Monthly Archives: February 2014

Making Sense of MES: Template-based and Behavior-based Systems

For manufacturers engaged in process-improvement projects, the difference between success and failure is having the right shop floor software system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Humans love to categorize.  It helps us make sense of things.  We bring order out of chaos by putting things in their place, grouping the countless multitude into finite categories.

The problem is, sometimes we can be fooled into bad decisions by simplistic or faulty categorizations.  For example, take a look at shop floor solutions.  Software systems that monitor and support manufacturing operations, including paperless manufacturing, MES and MOM systems, can be grouped into two categories: template-based and behavior-based.  One category offers a clear advantage to shop floor process improvement.

Template-based Systems

A template-based solution requires people to conform their work to screens of information and specific sequences of data input.  Users work from the forms and

Process Improvement graph.

Sustainable and continuous process improvement requires the right tools and support system. Illustration by

templates that guide the work on the shop floor.  Think about the ERP screens that are highly formatted data collection vehicles which digest transaction information.  They can be easy-to-use, with a structured format that drives consistency, but the system struggles to adapt to changing processes or user needs.

There are many template-based systems on the market, and people routinely input data into them and digest output information with little regard for whether it improves efficiency or profitability.  These do the job, but there is little opportunity for improvement.  People just feed the information into the prepared slots, and gather instructions from other slots… which feels very Orwellian, but I digress.

Behavior-based Systems

A behavior-based system adapts to shop floor processes and behavior, including manufacturing work flow.  The architecture is structured around screens or windows users edit and reconfigure as needed.  Key data can be collected at any point in the process.  Users configure the screens, and attach or open the information they need.  The entire system can be quickly adjusted.  This way, the system adapts to support behaviors that produce an efficient and productive shop floor.  The system becomes a foundation and tool for process improvement because of the adaptability.

In a behavior-based system, one production line or area might require text-based work instructions and multiple measurements.  Another area in the same plant might use assembly work instructions with images or videos, and require only a few key quality data collections.  Behavior-based systems are flexible, designed to optimize work flow process through tools that promote and support behavior under control of local management.  A flexible behavior-based system can use existing work instructions enhanced by software tools with minimal set-up and preparation.

Supporting Shop Floor Process Improvement

Process improvement programs, such as Lean manufacturing or Six Sigma, optimally support a behavior-based shop floor solution.  The only way to optimize work flow is to configure the support system to best match the value-added activities at each point in the process.  Forms and fixed templates dictate a structure that limits adaptation.  In a template-based system, the shop floor processes will struggle to adjustments to improve the processes, adding a significant amount of non-value-added work.

Process Improvement strategies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma deliver measurable shop floor benefits.  Illustration by

Process Improvement strategies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma deliver measurable shop floor benefits. Illustration by

Process improvement requires behavior-adjustment, which template-based systems don’t promote.  For example, the Six Sigma process requires analysis of the work flow.  When a source of quality escapes is identified, processes will be changed to reduce variation.  A behavior-based system can be configured to the new process, and ensure the shop floor incorporates the new process into the work flow.

In this example, as a company improves steps in the work flow to reduce variation, data collection will change.  Using the same templates and forms after adjustments have been made will do nothing to promote a change in behavior.  Additionally, in a template-based system, moving material over to new templates will often require significant work, in addition to potentially expensive service charges for adjustments to the system itself.

The Secret to Successful Process Improvement

Success with Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and process improvement requires adaptation and adjustments to shop floor behavior.  You will need to change the flow of information, adjust data collection and record keeping in the support systems.  This can be done in phases across manufacturing operations.  This process isn’t how a template-based system is designed.  A behavior-based shop floor system is adjustable, supports process improvement, and offers a foundation for promoting behavior adjustment.

Look closely at the characteristics of the software system you evaluate.  Can you use your current work instructions with the system?  How much control do you have over the system?  Does it work with your process, or will you have to adjust your process?  The difference between a template-based system and a behavior-based system is the difference between successful continuous improvement and watching error-prone processes and inefficient behavior slowly take root again on your shop floor after a process improvement campaign.

Going for Gold on Your Shop Floor

With paperless manufacturing and an effective shop floor solution, finding a competitive edge for your shop floor isn’t as difficult as you might think.

By Kristin McLane, President, and David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

The winter Olympics in Sochi have dominated the news recently, and it’s gotten me thinking – the elite athletes in Sochi have dedicated their life to long hours, sacrifice and competition, and success at this level may be the difference between a microsecond on the clock and a wobble on a single jump.  Competitive edge is won through experience and dedication – the hours of work and endless training sessions shape their body, muscles and mind, developing the memory used to perform.  When the difference between first and second is so small, athletes need to capitalize on every possible advantage.

What can the Olympics teach us about the shop floor?

What can the Olympics teach us about the shop floor?

As I watched the Olympics, I began making connections to the work we do on the shop floor and the razor edge between success and failure.  Your shop floor is dedicated to getting work done on-time, on-budget, and on-plan.  The focus is on excellence.  Success and quality is determined by the narrowest of margins.

So, how does your shop floor stack up?  How do you measure yourself against competitors?  What metric do you use to validate the work you do is the highest standard?  How do you find the competitive edge?

Like athletes, the right equipment can give you an advantage.  While athletes find sponsors who generously donate the latest, most expensive, custom equipment, manufacturers can rarely afford that luxury.  Equipment rarely returns an ROI before the first several years of payments are made, making it impossible to keep up with the rate of change in technology. 

Where else can you turn to ensure success on your job floor?  You can hire the best employees and build a culture that rewards dedication and loyalty, but they can only work so many hours.  Even finding the best employees may be difficult with the manufacturing job skill squeeze. 

Paperless Manufacturing is one invest that benefits all areas of the shop floor.

Paperless Manufacturing is one invest that benefits all areas of the shop floor.

What about investing in one tool that touches on all these areas on your shop floor – a tool that helps your machines, operators, front office and quality control work better, faster and with fewer errors?  MES, or paperless manufacturing, manages information on the shop floor.  How do you get order information (what to make, how many and by when) to operators at the work center, and how effective is the information in improving production?  Paper-based work instructions (or even electronic media through and ERP or MSWord / Excel) limit your shop floor and ruin your competitive edge.  An effective shop floor system ensures synchronized operations, improves quality, reduces production time and eliminates errors.  You shop floor employees and machines work better, faster and with fewer errors.

You’ll find other ways a paperless manufacturing will benefit your business.  For example, a small investment in a paperless manufacturing system that enables shop floor mobility might be just the tool that propels you to an industry-leading position.  In the next few weeks, we’ll talk about mobile manufacturing, changes in the industry that we see, and how you can reach Olympic status in the industry without spending a fortune. 

Our industry is changing, faster than most of us imagine, and now’s the perfect time to build a competitive edge.  Watch here for more information, and let us know what you’d like to talk about! 

Are Your Paper-based Travelers Holding Back Your Shop Floor?

Inefficient, annoying, error-prone and wasteful, many times paper-based work travelers are the source of countless shop floor problems and might be holding production back.

 By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Many times, discussions about paperless manufacturing and MES focus on hard data (35% increase in production and a 45% decrease in quality defects – hurray!), the ROI or the global enterprise (real-time shop floor visibility and control, and sustainable process improvement and enforcement – alright!).  We forget to notice the little improvements that have the greatest impact on the shop floor – the things that make everyone’s life easier.  They bring joy, increased job satisfaction and improve the shop floor quality-of-life.  It may not directly impact the ROI, but it sure makes everyone happy.

Exhibit A: The Paperless Shop Traveler
What steps can you take to improve performance (and happiness) on your shop floor?  Illustration by

What steps can you take to improve performance (and happiness) on your shop floor? Illustration by

Face it, shop travelers that are a huge bundle of paper, checklists, drawings and data collections can be a major pain.  Those annoying bundles of work instructions and shop floor records that are painstakingly printed every morning, then laboriously assembled and bundled into plastic sleeves, bags, or bound together by pins, clips or whatever is on hand.  It makes its journey across the shop, carried by hand or thrown on a cart.  As changes happen, notes are added, papers removed and measurements made.  It’s dropped, spilled on, and crammed into corners.  Pieces are lost and critical information gets shuffled back and forth with everyone hoping nothing gets missed.  Let’s be honest, all that paper isn’t necessary!

When it’s all done, the records are stored away – those piles and piles (and piles) of records.  Maybe someone has to collect the data scrawled on the traveler, then (re)input the information.  Finally, it’s all shoved into a box and carted away to storage.  If you’re lucky, maybe you have a process that converts it to a pdf.  Maybe.

That’s what happens all too often.  Like I said… it’s annoying, inefficient and error prone.  The paper-based traveler is the source of headaches and frustration for many shop floors.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  An integral feature of paperless manufacturing is removing the unnecessary paper from the work traveler and leaving you with a format that makes sense for your shop process.

With Quantum or Interax and CIMx Software, each work order created is a separate file in the system.  Important details are part of the file, and easily accessible.  Work and set-up instructions, safety material, important training information and more are all attached to each work order, and can be accessed when and wherever necessary.  Most importantly, only the latest approved information can be accessed, and when needed change orders can be signaled through the system and made in just a few moments.  After all, there’s proof visual work instructions are far superior to paper-based ones.

From the shop floor, quality checks can be made and added directly to the work order, where it can be securely stored.  If there is a file or digital photo the shop floor wants to add to the file, it can be added with a press of a button.

From anywhere you have access to your network; you can track the progress of the paperless traveler with real-time information.  No more running to the shop floor asking questions, or flipping through pages to swap out flawed work instructions, or retroactive quality checks.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

When the work order is complete, it is securely stored in a digital archive.  You can access the file at any time, and a complete as-built record is a single button press away.  Forget the stress of audits, everything that needs to be done is done automatically.  Want to run reports on the data to help optimize production?  No problem.

Eliminating unnecessary paper from your work travelers may not be your primary reason for implementing a paperless manufacturing system, but it may be what your shop floor is most thankful for when the project is complete.  Shop floors are quickly moving paperless, so now is the time to get a head start on the process and a leg up on the competition.