Monthly Archives: October 2013

What to Do When Fear is Holding Your Shop Floor Hostage?

This time of year, when ghost and ghouls are top of mind, it’s a good time to look at the fears that hold so many manufacturers back from taking the next step to improve their operations with paperless manufacturing.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't let fear hold your shop floor back.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

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

We all have fears.  Mine is mice and rats.  I saw a mouse once run across my kitchen floor once and almost run into my foot.  After that, I refused to go back in the kitchen for a week or more.  It sounds silly, I know.  But fear makes us do crazy things and ends up holding us back.  It’s like this weight we can’t drop, even when we know it is completely unreasonable.

Many times, fear holds a shop floor back from embracing a solution they know will fix the problems facing them.   Businesses sacrifice success because they embrace fear.  Maximizing production, improving operations, innovation, increased quality, reduced scrap, and schedule reliability all sound good, but there are times it’s simply not enough to overcome fear.

We’re going to help you conquer those paperless manufacturing fears with 5 simple, common-sense ideas that will help you embrace innovation (safely) and (reliably) improve your shop floor operations.  Let’s start with….

1)      Trust

Many times we end up not trusting our instincts and second-guessing ourselves when it comes to selecting a software provider.  We’ve seen this many times when companies decide to build a solution themselves (almost never a good idea) or select the largest company with the biggest name instead of picking the best solution.  Don’t let fear keep you from selecting the best solution.

2)      Pilot Program

Are you really scared the program won’t work for you?  Why not test it through a smaller pilot program?  Select a single line to install the program and judge the results.  You’ll get the assurance you need and the data to support a decision before rolling the solution out to your whole operation.  Not only that, if the vendor balks at letting you install a pilot program, you can be sure there is a higher-level of customization to the solution, or a hefty amount of service charges waiting for you on the final bill.

3)      Upgrade costs

I hate to tell you, but there is NO final shop floor control solution.  Ten years ago, the Cloud, 3D printing, and mobile manufacturing sounded more like science fiction than modern manufacturing.  Imagine what manufacturing will be like ten years from now.  Take a look at the costs to upgrade your potential system.  Having a clear plan to upgrade the system will take the fear of obsolescence out of the equation.

Overcome fear and find solutions for your shop floor.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Overcome fear and find solutions for your shop floor. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

4)      Guaranteed price

Did your vendor offer you a guaranteed, not-to-exceed price for the project?  Do you know what service costs you will incur?  Many software vendors offer a lower initial cost, and then end up charging significantly higher service fees for basic features or necessary functions.  Others require “upcharges” for basic installation services.  Knowing the price before the project starts will eliminate these fears.

5)      Who is in control?

Ask yourself, who is controlling the project?  Is the installation plan focused on your priorities, or do you see a lot of work being done with fees and charges growing with little focus on your priorities?  The primary goal of any manufacturing solution is to deliver results for your shop floor and eliminate the challenges holding you back.  If you feel like the project has grown out of your control, you’re probably right.  Make sure you are in charge of the project.

There are risks in manufacturing and manufacturing software solutions, but there are ways to mitigate risk and ensure the system is truly focused on meeting your business needs.  Years ago, CIMx recognized a number of “industry standards” we felt weren’t customer-focused.  Many companies were justifying their practices as the cost of doing business.

We’ve worked hard to eliminate the risks that cause fear and make sure the project is focused on you.  That’s why we offer a guaranteed maximum price.  We use a Phased Implementation to give you control of the project and eliminate unnecessary cost and risk.  We offer free upgrades with our licensing agreement, and assign an Application Engineer as a partner to you, instead of a help desk.

Want to learn more?  Give us a call, we’re happy to talk.

Is Your Shop Floor Hammering to Make It Fit?

Most manufacturers know quality and efficiency would suffer if they asked their shop floor to use the wrong tool, but all too often that’s what happens when a shop floor uses an ERP to do the work of an MES.

By Kristin McLane

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Hammer to fit.  It’s a term we use at CIMx to talk about the inevitable moment in manufacturing when you realize your sub-assemblies don’t fit properly, or a part is a little bit off.  Many times, the solution is to tap, bang, press, cajole or weasel the part back into place.  It’s not a best practice, and I’m sure no credible manufacturing expert ever proudly claimed to be the best at “hammering it in place.”  But, if you’ve ever been on a manufacturing shop floor, you know there’s not a lot of time to stand around (or at least there shouldn’t be).  Many times you do what you can to keep the process moving, but hammer to fit is NOT the optimal manufacturing process.

Here’s the point… in the low tolerance, highly-engineered world of discrete manufacturing… or, to be honest, all manufacturing today, I don’t think anyone ever wrote “hammer to fit” in the work instructions.  There is always a solution for making the parts fit and the customer wouldn’t accept something that was done any other way.

In fact, many times there isn’t even a hammer available on the shop floor.  A hammer is the least seen tool in the tool crib.  I’ve seen drills, saws, all kinds of tools that attach or separate objects, but rarely have I ever seen a hammer.  So if we don’t really hammer parts to fit them together (really – most times we take it apart and make it right), then why do many of us try to make our supporting tools – such as software, applications and processes – do things they weren’t built for?  Using the wrong tool for shop floor control and visibility is like writing “hammer to fit” in your work instruction and expecting efficient operation and quality results.

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve been banging on the topic of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) versus MES (Manufacturing Execution System) for a while now.  We started a dialogue on why you need both – and you do – and what each system does.  An ERP system, naturally or through the use of add-on functions, simply cannot do what an MES does. It’s not built to deliver the process control or visibility the shop floor needs.

If you need to track, bill, order, sell or report on something, use your ERP.  But if you need to build, use an MES.  Simply put, the MES builds things while the ERP tracks.  Trying to use one system to do the work of the other is using a tool to do a job it wasn’t meant to do.  You can make it look like it fits, but the solution isn’t efficient and it won’t last, won’t perform, it’s probably costing you money, and it most certainly isn’t supporting your shop floor the way you need it to.

If you need an ERP, there are lots of vendors out there that provide the window into your data an ERP gives you.  If you need shop floor and process control and information management, then use an MES.  Talk to us, we’re happy to help.  Visit us at www.cimx.com.

A Simple Solution to Shop Floor Struggles

For anyone who wonders if paperless manufacturing is a viable solution to their shop floor troubles, a lesson in social history provides the answer.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few months ago, I spent some time at a bed and breakfast deep in the Appalachian Mountains – far from the urban sprawl.  There was one power line; phone access consisted of a satellite phone and a single cliff that had decent cell reception.

The first night was nice.  The scenery was gorgeous and the quiet serenity absolutely relaxing.  The next day was… disconcerting.  With only one TV, most of the news came via a morning paper.  It felt old and outdated.  There was no internet access, no cell reception, and no way to touch the world or even reliably communicate.

What can the power of the Internet do for your shop floor? Image  by www.colourbox.com

What can the power of the Internet do for your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Without the Internet, I had no visibility.  I felt like I had no control.  To get any real time facts, reliable information, or make a phone call, I had to drive 30+ minutes.  It reminded me of the world before the Internet, or life on a shop floor without paperless manufacturing.

Did I get your attention?  Consider this – many production environments have disconnected islands of automation, with information scattered across several media.  Real-time information requires you to be there.  Accessing information, collating data, and even communicating within your organization is a struggle.  Many companies have limited ability to analyze and improve the work flow process – sounds a lot like life before the Internet.

Everyone has their own unique view and definition of the Internet (including the late Senator Ted Stevens who was sure it wasn’t a big truck, but a series of tubes).  If you look beyond the conveniences at the true value of the Internet, it has become a vehicle to collect, consolidate and communicate information between people anytime and anywhere.  The Internet has removed geographic distance as a limitation on human endeavor.  It gives everyone access to a single, convenient source of information.  The Internet gives us visibility and control, which many shop floors are still struggling to find.

With paperless manufacturing, remove the silos of information holding your company back. Image by www.colourbox.com

With paperless manufacturing, remove the silos of information holding your company back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The goal of paperless manufacturing is to bring the power and convenience of the Internet to manufacturing.  Paperless manufacturing collects, consolidates, sorts and communicates information between people in the company anytime and anywhere.  It collects and preserves production data while providing instant access to each element of the work flow.  Paperless manufacturing saves historical data to help shape the future of the company.  It eliminates the “silos” of knowledge.  No more disconnected reports with information 2+ weeks old, missing data, unreliable analytics, reactive quality control, or bits of information hiding in multiple formats.

No more disconnected (but stunningly beautiful) information-vacuum-like bed and breakfast sitting inside your company and holding you back.

This does not mean you are opening your company up to the horrors of the Internet (and I will admit, there are horrors out there).  Paperless manufacturing uses the concept of the Internet to provide you with the tools and power connectedness – a rich reservoir of information at your fingertips all the time and instantly available.  It gives your team a location to store all the data they accumulate, and an easy way to access it when you need to.   You have the security of firewalls and encryption, but the convenience of an enterprise Internet you control.

The Internet has made a dramatic difference in our lives, and paperless manufacturing can potentially make an equally dramatic difference for your shop floor.  I can remember many arguments against the Internet (including a neighbor who swore robots were spying on her through the Internet), but the power of technology has shaped our world, ultimately for the better.  Paperless Manufacturing is here – what are you waiting for?

Overcoming Invisible Stop Signs Holding Your Shop Floor Back

An MES and an ERP are very different systems, and if you don’t understand the role each play, you may be hurting your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback recently on our discussion of the differences between MES and ERP.  Obviously there is a real need for information out there, and some confusion on the topic.

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back.  Image by www.colourbox.com

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The confusion is understandable.  A quick search online reveals little information on why it is important for manufacturers to have both systems.  ERP vendors focus on why an ERP is important, and MES vendors focus on their shop floor capability.  Many ERP vendors even market MES offerings or modules.  It is easy to believe an ERP can do it all, leading many manufacturers to struggle with a less than optimal system.

But, as we have said, the ERP and MES play different roles and use different structures.  The ERP is a transactional system.  It logs transactions, one at a time, and creates an ordered system for filing and retrieving the information.  An ERP will use the information to analyze patterns and trends – data tools focused on historical information.

Since the ERP is focused on collecting and analyzing historical data, it’s not designed to process a flow of information.  It sees data points, not operations.  Data points work great in finance, and are necessary for invoices, bills, payments, customers, and other transaction-driven business functions typically handled by the ERP.

The shop floor isn’t transaction-driven, it’s process-driven with a focus on completion of work, not just collecting and organizing information.  Information on the shop floor could include formulas, engineering drawings, safety precautions, quality metrics –process-driven information.  Many of these are inherently if/then processes, which cannot be handled effectively by a transactional system.

For example, think of a non-conformance on the shop floor.  In a transactional system, data would be logged and organized.  In a process-driven system, the information would be logged, and a next step in the process would be activated (if X happens, then Y).  It is an important difference.  An MES offers a clear advantage over an ERP in this case.

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control?  Image by www.colourbox.com

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  The ERP works like a stop sign on the road.  When a transaction happens, data is entered into the system.  No further action can occur until the data is in the system.  As data is entered, the next car (data) waits until the preceding one is complete.  Think of an invoice.  It enters the system, and until it is entered no payment can go out or funds be collected.  This is an efficient system for invoicing, but the stop sign, starting and stopping will slow shop floor work, and become detrimental to productivity.

An MES and paperless manufacturing work more like a traffic circle or roundabout.  Shop floor work should move at a steady, continuous pace.  The roundabout will manage traffic and movement.    Progress is managed, visible, continual and controlled.

Don't sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Don’t sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Shop floor processes operate the same way.  Work progresses evenly throughout the day and across the floor, with the MES not only collecting data and marking progress, but driving and controlling it.  Different groups or individuals may need to come together to work on a specific process.  Work will speed up or slow down naturally as the work orders come in and are filled.  The MES will manage the process.  It continually provides directions for each step, one at a time and as a whole.

Stop signs are a detriment to progress, and are the least efficient way of moving processes and work.  They may keep things from running into each other, but they aren’t going to increase productivity.  An ERP is designed to manage, record and analyze business processes, while an MES is designed to boost productivity, deliver shop floor visibility and manage shop floor processes.

Any ERP that promises to do both is either fooling you, selling you two individual systems, or not fulfilling either role effectively.

What Can Visual Information Do For Your Shop Floor?

The key to increasing productivity isn’t always a new machine or process, it can be as simple as an adjustment to your work instructions.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are shop floors still relying on paper build books and spreadsheets of work instructions to feed information to the shop floor.  The entire manufacturing operation relies on the smooth transmission of information from engineering, to the build book, to the worker who then acts on it.  Which leads to the question… is the information getting where it needs to be?  How much of the work instruction is the shop floor actually retaining?

Adding visual information to your work instructions can improve retention of information by as much as 83% more than text only work instructions. Image by www.colourbox.com

Adding visual information to your work instructions can improve retention of information by as much as 83% more than text only work instructions. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Would you believe only about 20%?   According to psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University, studies have shown people only remember or retain 20% of what they read.  That means, the shop floor is only working from every FIFTH word in that incredibly well-written and pointedly accurate operation.  Critical errors can happen in the missing words 1 -4.  Add in the speed of work and the confusion on the shop floor and that number goes down even further.

Written instruction in a build book is not an effective way to transmit information, leading to mistakes.  Quality is sacrificed, rework is increased, and you are left with a frustrated work force.  Productivity and efficiency goes down because you don’t have an effective way to communicate with your shop floor.

The solution is much easier than you might think.  According to a recent study by the US Department of Labor, 83% of all learning is done visually.  Another study by the Wharton School of Business compared visual and verbal presentations and found presentations with a visual element were 67% more persuasive than purely verbal ones.  According to Bruner, we retain 80% of information transmitted visually and verbally.

Visual information is the key to improving productivity and eliminating errors on the shop floor by engaging more of the brain, ensuring a higher percentage of retention, according to a study by UC Berkley.  Adding a few images and a short video to your instruction will significantly improve productivity over verbal or written communication.  The quicker your work force can pick up new information, and the more accurate the transmission of information, the more productive your shop floor will be.

Moving your work instructions from text or spreadsheet paper-based formats to a format that incorporates visual information is an easy process with an MES or paperless manufacturing system.  Simply adding photos of the steps toward the finished product to digital work instructions will significantly improve understanding and quality.  Use a smart phone to take a quick video of a machine set up with a little running dialogue, and you’ll benefit from less errors and quicker production.  Rather than simply list out the materials and tooling for a job, add a caption below a photo of each tool to ensure to improve production.

Even better, with a library of approved plans built within the MES, you can eliminate rework and focus on improvement with each operation.  Once you’ve created a visual work plan, you can reuse it again and again.

I hate to mention such an overused saying – a picture IS worth a thousand words, but it’s also worth improved quality and production on the shop floor when matched with a paperless manufacturing system.