Monthly Archives: August 2013

Deciphering the Role of MES

Understanding the difference between MES and ERP isn’t difficult once you understand the Human Element of manufacturing operations.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Defining MES is much easier when you understand the human element on the shop floor. Illustration from

Defining MES is much easier when you understand the human element on the shop floor. Illustration from

Trying to answer, “What is MES?” is not easy, and it’s a question I get a lot.  A good MES delivers smooth operations.  The information and process management available in true MES increases quality, eliminates scrap, and build products efficiently.  For each part of your operation, MES has a different meaning.  For the shop floor, it’s where they get work instructions and collect data.  For engineering, it’s how instructions are built and a tool for ECO (Engineering Change Orders).  For finance, it might be a line item, for sales and customer service it’s a way to track orders, and so on…

This is why I’ve begun connecting the role of MES to the human element in manufacturing.  Confused?  Here’s what I mean…

Most customers we talk to are confused about the boundaries between MES, ERP, scheduling and a host of other products driving the engine of their business.  In digital business tools, an ERP or MRP is focused on the business and finance of your business, while the MES focuses on people – helping them work better, smarter and faster. 

Your workplace is teeming with the human element right now.  Employees are designing, planning, building, testing and shipping your products every day.  If you’re in the services industry, your product is your people. 

The human element can be amazingly powerful and scary all at the same time.  Machines aren’t as creative as humans, but a machine can reliably repeat the exact same motion long after a human arm has tired.  Humans aren’t as durable as a shop floor machine, but when disaster strikes, I trust a human to think through the next steps.

Make your operation more efficient with MES and Paperless Manufacturing. Illustration by

Make your operation more efficient with MES and Paperless Manufacturing. Illustration by

Take a closer look at a manufacturing business.  Inside the business, you have HR, finance, customer support and other operational areas.  The central tool to manage these aspects of your business is the ERP software.  The ERP connects these areas, manages the information and provides a communication flow.  It is a big task, which is why ERP installations are typically long and complex, but should result in a well-running support system.   It is a transaction-based system. 

Let’s examine this further.  An order from the Acme Co. comes in for 10 green widgets due a week from Tuesday. The order is entered into the ERP which stores the information and notifies engineering and the shop floor of the order.  The ERP is very good at managing a transaction-based operation such as this.

In engineering another set of tools come into play.  Engineering uses CAD systems, drawing and specification tools, and spreadsheets to produce the documentation necessary for green widgets.  This includes detailed instructions for how to build the widget, any relevant measurements to be made during production to ensure the widget meets specifications, drawings, blueprints, photographs, safety sheets and all other files related to the part.  One useful tool you often find here is a PDM (product data management) system to organize engineering documents and ensure only the latest version of a document is available.   

An ERP manages transactions, and a PDM organizes documents, but neither creates the process-focused operation necessary to create a work package for the shop floor.  This is the human element we mentioned at the beginning that is the focus of an MES, helping manage human and operational elements on the shop floor to ensure you have the most efficient-built green widgets for the Acme Co., and Acme has the quality assurance and as-built records they need for their completed order.

Choices and options.

Deciphering MES isn’t about using acronyms, it’s about understanding the human element on the shop floor. Illustration by

Production control receives the order from the ERP and needs to match it with the documentation from engineering.  The MES completes this function, where the ERP cannot.  With just a PDM or an ERP, you end up contorting a transaction tool or document management system to twist a myriad of MS Word and Excel documents into a process, which leads to the poor humans on the shop floor reading and re-reading documents, trouble-shooting, searching for answers when they should be building.  Data collection gets lost in the ERP transactions or the PDM, if it is collected at all. 

MES adds the human element to your digital manufacturing tools.  You have widgets you need to build.  You have machines to do it.  MES tells the people what to do at each machine in order to build the widgets correctly.  Without it, the people on the shop floor have to make independent decisions based on disparate knowledge about production, or they rely on tribal knowledge that is never adequately collected.  Sometimes this works, but since there is no process control, you can’t guarantee it will work every time.  It’s an unreliable and very expensive way to manufacture. 

MES provides a toolkit connecting other business systems to manufacturing, ensuring your team produces to the highest quality tolerances and with the highest productivity.  Ultimately, it has the biggest direct impact of any system on the profit for the business.  In manufacturing, an MES is the basic building block upon which profit is built because it is focused on process-based manufacturing operations that drive the business.

When someone asks me what an MES is, I could recite a litany of acronyms, starting with ANSI/ISA-95 standards, toss in a PRM note and sprinkle in OEE or LEAN with a healthy dose of tech speak… or I could talk about the human element that is so critical for manufacturing success.  You don’t purchase an ERP to build a car, and you don’t hire machines to fix a problem.  You hire the best people for your shop floor and give them to the tools they need to succeed, and that’s where an MES comes in.

Fix Your Shop Floor Processes Now

Don’t fall into the “If it ain’t broke…” trap.  Sometimes your biggest mistake is in not doing anything.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” but it’s become the rallying cry of procrastinators everywhere.  Unfortunately, it’s a rallying cry that ends up a funeral dirge or death knell…

Case in point… my neighbor had a rattle in the car engine.  It sounded like an engine wheeze – metal on metal.  “No big deal,” my neighbor said. “It’s just something loose and the car’s working fine.  I’ll get to it before vacation.”

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine?  Photo by

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine? Photo by

Vacation passed and the rattle continued.  Other priorities and expenses came up, so why bother with a rattle that wasn’t hurting anything?  That is, until he destroyed the engine on his way to a business meeting.   The car overheated, the head gasket blew and it completely ruined the engine.  My neighbor missed his meeting, spent more than $4,000 fixing his car, enjoyed a night on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck, and was forced to coordinate rides to work and trips to the grocery store while the car was fixed.

Lesson of the story… a simple belt replacement ended up costing him thousands in repairs, plus lost time, missed meetings, and endless aggravation.

Choices and options.

How will you handle broken and inefficient processes on your shop floor? Photo from

It’s a lesson not all manufacturers understand.  Software Advice recently released a survey (found here) detailing manufacturing software buyer trends. The report, by Software Advice’s analyst Derek Singleton, identifies paper and spreadsheets as the primary method of tracking manufacturing processes for many of the manufacturers taking the survey.  Research by Oracle has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, add complexity and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  So why do so many companies continue to use paper-driven processes to control the shop floor (the heart of manufacturing)?

Because if it ain’t broke, why fix it?  If all your shop floor knows is inefficiency and is comfortable with it, then why change?

More than increasing risk, paper-driven processes significantly increase costs for businesses.  As reported by Oracle, a study by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found businesses, “spend $20 in labor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document,” (  The money has to come from somewhere, so these costs are either eaten by the manufacturer or passed along to the customers.  So why are companies throwing away money on paper?

I go back to my neighbor and the months he spent with a rattle in his engine.  He knew he should do something, but other priorities came up and the engine never seemed that bad.  “It’s more work to fix than deal with it”, he told me once.

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency?  What steps are your competition taking?  Photo by

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency? What steps are your competition taking? Photo by

For manufacturers operating in a paper-driven environment, going paperless would mean buying and installing a new system (which takes valuable IT resources), integrating a new process, and training the shop floor.  It feels like a lot of work for some nebulous, paperless return.  If the decision-maker isn’t a shop floor employee, it is even more difficult to justify the cost since you don’t feel the paper-based shop floor pain on a daily basis… and so, life under, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” goes on.

But there is a danger to the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” mentality, and the grinding noise in my neighbor’s engine perfectly illustrates it…  We recently worked with a manufacturer that repeatedly failed audits due to paper-based record-keeping.  In less than a month, we were able to install a system on the shop floor and begin collecting audit-worthy as-built records.  Another manufacturer lost a major client because they couldn’t guarantee timely change orders – a simple function in paperless manufacturing and MES.  Waiting to fix shop floor challenges isn’t a solution, it means disaster hasn’t struck yet.  Worse yet is failing to recognize there is a problem and it needs fixing.

So what does this mean for you and your shop floor?

Another section of the Software Advice study identifies improving or automating processes as the top reason manufacturers purchase new manufacturing software.  Other reasons include updating or modernizing their software, additional features and functionality, and company growth.  Another part of the study identified improving efficiency as the primary reason companies seek to replace existing manufacturing software.  We are seeing a consistent drive to improve the shop floor, and the beginning of a movement away from the “If it ain’t broke…” mentality because people are starting to realize “It is broke”.

Companies are beginning to take control of their own destiny and take action proactively, rather than reactively.  The manufacturing marketplace is tightening, and proactive process and efficiency improvements are a competitive advantage for many companies.   More and more companies are turning every day to paperless manufacturing and manufacturing software for an advantage.

“If it ain’t broke…” isn’t a recipe for success in modern manufacturing.  Take a lesson from my neighbor – if you hear a grinding engine wheeze in your shop floor, get it fixed or you might be stuck waiting while your competition moves ahead.  Are there problems you are waiting to solve on your shop floor?  Are there problems you don’t even recognize on your shop floor?  Are your work processes a victim of the, “it ain’t broke…” mentality?  If so, let us know.  The solution may be much closer, easier to solve, and less expensive, than you might think.

Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way of Your MES

When manufacturers ask if they need both an MES and ERP, I mention a lesson Sigmund Freud shared nearly 100 years ago.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

In the 1920’s, Sigmund Freud recognized a truth that many manufacturers are only now beginning to recognize.

Is it reasonable to expect an ERP to maximize shop floor efficiency like an MES?  Photo by

Is it reasonable to expect an ERP to maximize shop floor efficiency like an MES? Photo by

Curious?  Here’s what I mean; in Freud’s “structural model” of the human psyche there are three constructs at work in the human mind – the id, the ego and the superego.  It is the interaction of these three systems that make us who we are.  They are dependent and inter-dependent.  Without all 3 systems, we can’t operate efficiently. 

The id is basic human needs and wants, without perception or judgment.  In your business, this drives work on the shop floor – the customer has placed an order and your team is focused on getting the work done.

The ego, in contrast, mediates between the id and reality.  The ego works towards fulfilling needs and wants, but creates a realistic strategy to reach them.  For a manufacturer, it is the rules and processes to support the organization – the ego dictates the order will be filled by sending it to the shop floor. 

Finally, the superego incorporates the values and rules of society to add a level of control to the id.  Where the ego will make a plan to meet the id’s desires, the superego will determine the “best” course of action.  In your business, the superego includes the planning required to make the business sustainable. 

Is your business operating at peak efficiency?

Is your business operating at peak efficiency?

Without getting too philosophical or diving too deeply into theory, the human psyche is a success because of the interplay and exchange between these systems.  The id determines what we need, the ego incorporates reality to formulate a plan for acquisition of what we need, and the superego determines the consequences to ensure you’ve formulated the best plan to meet the need.  Each system plays its part well.

Would we be so successful if one piece were missing?  No.  Much like a manufacturing business won’t operate optimally without a functioning and independent ERP, MES, and customer orders.

An ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning system) is the gatekeeper of all the data on your business – from financial performance, to HR, to customer lists, and work orders.  It’s the ego for the shop floor, offering a minimal direction to the shop floor for customer orders (the id) but not enough to make the parts correctly every time and certainly not optimally.  The ERP isn’t designed to maximize shop floor efficiency, and if it was the other functions would suffer.  Human resource records would operate like a work instructions, and business data would conceivably be formatted like a tool crib data.   

At its core, an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) connects the customer order in the ERP with shop floor work processes necessary to successfully produce the customer order.  The MES takes the order, breaks it down into individual processes, and provides a work flow to produce the parts efficiently.  It then adds data collection, revision control, and archiving to ensure efficiency.    When a customer order (id) comes in, the ERP (ego) plans how to fill it, then the MES (superego) adds order and efficiency to the process, ensuring everything works optimally.

Just like the human psyche, a manufacturer won’t operate efficiently (if at all) without each of these systems working in harmony.

This is not to say a manufacturer can’t “make it work” if a system is missing.  With an ERP and planning documentation you can print up a build book and run it to the shop floor, but this isn’t optimal or efficient.  It operates like a person without a superego; tell them to “grab a cup of coffee” and they literally just go out and grab one – yours or someone else’s.  With a superego in play, you know you have to go to the counter, select a drink off the menu, order it, and wait for it to be served. 

An ERP is focused on orders coming in, tracking profit, loss and assets at play.  It’s not designed to review the manufacturing process and provide the shop floor control manufacturers need in the modern market.

Manufacturers often wonder why an ERP can’t handle the tasks normally handled by an MES.  They see an ERP and MES as computer systems moving data.  But each is fundamentally differently, and much like the id, ego, and superego, they work best together, not separately.

As I said, Sigmund Freud recognized a truth many manufacturers are just now beginning to realize – success is many times dependant on the interaction of different systems working together.

Hopefully I’ve shed a little light on how an MES and ERP work together (and maybe a little light on the theories of Freud).  We’ll talk more the differences and strengths of an MES and ERP in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, let us know what you think.

Where Will Your Shop Floor Be In 10 Years?

All signs point to major changes for manufacturing, so what are you doing to prepare for the future?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I came across a recent news article about a man in New Zealand using a 3D Printer to build a replica of a 1961 Aston Martin DB4.

Okay, let’s get all the amazement and wonderment out of the way now….

First, he is building a car with a $500 Solidoodle 3d Printer.  This is a readily available printer, easily found by a web search.  It’s easy to use, and even easier to purchase.    Apparently, you can use it to build a car frame (the interior of this car will consist of the engine of a 1993 Nissan Skyline).

What steps are you taking now to ensure you have the shop floor you want in 10 years?  Illustration by

What steps are you taking now to ensure your future? Illustration by

Next, this is his first attempt at 3d Printing.  So far, he has spent a total of $2,000 on the project.  Sure, Ivan Sentch, the man behind the project, estimates it will be five more years before he can drive the car, this is still a private citizen using a simple printer in his free time to BUILD A CAR!

Now, the really interesting point in this article is near the bottom, “Sentch believes it will be at least a decade or two before 3D printing will be used regularly for useful projects.”  Useful projects like cars, home appliances, and mechanical parts that are currently being manufactured in factories all over the world.  These factories and shop floors are the heart of our industry.

Let that sink in a moment…

I’m not suggesting we’ll suddenly shut down factories and start printing space shuttles in our garage, but a fundamental change is coming on par with Henry Ford and his manufacturing methodology and the rise of industrial robots.   This means many manufacturers will have to adapt or succumb.  Readily available manufactured goods via 3D printers will change the market.  To compete with a $500 printer, manufacturers need to offer customers more.

The retail industry is already grappling with this trend.  Why should a consumer travel to a store when they can order what they want on the web, via Amazon or another online outlet?  Stores have had to adapt, look at multi-channel sales and even question their role and function to the modern consumer.  It has required difficult choices, a lot of work, and a willingness to accept that what once felt comfortable and brought in enough profit isn’t going to cut it any longer.

10 years is not that far in the future.  A man in New Zealand spent $500 for a 3d Printer and gave us a glimpse of what the future will be like. So, where do you see your business and shop floor in 10 years?  What are you doing to prepare for the future?  Is it enough?  Now is the best time to start asking those important questions, and seek out someone who can help you plan for the future.