Monthly Archives: March 2013

How You Can Implement Manufacturing Innovation

Process control, increased profits, and shop floor visibility are easier than you might think.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I’m a mechanical person.  I love the idea that a machine was built to perform a task and make life easier.  Take driving – I’m a fan of a standard transmission because I can feel the mechanics of the car working.  Whether it’s gearing down as I come to a stop or using low gears in snow, I enjoy controlling the vehicle and witnessing it work.  I even like the sound of the door.  I need to feel that heavy machine thud when a car door closes.

Manufacturing brings together mechanics and innovation to improve our lives. Photo by

Manufacturing brings together mechanics and innovation to improve our lives. Photo by

Manufacturing makes our lives easier- manufacturing is innovation. It is machines and mechanics shaping and improving our lives.  How would you make toast without a toaster? Sure, we could build a fire and cook on a rock, but manufacturing has improved our lives and given us tasty toast in our kitchen.  Every invention, every innovation, has been met with resistance.  People can be scared of change, sometimes with good reason.  I’m reminded of the phrase about the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Humans have healthy skepticism toward anything new.   People thought Henry Ford and the first cars were crazy. It was faster, but also dirty, broke down, and (many thought) not nearly as reliable as a horse and carriage.  Today, it is hard to imagine life without cars (thudding doors and all).  Our world thrives and grows through innovation. 

As I see it, there is a difference between innovation and healthy skepticism.  Sure, evaluating a new concept requires healthy skepticism, but there comes a point when a concept becomes a full-fledged, pedal-to-the-metal innovation, like the automobile.  It happens when a concept has the kinks worked out, and it moves past the first adopters to the general public. Paperless manufacturing has made that transition.

We often talk to manufacturers about implementing paperless manufacturing and using tools to eliminate human error, increase production and drive manufacturing profit.  The truth is, electronic manufacturing has been around for nearly 20 years.  Back then, there weren’t many PCs on the shop floor.  Tablets didn’t exist, but manufacturers were buying our products to keep track of the shop floor and solve production issues.  When the mainframe environment was replaced by PCs with the power to host or use manufacturing applications, our product moved closer to the shop floor.  Today, paperless manufacturing works so closely with the shop floor; it sits in your hand on a tablet and other mobile devices. 

Many risks manufacturers saw in going paperless have been solved.  Today, with the right technology you can control your manufacturing processes on the shop floor within a few days.  It’s that easy.  A phased implementation of the application will support adaptive change by an organization.  We can use the documentation you currently have, in its current form, within the system.  The system can manage the amount of change to protect process control and ultimately improve manufacturing. 

Everyone is looking to innovate, strengthen their business and increase profit.  Paperless manufacturing has the tools to do just that.  Manufacturing has found success offering the machines, tools and technology to make life easier.  Making life easier and improving business with manufacturing solutions is the goal of CIMx Software and our manufacturing system.  The truth is, manufacturing innovation is closer, and more available, than you might think.

Three Signs Manufacturing Must Change

Take one look at our world and it’s clear we need technology on the shop floor.

Like most people, I go online to get the latest news whenever and wherever I want.  The other day, I came across a fascinating photo in my news feed of the crowds of the Catholic faithful waiting in St. Peters Basilica to hear the first words of newly elected Pope Francis.  The photo (seen here), shows a veritable sea of cell phones and tablets, ready to capture the moment digitally.  The NBC News Photo Blog compared this moment to a photo of the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Times are changing.  With the right tools, you can improve even the most innovative and disciplined shop floor.  Photo by

Times are changing. With the right tools, you can improve even the most innovative and disciplined shop floor. Photo by

The setting in both photos is almost identical, but the ghost-white glow of the screens making pools of light in the darkness mark one photo as modern.  Clearly, technology is shaping our world.  Not even the venerable Catholic Church can stop it, and why would they?  Technology is bringing us closer together, and allowing everyone to share in a historic moment.

Think deeper, and these photos offer a stark warning to manufacturing.  Technology is shaping our world and daily processes.  Today, even the most disciplined and efficient shop floor needs to embrace technology and put aside outdated paper-based processes or risk increasing inefficiency.  Here’s what I mean:

Technology has become commonplace.

I recently saw a woman using a tablet for her shopping list with an app to compare products.  Cell phones are plugged into cars for hands-free driving.  Soon, watches and eyeglasses will hold computers.  Even my four-year-old knows how to find music and movies on my smartphone.

With current tools and technology, you can start a paperless shop floor in less than 30 days. Photo by

With current tools and technology, you can start a paperless shop floor in less than 30 days. Photo by

We’ve reached a technology saturation point when a moment steeped in tradition – the selection of a new Pope – becomes a showcase for technology and social media, and we aren’t even shocked at the technological brazenness   At this point, an industry still relying on paper records and bound work orders has added unnecessary complexity and risk because common standards don’t support their current processes. How can you expect a shop floor worker who turns on a cell phone for driving directions to pick up and quickly work from a stack of papers?  Is it a stretch to imagine the difficulty an employee will have flipping through an appendix, rather than doing a key word search, for information?  At some point, you risk the tools on your shop floor becoming obsolete.  We are a generation taught to embrace mobile manufacturing.

I’m not suggesting a paper-based system won’t work, or the modern shop floor can’t decipher work plans on paper, but we can no longer assume a digital shop floor adds complexity.  Our society accepts and expects technology.  Paper-based plans are the format holding greater risk, especially in the hands of a worker living in the digital age.

Our world is interconnected.

It is easy to imagine the tweets, status updates, instagrams, and more capturing the moment Pope Francis first spoke to the world.  It was an event shared by billions in a way that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.

Technology is shaping our world, but is it shaping your shop floor?  If not, what message is that sending your best customers. Photo by

Technology is shaping our world, but is it shaping your shop floor? If not, what message is that sending your best customers. Photo by

No longer are we speculating about an “interconnected” world, we are living it.  So why is it so difficult to get messages from the shop floor?  Currently, most of us deal with multi-media communication on a daily basis.  We pass information through phone calls, text messages, browse message boards on forums and status updates on news feeds.  We are comfortable making sense of an array of messages to get the information we need.  Relying on a single, inefficient media source holds back the shop floor, especially with workers used to the collaborative nature of an interconnected world.

Another way to think of it…. Why do we struggle to get a message across an organization when anyone with a smartphone can do the same thing more effectively in less than 15 seconds?

We are a society based on real time information.

At one time, we used to wait for the morning paper to get the “latest” news.  Now, every smartphone and tablet is a little sponge soaking up data and disseminating it relentlessly across the world in real time.  This is slowly driving newspapers out of business.  News is old before a paper can print it.

We’ve come to expect an immediate answer to our questions, and if we don’t get it, we assume something is wrong.  This is a problem for manufacturers who haven’t converted to a digital shop floor. What message are you sending your customers when you can’t give an immediate update on an order?  How detailed are your order records, and how quickly can you assemble a report?  Today anyone with a smart phone can get answers wherever they are.  What does it say about your business if you need a day or more to answer a simple question?  Will your customers trust you to produce high-quality goods if you can’t produce a complete and accurate as-built record?

As manufacturers, we need to remember every interaction with customers is building our brand.  So what does our shop floor say about us?  What message is your information management system sending your best customers?  Consider the recent picture of St. Peter’s Basilica, is it difficult to imagine a digital shop floor?

Your current processes may work for you and your team, but what message is it sending your customers, or your employees?  Are you maximizing the efforts of the shop floor by expecting them to use tools less effective than the phone in their pocket?  Compare the photos of St. Peter’s Basilica in the NBC News Photo Blog.  Our world is changing faster than ever before, driven by innovations in technology.  We live in a digital, interconnected world with access to a wealth of real-time information.  Can you afford to put off a shop floor improvement project any longer?

Manufacturing Risk or Manufacturing Success: It All Depends on How You Invest

Investment is the smartest way to grow your manufacturing business, and not investing is the biggest risk in today’s fast-paced manufacturing world. 

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I recently testified for the State of Ohio House Ways and Means committee on behalf of Governor Kasich’s 2013-14 budget.  The governor has proposed a variety of measures to help small businesses to grow their business by investing.  While some won’t be happy with his budget, I appreciate his focus on growing business in our state, which has not always been business-friendly.  I was excited to see so much interest in investing, and enjoyed meeting like-minded people working toward a better future.

Which made me think about our industry – manufacturing. I want to talk about investment in manufacturing, and why the biggest risk we can take is not investing in our future.

Investing is risk, but a bigger risk is not investing for the future.

Investing is risk, but a bigger risk is not investing for the future.

Investment is risky.  On a good day, it’s an adventure in uncertainty.  There are no guarantees.  Investing well takes foresight, research, and a willingness to accept risk. Investing means taking a big bet and hoping everything will line up just right and lead you to a future that might be better.  It’s based more on speculation than certainty, filled with “ifs” and “maybes,” and not enough “definitelies.”

Investment can be scary, but the outcome for businesses that don’t invest is even scarier.  It’s a mirror-view of what you have today, but with more problems, stagnation and eventual decline. As manufacturing processes and machines age, productivity and profits drops. New technology, new products and systems, and constantly changing customer and marketplace demands place pressure on manufacturers to adapt.  Manufacturers that can’t or won’t adapt or invest will quickly find themselves out of work and irrelevant.

Here’s another way to think about it – take a dollar out of your pocket and put it on the table.  Do nothing with it.  Next year, it will be worth far less.  It will buy less and you lose the opportunity for it to grow at all.  But, as long as your desk isn’t like mine on a Friday, you could be sure your dollar wouldn’t be lost.  If you don’t invest, in the end that’s all you have a – a single, lonely, dollar that is NOT growing your business.

It’s understandable why many are so reluctant to invest. No matter how well-organized your shop floor is, there are unseen issues every day that affect productivity, quality and profit.  Sure, the unforeseen happens even in a structured office environment, but with manufacturing failure become even more obvious. There is no hiding when parts don’t ship on time and customers are left waiting, or quality control problems show the deficiencies on your shop floor.

Maximize your return by investing early. Photo by

Maximize your return by investing early. Photo by

Investing is adding more variables to the shop floor equation. There is more change to manage, and more risk to mitigate.  Manufacturing is never a sure thing, and there are advantages to being risk averse.  Prospects we talk to are always worried about the risk of changing their shop floor, implementing paperless, and changing the way their operators view work instructions.  Will this change improve operations or add complexity?  I understand their worries, and I know responsible leaders will ask tough questions and consider the ROI.  I know I would.  But it is equally important to consider the reward, and the risk of doing nothing.

Manufacturers come to us with challenges and problems.  They seek manufacturing solutions.  Without investment, productivity and profitability stagnate or decline.  How much money is lost if you don’t address problems as soon as possible. How much improvement will make an investment worthwhile. Consider that hypothetical dollar on your desk – what will your business do if you don’t invest or grow.   How much money are you throwing away to quality control problems, out-of-control documentation, or process inefficiencies?  How can you mitigate the risk of a new system with the risks of your current processes?

Our goal with any project is to mitigate risk.  CIMx provides tools to our customers enabling them to limit risk when they decide to move forward in a project.  For example, our customers select, pay for and implement only the features and functionality they want.  Customers take on only the risk, cost and change they are prepared to accept.  This is why CIMx designs software that can easily be upgraded.  As technology and production change, our customers can easily adapt with free software upgrades that can be completed in as little as 30 minutes.

We walk hand-in-hand with our customers, sharing both the risks and the gains.  Our goal is to ensure we all win, and investment builds the manufacturing business.

And it is working.  One of our clients calculated cost savings when they implemented a paperless manufacturing system of over 7 ½ weeks of labor for each work order produced for the shop floor.  Considering the average salary of an engineer, that’s more than $12,000 in savings for each work order.  On an average week or month, that’s additional profit, and doesn’t even consider other benefits to paperless manufacturing.  This is savings and benefit gained after investment.

It’s time to stop thinking of investment as not only “problem-solving,” but also “business growth.” Our reluctance to move forward and embrace opportunity to meet the future is holding business back.  If you’re not willing to invest, can you expect your business to grow?

5 Hazards of Paperless Manufacturing in the Cloud

The cloud is changing the way software and IT service is delivered, but is it ready for the shop floor? 

I have a friend who is the epitome of “early adopter.”  His home is filled with the coolest gadgets, including a robot vacuum cleaner and a 3D TV, purchased before the first review even hit the market.  However, his back bedroom hides evidence of the dangers of early adopting.  There’s a HD DVD sitting on one shelf.  A dusty Palm Pilot hides in a drawer on top of a Blackberry Playbook.  Sometimes the “coolest” gadgets hide fatal flaws, or just don’t work as promised.

Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t have the luxury of fatal flaws, and can’t hide mistakes in a back room.  No matter how tempting the latest innovation might be, it’s important to honestly assess the business impact before implementing, especially on the shop floor.

Accessing the cloud brings information to the people when and where they need it, but will it benefit manufacturing?

Will the cloud benefit your shop floor? Photo by

Cloud computing, computing services hosted over the Internet, offers a number of advantages.  For example, the service is often fully managed by the provider, eliminating many upkeep costs.  Users pay for only the services they use.  Updates and maintenance are handled remotely.  The service can be quickly scaled when need arises.  Changes and updates are made globally, not individually, ensuring speedy implementation.  But, there are hazards hiding in the promise of cloud computing.

Data Loss

A recent survey by Symantec found that 43% of the respondents using Cloud services admitted to data loss.  Some data loss could be attributed to user error, including misplaced or misfiled information.  For a shop floor, secure information and data management is necessary, especially in heavily regulated industries facing potential audits.  Effective paperless manufacturing relies on secure data management.

Data Security

Because so many users are accessing the cloud, a number that significantly increases with public cloud services, data security is a challenge.  More users increase the risk. Unauthorized users can (accidentally or otherwise) access data they shouldn’t.  Adding a cloud-based ERP system to shop floor systems magnifies the risk, because you have even more users potentially accessing the manufacturing system.  Potentially, secure data could be inadvertently moved to a less secure area of the cloud. The truth is, with any new technology it takes time to develop standards, and the operational standards for cloud computing are still a work in progress.

Is your shop floor ready for the cloud? Photo by

Is your shop floor ready for the cloud? Photo by


With cloud services, you are entrusting data to another company, opening yourself to risk.  Theft from your service provider is one potential risk.  Inadvertent mistakes by employees of the service provider, such as unsecured apps on a work device connected to your data, is another potential risk.  Consider the “neighborhood,” or server, where your data is stored.  In a recent example, an FBI raid on a server used by cybercriminals led to several businesses losing data.  They unknowingly shared a server with criminals, and during the investigation their data was lost.  Finally, there is the question of who, ultimately, owns the data – you or the company providing the server the data is stored on?  Assumptions over ownership and responsibility may not be clear at first, and can lead to significant problems in the future.

Service Failure

Growing cloud use leads to another problem – failure of service availability.  Recently, Gartner predicted that as more businesses move to the cloud, there will be an increased risk of “cascade” service failures.  Businesses are connected on shared servers, and problems can quickly spread, leading to widespread service outages that would have been contained if computer services were localized.  As more and more companies rely heavily on the cloud, this risk will grow, and since significant downtime is not an option for most shop floors, failure of service is a risk to operations you can’t control.

Mobile Manufacturing

A recent report from the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) cited a survey of more than 200 enterprise executives concerned with mobile device security and data in the cloud.  More and more industries are using mobile devices in business, including manufacturing.  Mobile manufacturing holds tremendous advantages for the shop floor.  But, as businesses adopt cloud services; unsecured mobile devices create unintentional “back doors” into secure data.  Potentially, any mobile device could access your cloud, including devices you can’t control.

Before implementing any change on your shop floor, assess the benefits and potentials dangers of the change. Photo by

Before implementing any change on your shop floor, assess the benefits and potential dangers. Photo by

Cloud computing hold tremendous promise for the future, and will continue to grow as businesses adopt the new technology.  It is a powerful tool.  Data protection and recovery is a strength of cloud computing, significantly decreasing the cost and time for disaster recovery, especially in automating backup and speeding up the restoration process.  Almost all data in the cloud is encrypted, which will significantly improve security.  There are cost savings in the cloud, and the ability to scale resources to meet current needs can significantly improve a businesses ability to overcome challenges

But there are currently hazards to moving your shop floor data management to the cloud.  Service providers and enterprise IT resources have not been able to provide the appropriate level of security, both in the cloud and among users.  The cloud is an emerging technology, still struggling with growing pains, which may impact the ability of a provider to deliver the level of service, speed and accuracy necessary to provide paperless manufacturing for the modern, dynamic and constantly changing shop floor.

But, cloud computing isn’t going the way of the HD DVD, and no one is predicting it will gather dust on a shelf any time soon.  As service providers find better solutions and tools for enterprise cloud services, it will become a viable option for the shop floor.

Have you ever considered preparing for the cloud with an internal cloud-based system to manage production data?  A web-based paperless manufacturing solution hosted on an internal server is a cloud-based process control solution that, when there is an appropriate level of security and reliability, can be uploaded and served on the cloud.  This is a step toward the future without experiencing any of the current risks in cloud computing.

What experience have you had with moving your MES, paperless manufacturing or ERP services to the cloud?  Are there benefits to adopting a “cloud” strategy for your shop floor we haven’t covered here?  Speed and the ability to quickly make global changes to a system is a significant benefit we haven’t touched on.  Are there challenges or hazards we missed?  Let us know what your experience has been with the cloud.