Monthly Archives: June 2013

Is Paperless Manufacturing Right for You?

No matter your company size or industry, paperless manufacturing delivers shop floor benefits (if you have the right system).

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

A while back, I had a leak in my basement- water from the shower came pouring out of the ceiling in a torrent, splashing across boxes of Christmas decorations.  I called a plumber, who gave me an estimate that included major construction, a replacement pipe, and a team of plumbers.  The estimate made me dizzy, but what could I do- shower in the basement below the leak?

Choices and options.

You have a shop floor challenge and you’re not sure what to do. Have you considered all the solutions available? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

I called another plumber who offered to take a look.  He studied the waterfall, and then cut a small hole in the closet outside the bathroom.  With a little wire and a wrench, he fixed the leak in 10 minutes.  “No worries,” he said. “The pipes are fine, but the fitting came loose.  I changed the seal, so it shouldn’t happen again.”  Total cost of the repair was less than $100.

The moral of the story… sometimes a solution is much easier, much cheaper and much closer than you might think.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen played out time and again in manufacturing.  A business will struggle with out of control shop floor processes, inefficient operations, significant loss from scrap and rework, or even failed audits because they believe a solution like paperless manufacturing or an MES is out of reach, too costly, and too complex.  They know the solution exists, but they think it won’t work for them.

Some try to build a software solution in-house, thinking this will get them a “personalized” solution under their control for less money, not realizing how much time and cost is involved in writing computer code from scratch.  An effective in-house solution can take YEARS of effort, with no guarantee of success.

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Other companies limp along with patchwork solutions, legacy systems, or increasingly larger stacks of spreadsheets and documents traveling the highways and byways of their shop floor.  These companies believe software solutions are designed for multi-national companies with sales in the billions and the resources to pay for a team of programmers.  This belief leads many smaller companies to continue to use paper build books and excel spreadsheets.

You’ll be happy to know, the solution IS much closer than you imagine.  CIMx offers paperless manufacturing solutions for any size company, large or small, in any industry.  It is the right system for many manufacturers.  Here’s why:

  • CIMx offers scalable solutions.  CIMx designed a paperless manufacturing solution that scales to your operations.  You never have to take on more complexity or functionality than you want or need.  If all you need is improved quality, or as-built records, or a real-time view of production for improved customer service, paperless manufacturing offers a solution.  With CIMx, you can focus on the solution you need, then integrate additional capabilities when you are ready.  The solution scales to your needs, your operation doesn’t struggle to scale to the solution.
  • Phased implementation gives you control of the process.  The entire system can be completely installed in weeks.  At that point, you select the features and functions you want, turning them on in phases and using them when you are ready.  You and your team never take on more cost, risk, or change than you are prepared to manage.
  • Use your current processes and work instructions. With CIMx, there is no need to change your work instructions or adapt your current processes.  The system doesn’t require you to squish or adapt your current processes or instructions into new forms or tables.  The CIMx solution works as a tool for you.  This minimizes change and shop floor disruption, and ensures an even quicker ROI.
Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

On top of that, CIMx offers one of the most effective support systems in the industry.  Rather than an impersonal help desk or support line, you have an applications engineer assigned to your account who is available for training, questions, and product support.  They know you, your business and your system.   They offer solutions instead of questions, and ensure the software is really benefitting your shop floor.  You never have to worry that once the system is installed, you are left on your own.

Ever since the waterfall in my basement, I’ve quit assuming the easiest, most practical solution isn’t for me.  I won’t take a reactive approach to problem solving, instead I try to use the BEST solution with the RIGHT answer (yeah, I’m looking at you broken air conditioner).  This approach has saved me money, minimized frustration and made me happier.

So what challenges does your shop floor face?  Have you thought about what paperless manufacturing can do for you?  Contact CIMx Software today to learn how we can help you overcome shop floor challenges with solutions that include workflow control, shop floor and production visibility, mobile manufacturing, and visual multi-media work instructions.  We have a number of solutions ready to tackle your biggest problems.

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What you can’t see on the shop floor may kill you

We often overlook the small benefits of paperless manufacturing and manufacturing software solutions, benefits that may have the greatest impact for your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I’m being provocative with the title of this blog, but sometimes we forget there are benefits to paperless manufacturing we may not see at first, even if we use bright, flashing colors.

I recently learned men have a 7% chance of being colorblind; for women, it’s less than .5%.  Many manufacturers use color to drive work and control processes on the shop floor.  For 7% of potential shop floor workers, this can be a real problem.

Choices and options.

When change hits your shop floor, will you be ready? Paperless manufacturing can help. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

I visited a manufacturing facility and observed how critical color was to their production process.  They didn’t make colorful parts or widgets (in fact, much of what they built was a boring monotone), but color was critical to the way they manufactured. Color is a fairly commonplace tool in our industry.

For manufacturers who still rely on paper or paper-on-glass document systems to run their shop floors (a group that includes a majority of manufacturers working today), color often drives production.  Suppose you are using a word processor, such as MS Word, to provide instructions to your shop floor.  An Excel spreadsheet keeps track of tools and inventory.  Some manufacturers may use intricate databases built from Microsoft Access to provide information to the shop floor.  In these situations, companies will use either Microsoft PowerPoint or PDF files to add graphics to the traveler (the packet of manufacturing directions that travels, often in a plastic sleeve, with the parts to be built).

Work instructions and travelers are critical tools for a successful shop floor.

To build their products, manufacturers rely on an engineer’s instructions placed in travelers.  The documents in the traveler are maintained by an engineer (many times the same one that writes the instructions) who is responsible for ensuring only approved documents are in the packets.  To draw attention to critical information, or quickly modify instructions when necessary, color is used.  Documents may be color-coded to signify their path in the shop, their urgency, or to signal when a change has been initiated.  Yes, a red pen can be a mission critical tool.

For example, color will be used to draw attention to an area of concern in the process.  This could be through a cover sheet printed on color paper or via changes marked in red.  Color-blind workers (remember that potentially 7% of the colorblind workforce) must rely on a careful review of each paper that comes across their station. An urgent message marked in red would not have the same impact on someone who can’t see red, and red-green colorblindness is most common.

Manufacturers pride themselves on efficiency, but for almost 1 in 10 stations in the shop, the travelers aren’t efficiently communicating to the workers.  Let’s face it, the entire situation fails in a number of places, and it’s no wonder mistakes and errors happen.

An electronic system not only ensures information arrives exactly where it needs to be on the shop floor, but provides the information in a format that practically eliminates miscommunication.  You aren’t relying on a roll of the genetic dice for color blindness or the strength of a red pen to get critical customer information to the shop floor.  This is what we mean by shop floor process control.

An engineer could poll the shop floor for color blind employees (which seem like a potential HR nightmare) or create a system that works as well in monotones as color, but this is not the most efficient solution and may cause as many problems as it solves.

Now is the time to investigate manufacturing software solutions for your shop floor.   Photo by www.colourbox.com

Now is the time to investigate manufacturing software solutions for your shop floor. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paperless manufacturing has been designed to eliminate a multitude of errors in your production process, and it does so because it is adaptable.  Here is another way to think of it… paper or paper-on-glass work instructions are static, a fixed media, and are designed to deliver the SAME instruction to everyone.  But, it is foolish to believe everyone is the same or your shop floor processes will never need to incorporate change.  Fixed media causes many of the inefficiencies holding your shop floor back from success.

Paperless manufacturing is adaptable.  It’s possible to add visual media such as video and 3D images to the work instructions.  You can quickly and easily add any emphasis you need to the instruction, even to individual workers (eliminating the color-blindness quandary).  Paperless manufacturing gives you adaptability without adding to the complexity.  Sure, helping color blind workers might be a small benefit, but it touches on one of the strengths of paperless manufacturing- adaptability.

Contact us today to learn how CIMx Software can help deliver paperless manufacturing to your shop.

Paperless Manufacturing Is Changing Our Industry, Are You Ready?

Our world is going paperless, the question is who will drive the change when it reaches your shop floor?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I recently got an eye-opening wake-up call to the paperless future.

It was finally time to retire my 16-year old air conditioner and upgrade to a high-efficiency system.  I did my research and price-checked estimates before choosing a company.  I called up the sales rep to select a system, schedule the installation and sign the paperwork… then things got interesting.

“Paperwork?” the rep said. “No need… we can do everything online.”

Isn't it time to free yourself from paper by looking at the benefits of paperless manufacturing?   Photo by www.colourbox.com

Isn’t it time to free yourself from paper by looking at the benefits of paperless manufacturing? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

And he was right.  He worked in his office while I sat on my couch with a laptop.  We spoke via the Web.  I filled out an online questionnaire while he pulled up data on my house.  It took him 45 seconds to send over three choices for my new system, incorporating the questionnaire and data.  I looked over the options while the rep finished credit approval.  A choice was made and he emailed a contract. I e-signed and he chose an installation team.  The entire process took 15 minutes.  I never left the couch, and even ate a sandwich while we worked.  The secure computer system efficiently managed the details, integrating all the pieces.

Honestly, why did I feel the need to “sign” paperwork?  I assumed that’s the way it was done, and inefficient travel and paper-based errors were the cost of business.  In retrospect, my misgivings could have torpedoed the process.

The Future Is Here, and It’s Paperless

Face it… the world is going paperless, and we are all better for it.  Digital systems connect people and businesses with machines and processes like never before, adding value and improving productivity.  Many industries and companies have made the move, including:

  • Paperless house closings through Ellie Mae;
  • Paperless shopping through Amazon and online retailers;
  • Paperless medical records;
  • Paperless accounting and recordkeeping;
  • Paperless service industries, including HVAC and Mechanic shops;
  • Paperless college education through University of Phoenix.

The digital revolution is impacting manufacturing in ways we are only now beginning to understand.  Paperless manufacturing, the process of adopting paperless work instructions to manage information and work flow on the shop floor, is changing the industry.  For example, 3D Printing, or Additive Manufacturing, requires a digital design and work instruction, not a paper-driven one.  A new Standard Interchange File Format, developed by ASTM International, will allow a seamless transition from design to physical printed object, but only if the shop floor has made the conversion to digital.

Paperless Manufacturing Solutions

As an industry, manufacturing is moving toward paperless processes.  Look at the latest trends in manufacturing such as mobile manufacturing, 3D printing, on-demand manufacturing, and customer-centric manufacturing.  Utilizing real-time information on the shop floor will require paperless systems.  Even contemporary process improvement initiatives in manufacturing, such as Lean, Six-Sigma and agile manufacturing all rely on the functionality offered by paperless manufacturing.

The future of manufacturing isn't paper build books. Photo credit www.colourbox.com

The future of manufacturing isn’t paper build books. Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers believe moving to paperless manufacturing requires a significant investment of time, energy and resources.  This may have been true in the past, but new technology and processes have made it possible for more companies to make the transition to paperless manufacturing, reducing the cost and minimizing the risk.  No longer is paperless manufacturing and MES solutions reserved for the largest corporations or complex discrete manufacturing.  Manufacturers of all sizes and in all industries will find workflow process control benefits with paperless manufacturing.

As more industries adopt paperless systems, manufacturers that cling to paper will discover their business isolated as they find it increasingly difficult to integrate with paperless systems.  The cost of duplicate work will increase, and processes will continue to grow more inefficient.  These companies will have fewer options and less opportunity.

To be honest, I installed my new AC less than two months ago, and I can’t imagine going back to a paper-based system.  Change is coming, so ask yourself, who will drive the change to paperless manufacturing on your shop floor?  New paperless manufacturing and manufacturing solution systems are lowering risk, reducing cost, and minimizing the pain of installation, implementation and training.  CIMx offers a system that incorporates your current processes and work instructions, making implementation even more efficient.  Want to look over options or learn more about paperless manufacturing, contact CIMx Software today.

Secrets Your MES Provider May Not Be Telling You

Are you ready for a revealing look at the paperless manufacturing software marketplace?

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Every few years, market consolidation rattles the manufacturing software industry.  Inevitably, to avoid supporting multiple software systems with similar functions, the mega-corporations behind market consolidation phase out solutions to offer “new” and improved solutions.  They’ll praise the added capability and functionality as a benefit, while seeking additional service charges to implement the “upgrade.”

Last week, it happened again.  Dassault purchased Apriso.  Journalists and financial papers are right now writing about the benefits of the merger for the industry.  Analysts ponder the implications for the manufacturing software market.  Marketing teams are crafting new messages to highlight the benefits of the merger in preparation for the inevitable changes and additional costs to be passed along to customers.

All of these stories become a cacophony of noise assailing the public and fighting for attention.  I see a missing angle to the story.  Who talks about the current customer?

Choices and options.

With so many options on the market, how can you be sure your software provider is focused on your success? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

The combined resources and expertise of two software companies MIGHT present an opportunity out there for the world’s largest software vendors selling to the mega-manufacturing corporations (maybe).  But most companies aren’t in that category.  Few businesses have the cash and resources to spend millions, and the ability to wait months (or even years) for a new PLM system.  Especially a PLM composed of multiple different systems.  Having built software platforms for the last 20 years, software used in manufacturing industries from healthcare to aerospace, we know different systems aren’t easily merged.  The underlying architecture makes a smooth transition impossible.  Deriving benefit from this amalgamation will require the patience and resources of a mega-corporation. 

So what does that mean for businesses without the mega-resources of the world’s largest manufacturing corporations?  Alan and Brian Beaulieu of ITR Economics, a leading economic research and consulting firm, offer a clear and telling view of the business cycle.  According to the business cycle, businesses purchase and implement infrastructure investments and equipment purchases BEFORE the Recovery and Growth phases of the business cycle, and during the Recession, a negative phase.  Utilizing this model, the goal of a manufacturer should be to implement new software and systems as quickly as possible, to quickly enter the Recovery phase and before new orders arrive, ensuring you can meet increased demand.  Long implementation cycles lead to missed opportunities for profit during the Recovery and Growth phases, and increased time in the negative phase of a business cycle.

A successful business will seek to minimize time in Recession and move quickly to Recovery  by judicious investment in software and infrastructure. Graph courtesy of ITR Economics.

A successful business will seek to minimize time in Recession and move quickly to Recovery by judicious investment in software and infrastructure. Graph courtesy of ITR Economics.

If you follow this methodology, every day you avoid making the decision, you risk losing precious time to the up-cycle and increased profit.  Every day you wait while “enhanced” functionality coming from multiple software vendors purchased in a merger get pieced together on your shop floor is another delay to the up-cycle.  If production increases before the new and enhanced tools are ready, your business starts to get overwhelmed, and piecemeal processes are put in place so you can “get-by.”  Any potential benefit you might have had is lost.  You’ll end up having to unlearn inefficient processes.

This is the sad truth that is lost in the euphoric analysis after a merger.  It’s the story not being told.  New products and improved capabilities may (eventually) benefit the mega-corporations that can weather the inevitable struggles as a new system is developed, tested, refined and (finally) implemented.  For most businesses any advantages will be hard, if not impossible to find, and there are dangers to be wary of in the marketplace.

Gartner makes a similar point in their article, “Dassault Systemes’ Planned Apriso Purchase to Bring MES and PLM Closer.” According to Gartner, with the combined capabilities of Delmia and Flexnet, companies could “… create more robust manufacturing processes with shorter innovation cycles without compromising quality…”  once the system is in place and the functionality and software systems are integrated, a project that may cost millions of dollars in software and services, and require users to mold Delmia processes to their business.

Gartner goes on to recommend current Apriso customers, “… lock in current terms and conditions for software support for as long as possible,” and “… plan contingencies in case DS (Dassault) does not maintain satisfactory interfaces….”  Furthermore, Gartner notes, “… the legacy of failed MES acquisitions across the entire market. Even the most seasoned of suitors often underestimates the complexity of delivering MES software.”  Integrating complex software systems is not easy, and success isn’t guaranteed.  And during the integration period there is a good chance many businesses (and customers) currently using the software will be left with a system that is no longer the primary concern of their software provider. Gartner has assessed mergers many times over the last 20 years – I remember at least 5 or 6 – and they offer good advice.

That’s the story often lost in the celebratory rush of marketing and publicity that follows a merger.  It’s a story I’ve seen played out time and again.  It’s why CIMx believes success is based on innovation, not acquisition.  Our customers benefit with best-in-class paperless manufacturing software that makes a dramatic difference in the control and visibility of your shop floor, solving problems for manufacturers of any size and in any industry.  Contact us and let’s see how we can help you.

Understanding Manufacturing Software Solutions (MES) and Customer Service

Take an honest look at your software vendor – are you a business partner or a commodity?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Recently, I had to rent a car and wanted to know what was covered in my policy, so I gave the insurance company a call.  It turns out they couldn’t answer my question until I retrieved a number from my insurance card.  The entire experience made me feel like a number to a huge insurance-mega-corporation-behemoth.  My simple question couldn’t be answered until I retrieved a magic number they used to access my file amongst the sea of data the corporation swam in.

Ho confident are you in your MES or paperless manufacturing provider? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

How confident are you in your MES or paperless manufacturing provider? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

I first bought my current policy from a nice gentleman who came to my house and shared a cup of coffee while we looked at options.  But his agency was purchased by the mega-corporation, and, from what I heard, the nice gentleman left to open a restaurant.  So, now I am an account number to “Customer Service and Concern” reps who mangle my name each time they addressed me.  Even worse, I know each of those reps used a script as they spoke to me.  Yes, I just got scripted!

I am NOT against big corporations.  Corporations are made up of the same good and bad people you see in any company.  But I was dismayed when a commercial for the insurance company came on TV, obviously targeting new customers, while I waited on the phone to have a SIMPLE question answered.  New customers represent growth, and are the lifeblood of a company, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your existing customers in the relentless pursuit of new business!

This is especially true in manufacturing software.  Manufacturing solutions software, such as MES and paperless manufacturing, provides a vital service to the shop floor.  A well-crafted solution should work seamlessly with your current processes, but when a problem happens, you need an answer quickly… more quickly than a help desk can provide.  Because a shop floor is a constantly changing environment, especially in discrete manufacturing, the software can’t be installed and forgotten.  It needs active support to capitalize on the latest technology and processes, and a truly customer-centric solution shouldn’t gouge a customer for a simple update or necessary service.

That said, after spending (wasted) time on the phone with an insurance company, I’m proposing a simple manifesto of manufacturing software customer rights.  Here goes:

1)      All existing customers should have direct communication with a company representative they know by name, and not an anonymous “help” desk or an even more anonymous email address.

2)      A plan for regular software updates, to accommodate new technology and processes, should be offered before software is installed. Change will happen (anyone paying attention to the latest in 3D printing?) so you need a process to accommodate change.

3)      The manufacturing solution provider should know your company by name (not number) and understand your business to provide service and recommendations specific to you.

4)      Your software solution should be continually supported.  Any system that doesn’t have regular upgrades and releases will eventually become the obsolete legacy system so many companies struggle against.

5)      You should not be afraid you’ll accrue service charges if you call with a question.

Consider these the goal of manufacturing software customer service- an expectation you have before you go into business with a company.

Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better when it comes to customer service. Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to customer service. Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

While this discussion started after a bad experience on the phone with a mega-corporation insurance company, I’m not specifically targeting the big companies.  I do think there is a tendency to focus effort on “new” customers and business, and forget existing customers.  The help desk and the customer service line become a sales tool, and not a tool for customers to find a true solution.  Sometimes, companies focus on the “sales funnel” to convert “prospects” into customers, but once a customer completes the sales funnel, they become forgotten.  The existing customer is a “commodity” measured in business statistics, rather than a partner.

Now that my rant is over, take a moment and think about the “manifesto” of customer rights.  How does your manufacturing software provider rate?  What confidence do you have in their service now and in the future?  What expectations do you have regarding customer support?

Questions?  Leave us a message.  I guarantee it won’t be answered by a help desk that needs a 13-digit account number to hear your question.

Two is not better than one – Dassault buys another MES system?

Business grows through innovation, and true innovation comes from building and creating.  Growth, innovation, and business feed off each other. CIMx was founded on this belief, and it’s what makes us different.  Our business has grown because we offer a product we built and we support.  Forever. Long-term stability is critical for our customers.

Wednesday, Dassault announced they intend to buy Apriso systems. This adds another MES system to a portfolio of services that already has one.  Two years ago, they bought Intercim for the same reason.  Why do they need two execution systems?  Is there a compelling reason customers would need a choice?

Articles cite Dassault’s desire to infiltrate the Indian manufacturing market through the acquisition.  Other articles discuss how the acquisition will increase the value of Dassault to shareholders and (potentially) to new customers.  Neither one of these address the customer base.

All too often, business journals and the financial press celebrate mergers as “good business” or “growth” without looking at how the customers will be affected.  And in many cases of acquisition, the customer is the one who really pays for it.  A current article reads:  “Dassault Systemes announces an intent to purchase Apriso to extend its offering into foreign markets.”  If I already bought Apriso, and I currently use Flexnet on my shop floor, what does this acquisition mean for me?  That’s the story missing here.

Both the Apriso and Intercim systems use highly customized tools that build a system for the customer.  It is not likely a customer of one can migrate to the other, nor would they want to.  They require large-scale business process changes to implement, either to an enterprise platform, or a fill-in-the-form type process adjustment.  If a customer has gone through that kind of an implementation, what option does the merger offer?

I believe that this is a great growth opportunity offering new markets for both Apriso and Dassault.  At the same time, I believe it minimizes opportunity for the customer.  It reduces choice in the marketplace.  It will drive up costs.  And current customers will find they are reduced to a very small fish in an ever-increasing pond.

If you believe what I believe, then you too might be worried about what acquisitions and mergers in the manufacturing software solutions marketplace means for manufacturers.  Merged products rarely work well together and require tricky formatting or, quite simply, multiple log-ins.  Products should provide a true cash return to the customers that purchase them, not to the shareholders.  We need more pure product in the marketplace.  Products built by innovation and supported naturally.  These are solutions that work and deliver as promised, not modules requiring extended services so they’ll integrate not only with your business, but other modules and acquired services.

We need more companies willing to grow by focusing on innovation that benefits the customer, rather than grow through acquisition with a focus on penetrating a market.  Innovation is lost in the transaction, and the customer is lost in the story.

Two is not always better than one.