Monthly Archives: December 2013

Don’t Be Fooled by an MES Demo – Get the Truth Here!

Flashy demos have fooled many into hasty purchases that lead to buyer’s regret.  We’ll bust through the chicanery and peel back the curtain on MES and paperless manufacturing demos.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Have you ever seen an incredible trailer for a new video game – full of flash and action and scintillating graphics, only to purchase the game and discover it to be a clunky and awkward, with tech-backward gameplay designed to annoy more than amaze?

Don't be fooled by a flashy demo.  Take control and make sure you know what your MES can do?  Image by www.colourbox.com

Don’t be fooled by a flashy demo. Take control and make sure you know what your MES can do? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

If so, you must have missed the tiny message at the bottom of the last screen of the trailer that mentions how the flashy marketing ad DOES NOT contain or represent in-game graphics.  It’s easy to miss, especially with the sleight-of-hand companies utilize so effectively in advertising.

Unfortunately, MES and paperless manufacturing providers are under no obligation to offer even a cleverly hidden message during their demos.  This is why a company might select a computer system after a demo, and discover the system they purchased isn’t what they thought it would be.  It might require a major shop floor process change (one that your team isn’t prepared to make), or expensive service charges and customization just to match the promised functionality.

Here’s why – many companies “build” a demo for a presentation to illustrate how a product will work, instead of just showing you the product.   Companies that require long implementations (measured in months or years instead of weeks) or use products that require customization (or configuration as it is known now) are notorious for this.  If it’s going to take 6+ months to get your software ready for installation, do you really think they will knock out an honest demo before you’ve purchased anything?

Here are a few tips to help you cut through the demo hype:

  • Use your shop floor information in the demo.  Once you’ve signed an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), give the vendor a sample of your shop floor information.  How easily will your work instructions be integrated, and how much work went into the integration?  This will give you an idea of how long it will take to load your work instructions into the system, and what it will look like on the shop floor.
  • Go off-script.  Look for an opportunity in the demo to focus more closely at the functionality you need.  If shop floor data collection is what you need, then ask if additional data collection can be added to a work order.  Watch as they add it.  Going off-script will let you see how the system functions outside of the demo.
  • Is the product installation ready?  Many companies offer a product with a lower base cost, but a much higher service charge for configuration and installation.  During the demo, ask if the product is installation ready.  Could it be installed on-site after the demo?  Ask how large the installation and product team will be?  The answers you get will give you a better idea of what service costs you are looking at, and how much “configuration” (or customization) will go into the system you purchase.

Many times, there is a big difference between the product offered during a demo, and the one that is eventually installed on the shop floor.  Make sure you know what those differences will be before you make a decision.  A few questions and a little extra preparation can make the difference between a successful MES or Paperless Manufacturing installation, and a system that will hold your company back.

Want to learn more?  Give us a call or leave a message, we’re always happy to help.

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How We Can Make the Internet of Things Work for Manufacturing

The future is coming and carrying a wealth of production data, are you ready to capitalize on it?  Is your competition?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the term, Internet of Things (or, if I was a Cisco Champion, The Internet of Everything), but I quickly filed the term away for future consideration.  Yet, we are quickly coming to the point where we may soon be a cog in the grand Internet of Things machine whether we want to or not, and it’s going to have a tremendous impact on manufacturing.

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The Internet of Things is a conceptual world in which every object (a Thing) is given a Unique Identifier (UID) and the ability to automatically collect data and transfer it over a network without human or computer interface.  Currently, a Thing can be anything, from a sensor on your cell phone, to an RFID chip in a package, to a health monitor (such as the FitBit Flex) worn to track footsteps and your health.  In this way, everything operates in a giant system, continually collecting data to give a real-time assessment of a moment.  Still confused?  Consider it the first step toward living in the Matrix, or the tool the NSA is using to keep tabs on us.

According to Techtarget.com and modern computer theory, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a reality due to the, “… convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.”  With the recent increase in length of IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits with Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), we have a system in place to create the IoT.  According to Steve Leibson and TechTarget, with IPv6 “we could ‘assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.’” This means, we’ve built a system that can assign a UID to everything on our planet.  It’s not a question of can we build the IoT, but when – if we’re not already living there.

The result of the Internet of Things is more data, and more accurate data.  Previously, nearly all data was captured by humans punching buttons, typing or measuring – which lead to gaps in data, or data that was just plain wrong.  But, in the future, more (vastly more) accurate data will be collected with minimal effort – and it is up to us to make the most of it.

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Do you think your business will dodge this incoming deluge of actionable data?  Don’t bet on it.  Manufacturing is at the forefront of the IoT.  According to McKinsey & Co, “… 40% of the connected devices will be related to real time analytics of supply chains and equipment,” such as those used in manufacturing.

When I saw that statistic, and began considering what the Internet of Things will mean for the shop floor, I’ll admit – I was intimidated at first.  Many of us have enough trouble getting product out the door, let alone pouring over data gathered by the boxes in shipping, metal press machines, and the assembly line.  But that’s not thinking ahead, and it’s letting a potential advantage slip through our fingers. 

Now, more than ever, manufacturing needs to start looking at process control.  It’s time to see the shop floor not as a tool of the ERP or CRM (you know… a machine you crank-up so you can fill orders) but an integrated piece of a cohesive enterprise.

Choices and options.

The shop floor control provided by paperless manufacturing will ensure you capitalize on the data provided by the Internet of Things. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com.

Ask yourself, do you have process visibility and control?  Do you know where an order is before the RFID on your packaging does?  Do you have true shop floor control?  If the Internet of Things reveals a potential problem, are you confident in your ability to fix it before your business starts losing money?  How are you going to capitalize on real-time, actionable data your IoT-enabled enterprise will begin delivering?  Once your customers are plugged into the data the system is generating, are they going to like what they see?

Face it, the future is coming and paper-based work instructions won’t give you the control and visibility you need, so what are you going to do about it?  Give CIMx a call and let us show you how process control, visibility, and the Internet of Things can work for your business.

How You Can Make Manufacturing Collaboration Work for your Shop Floor

Knowledge-driven enterprises are using collaboration to successfully solve problems, but manufacturing struggles to use collaboration in the modern production environment.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes, you come across articles on the Internet you just have to investigate.

Here’s one.  It involves robots, stolen gold, missing treasure, NASA engineers, world-renowned oceanographers, and manufacturing.  A man named David Lang wanted to investigate the legend of missing gold deep underwater at the bottom of a well.  He recruited Eric Stackpole, a NASA Engineer, to create a sea exploration robot, known as OpenROV, to search for the treasure.  They offered free step-by-step instructions on building the robot on their website, and used crowdsourced modifications to improve the robot.

Don't waste your most valuable resource - your employees.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t waste your most valuable resource – your employees. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Crowdsourcing and manufacturing collaboration have vastly improved the original robot, and lowered the cost.  “That’s what actually makes the project so successful: rapid iteration,” one of the inventors said. “We can build one for the same price as a 1,000 (robots) and change on a dime.”

Think about that… two treasure-hunters have tapped into a problem-solving resource and found benefits that would be the envy of discrete manufacturing shop floors across the world.  Customer modifications and change orders are simplified without raising costs.  Quality and production improves.  Best practices are collected, and overall cost drops.

Yet, manufacturers struggle to create a collaborative work environment.  In fact, according to the latest estimates, manufacturing is growing less collaborative, as knowledge silos build and employees and their best practices retire and are lost.  Customers are demanding custom orders that manufacturers can’t meet.  Rapid iteration is difficult, if not impossible.  How can a shop floor work collaboratively when they can’t even be sure if the paper-based work instructions are correct?

I read the story of Lang, Stackpole and their hunt for missing gold and recognized a few lessons manufacturing should consider in the future:

  • Shop floor and process visibility is critical.  The free (and very visible) step-by-step instructions offered by Lang and Stackpole inspired crowdsourcing.  Real-time data collection and visibility, and integrated computer systems and shop floor assets, should be your goal.
  • Data collection is the key.  Process improvement and increased quality are important benefits of crowdsourcing and collaboration, and you can’t measure or compare improvements without rigorous data collection.
  • Shop floor process control ensures sustainable collaboration.  Paper-based work instructions are too rigid to be sustainable.  Look at paperless manufacturing to improve collaboration.
  • Improved communication builds collaboration.  The OpenROV website and forum allows users to easily share ideas.  Real-time data collection and visual work instructions is a good beginning to improving collaboration.
  • A complete communication network using flexible computing platforms builds collaboration and eliminates knowledge silos.  Custom-built programs and legacy systems are the foundation for tribal knowledge in many companies.
The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

So, if two guys looking for gold at the bottom of the well can do it – improve production through collaboration – why do we manufacturers with all our innovation, resources and know-how struggle to make it work?

Admittedly, Lang and Stackpole don’t have much regulation to worry about and amazingly low overhead, but there is a benefit to collaboration the industry is recognizing.  The ideas presented here shouldn’t be seen as a checklist for collaborative success, but goals that will help foster a more collaborative manufacturing enterprise.

Have you considered collaborative manufacturing before?  If so, what steps have you taken to create a shop floor that works collaboratively or uses crowdsourcing?  Let us know!