Monthly Archives: July 2013

Manufacturing Innovation Waits For No One

Additive Manufacturing, Paperless Manufacturing, Cloud Computing, Mobile Manufacturing… the future of manufacturing is here, but many of us are letting it pass us by.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How will manufacturing innovation help your business?

How will manufacturing innovation help your business? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

A few days ago, I came across an article on Yahoo News – 3D-Printed Rocket Engine Part Passes Key NASA Test.  I was eating a sandwich and waiting for a phone call, so I didn’t read it.  I planned to look it up later.  I thought if it was REALLY important, it would be on the news or the magic social media fairies would flood my Facebook page with the hundreds of ways I should feel about it.

In retrospect, that’s not the way the world or innovation works.  Here was innovation… a swift kick from the future of manufacturing!  And I decided to eat a sandwich… It wasn’t even a good sandwich.

We are all searching for innovation, and we all know that success in manufacturing is dependent on smart decisions, empowered employees, and delivering higher quality for lower cost.  We know success is dependent on working smarter, faster, and more cheaply.  Innovation is the key!

But how many of us are actually taking the steps to innovate?

How many of us are so focused on the next crisis, we don’t innovate?  No one has time to innovate, we are too busy working reactively to put out emergencies to think proactively.  Someone else will do it, or tell us to do it.  Until “innovation” becomes a critical emergency (such as a process no longer works, or a customer demands it, or something is broken and needs fixing), innovation isn’t a priority.

Take control of your business, and don't fall victim to the crisis of the moment. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Take control of your business, and don’t fall victim to the crisis of the moment. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

But the future isn’t waiting.  Its passing us by, and even Yahoo News can see it.  Innovation works.  Innovation created our industry… just ask Henry Ford and his assembly line.  So I decided to do something about it.  When a friend mentioned the, “Printed rocket thing that NASA did,” I realized I didn’t have anything intelligent to add.  I wasn’t innovating, only spinning my wheels making excuses.

Now, I get my coffee in the morning and take a look at industry news.  I think about how I work and where I spend too much time because the current tools aren’t working, and look for a solution.  I come up with plans and make innovation a priority.  I make sure I’m spending at least 10 minutes on innovation each day.  I even set a clock

After two weeks, I’m already seeing results… I’d like to congratulate Aerospace Rocketdyne on a successful test, and told my friend about it.  I’m going paperless and using the OneNote Web App to take notes and keep my calendar.  Integrating OneNote with the voice record on my smart phone was genius.  I also set up a filing system for my computer desktop, and can find a file in less than a minute.

Maybe I’m an idealist, but the results speak for themselves.  Innovation should never be the child of an emergency.  Once you make the promise to yourself to be proactive in your innovation, even if it’s 10 minutes every morning, you’ll find fewer emergencies that require your undivided attention.  Solve problems before they become an emergency.

Manufacturing thrives with innovation, a fact I believe many of us have forgotten.  So what steps have you taken to innovate?  How do you plan for the future in your business?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

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Making Christmas in July Work for your Shop Floor

The strategic decisions you make in the summer downtime help maximize profits when business picks up later in the year – here’s how to make Christmas in July work for you.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Have you noticed organizations advertising Christmas in July?  It’s hard to think snowmen and caroling in the summer heat, but my church is bringing the Holiday Spirit to the sweltering heat of summer with a Christmas in July campaign.

This Christmas in July push isn’t celebrating the shopping crush, holiday family stress, or the joys of eating too much and passing out on the couch.  It’s about giving to organizations that normally see donations only at the end of the year.  This is the time of year (summer) many non-profits see their resources dwindle and stores deplete.

The strategic decisions you make now will deliver benefits to your manufacturing come winter and beyond.

The strategic decisions you make now will deliver benefits to your manufacturing come winter and beyond.

Christmas in July recognizes a need out of context.  The world shines a light on giving to others and being thankful at the end of year.  Everyone feels generous and donates when community messaging is praising donations and pushing us to think generously.  But, donations in July, when many non-profits have spent their holiday bounty and the need is still great in the community, often have the greatest effect. 

There is a lesson we can learn from Christmas in July.  Cyclically, many businesses see a lull in the middle of the summer.  Many even close for a week in the heat of the summer.  Summer is a great time for retooling, reordering, even installing new machines. It may also be a down time for revenues. 

For manufacturing, the lower summer revenue is similar to the challenges facing non-profits.  Although many of us may not equate the two, businesses and manufacturers are seeing the stores depleting, their core capital wane.  Many businesses enter a new strategic planning cycle, and face budget reviews in the fall.  New project work may be slowing down in the late summer, driving revenue down as well.  A lesson for savvy businesses can be learned from this… there’s opportunity in the slow summer months.

A few months ago, I introduced the concept of cyclical investment in a business from International Trend Research Group (ITR).  ITR follows the mantra that you need to invest in the down cycle in order to maximize your capacity as business picks up.  It may be the only way to launch into a higher curve once business picks up. 

This is the key lesson I see in the push to introduce Christmas in July – restock the assets of service organizations so that, when the need is greatest, they can outperform.  Likewise, prepare your business with manufacturing investments, solutions and upgrades in the downtime, or summer slowdown, so you can meet increased demand when business picks up.  Don’t leave money on the table or let profit slip through your fingers because you wasted the opportunity offered by the July slowdown!

Act now – seize opportunity for investment in July to help make December a little sweeter. 

Secrets to Overcoming the Qualified Worker Crunch

As manufacturers struggle to find qualified shop floor workers, it’s not enough to hope secondary education will improve.  It’s time to start finding solutions ourselves.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Managing and controlling information is the key to successfully training new employees.

Managing and controlling information is the key to successfully training new employees.

A recent survey by The Chronicle and the American Public Media Marketplace shined a light on the struggles manufacturers face when hiring qualified employees.  In an article reviewing the survey, hiring managers described potential candidates as, “woefully unprepared,” saying they lacked, “basic workplace proficiencies,” or even the, “ability to solve complex problems.”  Assessments such as these do not bode well for the future of manufacturing.

It is easy for businesses to blame higher education.  According to another article, “In 2008, the Boeing Company ranked colleges based on how well their graduates performed within the corporation.” Some blame does rest with education programs, but not all of it.

Technology and processes are continually adapting.  New tools are constantly shaping the workplace.  Many companies struggle internally to adapt to these changes.  It is unrealistic to expect education to incorporate change any quicker.  Additionally, new employees struggle with entering organizations where information is secularized in Information silos.  Many times, new employees replace retirees, and have no access to the critical company information contained in those silos – silos that are many times reflect the accumulated knowledge of the retiring employee.

As we look for solutions, we should start with how we are currently managing corporate information.  No matter the source of the “worker crunch,” there are ways businesses, especially manufacturers, can help prepare new employees while improving current operations.  The goal should be getting the right information to the right people at the right time.  For example:

  • Capturing Work Flow and Process Information from work experience that is currently in use within an information system.
  • Collecting and archiving these rich work flow experiences as Best Practices are a good way of ensuring information isn’t lost in a silo, and you have clear goals and processes in place when it is time to onboard a new employee.
  • A library of On-demand Training is an effective way to teach best practices.  It ensures employees are maximizing efficiency and quality, and allow your team targeted training lessons when they will have the greatest impact without pulling people from more productive work.
  • Increase Internal Collaboration with a shared data base and a single version of the truth in your internal records.  Process controls that collect data in a single, shared database help eliminate those challenges.
  • Procedural Enforcement is another way you can ensure best practices are adopted and used by your team, and will improve quality.
  • Study how you Control and Manage Information in your company.  Many times, especially in paper-based systems, there is no way to adequately collect and control data, and new employees will step into a system with no access to the information they need to be successful.

Successful companies begin with an effective workforce.  While it is easy to cast blame for the worker crunch, there are steps a smart business can take to ensure new employees have the greatest chance of success.  Those steps start by capturing, managing and distributing information and eliminating information silos, and will improve production, increase quality, and benefit employee morale.

How to Get the Paperless Manufacturing System You Want

There are numerous options for companies researching MES and paperless manufacturing, we take a close look and evaluate two of those options.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn't create them. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn’t create them. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

It is much more difficult to build a car than buy one.  So, even though I’m annoyed by side view mirror controls that dig into my wrist, and I bang my head when I put my daughter in the car seat, I won’t re-engineer the work involved in current car designs to build my own (even though a robot vacuum to clean up after the kids is simply brilliant).

Build versus buy is not only a question in cars, but also MES and paperless manufacturing.  As businesses research the benefits to production, quality, and data collection found in paperless manufacturing, each must decide whether to build their own system, or buy from a vendor.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.  For this blog, we’ll look at points to consider as you make your own evaluation.

Design

The ability to design a paperless manufacturing system and control the final product is often the primary reason a company will build rather than buy.  Every manufacturer is different, with different processes and unique needs.  Incorporating internal processes and needs at the beginning of development helps ensure a better product.

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn't one best left to the experts. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn’t one best left to the experts. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

To successfully build your own system, you must understand those processes and needs before you begin.  Determining the system requirements can take 2 months or more, and requires significant input from the manufacturing team (pulling them from the shop floor), and management.  You should also assume some slippage in the project timeline.  No matter how much planning is done, you can’t plan for everything once the code begins flowing.

Any items not included from the initial system requirements will exponentially increase the cost in time and resources for the project.  You also need to consider that every requirement you identify for the system will add to the cost.  If you have the stomach for the time and money it will take to complete the system, you’ll have the system you want.

Making changes to a system you bought can also be costly.  A risk companies run into is creating a “custom” system that will be more difficult to support.  When purchasing, make sure to do your research and ask for demos using your current work instructions to see how the installed system will work on your shop floor.

Implementation

Implementation involves taking the initial design and writing code for it, then installing it on the shop floor.

A system built internally begins with the 2+ months to determine the system requirements before programming and development begins.  In addition to programmers, the project requires an expert in User Interface to eliminate unnecessary complexity, and a Data Base Administrator (DBA).  Specifications will also affect the final cost of the system.  Consider the database and platform, and plan for a product that will work not only now, but in the future for your business.

There are ways to lower cost, such as removing functionality, minimizing testing, or utilizing internal resources, but there are costs associated with these measures, and could affect the long term viability of the system.  Evaluate the return and cost for each decision before making choices you may regret.

System integration is another point to consider.  Manufacturers and businesses use a number of different software systems and databases.  Ensuring those systems work together smoothly is often overlooked in planning. 

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

Purchased systems offer a much lower cost for implementation.  Today, there are paperless manufacturing systems that can be installed and integrated in less than two weeks with no disruption of shop floor processes.  However, you will not have the design control you have in a built system.

Configuring, adapting, and integrating the system can take longer.  Also, beware of systems that require that your shop floor processes adapt to the software, which can significantly increase implementation.  Look for MES or paperless manufacturing systems which can reuse your existing work instructions and processes to reduce implementation time and training.

Reliability

A paperless manufacturing system is only useful if it is up, running, and secure.  The long-term reliability and maintainability of the system must be considered in planning.

Every system requires maintenance and upkeep, especially in an industry such as manufacturing where changes in technology and processes are common.

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

With a system built internally, evaluate how much time and resources you will assign to the maintenance.  Will you have access to the team that originally built the software?  They are best positioned to maintain the system.  How will you handle bugs?  How much time in testing, both integration and regression testing, will you accept to repair bugs and flaws in the system.  If you see maintainability as a low priority, are you and your team willing to accept temporary patches, flaws, and workarounds in addition to a slow slide toward software obsolescence?  Is there a plan to upgrade the system? Considering these issues early in the planning process will help eliminate future surprises, and determine the lifetime cost of the system.  

The truth is, many businesses significantly underestimate the resources necessary to successfully maintain a system.  Most times they won’t intentionally underestimate to work required for maintenance, but once they better understand the requirements, they’ll be forced to make sacrifices and the solution will no longer be optimized.

Almost all home built software become “legacy” once the project is complete.  If the team that built the system isn’t on staff, the product cannot be tested and is therefore legacy software.  Future modifications will be exponentially more expensive.

Reliability and support for a purchased system will depend on the vendor supplying the software.  Many vendors offer an inexpensive system initially, and then charge higher fees for service and maintenance.  For example, a consultant will often install a base system very quickly, and then require further services to ensure the system works as promised. 

Look at the product support before making a purchase.  A system with a large support staff will expect customers to help pay for the staff through service charges.  Are there fees for upgrades or patches?  How is the product maintained? 

Many software systems require a license fee, which often includes product support.  Most purchased systems have been installed and used countless times, which can be seen as continual product testing, ensuring a more reliable and error free platform.  The total cost of the software and maintainability is shared by all the customers. 

Reliability in the system helps build the ROI, so take time to make an informed decision.

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As you evaluate paperless manufacturing options, keep in mind a company specializing in manufacturing software systems rely on years of expertise in both manufacturing and software development. They will be marketing the product for years, and will continue maintenance and testing, to ensure the system works.

Choices and options.

Take a close look at the resource requirements necessary for maintainability. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

But, building a system internally allows a level of customization and control a purchased system can’t match.  Your evaluation comes down to a simple question – is the benefit of increased customization and control (or other motives driving you toward the solution) worth the increased cost in time, resources, and risk?  Look at not just the initial product, but the long-term investment.  Have a plan in place for continuing to maintain the system and ensuring the design of the system isn’t trapped in an information silo.

There is also risk and cost in purchasing a system.  Some vendors sell systems that aren’t well maintained or supported, or have hidden costs.  paperless manufacturing in the Cloud has associated risks.  You may not have all the functionality you wanted with the system, since it wasn’t designed internally, but you benefit from lower cost and lower risk for your shop floor.

There are advantages and disadvantages to building and purchasing an MES or paperless manufacturing system, and each company must evaluate the options with internal criteria before making a decision.  When building a system, you can get what you want if you are willing to spend the money and resources necessary, and you can mitigate the risk of potential failure.  You also need to be aware that a paperless manufacturing system is not a “one and done” project. It requires ongoing maintenance to continue to meet the needs of your business.

Success requires willingness to pay, a stomach for risk, and a devotion to maintainability. Which is why my brilliant robot vacuum is still a dream, and there are still crumbs in the backseat of my car.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Paperless Manufacturing

For many manufacturers, large and small, paperless manufacturing gives them the freedom to build and grow their business.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

The 4th of July, American Independence Day, has always been about freedom, and freedom has a special connection to Paperless Manufacturing and CIMx Software.  I left an engineering company to start CIMx Software for the freedom to choose – my destiny, the company’s direction, and the people and products that are the foundation of CIMx.

Paperless manufacturing gives your shop floor freedom to focus on quality and efficiency.

Paperless manufacturing gives your shop floor freedom to focus on quality and efficiency.

Paperless Manufacturing and MES frees companies to grow without paper-based constraints.  The companies I talk to that are still using paper suffer from limitations including lack of real-time information, no reliable quality assurance, and an inefficient change process.  They may use readily available tools, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, or Power Point, for some measure of process control, but these tools weren’t designed to manage information in a production environment.  They can’t assure you of accuracy or manage change.  Doubt and inefficiencies prevent rapid decision-making and cause errors.  These companies are restrained, prevented from maximizing production or effectively building their business.

As a manufacturing solution, Paperless Manufacturing ensures production and process control, and manages information to enable growth.  Manufacturers focus on the future, on improvement, and delivering exceptional production and customer service, rather than chasing errors and struggling to make things work.

Need more proof?  Take a look at how some companies handle audits.  For many manufacturers, success in an audit is far from certain.  Many could argue the audit process is another infringement of freedom, but it can also be seen as a benchmark for measuring process control. Audits require businesses to be nimble and control information – almost impossible in a paper environment.  In a paper-based environment, audits cost days and weeks of lost productivity, with employees focused on work with no ROI.  In Paperless Manufacturing, securely archiving information and assembling as-built records for audits is automated. Employees are focused on productive work.  You have the freedom to plan beyond your next audit.

The success we’ve enjoyed at CIMx Software is based on freedom.  I started CIMx Software to discover freedom – the freedom to build a company the way I chose.  Our software solutions give manufacturers the freedom to focus on what they do best – building and producing.

Paperless manufacturing, when implemented by a company you trust, should minimize complexity, not add to it. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Paperless manufacturing, when implemented by a company you trust, should minimize complexity, not add to it. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

There are still manufacturers reluctant to embrace technology such as Paperless Manufacturing.  They put limitations on their business by clinging to inefficient paper-based production control.  Maybe they’ve been burnt by unscrupulous companies in the past, or have been approached by a consulting company hoping to sell services rather than a system.  Here’s an insider tip – to discover unscrupulous consulting companies hiding their true intentions, ask them the ratio of development team members working on core product releases to the number of installation experts and programmers working on customer jobs.  Ideally, you want a ratio of 3-to-1 (3 developers to 1 service person) in a software company.

When companies struggle, they turn to desperate measures, narrowing options and limiting freedom.  For example, they may try to build their own system.  They have no idea the time or investment necessary, and end up shackling their fortune and future on a system they are building from scratch with no guarantee of success.

Freedom is having a system that works with your processes and gives you control of your business and shop floor without imposing restrictions or adding complexity.  The system should give you tools to build and grow your business, such as Paperless Manufacturing, mobile and collaborative manufacturing, and a secure cloud-based solution.  It gives you the freedom to focus on what you do best, rather than struggle to stay one step ahead of disaster – a scenario all too common on a paper-based shop floor.

CIMx Software knows something about freedom, and the freedom paperless manufacturing gives manufacturers.  After all, freedom has been a foundation of CIMx Software since its founding more than 17 years ago.