Monthly Archives: April 2014

Uncovering the Real Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Curious to know the real benefits of MES, we asked a shop floor production team what the top benefits of the system were one month after their successful rollout.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Curious to know what benefits you will discover with your MES?  We asked the shop floor what they thought one month after installation.

Curious to know what benefits you will discover with your MES? We asked the shop floor what they thought one month after installation. Illustration by

Ever read a press release about an MES implementation project and marveled at the carefully worded quotes?  Full of buzzwords like, “synergistically,” or “significantly reduced (or increased)” and “comprehensively,” each press release reads like a carefully scripted marketing piece – only the names are changed.

Let’s be honest, you don’t read a press release for the truth.  The Vice President of What-everness quoted in the press release isn’t the one using the system, he’s following the script and looking at a report someone prepared for him.

Not long ago, we implemented a complete MES and Paperless Manufacturing system for a customer.  To help meet new FDA regulations, they needed the complete solution installed and implemented across their production lines in less than 4 months.  To uncover the “true” story regarding the benefits of MES and paperless manufacturing, we asked the shop floor production team what they thought about the software.  How is it making their life easier, their work better, and benefiting their operation?  Here are the “top” benefits they identified one month after the successful rollout:

Shop Floor Benefits of Paperless Manufacturing

  • Solving compliance and regulation challenges.  Meeting the changing FDA and customer regulations was a constant effort before the project, but the system has solved nearly all the challenges with minimal effort or extra work.  No other solution could provide so many answers in a single tool.
  • Real-time access to Quality Data.  Before implementing the solution, Quality Control (QC) was forced to wander the shop floor to collect data, or they would evaluate historical (and often outdated) data.  QC now has remote access to the real-time quality data of any order with the single press of a button.  According to the customer, Quality Control is now proactive, focusing effort on improvement.  Improving quality wasn’t a primary driver for the project, but the benefits from paperless manufacturing are exciting.
  • MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help you work better, faster and with fewer errors.  Illustration by

    MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help you work better, faster and with fewer errors. Illustration by

    No more paper.  Simply removing paper from the shop floor was a huge improvement.  Before the system, massive build books and orders were assembled and used, leading to piles and piles (and more piles) of paper. Paper (moving paper, organizing paper, using paper, fixing mistakes from paper, and more) was one of the top frustrations for many shop floor employees.  Now, paper is only used when and where it makes sense.   Records, orders and work instructions are digital and much easier to use.

  • Visibility of the shop floor.  Before the system, planners had research the progress of each order before planning work for the next shift – a time-consuming and error-prone process.  Now, planners have instant access to a dashboard updated in real-time for the status of each order. Time isn’t wasted creating status reports just so they can tell what orders to prepare.  Future work can be accurately planned with minimal effort.
  • Easier data collection and quality control.  The shop floor once had to write data collections and quality checks on a spreadsheet attached to the work travelers.  So much data had to be collected, it, “… gave everyone carpal tunnel.”  Collecting data interrupted work and slowed production.  Now, data is easily and accurately collected as work is completed, and is automatically attached to the relevant order, saving time and eliminating a frustration.
  • Process control, accountability, and visibility.  Prior to the system, it was difficult to enforce policies or shop floor improvement projects, or even implement a system of process enforcement.  Now it is much easier to implement a system to enforce best practices and track employee work.  Workers must now open plans before work begins, so revisions can be accurately communicated to the shop floor.  Through the as-built report, all work is tracked.  Everyone is accountable for their work – success and failures.  When corrective action on an order is needed, it can be done quickly and appropriately.  Overall, quality and productivity have significantly increased.
  • Library of planning.  All plans are stored in a single database under revision control, ensuring only the latest approved plans are used.  Planning has confidence they are using the “right” plan.  There is no need to research whether revisions have been made or not before the plan is added to an order.  Planning is easier and more efficient, and many of the errors that occasionally creep into work orders are eliminated.

Many times with an MES or Paperless Manufacturing implementation (especially an off-the-shelf system), there will be unexpected benefits that add significantly to the ROI.  For example, this system was installed to support data collection on the shop floor and help facilitate meeting FDA regulations.  These goals were met, but the shop floor is also benefiting from increased accountability.  Quality Control benefits from access to real-time quality data, and planners now work from a library of revision-controlled planning.  Each of these points, while not a primary focus of the project or a requirement, figured prominently in our discussion of the benefits of the system and was praised by the shop floor team.

Overall, the project has been extremely successful, and the customer is already looking at other ways the software can benefit their business.  Want to know more, or see how a system can benefit your shop floor?  Give us a call or leave us a message.  We’re happy to help.

When Is the Right Time to Install Paperless Manufacturing?

Too often, the benefits and ROI of shop floor improvement projects are lost as projects are delayed or postponed.  Learn how to maximize your benefit and discover the best time to install your system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't wait to install.  Maximize the benefit from your shop floor system.   Photo by

Don’t wait to install. Maximize the benefit from your shop floor system. Photo by

Many manufacturers see the advantages of MES and paperless manufacturing, but struggle with the final decision to implement the system.  The process becomes a waiting game, where the implementation team knows something needs to be done, but they delay waiting for the “right” time or some confirmation or signal (a planetary or astrology alignment, perhaps?).  Sometimes it’s a budget or resource concern (when will IT have time to help, or when will Procurement be ready to release the purchase order), but other times, it’s indecision or doubt that the operation is really ready… or maybe it is some mysterious omen everyone is waiting for?

This sounds silly, but the truth is while you wait, shop floor problems continue.  Profit is lost, quality is sacrificed and production struggles during this period.

Overcoming Indecision

The truth is, there is no “right” time (other than now) to begin a paperless manufacturing or MES project, but there are a few simple questions that will help determine if your shop is ready:

  • How much are the challenges facing your shop floor costing you?

It’s important to determine your potential ROI before installing a shop floor solution.  This helps focus your system on your greatest challenges.  Once you have an ROI, it is a simple matter to see how much money a delay in the project is costing you.  Consider this, the solution may be an investment, but the delay is an expense with absolutely no return.

  • What benefit will your customers get from your shop floor solution?

Rolling out a new shop floor system, with features such as real-time WIP (Work In Progress) dashboard and ECO management is added value and benefit to your customers.  No other shop floor solution delivers as much benefit to production as MES or Paperless manufacturing.  Take the opportunity to reconnect with your customers and introduce them to the shop floor and production improvements you’ve made.  Often the additional benefit will be the “sign” you’re looking for to initiate the project.

  • Can you maximize your benefit by understanding your business cycle?

According to the concept of cyclical investment in a business from International Trend Research Group (ITR), the right time to invest is during the down cycle in your business in order to maximize your capacity as business picks up.   This may seem counter-intuitive, but investment during the down cycle ensures your shop floor is positioned to maximize production during a business boom.

  • Can you use a phased implementation during installation?

A phased implementation allows you to select the features and capabilities the project focuses on, minimizing shop floor disruption and maximizing the ROI.  If you have a system that allows a phased implementation, there is little reason (other than budgetary and IT support) to delay the project.  Determine where you can achieve the biggest benefit and dive in.  Roll out new features when you are ready.

The Next Step

In a perfect world, once a manufacturer has made the decision to upgrade their production to a Paperless manufacturing system, the hard work is finished and the implementation will be a breeze.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but you can maximize your shop floor benefit by taking control of the implementation and working strategically to ensure a smooth transition from a paper-based to a paperless operation.

Want to know more, or learn how paperless manufacturing can benefit your shop floor?  Leave us a message or give us a call, we’re happy to help.

How to Win With a Manufacturing Shop Floor Pilot Program

Conducting a Pilot Program for your MES or Paperless Manufacturing system won’t guarantee project success, but there are clear benefits for the savvy shop floor.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever talk to someone in the manufacturing industry about a software pilot program?  Unfortunately, I don’t know of a topic more likely to kill a conversation at a dinner party (… “So, how’s your pilot program going?  Pass the biscuits, please!)  If it does happen to come up, you will quickly discover something we’ve come to accept.

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project.  Image by

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project. Image by

We call it the Shop Floor Pilot Program Conundrum – a strange place where multiple realities merge.

Here’s what I mean.  The vendor might see the pilot program as an extended demo, or as an easy way to get their foot on the shop floor and another step in the software sale.  The manufacturing executive sees it as an inexpensive vendor service and low risk way to confirm product selection.  The shop floor sees it as a pain-in-the-butt project from corporate.  Savvy shop floors, however, see it as a way to kick the wheels of a new toy and proof the sky is falling, and shop floor errors can be fixed with the right tools.  IT might be wondering how much work this will mean for them.

Benefits of the Pilot Program

The conundrum in all this… they may all be right.  In the end, there’s no “wrong” way to view the pilot program, but conflicting ideas can lead to missed opportunities that negatively impact the final project.  So, in our quest to de-mystify the conundrum, here are a few things a shop floor pilot program could (potentially) definitely do for you:

  • Define an achievable requirement list.  Many MES projects suffer from “requirement bloat” as everyone in the company offers their opinion on what the system should do.  A good pilot program will splash some needed reality on the requirement list.  It will focus the project on achievable requirements that make a positive impact on the business.
  • Build shop floor acceptance for the program.  Giving the shop floor team, who will be working with the new system the most, the chance to work with the software is a great idea.  Once they see the software won’t lead to robots replace people, but will help them do their job better, faster, and with fewer errors, they’ll work hard to make the project a success.
  • Low risk first step before a much larger investment.  Spending a little money to install the software on one line is much cheaper than buying all the equipment to install it everywhere before you know how it works.  This way, you can identify challenges early and will have a better idea of final cost of the total project.
  • Build a stronger case for an ROI.  Before you install the software, an estimated ROI will be mostly conjecture.  With a pilot program, you will have real shop floor data you can attach to the estimate to prove the ROI.  Plus, nothing can build an advocate for the project than an executive seeing firsthand the benefits of the investment and how it will work.

There are benefits to a pilot program.  They can help define a project, prove the ROI, and minimize risk.  But, if you begin your pilot project with false expectations, you end up with confusion.  The vendor isn’t sure what they’re offering, the shop floor isn’t sure what they’re getting and the executives aren’t sure what they’re buying.  No one is happy.

Eliminate confusion, and make sure you understand what the pilot program can do for you.  Have you been part of a successful pilot program in the past?  If so, what made it a success?  What did you do to eliminate confusion?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

6 Tips for Shop Floor Training That Works

For many, shop floor training means production downtime with no benefit, but it shouldn’t.  We offer a few simple tips to create a training program that delivers results.

 By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Make your shop floor training work for you and your team.  Image by

Make your shop floor training work for you and your team. Image by

I went to a training session not long ago for a new computer program.  It was held in the library of the local school.  I sat beside a poster of a cat falling off a tree with the words, “Hang in there!” written on the bottom.  I used a keyboard chained to the computer, and my knees bumped into dried gum under the desk.

“Now, I know you all are wondering if this training will work,” the moderator asked.

Damn right, I thought to myself.  First off, I don’t work anywhere near a poster of a cat, and I don’t use a keyboard I can’t move.  Next, the files I use are never just sitting on the desk top waiting for me to work on them.  Plus, if I’m already wondering if the training will work, then you haven’t done a good job of preparing the training!

Truth is, all too often training is thrown together at the last minute and no one is excited to be there.  It’s doomed to fail from the beginning.  With a little thought and planning you can deliver training that delivers measurable benefits to the shop floor, here’s six tips to get you started:

Shop Floor Manufacturing Training Tips That Work

  1. Give your shop floor access to training materials:

Context is important.  I’ll admit, sitting beside 4 copies of Charlotte’s Web and that kitten poster did not help me focus on ingesting digital files into an ERP.  In the same way, if you conduct training in a classroom or even as a webinar, are you giving the shop floor the right context for the training?  Training on the shop floor will always deliver a bigger benefit than training in other places.  Give them access to a library of training materials they can use when they need it most, not when it’s convenient to shove everyone in a classroom.

  1. Attach training to your work instructions:
Process Improvement graph.

Improve production results with visual work instruction and anchored instruction. Illustration by

Even better, you can offer training through your MES or paperless manufacturing system.  Attach training materials directly to the work instructions.  When the need for training comes up, users can go through the training as they work.  This is known as “Anchored Instruction,” or placing instruction in a meaningful, problem solving context.  Studies have shown knowledge and skills taught using Anchored Instruction are used quickly and more appropriately, with users developing expertise faster.

  1. Develop an accessible library of best practices:

The truth is, no book or instructor can deliver the real-world best practices of actual users, and all too often this knowledge is lost, becoming tribal knowledge totally dependent on the employee, not the organization.  A library of best practices will help capture this knowledge, ensure the information is not lost, and will become the basis of training that delivers real shop floor benefit.

  1. Utilize existing shop floor practices in the training:

Many times, it’s not the shop floor developing the training.  The instructor will develop “sample cases” to be used in the training, not actual work processes.  Even worse, the system users are being trained on doesn’t or can’t incorporate existing work processes.  This is especially true for template-based MES systems.

As much as possible, use existing work plans or operations for the training.  This will add context to the training and lend immediacy.  If you can’t use existing work operations or plans, then you may not have the right system installed.

  1. Ensure you have revision controlled work plans before conducting training:

Not long ago, I came across a shop floor using 4 different versions of a single work operation.  The operation was in 4 different plans, used by two different divisions, but it did the EXACT same work.  This became apparent during training, and led to a wasted day when work stopped and the confusion was sorted out.

This happens more than you might think.  Make sure your training is relevant by ensuring everyone is working from the same plans.  If you want to drive consistency and best practices on the shop floor, you need consistency in your work plans.

  1. Capitalize on visual work instructions:

At my training, I was given “supplementary materials” that would “enhance my work training.”  The supplementary material was simply a stapled packet of 8 pages going over the lessons.  There were no screenshots or pictures, just endless text.  A single screenshot showing me where the digital file went once ingested would have eliminated frustration and confusion.  Visual work instruction is an easy-to implement, but invaluable, tool for your shop floor.  For example, you can be sure you’re using the right part with a simple picture attached to the work instruction.


Drive consistency and increase production with shop floor training that works!  Illustration by

Drive consistency and increase production with shop floor training that works! Illustration by

I’ll be honest, my training that day was 8 hours.  I went back to the office and spent 5 hours trying to figure out how to ingest a digital photo.  It was 13+ hours of training for a 5 – 10 minute operation.  Since then, I haven’t used any of that training.  There was no context.  The world of the school library seemed distant from my work environment.

Training is necessary for any organization.  You need to onboard new employees, you need to build and develop critical skills and incorporate changes to processes and SOP (Standard Operating Procedures).  Rather than accept training as a necessary (and likely useless) task, turn it into an advantage for your shop floor.

How do you handle shop floor training?  What procedures have you implemented, and how are they working?  What could you do to quickly improve the results from your training procedures?  Let us know – we’d love to hear from you.