Monthly Archives: May 2013

What Does the Future of Manufacturing Software Look Like Now?

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Dassault Systemes recently announced the purchase of Apriso, apparently to acquire the manufacturing market in India… so what does that mean for manufacturers around the world?

In a press release that went out May 29, 2013, Dassault Systemes, a company based in Velizy-Villacoublay, France, announced the intent to purchase Apriso, a Long Beach, California, based manufacturing software solution provider.

DMO-Question-Mark-121012CIMx Software has been supplying manufacturing software solutions for more than 17 years.  We know the industry, and have seen multiple consolidations of vendors.  Any time there is an acquisition, you can’t help but take a moment and consider what it means for the customer.  The world, and our industry, is changing (which isn’t a surprise… change happens, and change seems to be the only constant in manufacturing) and now is a good time to think about where we are going.

As corporations slowly acquire manufacturing software companies, there are fewer choices for customers.  One result we’ve seen time and again is the acquisition increases costs and reduces the ability of customers to get support.  This happens often… remember the telecom industry when Ma Bell, or the Bell Operating Companies, was split into separate companies to break up the monopoly on telephone service.  And now the companies are slowly reacquiring each other and building the mega-corporation again… so what has this done for phone service?  How difficult is it to compare prices or services from each company?  What will this do for service costs, or product upgrades (because, as we know, manufacturing is always changing and upgrades are necessary).

How will this affect current Apriso customers, or customers looking for an MES?  Articles have said the acquisition will help Dassault in India, but what does it mean for current Apriso customers?  Both companies have done a good job explaining how the services of each company will be integrated, but it does little to address the current base who, honestly, are most affected by this acquisition.  At one time, Dassault and Apriso were partners, and apparently offered a, “… best-in-class, pre-configured solution,” and maybe pre-configuration will help as they integrate of services and products.  But, it is difficult to imagine the Dassault 3DExperience integrating seamlessly with Apriso’s Flexnet.  Only time will tell if acquisitions are truly good for industry.  Perhaps they are different enough products ensuring a smooth integration, but manufacturers don’t care about that… they want to know what it means for them and their current business.

What does it mean for the future of our industry?

Manufacturing has always thrived on innovation, minimizing risk and cost. Innovation is not acquisition, and increasing a service footprint doesn’t seem like a path to minimizing risk and cost.  I don’t have all the answers, but now is a good time to ask questions.  We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds, and keep asking ourselves what does it mean for the future of our industry?

This is an important topic, and one that deserves a longer look.  Leave a comment, ask a question, and let us know what you are thinking.  Stop back here for the next few days as we take a look at this issue and what it means for our business.

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Shining the Truth on Mobile Manufacturing Myths

Mobile Manufacturing is a hot topic in the industry, but many manufacturers are clinging to myths holding their company back.

By David Oeters, CIMx Software Corporate Communications

Manufacturers see the advantages of mobile technology on the shop floor.  For example, how much more effective could your quality control be if they could implement a hold from the shop floor?  How much more effective would your organization be if customer service had access to real time data on production from anywhere?  Would leadership meetings benefit from real-time production reports and dashboards?

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Mobile manufacturing obviously holds promise, including increased quality, better process control and productivity, but while companies search for information, little benefit has come from these investigations into mobile or collaborative manufacturing.  Perhaps it is the misguided belief mobile manufacturing is simply giving iPads to the shop floor employees, or that mobile manufacturing will lose production data, holding companies back.

We wanted to take a few minutes to shine the honest truth on the mobile manufacturing myths.  Here are our Top 5 mobile manufacturing myths, and the truth hiding behind the myths:

1)      Mobile Manufacturing means putting iPads on the shop floor.

Not necessarily true!  You implement as much, or as little, mobile manufacturing as you want.  With the right system, you select the devices with access to your data.  This could mean executives with mobile access to real-time, shop floor production dashboards, but an employee with a smart phone can’t make changes to work instructions, and your shop floor won’t have access to Facebook. A robust system supporting mobility will offer you more control of production, not less, and become an important tool for increasing efficiency.

2)      Mobility is another name for cloud computing, and I’m going to lose control of my data.

In one sense, this is true.  PCMag defines cloud computing, in the simplest terms, as accessing data and programs over the internet, usually with a web-based browser.  If so, mobile manufacturing is a form of cloud computing… and an excellent way to evaluate the Cloud risk-free!  Mobile manufacturing can set up a secure “cloud” inside your company, protecting your data from outside threats while allowing you the security of automated data backups and other cloud-based IT benefits.  Think of it as a low-risk first step into the cloud without depending on an outside organization.

3)      Mobile manufacturing will expose my data to outside security threats.

As with any new system that works with your data, there is a potential risk, but common-sense precautions will protect your enterprise from risk. Bill Connor, CEO of the security firm Entrust, has identified a few of the more common misconceptions and myths regarding mobile security.  For example, you can see who is connected to your system and what mobile device they are using, and with common-sense precautions, confidential data can be protected even if a device is stolen.

4)      Mobile Manufacturing will expose my business to change I can’t control.

One key to success is controlling risk and capitalizing on change.  Consider a phased implementation for mobile manufacturing, which gives you complete control of change.  You select the change you want  and when you implement it, so you never take on more risk than you can handle, guaranteeing an ROI (return on investment) for the project.  For example, implement mobile manufacturing in one area, such as quality control.  Slowly roll it out to other areas of the enterprise when you have a better understanding of the process, a clear goal for the system, and have achieved an ROI.

5)      Mobile devices can’t be trusted.

More errors and inefficiencies are produced by a paper-based manufacturing system than a paperless one, which you will likely achieve with mobile manufacturing. Research has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  You may feel more comfortable in a paper-based system, but this is not necessarily what is best for you or your company.

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paperless and mobile manufacturing systems hold a lot of promise for manufacturing, and can make your shop floor more productive.  But few manufacturers have taken action on the research.  Myths and misinformation are clouding the topic.  Visit our website to learn the latest CIMx initiatives in mobile manufacturing, and see what other advantages you might be missing.  As you consider possible process improvements for your shop floor, find the truth – don’t let myths get in the way of game-changing ideas.

Putting secrets of baseball to work on your shop floor!

There are baseball lessons that will improve manufacturing production, increase efficiency, and deliver real-time shop floor visibility and control.

Baseball is a tradition in Cincinnati (the home of CIMx).  Every spring, little league baseball teams appear in every open field, and residents sport at least one (and probably more) piece of Cincinnati Reds apparel.  The city is awash in a sea of red and white for every home game. Excitement for the game is infectious.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

So I leapt at a recent invitation to a game.  A few friends offered me an extra ticket.  It was a great game!  The home team won, I got beer and a hot dog.  But, I didn’t know it was a “working” game.  It turns out one of my friends was a baseball statistician, and we were there to help with a project.

While I watched the game for a wicked curveball, a nice defensive play, or a massive home run, my friend was thinking about probability, applied statistical methods, quantitative analysis and variance theory.  During the game, each of us had a notebook filled with lines and data collection notes.  My job was to collect data on each pitch.  It was hard work!  I had scribbled notes in the margins, question marks all over the page.  Ever try to see the difference between a slider or a split finger fastball from the second tier of a stadium?

And when we were done, sitting at the bar over wings, collating the data was a huge headache.  A key data point was lost under mustard.  Another page of data was missing, likely victim of an overzealous stadium attendant.  My statistician friend was not amused at my unscientific “guess-timates.” After 3 hours of collating, we left without a clear mathematical picture of the game.  All we had was a messy collection of data points that inspired little confidence.

Which, unfortunately, reminds me of shop floor data collection and as-built records for many manufacturers.

I’ll admit my friend set-up what seemed like a “can’t-miss, error-free” system for collecting data.  I just had to mark the sheet for each pitch, log the number for each batter and pitcher, and keep track of when and where in the game we were.  Sounds simple, right?  It was, until reality hit.  We had pitching changes and substitute batters (change orders), bathroom breaks (user-errors), missing and torn notebooks (paper-errors), unreadable data (shop-errors), unreadable notes (input-errors).  All five of us at the game are college-graduates with successful careers, but I was amazed at the number of errors we ran into during the course of a single game.  It was the perfect example of the challenges facing shop floor data collection.

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

The cost in effort, manpower, and money to create an accurate as-built with paper records is a losing proposition.  Quality?  Unless you have a strong data collection system, then quality production analysis is going to be a “guess-stimate.” Want to use real-time data to track orders or improve production? Can’t do it when your data sits getting dusty in the margins of your as-built book or work order traveler until someone types it into your database. Can you really say your data is secure cruising around the shop floor?  Looking at Lean Manufacturing or Six-Sigma production improvement?  Paper data collection will not get your team where it needs to be. How long does it take you to answer a production question when a customer calls?  Is that acceptable?

So how does baseball keep such accurate records and data?  They have a team of statisticians collecting data throughout the game and a digital system collecting data and identifying errors, which are quickly corrected when needed. Data is kept in a secure location (so stadium attendants can’t clean it away).  The system is designed to automatically create usable records (real-time reporting) from the data so baseball junkies can get their fill of real time baseball stats at the click of a button.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

We have accurate baseball records going back decades.  This is data we can trust (as long as you ignore potential “juicing” in your analysis).  Want to know how the Cincinnati Reds did in 1982? The data is there, accessible at a push of a button, and it is trustworthy.  Not that you would want that data, because it happens to be one of the worst seasons for the Reds (first time they finished in last place since 1937).

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Your shop floor can and should work like that.  Data collection should be a seamless part of the process for real time data collection, just like the team of data junkies that pore over and analyze every baseball game. Ensure accurate data with built-in safeguards.  Improve quality with a system that compares work plans with current data, flagging non-conformances. Production improvement is possible only with accurate and efficient data collection.  What could you do with anywhere, anytime access to real production data?  If the baseball brainiacs can access the pitch count from a random game five years ago, why can’t your shop floor produce accurate as-builts when it comes time for an audit?

The truth is, they can.  It is not difficult to implement shop floor data collection.  A controlled, phased implementation is a low-risk process that ensures an ROI for each phase, and will improve production, reduce errors, ensure quality, and create accurate real-time records that for an easy, timely, and efficient audit.

So, my first effort at baseball stadium data collection was a failure (but did get me a free baseball game, beer, a hot dog, and wings… so it wasn’t THAT much of a failure).  But, we learned a lesson.  Next time, we’re going with tablets and an app (our own version of mobile manufacturing). A laptop is collecting data and correlating it for real time accuracy. We set up a process one evening, tested it during a game on TV, and it’s ready to be implemented at the next game.

What kind of shop floor data collection system do you have?  How do you use and control your production data?  How quickly can you prepare for an audit?  If you’d like to know more about how you can improve your manufacturing process and shop floor data collection, contact us today. We’re happy to help.

Configurable is to Sheep as Services are to Wolf- Tips to get the Software you really want

Making sense of the configurable and custom software market requires a keen intellect and analysis skills worthy of the SAT.

Do you remember taking SATs?  One of the most dreaded sections of the SAT (at least at my school) was the analytical association.  Cat : paw (which we read as “cat is to paw as”) would equate to three choices, from which you might select horse : hoof (“as horse is to hoof”).

Is the software vendor you're working with a wolf in sheep's clothing? Read on to learn how you can tell.

Is the software vendor you’re working with a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Read on to learn how you can tell.

There were so many of these on the SAT, and the associations were sometimes loose- sometimes stretching logic almost to the breaking point.  But, I love analysis.  Finding connections isn’t difficult for me, and I did pretty well on those sections.

So why can’t I find the logic in my industry?

I’ve been in the shop floor software or high tech solutions business for nearly 25 years and I still can’t figure out how a “configurable” software product can require more services, and cost more money, yet be offered to customers as a benefit?  But I’ve spoken with manufacturers who have told tales of configurable software that required a number of “services” to make it work as promised.  How can it be that as your use of consultants rise, so does your risk of obsolescence?  I have seen it happen- companies will use a consultant, who makes software so “unique,” any change will require more consulting work.  The analyst in me sees it like this:

Configurable: services

Consultant : obsolescence

As one goes up, the other goes up. The more configurable to software, the more services are required.  As your use of a consultant rises, so does the risk of obsolescence.  Pretty good deal for the software vendor. As obsolescence rises, you will pay for more services and more consultants to maintain the system.

With some software vendors, this leads to a vicious little buying that cuts into the benefit you gain from the software, and the ease of upgrade.  Suddenly, the more you invest in the system, the less benefit you have.  Every additional, unforeseen project cost cuts into your benefit.  Every service charge and consultant fee will make an upgrade more difficult and chip away at the savings you might accrue with the new system, therefore:

Project cost : benefit

Upgrade ease : savings

Choices and options.

These tips will help you make sense of your software options. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

So what’s the problem?  This is all backwards!  Configurable software should require fewer services and fewer consultants with NO risk of obsolescence.  You pay fees for more benefit, not less.

Configurable is becoming one of those boardroom bingo words.  It’s overused and meaningless to many customers because some vendors are offering software that isn’t really “configurable.” They are a wolf in sheep’s (configurable) clothing.  Their version of configurable software is just a way of padding the bill with more consultants and service fees. It pains me.

Truly configurable software packages are a real benefit to the customer.  By our standards, there are two critical items in configurable software:

  1. A configurable system must provide a path forward for a future product upgrade without having to redo the services work.
  2. Within 2 days of having the system, a configurable system should look and act the way the customer wants, without the hassle or cost of paying a service fee or consultant.
Don't let fear hold your shop floor back from increased productivity. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Don’t let fear hold your shop floor back from increased productivity. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

If a software system can’t offer these two items, you’re dealing with a custom system.  Vendors don’t want to use this dreaded word – it was hated long before “configurable” software came along.  Custom meant high costs and a long implementation.  The cost (in time and money) was justified because, in the end, the product was exactly what you required, nothing more and nothing less. It was designed just for you, which is also custom software’s biggest problem.  The system is nothing more than what you specifically committed to writing at the time that you scoped the project – before your largest customer required a change and now your project requirements are completely different (and I have heard that tale before).

So why do software companies (wolves) portray themselves as having a simple system?  Would you buy it if they told you upfront that it would be difficult and expensive?  We do a fair amount of industry research and I can no longer count the number of stories that I’ve heard of competitors in the market coming back with services bills 3 to 4 times the cost of the licenses.  It’s maddening.

What can you do to hang with the sheep and dodge the wolves? Ask the following questions of your potential vendor:

  • On your last product implementation at a new site, what was the length of time between your first trip to the site and the last trip to the site?  Do you equate this to the number of weeks of implementation?  Why or why not?
  • On your last three product implementations, how many scope change documents did you produce on the project?  Is this typical?  How many should I expect?
  • What guarantees do you provide, in writing, for your services?  For your products?

Or, go for the jugular and ask them to define configurable for you.  See what clothing that wolf is really wearing… Baaaah.

Have a question or want to learn more?  Contact us below… we’re happy to help!

3D Printing Could Kill You (Or Your Business), Here’s Why…

3D Printing is going to have a dramatic affect on manufacturing, but we can learn from other industries how to succeed when change comes.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

Choices and options.

3D printing will change manufacturing. How will you handle the change? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com.

I came across an article on a Yahoo News about a University of Texas law student who is posting online a blueprint for a 3D printed handgun called “The Liberator.”  Download the blueprint/design, load it into your 3D printer- yes, you can purchase a home 3D printer, such as the Replicator 2 or the Cube– and you’re moments from producing your own plastic handgun; weaponry in no time at all!

Reading the article was scary and exciting, because I love technology!  The future is exciting, and I believe technology represents the best of humanity- using our ingenuity to solve problems together.  Others argue it is dangerous technology- not only physically harmful, this is….

… scary.  Worried about gun control laws?  Why worry, when you can print your own gun.  A world where a gun for a terrorist is only a website and 3D printer away is scary. But, it’s also…

.. exciting. Someday you will log onto a website, select a design, and print it on your desktop.  It sounds like pure science fiction, a scene from Star Trek, pulled straight out of Neal Stephenson’s book Diamond Age. Maybe, but soon the Defense Distributed website will offer the handgun design. Once the first design comes out, designs for more products will follow.  Household custom manufacturing is science fiction no longer, and that is…

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

… scary, especially for manufacturers.  The University of Texas law student behind the handgun design describes himself as a “free-market anarchist,” and 3D Printing is a “free-market anarchist’s” dream. The entire manufacturing dynamic is changing. Consumers no longer rely on manufacturers, they have their own manufacturing control. Which means manufacturers need to offer more than a product, but also a service or a value-add to convince consumers to purchase, and I don’t think manufacturing is ready to make that transition.  It’s a radical change, and change can be…

… exciting, because for a long time, our industry (manufacturing) has been reluctant to embrace change.  Other industries have adjusted to the modern market.  Newspapers and magazines have moved to meet the consumer online and in social media.  Restaurants are providing an “experience,” and grocery stores are utilizing technology to connect to shoppers.  But manufacturers are reluctant to tackle custom orders, still embrace paper-bound build books, and rely on outdated Legacy systems.  We might know how to improve efficiency, but fear and risk hold us back. Change is coming, and that’s…

… scary, because for many in our industry, there seems to be little plan to adjust to a world where the consumer has access to a relatively inexpensive  manufacturing technology.  What will 3D printing mean for you?  What will desktop manufacturing mean to your shop floor?  Can we embrace the changes other industries have made; this includes a focus on customer service? Can we continue to ignore the need for change?

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

This article on an idealistic law student brings up a number of questions.  There will be questions about gun control, regulation, empowering criminals versus free market enterprise, but we also need to think about what 3D printing and open information mean for manufacturing.  Sure, 3D printing can be an exceptional new tool for manufacturing, but we need to step back and look at how else it will affect the industry. Other changes are coming- including cloud computing, mobile manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, robotics, MES, agile processes, and more. Change is already here, and more is coming.

I’m not arguing that 3D printing is going to completely replace manufacturing.  The technology isn’t there yet.  It’s slow.  Products made with 3D printing aren’t high quality and are prone to defects, and 3D printers aren’t capable of discrete manufacturing, but it’s only a matter of time.  We continually refine and perfect technology.  At one time, televisions were large and heavy, with only black and white pictures.  Now, we can wear a television like a watch- so imagine what 3D printing will be like in 20 years. Or 10 years. Or even next year.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from the 3D printing revolution?  What manufacturing solutions are available? How can you increase quality, increase production, and offer customers a better manufacturing experience? How agile is your operation? Now is the time to take action. When change comes for your business, make sure it’s exciting, not scary.

Deciphering the Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is changing. Can you make change work for you and your shop floor?

A recent (May, 2013) issue of Scientific America magazine featured two articles that got me thinking about the future of manufacturing.  The first, written by David Bourne, discussed robots on the shop floor, and how science is working to integrate the capabilities of humans and robots to increase production and lower costs.

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Another article by Larry Greenemeier took a close look at 3D, or additive, printing.  Titled “Will 3D Printing Transform Conventional Manufacturing,” the article focused on the strengths and weaknesses of 3D Printing, and how it could be used by manufacturers in the future.

There was enough insight and information in these articles for a years worth of material!  But before I could craft an opinion on robotics, I noticed my notes were filled with the word, “change.” 

It’s no surprise that articles on the future of manufacturing would discuss change.  But the variety of changes caught my attention.  David Bourne discussed, “… the rise of custom manufacturing,” and, “… Need to modify a popular product? Human-robot teams can create custom versions of anything… without the need for expensive retooling.”  The article advocates change to accommodate more change.

Greenemeier also mentions the advantages of change in manufacturing as he discusses 3D printing, “… few doubt that for customizable, small-volume applications, additive manufacturing has tremendous power,” and, “… in the case of short production runs or manufacturers aiming for more customized products.”  Again and again, I saw “change” words such as customization, custom, and modify described in the glowing, utopian-like terms.  It felt like a call to action.

I also found warnings and caveats in the article.  Phrases such as, “… -manufacturers are often slow to adopt new technologies,“ were scattered in both articles.  The authors were previewing an exciting new world for manufacturing… if only manufacturers could get out of their own way.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

The article was from Scientific America, with a focus on the latest technology.  The authors are an editor and a professor – advocates for technology, not manufacturing.  Manufacturers are wary when it comes to new technology.  New technology can be costly, with an uncertain ROI and the potential for disastrous disruption of shop floor operation.  New technology carries a risk on the shop floor.  For example, if humans start working more closely with machines, how many other humans will lose their job?  Manufacturing industry leaders need to consider these questions before jumping on the bandwagon.  An author doesn’t have that responsibility.

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing.  Are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing. Are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

We all know manufacturing is changing – and changing much faster now than ever before.  Custom manufacturing, with individualized mass production and smaller runs, are commonplace.  Mobile manufacturing, work plans on tablets, collaborative manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, MES and the cloud are all making their mark on the shop floor.  There are shorter innovation cycles, more change orders and greater customer input on production.  New technology always precedes shop floor changes.  3D printing is coming.  Robotics is moving to the shop floor, and humans and robots will work together to deliver greater shop floor efficiency.

Reading these articles, I’m excited by the cool new technology, even a little scared and protective of the shop floor.  I’m indignant at the criticism leveled at manufacturing by the authors, but I can’t help but wonder if the criticism is true.  There are questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • Is manufacturing really afraid of change?  If so, what does it mean for our industry?  I don’t know of any business eagerly seeking out change, but is it fair to single out manufacturing?  Is this a fair assessment of our industry?
  • If your shop floor had to change, could it?  How much resistance would you face?  I know I’ve been on my fair share of “process improvement committees,” and even gone through corporate buy-outs.  Change is never easy, but can we do it?
  • What is your shop floor doing to improve efficiency?  Are you happy with the status quo?  If not, what are you willing to do to improve or change?  How much change are you willing to accept?
  • Have you looked at the latest technology?  Do you see a place for 3D printing or smart division of labor between robots and humans? At what point do you accept new technology and adopt it for your own?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions.  In fact, after reading these articles in Scientific America, I don’t even know if they are questions we can answer yet, but they need to be asked.  Maybe we write the questions on a sticky note on the bottom of our computer screen as a reminder the future is coming, and it will look different than the world we live in today.

As you begin contemplating change in your shop, think about how you can make change work for you and your business.  Change is coming, the question is- can you make it work for you?