Monthly Archives: March 2014

Exploring the Modules “Myth” in MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Many products out there offer “modules” for their MES or Paperless Manufacturing system, but the additional functionality often comes with potential problems for the customer.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Last week I bought a new bed.  Made of dark wood, very sleek and modern, it was to be the centerpiece of a remodeled bedroom.

Problems quickly became apparent as I assembled the bed.  Who knew it needed a $120 dollar brace to support the box spring?  My current mattress didn’t fit the modern design (even though the instructions insisted it did).  The headboard couldn’t be turned when assembled, so the bed would only fit along one wall in my room.

It was a beautiful bed in the store, but the individual pieces never fit quite right.  Many MES and paperless manufacturing projects using “modules” turn out like that – none of the pieces fit right.

Hidden dangers of MES Modules

Are you building problems into your modular MES?  Are you creating unnecessary complexity in your paperless manufacturing?  Photo by

Are you building problems into your modular MES? Are you creating unnecessary complexity in your paperless manufacturing? Photo by

Before you consider a system offering modules, ponder a few potential problems you may be building into your system:

  •          Module sticker shock

Many times, a vendor will demo a highly configured or customized version of their software for a potential customer, and then offer “modules” instead of a complete, fully integrated product.  This leads to a massive case of sticker shock when the installed system, pieced together from different modules, is nothing like the product featured in the demo.

  •          The module service-frenzy

Once you buy your modules, you need to have them installed and integrated.  This means you aren’t just purchasing the software, but the services necessary to put it all together in a usable package.  These costs add up.  Savvy vendors know that, so they offer a lower initial cost for the software and make up the difference in service charges.  It may seem like you are saving money purchasing “only” the functionality you need, but unless you are buying a complete system you are going to pay for additional service costs.

  •          Module genealogy

The truth is – it’s a dynamic MES and paperless manufacturing market.  Companies are often bought, sold, split or combined, and many times the module a company offers was purchased from another company.  Rather than building functionality organically, the vendor tries to cram a whole new product into their offering.  The module was never designed as part of the original product.  Integration will require custom coding and adaptation.  The modular product quickly becomes very complex, and the final product is never an optimized solution.

  •          The Franken-module

Integrating the software with existing systems is a key step in a successful installation, and a complex integration will add to the cost and risk of any project.  When considering a MES or paperless manufacturing system using modules, consider each module as a separate installation.  Each module must integrate not only with your existing systems, but with the other modules.  Modular software systems quickly become exponentially complex and expensive.  As you select modules for installation, consider how much integration and customization will be required to make it work.

  •          Module training day(s)

In a modular system, each piece must (somehow) work separately from the others.  It may require a separate login, or use a different User Interface or even a separate database.  This adds to the complexity of operating the system, and leads to additional training for the system and operational complexity.  Over the life of your software solution, those costs, which at first seem minor, can quickly add up.

Exposing the Module Myth

Choices and options.

Don’t be confused. Make sure the product you demo is the product installed on your shop floor. Illustration by

There are vendors that offer MES modules like a “menu” of functionality.  They present it to potential customers as a “configured” system designed to meet their specific shop floor and enterprise needs.  But software doesn’t work like that.

If you purchase different software packages then cram it all together to create a modular product, that product is custom software.  Pull out a few pieces for an installation, that’s a piece of custom software.  This will lead to higher costs, more risks, and potentially more problems on your shop floor.  You end up with a confusing system of Rube Goldberg-ian complexity.

A lower cost, wholly integrated software package that allows you to turn on and off the functionality you want or need will install and configure more easily with a much lower total cost of ownership.  Plus, you won’t have to return the system when you realize it’s missing a few vital components.

Unraveling the Mystery of Dynamic Scheduling in Manufacturing

For any company looking to improve manufacturing production through dynamic scheduling, the first step is making sure you have the right tools in place to make it work.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few years back, I bought a brand new Blu-Ray player.  When I opened up the package, I realized I needed a longer HDMI cable.  So, I bought one, then plugged in a movie… only to discover I needed an Internet connection.  The tiny instruction manual, filled with mysterious illustrations and illegible phrases, didn’t help.

I was annoyed enough to throw that Blu-Ray in the trash and pull out a Betamax tape (if I had one).  But, when I finally got the system working and watched the first movie… the work was worthwhile.

Unfortunately for many companies, implementing a dynamic scheduling system can be a lot like my experience with Blu-Ray.  Getting full benefit from the system will require having the right tools in place.

Understanding Dynamic Scheduling

With the right tools, dynamic scheduling will improve shop floor production.  Illustration by

With the right tools, dynamic scheduling will improve shop floor production. Illustration by

Dynamic scheduling systems will account for machine workload and set-up times, the daily workload, resources, incoming orders and priorities to schedule daily work to ensure optimal production. 

Most scheduling is reactive, with work being done in response to production needs.  As work comes in, the shop floor adjusts to complete it.  Dynamic scheduling is proactive, with the schedule being adjusted to maximize production.  A dynamic scheduling system should adjust production to minimize resource (machine breakdown, tool failures, QC issues) or job-related (rush jobs, cancellations, or ECO’s) issues and ensure optimal use of shop floor resources. 

But, dynamic scheduling isn’t enough to optimize production.  The system requires two important components to work effectively: Real-time information and shop floor process control.

Real Time Process Visibility and Control

Real time information is a necessary component of any dynamic scheduling system.  In some systems, information might be obtained from shop floor machines or a reporting system, but data obtained from these sources may not be real time, or may offer an incomplete picture of production, and the dynamic schedule produced from these sources will be flawed.  Shop floors often struggle to adjust to the inaccuracies.

In addition, the pace of change on the shop floor requires production react quickly to schedule changes.  The more time it takes to move resources to meet changing schedule needs, the less effective the system.  For some shop floors that lack process control, a dynamic scheduling system will actually hinder production as resources struggle to meet the scheduling needs, rather than completing work.

The Advantage of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

An MES or paperless manufacturing system delivers the necessary process control and visibility for dynamic scheduling to have a positive impact on production.  The MES will collect real time shop floor data that can be used to create a truly effective production schedule.  In addition, the system will allow instantaneous communication between the production team, ensuring vital information is where it needs to be when it is needed.

The MES acts as a conduit for the dynamic scheduling system.  Real time data is fed from the shop floor through the MES to the scheduling system.  Schedules are created, and then the MES efficiently manages information on the shop floor to deliver process control necessary to maximize the benefit of dynamic scheduling.

It’s an efficient, closed loop information system that works and will benefit production in a nice, neat package… unlike the instruction manual that came with my Blu-Ray.

Discover the Truth of MES Implementations

We offer a few simple tips that can help you discover the truth in the “implementation” claims in the MES and Paperless Manufacturing Market.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Deciphering the truth in vendor claims about MES and Paperless Manufacturing implementations can be a challenge, unless you're armed with the right questions to ask. Illustration by

Deciphering the truth in vendor claims about MES and Paperless Manufacturing implementations can be a challenge, unless you’re armed with the right questions to ask. Illustration by

Have you ever tried to implement desert-time with a clever and determined five-year old and his sweet-tooth?  The other day, I was wrapping up dinner at a friend’s house.  His son wanted dessert – a cookie.  I told him to pick out a “small-one,” and he came back with an entire plate full of broken cookies and a mouth already covered in crumbs.  “What happened to picking out a small one?” I asked.

“These are all small,” he argued.  “I just cracked them, see?”

Making sense of “implementation” claims from MES vendors can be a lot like managing a five-year old at dessert time.

The other day, I came across a news release from an MES vendor that celebrated a “rapid deployment” and implementation of the software in just under six months. This was the result of the “… robust, out-of-the box solution.”  My first thought was six months feels like a LONG time to deploy a true out-of-the-box solution (unless you keep the solution in a really confusing box).  Then I wondered at how long other implementations might be for these customers?  If six months is a “rapid” deployment, then what time frame are we talking about for a long deployment?  Years?

It reminded me of the difference in definitions of “a small one” when it came time for dessert with a five-year old.

Making Sense of MES and Paperless Manufacturing Installations

I’m not trying to single out systems, vendors or claims.  The truth is, there are many definitions for deployment and implementation, and every shop floor and enterprise is different.  In this industry, it is difficult to judge an industry claim due to variations in our definition of “implementation” or even when a project is complete.  This is why it’s important not to take “deployment” claims at face value, and to ask a few key questions before anyone heads to the cookie jar, including:

Not asking the right questions when researching MES can lead to project problems. Illustration by

Not asking the right questions when researching MES can lead to project problems. Illustration by

  • How much customization (or configuration) will the project require?  Many vendors claim to have an “out-of-the-box” solution when all they have is a box of tools that require “configuration” to install and fit your needs. The larger the customization the higher the potential total cost of ownership and the longer implementation schedule.
  • Is there a method and technology to integrate the software with other systems?  Too often, the software is installed quickly, but the service costs creep up during phase 2 as custom work is done to integrate it with the ERP or other enterprise systems.
  • What is the average service cost for installing the software?  There are vendors out there who will sell software at a lower cost, with the intent to make up the difference in service charges during and after the implementation.  Having a clear idea of service costs will help determine a true price for the installation.  An out-of-the-box solution, by definition, must have lower service costs than license cost.
  • Will the initial implementation offer full system functionality?  Some vendors offer systems as a series of “modules” that are cobbled together like Frankenstein.  Each piece of Frankenstein may work individually, but the whole system will need additional work to meet your shop floor needs.  A group of boxes stacked together is not an out-of-the-box solution.
  • How will your existing work plans be entered into the system?  Many systems, especially template-based systems, can’t use your existing work plans.  Once the software is installed, you’ll face the massive task of getting all that data into the system in a strange format you need to learn and may have difficulty supporting.
  • How much training is required?  Systems that are too complex or won’t meet the shop floor need might be installed quickly, and then end up as shelfware.  Complexity rarely translates to productivity or efficiency.
  • How much shop floor disruption will the installation and training cause?  Six months may seem like a “rapid deployment,” but production lines down during installation will impact your ROI.

The truth is, you shouldn’t make a decision based on claims.  Minimize risk and cost by asking a few simple questions before signing a contract.

Get the facts and find a software provider you can trust, or you might be left with a plate full of broken cookies instead of the shop floor system you expected.

Insider Tips on Calculating ROI for Your Shop Floor

CIMx Software offers simple tips that take the fear out of calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or shop floor software solution project.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or MES project is easy with our insider tips.  Illustration by

Calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or MES project is easy with our insider tips. Illustration by

Calculating ROI is a dreaded task for many shop floor solution and paperless manufacturing committees.  The final ROI estimate is an uncomfortable marriage of budget, estimate, faith, conjecture, arcane formula, and (sometimes) chicanery – among other things.

We all know it, which is why many committees are stymied when it comes time to create and present an ROI.  For most companies, there is no right or wrong answer, and most times there is no “auto-calculate.”  The final result comes down to a “reasonable” guess based on a mix of fact and estimate, which leads many to question how to even begin the process.   

Never fear, we’ve collected tips, thoughts and ideas on how to get started with a common-sense ROI that will win over the most critical judge.

Calculating the cost of a Paper-based Shop Floor

Start your calculation by looking at your present shop floor.  Consider it a baseline for your calculation.  In every paper-based production shop we’ve encountered, the following is true:

  1. There are employees involved in preparation, distribution and then collection work instructions, work orders, travelers and quality data collection forms.  Many times, these employees are better used in important production tasks;
  2. Change is a way of life on the shop floor. ECOs (Engineering Change Orders) happen, and are approved and distributed – sometimes long after production is complete.  ECO’s distributed after production often require rework or scrap;
  3. Poor instructions, missing information, and misunderstanding about work to be done result in costly errors;
  4. Audits by regulators or customers to certify quality processes in a paper environment takes (significant) time and resources away from production.   Missing information, misplaced records, and data collection errors results in inadequate and costly audit results;
  5. Record keeping – the shuffling, organization, and storage of paper records – is labor-intensive especially in a shop that is growing and expanding.
Where are you leading your shop floor?  Illustration by

Where are you leading your shop floor? Illustration by

All of these activities take time, resources and money.  Often, these costs increase in direct proportion to increased production.  None of them directly impact or improve production.  These activities, and many others like them, are costly.  For each issue you identify, calculate or estimate a cost.  Even if the actual cost is not known, you can begin with an estimation.  For example, if 5 employees were involved in collecting data for an audit, then determine the cost in manpower for the audit.  Look at the effort and cost of record keeping, and begin assigning costs (including paper storage, manpower, and mistakes).

 Estimate the Savings of the Solution

The items and issues above are directly addressed (in various ways) by a paperless manufacturing solution.  Most times, a company researching a paperless manufacturing solution will have one or two key issues as the focus of their search.  They seek a simple, low-cost, low-risk solution to eliminate a problem, save time and money, and gain better control and visibility of production.

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

Don’t let fear hold your shop floor back. Photo by

When calculating an ROI for a potential paperless manufacturing solution, look at the issues the system solves.  For example, does the solution offer:

  • A technology proven to eliminate the need for paper work flow, and the cost and errors that occur using paper.

If the solution eliminates the need for paper, then add the savings you gain from eliminating paper distribution, and the errors you incur from using paper on the shop floor.

  • Creation of automatic as-built and a digital record of production.

A solution that offers automatic record-keeping will eliminate the cost, frustration and errors of record-keeping.  This should also eliminate the cost (in both time and work) and stress associated with audits and assembly of production records for customer services.  Add these savings to your ROI.

  • Improved digital work instructions, work orders, and shop floor data collection.

Digital work instructions and shop floor control and visibility are the heart of paperless manufacturing.  Look at the improvements the system will make to work orders, and determine the mistakes, error and quality escapes that will be eliminated.  Calculate the cost in scrap and rework to the ROI.  Also, digital work instructions should significantly improve production overall.  Add this savings to the ROI. 

  • Change management and shop floor visibility.

Look at the costs incurred by change management, including scrap and rework.  Look at the cost of job tracking.  A system that successfully manages change and offers real time visibility will save on these costs.

Once you’ve matched the solutions provided by the system to the expenses you’ve identified in the previous step, you’ve begun assembling your ROI.

Other Considerations
Take the confusion out of building an ROI estimate with these insider tips. Illustration by

Take the confusion out of building an ROI estimate with these insider tips. Illustration by

There is more to be considered when calculating ROI.  Look at the costs and expenses that you may incur with the new system.  Beyond the base cost, maintenance and any license fees, consider other potential high cost features of the system, such as:

  • Can the solution be easily installed?  Look for systems that can be installed in phases.  This will minimize the installation time, risk, and the disruption and changes to production.
  • Does the solution offer simple options for integration into other systems to share data or files?
  • Does the solution use non-proprietary hardware and software?  This will allow self-support if desired, and minimize service charges.
  • What is the cost of upgrades to the software?  Free lifetime upgrades allow the shop floor to take advantage of new technology and avoid obsolescence.

Study the system for other potential costs, and consider these as you calculate the ROI.


With most paperless manufacturing research projects, as the solution is uncovered and the features and the functionality are revealed, there is a flush of excitement.  But, as the work of calculating and creating an ROI begins, the excitement fades.  But it shouldn’t be that way.

Creating an ROI should be a simple matter of identifying issues on the shop floor, calculating the cost of the issue, and assigning a savings to the solution.

Want to learn more, or see how we can help your shop floor create an ROI for a shop floor solution, let us know!  We’re happy to help.