business relationship. If you treat a customer fairly and with respect, delivering viable solutions, they will turn to you again and again. This is the foundation of our business.

We’ve got a list of helpful questions for you to ask during the software process, built around understanding the lifecycle cost of the products that we (and others) are offering.  Ask us about it.  We’ve made it part of our standard sales process, helping you identify the right product (and company) for your manufacturing needs.

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

Improving Quality with Paperless Manufacturing

Manual and paper-based production records are a critical source of errors, and hinder the efforts of quality control.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Production moves fast.

Assembly lines must keep moving. Machines need to run. Downtime is lost money.

Even in the most exacting complex, discrete manufacturing industry, speed is vital.

With an eye on OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) spending resources and time on anything other than production represents failure.

This might be why some see shop floor data collection as non-value added time – there is no immediate benefit to tracking numbers on a spreadsheet or filling out a paper-based traveler. If your focus is on completing quality work and meeting or exceeding quotas, then data isn’t important.

Be honest – are the minutes saved by “guesstimating” and fudging a few data points worth it?

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

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

Quality and Paperless Manufacturing

Automated production records and tolerance checks are critically important for shop floor improvement.

An initiative and a few more moments in the morning huddle aren’t going to deliver the benefits of real-time shop floor data. You’ll never see real, sustainable improvement in your records and quality using paper-based records. Asking a Quality professional to do their job with dated records is like asking a dentist to do their work with a hammer.

Manual records have too much margin for error. Trying to design foolproof processes that meet the requirements for audits, give you the data you want and need, and fit your shop floor, is never going to work.

Papers get wrinkled. Notes get smudged. Travelers get misplaced. Humans are fallible.

With even a sliver of doubt, records become suspect and quality suffers.

A modern MES, which automates data collection and production records, ensures the shop floor fulfills requirements through process enforcement.

Then the shop floor can focus on what they do best – production. Quality Control has the tools they need to be effective in their job.

Focus on Manufacturing

Rather than adding complexity and cost to production, paperless manufacturing allows everyone to work better. Improvements become not only possible, but sustainable.

Today, with modern software architecture and the advancement of technology, software is less expensive than ever before.  A system can be up and running and users trained very quickly so you can begin building your ROI within a month.

In addition to automated records and improved quality, you have revision-controlled planning, paperless operations, enhanced planning, and real-time shop floor visibility and control.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can improve your shop floor? The CIMx free shop floor analysis is an excellent way to kick off a new project.

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

Improving Quality with Paperless Manufacturing

As manufacturers struggle to reduce costs and improve production, more and more companies are turning to paperless manufacturing to improve quality.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

As production grows increasingly more complex the Cost of Quality (COQ) is also increasing, with some companies reporting costs as high as 10% of revenue. The indirect and soft COQ may be even higher as you consider the non-value added time necessary to evaluate and address quality escapes.

When manufacturers consider initiatives to lower costs, quality is an emphasis. Modern MES and paperless manufacturing systems are delivering tremendous value to companies focused on improving quality.

MES and Quality Improvement

Quality.

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

According to a white paper by Renaissance Services, the foundation of all quality escapes is the inability of the manufacturer to manage the details of production. The primary focus of paperless manufacturing and an MES is managing details through automation or providing the correct information at the right time and place in the production. Consider how paperless manufacturing addresses common sources of production errors:

  • Planning errors.

This could be the wrong plans or the wrong technical specifications. Many of these are paper-based errors, and occur when the wrong plans are used, or critical information is missing from the work packet. An MES will ensure the proper planning and revision control, and make accessible all the information the shop floor needs at any time.

  • Errors in approvals.

The approval process relies on communication and collaboration. Without a single source of manufacturing truth or a structure for communication and collaboration in the production process, errors occur during approval. Shortcuts are taken during approval, as the effort to coordinate the process increases. Improved quality relies on a disciplined approval process.

  • Missing documentation from the Technical Data Package (TDP).

Many times with paper-based planning, documentation is left out because it isn’t considered necessary. This is especially true of the TDP. Critical documentation from the first article inspections is ignored or buried to reduce complexity or to speed up production and get a product to market – leading to errors.

  • Ambiguity in the technical requirements.

Without automated quality checks during the production process, any ambiguity in specifications can lead to a critical quality error. For example, when a shop floor uses a paper spreadsheet to record production data, there’s no real time feedback loop on quality checks, and errors will occur. Quality assurance will find the error too late for corrective action.

  • Requirements that are overlooked in production.

This comes down to inadequate documentation and processes during production. Requirements are inadequately communicated to the shop floor, or aren’t accounted for in the planning. Without real time quality checks or a method of managing production, critical requirements are ignored until problems occur.

  • Changes in standard processes, especially special processes, in the production cycle.
Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

Are you confident in your quality control plans? Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Process enforcement in an MES or paperless manufacturing system ensures the shortcuts that often creep into manufacturing process are eliminated by ensuring documentation is reviewed and work signed off before planning is released. Without process enforcement, the shop floor will rely on processes they know, not the correct processes.

  • Quality escapes that slip through inadequate first article inspections.

Often in paper-based or unstructured first article inspections, critical details can be lost, or there is an assumption on how work will be completed. This is especially true as the number of first article inspections increase at a site. Without adequate time, corners will be cut. With the automated records and audit reports created in an MES, critical details aren’t lost and are automatically recorded for future use, and the shop floor has more time to properly conduct a first article inspection.

 Smart Manufacturing and the Future of Production

As complexity has increased in production, and the tolerance for errors has decreased, manufacturers can no longer adequately manage the information and detail necessary using error-prone paper planning and inefficient processes. Manufacturers need a comprehensive system to manage production.

Manufacturing needs aren’t slowing down. The complexity and technical requirements of manufacturing are increasing. Consider Smart Manufacturing – the integrated technology and systems essential for advanced Smart Manufacturing require an MES to manage production. Excel spreadsheets and Word documents simply can’t manage complex manufacturing processes.

Want to learn more, or see how a shop floor software system can improve your shop floor? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis to learn more.

Data Migration

Delivering Solutions with a Data Migration Engine

The data migration engine gives companies a reliable and safe tool to transfer their critical data and content from one system to another.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Our goal with the CIMx Data Migration Engine is to give companies a reliable, safe, and cost-effective way to move their data and content. Data migration shouldn’t be a reason why a business clings to outdated, unreliable and inefficient software systems.

Unfortunately, data migration is a burden for many companies updating their internal software systems – a very expensive burden that can lead to future problems if it’s not done right.

The Value of Professional Data Migration

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Do you have the right solution for your data migration? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Data migration is a critical task when replacing older software with a newer system, consolidating information, or archiving and better utilizing content.

Companies limping by on old, error-prone legacy systems (you know the ones – ancient MS Access databases or software cobbled-together by a long-since retired co-worker) need a better solution if they want to grow. Outdated software will limit productivity and growth.

Data migration is a critical step in upgrade projects, but we’ve seen many companies roll out a new software system, with a foolproof implementation plan, only to have the project go off the rails when it comes time to move the content.

There are a lot of ways a migration project can go wrong:

  • The old data doesn’t work with the new system.
  • The content doesn’t transfer correctly, and you’re left with massive gaps in your database.
  • Lingering errors in the data, which past processes compensated for, render the new system useless.
  • The cost of the migration is so expensive; the decision is made to re-input everything and to keep the old system running for archive purposes.
  • Critical pieces of data have nowhere to go in the new system, and are either deleted or left in an old file that can’t be used.

The CIMx Data Migration Engine directly addresses these issues, delivering solutions rather than problems when it is time to move data.

Solutions for Data Migration

CIMx Software started more than 20 years ago as experts in managing manufacturing data. Many of the world’s largest manufacturers rely on CIMx database expertise through our CAPP (Computer-Aided Process Planning), advanced MES, and digital manufacturing solutions.

That expertise provided the foundation for the Data Migration Engine. Using the Engine, CIMx preserves the schema, organization and structure of a database throughout the transfer. Before beginning the actual migration, CIMx maps the data and structure to the new database or system, ensuring the schema is intact.

More advanced features of the Engine allow CIMx to work with end users to analyze and inspect the content and repair errors. Common errors, such as substitutions, are made automatically. Individual errors such as missing data and incorrect data values can be identified and then corrected. Flat files can also be converted to an accessible, object-oriented format ready for further use or even reporting.

The CIMx Data Migration Engine eliminates many of the risks and problems associated with standard data migration. In addition to ensuring a safe and reliable transfer, the Engine adds value by repairing many of the errors that limit the efficiency of older data – providing a solid foundation for modern, smart manufacturing solutions.

Want to learn more, or get an estimate on how the CIMx Data Migration Engine might help you? Then contact us today for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

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

6 Reasons to Invest in Paperless Manufacturing in 2016

For companies waiting to invest in manufacturing software, now is the perfect time to stop waiting and start benefiting in a shop floor system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

In more than 20 years of providing manufacturing software solutions, we have heard plenty of excuses why companies hold off on an improvement project.

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Never before has MES and paperless manufacturing been so accessible. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Some companies would rather focus on another project, or IT wants to look at a few more options, or management wants to see if the market will turn before adding another capital project. In the meantime, they throw money away and hope to get by rather than address the root cause of their production problems.

I can respect their decision, but I don’t understand it. Companies are reacting to an outdated vision of manufacturing software. “MES” is no longer the scary monster it once was. Data collection won’t destroy production. Successful MES project no longer require millions of dollars and years of work.

In fact, today may be the best time to invest in a shop floor system. Consider this:

  • Lower Cost. In the past, only the largest and most profitable companies could afford a shop floor system. Today, technology has eliminated many factors that increased cost in the past. Granted, there are companies still offering expensive systems, and there are factors that will increase price, but it is much easier to manage costs for a system that will dramatically improve production.
  • Ease of Implementation. Companies fear purchasing software requiring a significant investment in time and resources. Today, with modern, web-based software and behavior-based systems, you can literally install the software in a day, train in a few hours, and begin using it the next day. Systems are much easier to install and use, ensuring a greater return on required resources.
  • Increased Functionality. At one time, there was a wide gap between what a software system promised and what it actually delivered. Today, MES and paperless manufacturing are mature systems. The product delivered by established vendors with a history in the market delivers the capability the modern shop floor needs.
  • Customer Demand. Customer expectations have changed, and manufacturers must embrace technology. Old excuses about missed deadlines and shifting schedules are no longer accepted. Customers expect manufacturers to be agile, with visibility and control of production.
  • Workforce Expectations. There is a skills gap in manufacturing. Many shop floor positions aren’t being filled, and new workers aren’t embracing manufacturing as a profession. A shop floor system helps mitigate these challenges. New workers are more comfortable working with a modern software system, rather than a massive build book. In addition, the system increases collaboration passing critical knowledge from experienced workers to new employees.
  • Foundational Technology. Manufacturing is changing. New disruptive technology like Additive Manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are influencing manufacturing. MES provides a foundation for these disruptive technologies, helping ensure they benefit, rather than disrupt, business operations.

With every year, the capability and power of software increases, while, overall, the costs will decrease. It’s not surprising. Paperless manufacturing has become a cost-effective solution available to most, if not all, manufacturers. The problem is the perception of the software hasn’t caught up to the current functionality or price. Many are still dismissing the effectiveness of the solution.

If you haven’t taken a look at a modern MES or manufacturing system, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis and see what the software can do for you.

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

Can You Navigate Your Manufacturing Software?

In this virtual and connected world we live in, a website should represent who you are and what you do. You can learn a lot from a manufacturing company’s website. 

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

Like many people in this day and age I’m often perusing the web. Sometimes it is work related; other times I’m purchasing things, sometimes I’m just trying to find an interesting article to read.  I don’t always know what I’m looking for, but I do know, if I land on your homepage and it looks disorganized and chaotic…I’m moving on without a second glance.

Things move fast. I don’t have time to decipher your website to find what I need.  I need answers now – clear, concise answers.  What do you do?  How do you do it?  Can you help me?  Your website should be designed with the end user in mind – me.  If it’s not, and I can’t find a compelling reason to stay, then I have better things to do.

In manufacturing, time and speed are also critical.  Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve production, reduce errors, save time and save money.  Manufacturing software, like paperless manufacturing, are a crucial tool for modern production.  These systems aid in best practices, eliminate errors, and manage information.

Software to Optimize Production

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Is your software offering a solution, or creating more confusion? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

To optimize production, you need software that not only manages workflow and processes, helping eliminate out-of-control processes, but does so in a way that ensures you and your team focuses on manufacturing, not managing the software.

If your first impression of a software system is a website, do you really think a site that is a confusing mess that is almost impossible to navigate – and is so incomprehensible you aren’t even sure what the software does– is going to improve your workflow or manage your shop floor?

CIMx has been in business for nearly 20 years, in fact we developed one of the very first Computer-Aided Process Planning systems. We’ve helped many manufacturers as they begin researching software tools. Some know what they need, others may be uncertain; they just know they need to do something.

This drives home the importance of a well laid out website.  If you have to keep a shop floor running, you don’t have time to browse 20+ pages of  messaging to see if they can help.  You need clear communication, precise outcomes, and defined benefits.  You need software that will not only improve processes, but is also easy to use, easy to implement, and won’t take years to deliver an ROI.

If it takes you hours of effort to navigate a website, how long will it take an operator to find a work plan in the system, or for an engineer to roll a revision? How much effort will be wasted operating the software? How much more benefit would you have if the software was easier to use?

This is something to consider as you plan your digital manufacturing strategy. Just as in production, complexity does not mean improvement – results do.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing might help improve your shop floor, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re always 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

Digital Manufacturing Strategies and MES

We offer simple tips for success for companies looking to improve manufacturing with a digital strategy.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are a lot of options out there for a company looking to update their manufacturing or improve production.

student with the laptop sitting on globe. 3D image.

Formulate a successful digital manufacturing strategy for your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Do you buy new machines? Maybe you look at process improvement through Lean manufacturing or Six-Sigma? Then there are a dizzying array of software products – QMS (Quality Management System), PLM (Project Lifecycle Management), the standard MES (Manufacturing Execution System) or MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management), and then the more esoteric or arcane choices like process and performance analytic engines with IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) and colorful dashboards you can endlessly format.

What about a good CMMS (Computerize Maintenance Management System) or a Dynamic Scheduling (which just sounds like it needs a cape)? What about upgrading the ERP/MRP (Enterprise/Manufacturing Resource Planning), or purchasing a solid WMS (Warehouse Management System)?

With so many choices, it’s hard to see a strategy. Is there a “right” choice, or are you doomed to keep buying more and more products with diminishing returns? Worse yet, is it too complex and you end up buying nothing?

A Digital Manufacturing Strategy that Makes Sense

In this case, there is a “right” choice.

Consider this – production is a specialized business activity. It also directly generates revenue and profit for manufacturers. This means, you can have amazing IT staff, a fantastic marketing team, and some of the top front office staff in the world, but without optimized production and the proper support for operations, you are holding your company back.

You can’t expect production to use the same tools as the marketing team. You need more than an ERP (or even an MRP). You wouldn’t give an accountant a drill press, or have HR use a lathe, so why are you asking the shop floor to collect data on a spreadsheet and manage documents downloaded from the ERP. Sure, they can make it work, but do they have revision control? Can they track production? How much time is spent on non-value added time?  What does labor cost on each order?

If you want to improve production, you need to give operations the right tools.

MES – The Foundation of Manufacturing Operations

Better than any other product on the market, MES and paperless manufacturing provides the foundation for manufacturing operations.

Managing information and workflow is the primary goal of an MES. Your shop floor operates on workflow and is fueled by information. Other software systems support workflow and manage some information, but only the MES directly addresses these core needs of manufacturing.

Optimized Production Needs Optimized Solutions

Consider a QMS. It may support your production workflow by automating some tasks and structuring processes to address quality, but it leaves gaps in the manufacturing value chain which operations needs to fill.

Paperless Manufacturing Connects Your Operation

A simple integration ensure you have best-of-breed solutions like MES for your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

But, once you have an MES in place, providing the foundation of overall workflow and managing production information, the QMS adds value by supporting quality when appropriate. The MES increases the value of both systems.

With dynamic scheduling you’ll improve OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), and, with some work, improve production, but there will be gaps. Do you have revision control of planning? Have you optimized production if the shop floor is working with the wrong revision of work plans?

These “gaps” are also why many companies struggle with Manufacturing ERP and MRP solutions. Software that offers some MES functionality is limited and, inevitably, leaves the shop floor with coverage gaps. Production uses “workarounds” to fill the shop floor needs. They may need to use an old legacy system to store documents or collect data on spreadsheets because their ERP is still an ERP, no matter how the product is marketed.

A robust MES is designed to support the entire manufacturing value chain with a single software system, eliminating coverage gaps. Additional software solutions, like QMS and dynamic scheduling, should support the MES. The MES will work with other systems like the PLM and ERP. Simple integrations ensure the software works together.

Trying to get these software systems to do the job of the MES with creative problem-solving and wishful thinking isn’t giving the shop floor the support they need, and will leave you at a competitive disadvantage.

Simple Steps to Digital Manufacturing

Many companies won’t consider MES. They fear the changes on the shop floor or project failure more than they crave digital manufacturing and optimized production. They’d rather manage the problems they know than potentially invite new problems.

But with a modern software solution and a phased implementation, you can manage change and ensure a project stays on track. Implement and use the features and functions you want when you want them.

Still worried about MES, or struggling with coverage gaps on your shop floor? Give CIMx a call today and we can look at the options and potential benefits for your shop floor. We’re always happy to help.