Monthly Archives: February 2013

How You Can Break the Manufacturing Rules and Win

The strategic decisions you make at the beginning of a process improvement project can position you for success, so make sure you are making the right decisions.

Written by Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Maker’s Mark, a company that distills Kentucky Bourbon, recently announced they were watering down their brand – literally.  They planned to lower the alcohol content in their whisky from 90 to 84 proof by adding water.  Maker’s Mark explained that as they moved into new markets, production couldn’t meet increased demand.

Whisky is not like a manufactured widget.  You can’t ramp up production as demand increases. Whisky is aged in barrels before it is bottled. In the past, whisky makers have added water to lower alcohol content, increasing production.  Rival Jack Daniels watered down its black label Tennessee whiskey (Maker’s Mark names their product minus the “e”) a few years ago.  So did Maker’s Mark fail to plan for current market needs?  Was it just a plot to cut costs, or, as some suggest, was it just a ploy to get good press?

Improving production doesn't have to mean changing your process.

Improving production doesn’t have to mean changing your process. Photo by

After Maker’s Mark announced the change, customers’ blogged, tweeted, ranted and wrote.  Within a few days, Maker’s Mark reversed the decision. They credited their customer’s passion and reiterated their intent to serve their audience. It turned out to be a marketing and PR windfall for Marker’s Mark, as engaged and passionate customers flocked to the brand to applaud the decision. They broke a marketing rule (stick to your messaging and never admit a mistake) and ended up finding success.  If customers hadn’t complained, the company would have had more bourbon to sell, but since they did complain, they gain increased customer loyalty.

Noted Marketing Strategist, author, and social media speaker David Meerman Scott didn’t want to comment on the controversy, other than to say that Maker’s Mark customers’ opinions counted more than his.  Scott’s concept of using current events and social marketing to drive business is groundbreaking.  The truth is, Maker’s Mark creatively and proactively solved a production headache by strategically positioning a process change rather than forcing it.  As a result, they are positioned for future success.

So what does this mean for your shop floor? What can you do to increase production, position yourself for success and deliver positive results?

Right now, you are making something.  Materials are becoming assemblies and parts are shipping.  Unlike a distillery, watering down your production line is not an option. You can’t just substitute a cheap aluminum bolt for a titanium bolt and hope it holds.  Tolerances are tight and sacrificing safety is not an option.

So if you can’t add water, what process adjustments can you make?  One option is to shorten the process time – rather than removing steps, sacrificing safety, or creating a new process.  Retooling your operations to accommodate a new process is rarely worth the investment in time and effort.  It would be like Maker’s Mark announcing they were no longer using charred white oak barrels to slow age the whisky, but were implementing a new chemical process. They might get similar results, but imagine the retraining necessary for employees and the social media outrage!

A paperless (electronic) manufacturing system not only drives process improvements, but increases production by improving the flow of data on the shop floor. Visual work instructions, real time quality checks, and procedural enforcement are all benefits of paperless manufacturing that improve production without sacrificing quality or safety.  Paperless manufacturing is also a solution with numerous benefits (none of which involve watered down bourbon).

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by

Once you have a production solution, the next step is planning the rollout.  Any system you implement will need to be accepted on the shop floor. The only way an electronic paperless manufacturing system is going to find acceptance with minimal resistance is by respecting the current processes. Integrating current processes will also save on training time, and drastically reduce or eliminate downtime.  It makes sense not to “fix” what isn’t broken.

At CIMx, we’ve designed our paperless manufacturing system around these ideas. Strategically implement the changes that make sense, and don’t force new processes. Focus on improving your process with tools that help you work faster, easier, and result in fewer errors. This is the center of our guaranteed Process Retention Plan.

Maker’s Mark knew significantly changing their process wasn’t an option.  Some potential solutions wouldn’t be accepted by their customers.  Struck with a Public Relations nightmare, they proactively listened and turned a nightmare into a tool they could use.

If you want to improve production, consider using what you have currently, what builds your products today, and eliminate the wasted time around steps without adding more problems and complexity to the system.  Significant improvements don’t require significant investment, and process improvement doesn’t mean you need a new process.  Break the rules!  There is no need to redesign your floor or redo your process.  When there are challenges to overcome, don’t water down your manufacturing or force a new process, instead roll out a plan to engage your shop floor to solve those problems by offering them the tools that make business sense.

Is the MES or Paperless Manufacturing Help Desk really a Help?

Here are 3 Tips to help you evaluate. Don’t wait till disaster strikes to discover the truth.

A few weeks ago, my cable went out.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, except we had 15 friends coming over to watch a football game. We had wings, dip, chips, beer and cheese, but no football game.

The exercise in solving the problem taught me the importance of evaluating customer service before disaster strikes.  When confronted with disaster, your goal should be mitigating risk and getting service back up as soon as possible.  You need to evaluate your help resources with that in mind.

Here are 3 tips for evaluating service provider help resources:

Taking the Help Desk for a Spin

How quickly can your Help Resources get your business back up and running? Photo by

How quickly can your Help Resources get your business back up and running? Photo by

Many companies offer a 1-800 help line.  They advertise 24/7 availability with “knowledgeable” representatives.  Before you need a solution, give the help line a call and test the process.  See how quickly you can get an answer.  Is there a long “log-in” process?  Do you need to have information at hand before you call? How knowledgeable is the representative?  The best help service is the one who knows your account before trouble comes up, saving you time and effort as you find a solution.

In my quest to get cable back, I went through an automated questionnaire, then another automated menu that went over common problems and solutions, before I finally reached a representative.  All told, it was 30 minutes to speak to an actual person.  If I had followed the instructions, it would have been another 45 minutes.  The representative didn’t even have my account information, and then proceeded to go over the common problems again. No help.

Unravelling Paid Customer Service

Some vendors will offer paid service plans. The more you spend the higher level of service you will receive.  I didn’t realize this was an option, but as I discovered while on hold, if I had “packaged” my home phone service or cell phone with cable, I would have access to a higher level of service.

Options are nice, but selecting a “service” plan can lead you into a dangerous money pit. How quickly are you going to need a solution?  How much downtime can your business afford?  How much are you willing to spend for a service you may never use?  Look at what is offered for each level of service and determine the best ROI for you.  Take charge of your service, and then be accountable for the decisions you make

It would be nice if everyone offered inclusive service when and how you need it.  You need to be proactive in selecting a plan to ensure you have the service you need, and you aren’t overpaying.

Deciphering Online Support

There are a variety of “online” support options. For some, online support can be as simple as an email address.  Other vendors operate in the cloud, using a remote service with access to your system.

Start your evaluation by asking what is meant by “online.”  Does your service have remote access to your system?  Will this affect data security?  If online support only means an email address, then plan how you use the service accordingly.  Don’t expect a quick answer.  Some services advertise online “help” that’s just a FAQ. Investigate your online option so you know how to best use it when disaster strikes.

In my case, the cable company had an online questionnaire that led me back to those (now infamous) “common” problems and solutions. There was also an email address I could use to have my request heard, “as quickly as possible.”

Have a communication plan ready in case of disaster. Photo by

Have a communication plan ready in case of disaster. Photo by

I was able to get cable back up before the football game, but it took some creative storytelling and an application engineer to reboot the system remotely.  Not every Help Desk experience will be as comical as mine, but it does illustrate the importance of a plan when disaster strikes.  Have an internal communication plan in place for progress updates. Work with the service provider on the best process for solving problems.  Update your system with data and system security, service patches, and updates.

It wasn’t until I was on the phone with a knowledgeable person that I knew a solution was possible.  It took 3 hours to reach the application engineer.  In my evaluation of customer service and capability of the vendor, I’ll keep this experience in mind.  As you look at potential software vendors, consider how quickly you can reach a knowledgeable solution provider, and how much your time is worth.

Let us know your opinion.  What is the best Customer Service option a vendor can give?  Do you have any stories you’d like to share? How do you plan for disaster? You never want to use a disaster plan, but that doesn’t make them any less important to a business.

What Can Beer Teach Us About Manufacturing?

Beer can teach us about the shop floor in ways you might not realize, and gives us a peek at what the future holds for our industry. 

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

CIMx is located in Cincinnati. Before Prohibition, Cincinnati was a center of the American brewing industry, and in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, 30,000-40,000 people lived and were employed by breweries or other beer-related industries.

By the 1890’s, breweries in the city were producing more than a million barrels a year. Much of that beer never left the area. Cincinnatians drank 2 ½ times the national average. In fact, it is estimated Cincinnatians drank as much as 40 gallons a year for every person in the city, and were healthier for it! Incidences of water-borne diseases such as cholera and botulism were low in the city, and as result, people lived longer.

Beer matters in Cincinnati.

You can learn a lot about manufacturing by studying the history of brewing.

Cincinnati brewers dug catacombs under the city to make their business more profitable and Lean. Photo reprinted with permission of David Oeters.

Cincinnati brewers dug catacombs under the city to make their business more profitable and Lean. Photo reprinted with permission of David Oeters.

For example, in the intense competition between breweries, innovation was the key to success. Cincinnati is built on hills, making it easy to build deep basements with cool temperatures to aid in the lagering of the beer. Some breweries didn’t stop digging once they had space for the beer. Successful brewers built tunnels under the busy streets to the bottle makers, bottlers, and shipping, cutting down the time it took to transport beer. This led to a virtual underground city in Cincinnati, and was an early version of Lean Manufacturing.

Here’s another example – prohibition bankrupted many local breweries and they closed. When prohibition was over, the remaining breweries consolidated and created the American beer barons. These large companies brewed uniform beer – paler in color, less complex taste and lower in alcohol content. Since then, beer lovers turned to homebrewing for more complex and satisfying brews. Brewpubs started to pop up – the first in 1982 in Yakima, Washington.  Last year, there were more than 2,000 American craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs.  Even smaller nanobreweries are appearing.

Manufacturing has a similar history.  As the American economy transformed itself from agriculture to industry and production increased, scalability meant volume, and consolidation swept-up many of the smaller manufacturers.  By the 80’s, mergers and acquisitions was a big business for many companies.

As software became a viable solution for many challenges in manufacturing, some software and ERP vendors advertised they could do anything, which led to solutions that took years to implement, couldn’t be upgraded, and weren’t optimized for the shop floor. Internal technology teams didn’t want to pay these costs, so they built their own system, leading to custom solutions that work when finished, but slowly degrade to obsolescence over time.

Think of custom legacy software as the tasty, but non-viable, local breweries before Prohibition.

So what lessons can we learn from the history of breweries? Innovation is the key to success is a lesson not only for a brewmaster in Cincinnati, but also today’s discrete manufacturer.

Many manufacturers are realizing their home-grown software systems aren’t supportable, much like hometown breweries before Prohibition. The systems are specifically built to their needs, but now they need something for the future, something to scale for the demands of today’s fluctuating manufacturing environments. When change, like Prohibition or a new technology, happens, the companies unable to adapt won’t survive.

Take a lesson from Master Beer brewers and find solutions that will last you far into the future. Photo by

Take a lesson from Master Beer brewers and find solutions that will last you far into the future. Photo by

Looking ahead, the future isn’t with pale, less flavorful software built by massive business-eating conglomerates. The days of long, expensive implementations are over. Today, do your homework and look at smaller companies (think microbreweries) with an innovative software offering giving you the optimization of a custom system without trapping you into custom software obsolescence. Look at Paperless Manufacturing for an integrated shop floor solution with a quicker ROI. How is mobile and collaborative manufacturing handled in each system?

Need more proof? Anheuser Busch is owned by Belgian-Brazilian InBev and is reducing the number of big beer brands they distribute in favor of their craft lines – Stella, Beck’s, Bass. People want flexibility, optimization, and microbrewery-like service!

There are more lessons to be learned from Cincinnati’s rich brewing history, especially as we look more closely at how we can find success in the future. After all, beer production has returned to Cincinnati with breweries that have found a way to not just survive in the modern market, but thrive.  We’ll take a closer look at how you can capitalize like brewers today in a future blog. Keep an eye here for more!

One Solution that Eliminates Errors on the Shop Floor

Eliminating errors, and saving money, on the shop floor is much easier than you might think.

I have a friend who tried for years to break a smoking habit. He finally decided to try hypno-therapy.  The therapist (hypnotist) promised to break the habit by “eliminating the desire for cigarettes.”  On the surface, this made perfect sense, but the reality was much more complex.  After therapy, he did stop smoking, but he ended up losing sleep and gaining weight, which, in his mind, was much worse than his smoking habit.

The quest to eliminate shop floor errors reminds me of the process my friend went through.  Smoking, like shop floor errors, can be very expensive, and often leads to bigger, much more expensive and dangerous, problems.  And many times if you aren’t careful, potential solutions lead to more problems than they solve.

Let’s look at five sources of error on the shop floor and potential solutions:

  • Machine wear and variance

Well-managed, diligent maintenance and repair procedures help reduce and mitigate machine wear and variance.

  • Parts error

Careful quality assurance and an integrated supply chain minimize these errors.

  • Poor decisions

This is potentially a huge problem for the shop floor.  When production decisions are made without enough information, or with outdated information, then errors occur.  Real-time access to information (making sure the right information is in the right place at the right time) will improve the quality of decisions and eliminate guess-work from production decision-making.

  • Human error

These errors can be traced to a disconnect between work instructions and shop worker action.  If the shop floor has access to the correct information when and where they need it, and are supported by a robust procedural enforcement system, human errors will be minimized.

  • Paper errors

A shocking number of errors can be attributed to paper records. Relying on data collection on paper, or shuffling paper back and forth, can hold a modern shop floor back from potential and profit. Out-of-date work instructions, missing instructions, missing data collection, misinterpreted data are all symptoms of these errors.

Are shop floor errors holding you back from success? Photo:

Are shop floor errors holding you back from success? Photo:

The danger in tackling a single error source is the effect it might have on other error sources.  For example, adding more procedures to your process may help minimize human error on the shop floor, but it might also create more paper errors and lead to more poor production decisions.  It is not enough to focus on one source of errors, you need an integrated solution.

The key to eliminating most errors on the shop floor is getting the right information to the right people when and where they need it, and a paperless manufacturing system is designed to do just that.

For example, integrating your suppliers with your shop floor, including the QA process, and your procurement system, helps eliminate faulty parts from suppliers.

Procedural enforcement is a standard feature in some manufacturing software solutions, and can seamlessly help eliminate human error and improve shop floor data collection.

Revision control with a paperless manufacturing system will eliminate paper errors on the shop floor and ensure records aren’t lost or destroyed. Combined with automatic accurate as-built records, it will streamline your audit process.

Integrating the machine maintenance records and documents with your paperless manufacturing system will help ensure diligence in maintenance and repair.

Eliminating shop floor errors seems like an impossible task, but it is one that will improve production, help eliminate frustration, save money, increase profit, and lead to even bigger process improvements.  Unfortunately, like hypno-therapy, the wrong solution often leads to more problems than they solve.  A paperless manufacturing system will do much to eliminate errors on the shop floor

And you might be pleasantly surprised by how quickly paperless manufacturing can be implemented, with a smaller budget than you might imagine. With advances in technology and software solutions, it is possible to implement a paperless manufacturing system in less than 30 days for surprisingly little cost.

What recurring sources of error are you facing on your shop floor?  What solutions have you implemented?  Have you come to the conclusion there is a level of error you find acceptable?  Let us know!  And if you are interested in learning more about how a simple-to-implement software system can help eliminate the source of most errors on your shop floor, contact us for more information.