Monthly Archives: September 2013

Developing a Vision of Paperless Manufacturing and MES

Understanding the CIMx Vision for Paperless Manufacturing offers an insider’s view of what drives us to make the best product for our customers, and makes clear what paperless manufacturing can do for you.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

 “What is your vision for paperless manufacturing?”  I’ve gotten this question countless times.

The easy answer would be to repeat the tagline on our business cards, or prepare an elevator speech with a list of software features and sweet-sounding promises.  But, to be honest, that’s not a vision.  A vision should be bigger than 15 carefully selected words in a sales pitch.  It should be more than mere marketing.  A vision should define who you are and create a connection to the listener.

So, this is our vision.  We call it a “Day in the Life with Paperless Manufacturing” because we don’t see our system as a list of features, an installation method or a percentage of process improvement (but we can share all that if you want), but a better way to manufacture every day.  Here you go… let us know what you think!

A strong MES offers paperless manufacturing, increased collaboration, and process control on the shop floor.  Image by

A strong MES offers paperless manufacturing, increased collaboration, and process control on the shop floor. Image by

Plant Manager

Plant manager John Rush arrived at his office; coffee clutched in his hand, and turned on the computer.  As it was booting up, he thought back to last year when every morning was a hurried meeting to determine the status of shop floor orders.  Sales and customer service worried about priority jobs falling behind schedule, while operations tried to make it all work with resources that never seemed to be enough.  The whole process was more guesswork and assumptions than facts.

This morning, with the paperless manufacturing solution in place, John glanced at his dashboard to see the current status of all shop floor orders; completed work; work on hold and work in progress.  He quickly determined the priorities with sales and customer service and scheduled the day’s work assignments.  He digitally sent morning alerts to Manufacturing Engineers for rework.  All the work done in last year’s hour-long meeting was complete in 10 minutes and less than a half cup of coffee.  He leaned back and finished his coffee before moving on to the next task.

Manufacturing Engineers

The Manufacturing Engineers, Ed and Susan, received the rework orders through the paperless manufacturing system and quickly updated the work plans.  The new plans are quickly sent through Production Control to shop floor workstations to replace the previous information.  The engineers know production operations can only work on the latest, most accurate work plans, unlike past years when the morning was a rush of reworked plans being assembled and carried to the floor, while production control reassigned work, and supervisors trained workers for new processes.

“Remember how long it took to print and assemble build books?” Ed asked Susan.

MES guides work and processes on the shop floor. Image by

MES guides work and processes on the shop floor. Image by

Susan smiled, “Yes, and remember how many mistakes we made doing it,” she replied.  With so many moving parts, mistakes happened.  Paper errors caused production delays, human errors led to the inaccurate work plans or plans going to the wrong work station.  Many times, production ground to a halt while printers churned out paper or employees waited for plans which are now sent digitally with no errors.  In the past, every day felt like a crisis waiting to explode because nothing worked as smooth as it should.

Today, Ed and Susan were able to update the work plans from the Best Practices library with the push of the button.  They attached short training videos and multimedia materials from the resource library to ease training.  Production control reassigned work within the system, and each shop floor employee received only the most relevant and current work plans, training videos, and supplemental production material.  New work orders are sent digitally to all assigned workstations.  Their morning work complete, Ed and Susan start work on a new training video of a set-up process.

Quality Assurance

Production had begun on the shop floor, and Steve in Quality Assurance is monitoring all quality metrics being measured on the shop floor at his desk.  With the paperless manufacturing system, process enforcement ensures shop floor quality checks at each stage before more work can be released.  “Before paperless manufacturing,” Steve explained.  “I used to give my cell phone number to the shop floor and ask them to call me if there was a non-conformance.  I don’t even want to think about how many times I had to put projects on hold because it seemed like non-conformances would all hit at once.  Sometimes we had work stations down for 30-45 minutes while they waited for me.  And without process enforcement, many non-conformances slipped by in the rush to make up for lost time.  Accumulating scrap and major, costly rework was our only option.”

This morning, Steve saw a major non-conformance at Workstation 20.  From his desk, Steve ordered work stopped at the Workstation, and sent Ed and Susan an order for a rework plan.  Within 10 minutes, Workstation 20 had the rework plan and production resumed.

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

Shop Floor

Later in the day, Greg, a shop floor operator, was collecting data before the completion of the next operation in Work Order 4334.  He thought back to a time when he would scramble, looking for a pencil to write data directly on the build book, which clerks would use for data entry.  There were times he missed writing a number down, and struggled to remember it at the end of the day.  Too many times data entry ended up being a “best guess” that caused problems in audit reviews.

Greg stepped around his workstation; happy he could use a laptop and not carry a build book. He always struggled to find a place to set the build book, many times papers spilled everywhere.  On his laptop, he opened the next operation on the Work Order, only to get a sequence alert on the system.  Greg opened the correct operation and started work again.  Sequence errors once required QA and rework; sometimes an entire new build book had to be assembled.  With paperless manufacturing, sequence errors are no longer a problem.

Customer Service and Sales

In the front office, Anne receives a call from a customer about an order shipped last month.  In particular, there is a problem with quality acceptance on the welds.  Anne asks the customer to wait a moment while she retrieves the as-built records from the system.  She sends a copy to the customer.  The customer finds the problem, and requests a change order with new specifications.  Anne passes the call to Production Control, who put a hold on the order.  Ed and Susan make changes to the work order, and the revised order is sent directly to Greg at his Work Station.  Greg opens the revised orders and continues work.  With paperless manufacturing, the change order should cause minimal delay in the order.

As the day closes out, John the Plant Manager checks the status on jobs complete, jobs pending, WIP, and jobs on hold.  He notices a priority job falling behind and reassigns the shop floor to ensure the deadline is met.  John creates a report and sends it to sales, then calls a meeting for Ed, Susan and Anne to assess progress and reset priorities for tomorrow.  Each prepares a report in the system to share at the meeting.

“Having real-time access to data, and knowing information is getting to the right person at the right time, is more than a convenience,” John explains.  “It makes us more productive, letting us focus on priority tasks and solve problems.  It gives us real control over the shop floor, eliminating production errors and saving us money every day.  I can’t imagine life without paperless manufacturing.”

Feeding the Upgrade Need for Your MES or Paperless Manufacturing Software

Do you have a plan in place to capitalize on the latest technological breakthroughs for your shop floor?  If not, does your competition?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

My brother has a new cell phone, and I have a case of tech-envy.

If you don't have a plan in place to upgrade your manufacturing software, how can you be sure your system isn't fading into obsolescence?  Image by

If you don’t have a plan in place to upgrade your manufacturing software, how can you be sure your system isn’t fading into obsolescence? Image by

With a faster processor, more memory and a better camera, he took the pictures everyone wanted at a birthday party this weekend.  He has access to more apps and new features he’s only now beginning to explore. My phone is 2+ years-old, and Evernote is just as likely to lock up as open, and for some reason I can’t get a signal in my kitchen, no matter what I do.

Unfortunately, tech-envy is fairly common today.  New technology comes out so quickly.  Innovation is a marketplace advantage.  Some will capitalize on the new innovations, and others (yeah, I’m looking at myself) struggle with legacy systems.

Manufacturers and the shop floor aren’t immune to tech-envy.  Many times, an older MES or process control system will constrain the work flow process, leaving manufacturers with a system costing more than the benefits accrued.  Because technology and processes advance so quickly, systems that aren’t upgraded sink into obsolescence.  The system you purchased to benefit production and save money is now stealing profit.

I’d love to upgrade my phone.  I recently came across a plan from T-Mobile that allows you to upgrade your phone after just six months.  With the “Jump” plan, when the latest technology comes out you can trade in the old phone for a new one.  I’m drooling at the thought of all that new, tasty technology goodness and the advantages it will give me over my brother. 

Technology is changing faster than ever before?  You can make technology a competitive advantage. Image  by

Technology is changing faster than ever before? You can make technology a competitive advantage. Image by

Just like cell phone users, many manufacturers are seeing the value in an upgrade.  In today’s technology market, with buzzy buzzwords like, “mobility” or “cloud,” or “big data” upgrades, especially inexpensive upgrades that minimize operational resource drain, can be the difference between a successful MES installation and another legacy system slowly dragging your shop floor down.  As you consider shop floor software, look at not only current functionality, but how upgrades will be managed.

Here are a few questions to ask and secrets to successfully selecting an MES and paperless manufacturing systems that will ensure the latest technology is a shop floor advantage to you with a customer-friendly upgrade plan:

  • Does the system use open, adaptable work flow process control architecture? A form-based system will limit your upgrade opportunities, increase the cost and work necessary, and potentially impose a new process with each upgrade (which can happen with some cloud-based systems).
  • How long will it take, and will there be a service charge?   Is a large team and additional service charges necessary for initial implementation?  The cost for initial implementation will give you an idea of the requirements for an upgrade.
  • Is there a cost and charge for an upgrade? To stay current and maximize your benefit and ROI, you’ll want to upgrade at least once a year, and upgrade costs will increase your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  • How much “customization” does your system have?  Many times, custom software will increase the cost of an upgrade (every upgrade) and will limit your ability to benefit from new technology and processes.

The best software solutions maximize and manage production, and increase quality and profit not only now, but in the future.  Ensure a long-term solution for your shop floor by having an upgrade plan in place before installation.

Otherwise, you might be installing your next legacy software system, and in a few years you’ll be looking for a new solution or managing a shop floor that can’t find a signal in the kitchen.

How Do You Steer the Shop Floor? The Difference Between MES and ERP

Struggling to understand how an MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help your shop floor?  Look no further than a parking lot for an easy-to-understand answer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We often turn to the familiar for help explaining the unfamiliar.  This is why we often use the line, “It tastes like chicken,” when struggling to describe a new food.  We know chicken, and it creates a comfortable, easily relatable connection.

Who is driving your shop floor?  Photo by

Who is driving your shop floor? Photo by

This may be why so many of us see an ERP and MES system as interchangeable, never seeing the critical difference between the two.  An ERP is familiar.  We understand ERP – accounting, payroll, billing and records.  MES is the shop floor, the heart of manufacturing that can be a confusing hurricane of machines, tools, processes and materials.  We turn to the familiar and make a connection (maybe even sub-consciously) between ERP and MES.  The roles and systems become mixed in our mind.

But it doesn’t work that way, and trying to force an ERP to do the work of an MES usually has a negative impact on your business.  I’m going to take a different approach this time, and turn to the familiar to explain the difference…

Think of your manufacturing business as a car.

An ERP works like the windows and mirrors on your car.  It offers a convenient way to view, track and plan your business.  With an ERP (or a rear view mirror) you can track where you have been.  You use the windshield to see where you are going.  Look out another window to see where you are.  Orders come in, money goes out, old employees retire and new ones arrive as you track customer data, create invoices, look at expenses and more.

But a car, and your business, isn’t just windows and mirrors.  You need an engine to move the car, and a way to guide and control the engine.  An MES is the dashboard and GPS of your organization, giving visibility and control of the engine, the shop floor and manufacturing, to you.

With a good dashboard and GPS, you have the directions and maps (visuals) to where you need to go.  You have a wheel, gas pedal, brake and more to give you control over the engine.  You can track progress and receive warnings when something goes wrong.  By organizing and transmitting work instructions digitally, collecting shop floor data, tracking quality, and controlling production, you control the heart of your operation.

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES - You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES – You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by

Sure, you might be able to find the local mall without a map, and if you point the car VERY carefully, you may never need to turn the wheel, but life is much easier with a good dashboard, GPS, and a car you can steer.  An MES delivers the drawings, blueprints, details, inspections, directions and other information you need to build your product.  It doesn’t just hand it to you in a heap.  It organizes it, just like a GPS or dashboard.  It provides turn-by-turn assistance, then tracks real-time data during production and gives you control of the process.

When you run into an issue (and who doesn’t on the shop floor), an MES can help.  A GPS offers advice on avoiding construction and adjusts the arrival time based on your current speed.  An MES provides workarounds for production problems, re-routes work around machines not functioning, and gives you real-time access to product ship times.  To put it simply… windows don’t give you that level of control.

And just like a car, I wouldn’t want to drive (or ride in) a car with no windows.  It’s not pleasant to travel with no idea of where you are going or where you’ve been.  I’m also much happier driving with my GPS and a reliable dashboard giving me visibility and control over the engine, direction and speed of the car.

Make sense?

When asked, “What is MES?” I’ve heard people start quoting ANSI/ISA-95 standards, or listing system functions and features, but it’s not until I imagined riding in a runaway shop floor (or a fast-moving car) with no brake or steering wheel did I realize how critical MES was for a manufacturing operation.

Discovering the (Hidden) Benefits of Paperless Manufacturing

Many times, the greatest benefits of paperless manufacturing aren’t ones in your list of requirements.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Our recently launched new website (have you seen it at opened my eyes to how powerful an open, adaptable paperless manufacturing system can be.

We did extensive functionality and feature planning for our new website.  We looked at designs, determined the core audience and their needs, and studied how we use our CMS (Content Management System).   We were left with a massive, unwieldy list that we promptly whittled down to focus on our key needs.  In the end, it wasn’t a matter of sacrificing functionality, but realizing the massive list of requirements wasn’t the best way to meet our business needs or the real needs of visitors to the site.

Selecting an open, adaptable MES can yield hidden benefits you might never add to a list of requirements. Photo by

Selecting an open, adaptable MES can yield hidden benefits you might never add to a list of requirements. Photo by

Then the website launched and we started using it.  All the cool functionality on our initial list is there… like the ability to download PDF’s, a news stream, and our new blog (a VERY cool blog that this one will merge into), and more.  But, the feature I now love the most wasn’t even on our requirement list.

On the old site, I spent HOURS (many-many hours) uploading new material.   It involved formatting and loading text into forms, adding artwork, and creating links and menus.  In the past, I would schedule a day to load pages, and then time to make corrections.  Our CMS was custom-built, and I was making full use of the massive requirement list the CMS was based on.  I thought this pain was just the price of doing business on the website.

Once I got over my, “this is how we have to do it,” attitude, I quickly fell in love with the new system.  Today, loading a new page or article is something I can knock out quickly.  The system is open and easy-to-use, so I spend my time doing more productive work.  I miss nothing about the old method.

Stories like this are common in successful MES and paperless manufacturing implementations.  Sure, MES will give you process control, increase quality, drive profit, and give you shop floor visibility and real-time production information, but with the right system, you’ll discover other benefits. For example, we recently implemented a shop floor work instruction viewer for a customer.  They now collect shop floor data and have eliminated paper build books – HUGE benefits to the shop floor.  They are more productive and efficient.  But the ability to link a photo of a machine to the work instructions has become the shop floor’s favorite feature, and it wasn’t even on the list of requirements.  Turns out, since the shop floor worker has to use multiple machines, having that photo saves them a lot of effort and makes their job easier

The shop used a digital camera to take a picture of the machines.  An engineer added the photo to the work instructions.  The photo could have been a short video of machine set up or on-demand training as another company is doing.  It took 10 minutes of work, and now the entire shop floor is more productive, and management benefits from increased excitement for the new paperless manufacturing system.  It was an unplanned benefit of using such a robust and open paperless manufacturing or MES system.  The goal of the software should be making your business better, working with your processes, and not dictating how your processes need to work.  We know manufacturing and software, but we’re still excited to hear how customers discover new ways to benefit from our software.

Many manufacturers believe their only option is a custom-built paperless manufacturing system, or a system built internally.  They fool themselves into believing an 18-24 month design and implementation project is necessary.     Many custom-built or form-based manufacturing systems are rigid by necessity, many times driven by extensive requirement lists, and end up delivering less functionality than a more open, adaptable system.

Want to know more?   Do you have the ability to use your shop floor methods in new and unexpected ways that excite the staff?  Is your shop floor empowered to use their system to maximize opportunity and find a “better way”? Stop by our new website ( and take a look at other new features we’re offering.  As always, we’re happy to answer any questions you have.