Monthly Archives: May 2014

A New Vision of Mobile Manufacturing

Don’t be fooled, mobile manufacturing requires more than just an app.  It requires an integrated mobile solution delivering shop floor functionality on the go.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I love music.  A few years ago I wanted a new stereo system.  I had a single requirement – I wanted to use my MP3 player with the sound system.  I wanted to throw parties, fill the house with music that fuels the fun.  Problem was – I didn’t do my research.  I bought a system with the words “MP3 Compatible” in big, bold letters on the box.

Unfortunately, “MP3 Compatible” meant a single USB port.  The stupid thing never worked, and was about as functional as fins on a kangaroo.  I couldn’t plug my player directly into the port.  Instead, I had to download my music onto an empty zip drive.  Then I had to plug the zip drive into the USB port.  After a few minutes, a song MIGHT start playing.  Maybe.  I couldn’t control the music, and between songs there was a LONG delay.  If I ever downloaded something other than music, an error would flash and the whole system shut down.

Honestly, the system and my music player were as compatible as fire and ice, and as functional as those fins.  I felt cheated, used and angry.  My excitement crumbled as the truth of my purchase became apparent.

What can mobile manufacturing do for you?

Using a tablet, smart phone, or other mobile device to access a true paperless manufacturing system will boost productivity, help eliminate errors, and increase work flow visibility.  Imagine giving your shop floor anytime and anywhere connection to production documents, including work orders, safety documents, training videos and more.  How much more productive will your team be if QA conducts real-time quality checks from anywhere?  How would shop management like anywhere access to real-time production data?

Can your manufacturing software support mobility on your shop floor? Image  by www.colourbox.com

Can your manufacturing software support mobility on your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Unfortunately, many MES or paperless manufacturing vendors make promises regarding “mobile manufacturing compatibility” that fool many companies into accepting awkward functionality and systems that never work as promised.  Compatibility between a shop floor system and mobile devices is neither important nor useful, compatibility between the application software and the work flow processes is how you achieve true mobility.  You need a scalable, adaptable solution that supports your work flow processes.

For some vendors, “mobile manufacturing” is a simple app that provides a view of some production data from a mobile device.  Turn on the app and you can see shop floor trends, and maybe identify potential shop floor problems, but that’s about it.   These apps might allow you to open a document from your web device, see the production schedule, and maybe move an item on the screen, but that’s the limit of their app-functionality.

Other vendors promise mobile manufacturing as an add-on project once the initial project is complete. They can do it, if you want, but it leads to additional service fees, project schedule bloat, and complicated and risky implementation.  Like me and my “MP3 Compatible” sound system, manufacturers buy a system, only to see the limits of “compatibility” once they have the system on the shop floor.

True Mobile Manufacturing

True mobile manufacturing offers an integrated mobile solution within the core system, not an app.  The power of the complete manufacturing system should be available from most mobile devices, and offer interactive functionality, not just read-only screenshots of data.  Mobile manufacturing should ensure quick and easy access to your MES or paperless manufacturing system from almost any device.

How much more could you do with an integrated mobile solution on the shop floor?

How much more could you do with an integrated mobile solution on the shop floor?

Don’t be fooled.  Look for browser-based systems (though, be careful you aren’t diving head first into the dangerous world of the Cloud).  Look for systems that are fully compatible with the web, and offer complete mobile functionality, not an app or two.

The future of modern manufacturing is embracing mobility.  Even if you aren’t ready to give your shop floor a tablet now, in a few years (or less) you may need shop floor software that offers mobile manufacturing.  Take the time, do your research and find a solution with integrated mobile manufacturing, not just an app or hastily slapped-on “mobile compatibility.”

… unless you want to watch your dreams of an efficient, mobile shop floor crumble like my dream of music-fueled parties…

Let us know if you want to learn more or see how integrated mobile manufacturing can transform and benefit your shop floor.

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3 Must-have Insider Tips for Selecting the Right MES Vendor

Selecting the right MES vendor for you and your business doesn’t have to be frustrating.  Here’s how you can save time, money, and solve your production challenges.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Recently, a company in Poland announced an MES Application Maintenance service for companies around the globe.  I have to admit… this one came as a shock.

Following a few simple tips will help ensure you have the right MES or paperless manufacturing in place. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Following a few simple tips will help ensure you have the right MES or paperless manufacturing in place. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Think about it… companies purchase an MES, then hire another company to maintain the software!  Does it mean the original vendor can’t support their own software?  Are they too expensive?  Is the second company better at “maintaining” the system?  Does the software need an entire “service” to keep it working?  What does this say about the MES industry?

If the company that installed your MES can no longer support you, or has become so expensive you’ve stopped using them, perhaps a “service” company is the band aid (or tourniquet) you need.  If you haven’t installed a system yet, take a moment and learn from this sad situation…

Companies say they implement Manufacturing Execution System (MES) solutions.  Some companies build the tools they sell; others acquire the tools through a merger or acquisition to quickly fill a void in their functionality.  Once acquired, the tools may be loosely integrated (or not), and the complete package is sold to the unsuspecting customer as a package.  Other companies call themselves consultants and offer to research, buy the system, then implement.  They act as the middle man for your MES, offering a huge catalog of tools to ensure you are getting just the right one (yeah, right!)

It’s no wonder the process of evaluating vendors is such a time-intensive and frustrating process, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here are 3 simple tips that will eliminate much of the work and frustration:

  •  Who wrote the software?

First, eliminate companies offering a software tool they don’t own.  The reason is simple – if you purchase software from a vendor who doesn’t own the original code, maintenance, testing and upgrade will be expensive and risky.  You increase the risks of losing support for the software if you need it, and in software support is a must since your processes and company are always changing requiring modifications to the software to match your new work flow.

Many companies call these tools from third-party vendors “modules” or “apps.” Companies that sell and install software they didn’t build cannot consistently provide the same level of support as the company that built the tool.  In fact, many times they are offering you an older version of the third-party software to cut down on the cost.  When you start connecting these modules with other platforms, apps or tools from other vendors the risk and cost dramatically increases, especially over the life of the installation.  The integration between the modules is custom-built as the implementation is put together.  The initial integration won’t be cheap, and maintenance costs are going to be shocking.

  •  Ask difficult questions.

Next, ask about a warranty.  I don’t know many companies that offer one, especially for software.  As you consider a vendor, ask for their license agreement upfront.  The process of getting the license agreement from them, and the content of the document, will tell you a lot about how the vendor does business.  Potentially, this can identify vendors that don’t match the way you do business.  Once you have the license agreement, ask for the warranty.  Asking difficult questions in the beginning will give you a clue to how they will handle your challenging questions later, and will quickly eliminate vendors who aren’t being honest with you.

  •  Review the selling process.

Before you see a demo or sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) review the sales process with the vendor.  Ask what steps they will take during the sales process, and how it will help you to make a decision.  If the vendor has a distinct sales process focused on servicing the customer, chances are good they have a process for software support, customer care, product development and other areas of their business.

While you are talking to the vendor, ask about software support, customer care, and product development.  A company with robust, customer-friendly or customer-centric internal processes will describe these very quickly.   It will give you a good idea how these processes will benefit your business in the future.


 

I admit – I love my job.  I love helping manufacturers, and watching as software and technology optimize the shop floor and help people do their work better, faster, and with fewer errors.  I love to see the benefits of a project blossom as people realize how powerful the solution will be for them.

That might be why it drives me crazy to know there are companies struggling out there to make their MES work.  The problem is so bad they need to hire another company just to maintain the system.  That’s NOT how the system should work.

Don’t let yourself get trapped in a difficult situation by buying the wrong software solution.  Take the time to ask a few questions of a prospective software vendor to ensure you’re purchasing the right solution.  As always, give us a call or send a message if you have questions.  We may not be the right vendor for you, but we’re happy to answer questions or guide you in the right direction.

You Can Build a Business Case for an MES

Many manufacturers understand the benefit of an MES for their shop floor operations, but struggle to build a case for implementation.  We offer three tips for building a convincing case for MES.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever try to convince a 3 year-old to eat vegetables?

kids

What can a savvy 3 year-old teach you as you build a case for paperless manufacturing?

Most times, you explore tactics looking for one that works.  You start with logic (“It’s good for you!”).  Then you try threats (“Eat those peas, now!”) before moving on to bartering (“We’ll eat dessert if you try the peas.)  Finally, other strategies are considered, like reverse psychology (“I figured you wouldn’t eat the good peas,”) identification, (“Dora likes to eat peas,”) to pure insanity (“Tater tots are SO lonely in your belly, can they play with peas?”).  The negotiation continues until you find the strategy that works… and many times it never does.

Unfortunately, for many shop floors, building a case study for MES resembles convincing a 3-year old to eat peas.  The MES team knows there is a problem (more than likely, many problems).  They need to present a convincing case study, but aren’t sure how to start.  The team will try everything to build a case, creating a mess that does more to confuse than convince.

Building a Case for Paperless Manufacturing

Here are three expert tips for building a case study that works:

  1. Focus

Most MES or paperless manufacturing projects begin with a single problem – such as quality escapes, paper-based errors, poor data collection, or no shop floor control.

Unfortunately, once a potential solution is identified, companies begin to add functionality.  The solution grows (and adds cost and complexity) as people add their requirements to the project.  The scope balloons as everyone wants to make it “their” project.  The project quickly explodes with requirements and additional functionality.  The original problem is lost in the chaos.

When building a case for MES, more is not better.  Adding functionality and requirements will not make it easier to prove an ROI, it will just increase cost (dramatically) and delay implementation – which isn’t a good thing when building a case for MES.

Focus on solving the initial problem.  The benefits and ROI delivered with the initial solution will help justify later requirements, and keep the project focused, manageable, and cost effective.  One costly problem solved with a positive ROI is better than 10 problems partially addressed.

  1. Plan in phases

It is much easier to build support for a project that makes incremental changes through smaller phases than tackling a massive project that with a very high cost and significant risk for production disruption.  We call this incremental process a “phased implementation.”  A phased implementation allows greater project control with more immediate benefits, helping you build your case for MES.

Think of it like this – the bigger the project, the more variables you’ll need to address.  A 2-year project will have 2 years of costs, potential disruptions and project unknowns to punch holes in your business case.  A single 2 month phase of a (potentially) larger project is much easier to predict.  The costs can be managed, and shop floor disruption (if any)  controlled.  The ROI is often easier to calculate, and with lower costs you can more easily build a case.  In some cases the most important benefit of short measurable phases is a tangible demonstration to management of increased efficiency or quality.

There is a reason why the savvy 3 year-old will first ask for an elephant before requesting a new puppy.  A single puppy is easier to justify than the massive, elephant-like MES project.

  1. Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Assign a cost

Once you’ve identified a problem or challenge, determine the cost.  If troublesome as-built records are the challenge, then calculate employee time currently spent searching and assembling as-built records.  Identify how much other work is delayed assembling the records.   Calculate production delays or business lost because you don’t have readily accessible as-built records.

Spend a little time putting the numbers together.  Most of the time, companies are shocked to learn how much they spend struggling to overcome (avoidable) shop floor problems.  Compare that number to the cost to purchase and implement a solution, and you’ll have the core of your ROI.  A true business case is more than just a retelling of the requirement list.  It should look at the costs to determine whether the solution offers an ROI.  It may not, but working with a focused solution over a single phase will help minimize costs and simplify the ROI calculation.  Most company executives welcome the shorter phases, smaller costs, and frequent examples of positive impact on the business.

 Building For the Future

Building a business case for an MES or paperless manufacturing is not only possible, but likely much easier than you might think.  It’s definitely easier than convincing a 3 year-old of the importance of peas and spinach when they know candy is SO tasty.

Want to know more?  Check out our blog on Insider Tips on Calculating ROI for your Shop Floor System, or a recent article we wrote on Uncovering the Real Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing.  No other purchase has the potential to significantly improve shop floor production like paperless manufacturing.  Still worried?  Give us a call and let us answer your questions.

Are You Killing Shop Floor Innovation?

We take a look at the warning signs of a shop floor stifling innovation, and see what you can do to find success through innovation.

 By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I love ideas.  Ideas and opinions, even ones I don’t agree with, provide the spark and fuel for innovation and growth.  That’s what makes ideas so powerful (even bad ideas…)

Are you killing innovation on your shop floor?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you killing innovation on your shop floor? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In an article posted on The Build Network, Ilan Mochari explored new technology and the market.  Originally, I wanted to write a defense of technology, especially from companies reluctant (even fearful) of new technology.  As Mochari explains, many businesses fear change, even change for the better.  This isn’t prudence, reluctance or worry, many businesses, even manufacturers, praise innovation and growth, then build a culture that stifles new ideas and change.  It’s a powerful idea… we are all sharing a grand delusion (hurray for innovation!), then collectively ignore the hypocrisy (hurray for innovation, just not here!)

In his article, Mochari cites a blog by Ben Horowitz discussing the ways in which many companies stifle innovation and growth.  He calls it the, “Can-Do vs. Can’t-Do Culture” and discusses, “… a movement to replace today’s startup culture of hope and curiosity with one of smug superiority,” (ouch).  Horowitz reflects on how many businesses approach technology.  As I (and Horowitz) see it, technology should be used to find a “better way to do things,” but in many companies (especially big companies) there is such a rigorous vetting of ideas (even good ones) innovation is stifled.

Killing Innovation In Your Business

Horowitz makes a number of good points – points we run into every day, with customers, competitors, prospects, and even ourselves.  Consider this:

  •  It is extremely difficult to find a better way to do things, but it can and has been done.

Horowitz is right.  Many companies fail to fully embrace the potential offered by technology and innovation because they are missing the opportunity – the “better” offered by a solution.  They install technology for technology’s sake, never really embracing innovation.

Take some Manufacturing Execution System (MES) projects we’ve encountered.  Many MES providers or consultants sell their technology by imitating your current operations on a computer screen – giving you a “pretty” solution that doesn’t offer a better way to do things.  It makes the customer “feel” happy because it mixes the familiar with JUST enough of the new.  Solutions like this won’t work for long.  Here’s why –

You have an issue on the shop floor.  A work station operator needs a quality inspector to approve a change in the operation.  Without a shop floor system, employees call, email or wander around till they find a Quality Engineer (QE).  An MES might automatically notify the QE of a problem, or provide an entirely new system of notification and approval (with a number of forms and steps in the system) but this isn’t embracing innovation.  A more efficient process is to provide the QE with real-time build information so they can proactively eliminate problems before they happen, and provide the ability to remotely approve change when possible.

Technology, including an MES (or any other electronic solution), should provide a better way to do things, not offer an entirely new process that simply mirrors the current process.  Your MES should help you do your work better, faster and with fewer errors, and not replace one piece of work with another.

  • Big companies have trouble innovating.

From our experience, in a big company it seems like everyone either needs their hands in an idea or they want the chance to destroy it.  Some want to ensure the project makes their career, and others are naysayers who make themselves important by focusing on the flaws in every idea.

Make an effort to promote a culture of innovation and build a competitive advantage for your company. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Make an effort to promote a culture of innovation and build a competitive advantage for your company. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Most times, innovation doesn’t look promising at first.  There are growing pains, and phases of development.  An MES purchase for most manufacturing companies starts as a daunting list of 400 requirements, each line item categorized, prioritized and meticulously measured.  The project started with great ideas built on potential, solutions and dreams, but as more voices and opinions get piled on top, the potential gets narrowed and innovation is stifled.

A committee is formed or a consultant brought in, and the list (that massive, all-inclusive master list) begins to look more like a doctoral dissertation than your production floor.  By the time the call goes out to vendors to make the dream a reality – it has become an arduous task nearly devoid of innovation.  You end up with a project not looking for innovation, just mapped to a spreadsheet with requirements you can check off.

Consider this, if you need 4 hours to demo an MES and see all your requirements, you are asking for so much that you will never be able to see a return on that system, and you’ve just ripped the potential “better” from the project.

Why do we innovate a shop floor like that?  This process just feeds the troll-like naysayers and dream-killers.  When buying a car, you will need the 15,000 to 20,000 parts in the engine, but you don’t bring a checklist of those items to the car dealer.  Auto makers build cars to perform and last using all those parts.  You check the handling, the comfort and the feel of the car, make sure it has your key requirements (perhaps a moon roof), and perhaps verify a few items on the list against the industry standard.  The massive “List” is a weapon for the naysayers… keep it simple and focus on key requirements.  Let innovation thrive before you drown it!

Find an MES vendor you can trust to help you navigate the process.  The system that provides the most return for you is the one that best fits the innovative idea you had when you started.  Ensure the system meets the standard MES requirements, and let the vendor concentrate on your use of the end product rather than a checklist.  As Horowitz says, “We hurt innovation by focusing on what it can’t do, rather than what it does or could do.”

 Build your shop floor through innovation

Businesses grow and thrive through innovation and new ideas, but those that rely on a “Can’t-do culture” stifle innovation, promote cynical sarcasm and focus on limits.  The truth is, the most successful companies promote innovation, and find a way to nurture it without sacrificing the core business.

Even bad ideas have potential, and hiding inside what seems like a completely ludicrous piece of business insanity may be a concept that takes your company to the next level.  Early in a project, especially an MES project, let innovation shine and see where it takes you.  Look for the opportunity to improve, and make sure you aren’t embracing change simply because it’s change.

Find a way to do more than just admire innovation from a distance, but embrace it.  Listen to innovation and ideas (even ones that seem bad) with an open mind.  Nurture ideas, don’t stifle them.  Are you curious to know more, or see how you can embrace innovation without hurting the bottom line or sacrificing production?  Ask us how we can help through our phased implementation process or innovative Quantum paperless manufacturing system.

Are You Thinking Critically About Your Potential MES Solution?

Before you select an MES or Paperless Manufacturing solution, consider the WIIFM Factor.

By Tony Cuilwik, CEO of CIMx Software

Consider the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor when researching possible solutions to improve shop floor efficiency.  It’s alive and well throughout the marketplace and its impact on your decision is as important as technology capabilities, cost and other factors, even though you’ll never find it in a set of requirements or an RFP.

Curious to know what the WIIFM factor is, how it can affect your manufacturing business, and how to track the elusive factor?  Let’s take a look at a few of the places it hides.

Custom Solutions

Consultants or development houses will argue they can develop a one-of-a-kind, or custom, solution perfectly matched to your needs.  With requirement lists and planning sessions, they will weave you a beautiful image of a perfect shop floor solution designed SPECIFICALLY for your needs.  In fact, they offer an entire team of developers, engineers, support personnel and implementation specialists ready to serve you.

Choices and options.

Before selecting a vendor, think critically about what they are offering to avoid surprises. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com.

The truth is – they aren’t lying.  They can build you the system, filled with all the buttons, reports, and forms you want.  But, it’s not going to be the PERFECT solution unless they continually monitor your work flow and tweak the solution every time change occurs.  Change happens on the shop floor, and processes must change and adapt.  If the solution they describe takes a year to build, how much change will happen in that time?  It’s designed for the shop floor a year (or more) in the past… what is your shop floor like now?

On top of that, you’ll be funding the ENTIRE development cost for the solution.  That team they need to build your solution – they’ll need to be paid somehow, and they’re hoping you’re ready to open your wallet and foot the bill.  Their solution costs much more than an adaptable, purchased solution, and it’s already obsolete before you go into production.

  • WIIFM (the consultant)= a new large project that will result in a solution designed perfectly for  the customer  at the moment the requirement list is complete, and will produce a long revenue stream for their business.
  • WIIFM  (the Customer) = It’s a more expensive solution, and you are footing the ENTIRE bill.  Plus, they can develop it so it works JUST for you, but you will need to bring them back for all future changes and enhancements.

 Form-based Off-the-Shelf Solutions

Other solution providers will argue they can meet all of your needs with an off-the-shelf forms-based system configured to manage you data.  They argue the solution is easier to use because they’ve already plotted out the PERFECT formula for the shop floor, and it will be easy to plug in their formula to create better processes for you.  In addition, you’ll get all these pretty dashboards, ready-made reports at the press of a button, and more.

What requirements does your potential MES vendor have for you?  Image by www.colourbox.com

What requirements does your potential MES vendor have for you? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

They show you a whole team, with neat titles, ready to support you when you need it.  You can have all this… only if you’re ready to adapt your current shop floor processes to the form-based process their system works from.

Template-based systems are easy-to-build, and with the templates as a guideline, they’ve created a number of additional “modules.”  Many shop floor processes are very similar, so it’s easy to prepare homogenized templates.  But, because of the immense variety between shop floors, you will compromise a portion of your work flow processes to make it work.

Reformatting your current material and work instructions may be necessary.  Depending on the number of work instructions you have, or the material you need to attach to work orders, reformatting could be a huge, costly initial expense during installation in order to make all those templates work.  Any of your current processes that don’t quite fit within the templates will require configuration, a potentially expensive job with additional follow-on work.

Remember that big team you heard about… they’re waiting to charge you for all that work.  Plus, you’ll need that team for all the training your team requires to learn the new processes.

  • WIIFM (the Provider)  = An easier initial sale with the potential for a significant amount of custom configuration work and expensive service charges.   They can offer a very flashy software demo that will lead to bigger long term service sales.
  • WIIFM (the Customer) = A solution with a lot of (potentially) inexpensive extras and a lower cost for the initial software.

 Behavior-based, Configurable Off-the-Shelf Solution

Other vendors will offer what appears, at first, to be a fairly simple system.  It’s structured around screens and windows that users edit and reconfigure as needed.  Key data can be collected at any point in the process and be seen in real time.  Users attach and open the information as needed, and easily configure the organization of information to best meet their processes.  Templates aren’t needed, because you attach the information digitally in whatever format you like.  You won’t sacrifice functionality, since the purpose of an MES isn’t reliant on a form – it’s a tool.

Process Improvement graph.

With the right venfor, you’ll improve shop floor quality and efficiency, and have a partner focused on your success. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There are developers supporting the software, but you won’t find many “implementation specialists” or “configuration engineers” since you won’t need to adapt your current processes, or do any configuration, and there’s no need for custom work.  There’s nothing you need a massive service team for, so why would you pay them?  Instead of focusing on forms and fixed templates, the design is focused on the user experience (UX) – it is a foundation and tool supporting your processes, not dictating a new one.

This solution uses a modern technology platform (Web 2.0) with the flexibility and adaptability to match your work flow process now and in the future.  As the system is designed, if you want simple training for your IT and engineering staff you can continually adapt the solution to match the changing processes on your shop floor.  This will save you money, pain, risk and most of all the frustration of a system that quickly becomes obsolete.  Any custom work you need can be done at your pace, and without touching the core code, eliminating the risk of a custom solution.

That small team is all you need (and all you pay for) because much of the work will be using your current material and processes as is – saving you significantly and ensuring a rapid ROI.

  • WIIFM (the Provider) = The solution uses your current processes, minimizing training time and shop floor confusion without passing along high costs.  Their goal is a rapid, successful implementation that transforms the customer plant efficiency , leading to another good reference.
  • WIIFM (the Customer) = An adaptable system that installs quicker, with less work and less cost.  No need for a massive installation team.  This leads to a true partnership with the solution provider.

 Thinking Critically about the WIIFM

None of the opinions offered by these vendors are wrong, it’s just some leave out any consideration of your WIIFM.  Some solutions aren’t telling you the whole story, or don’t fully consider what is best for you – the customer.  Most customers want a solution that is easy to install, easy to use, creates little disruption, solves efficiency or quality issues, has little risk and lower costs.  How these vendors go about defining of fulfilling these requirements can be very different.

When you don’t think critically about the MES WIIFM factor, you might be left with a solution that does not satisfy your long-term needs.  Think critically about a potential shop floor software solution, and integrate a WIIFY (What’s In It For You) analysis in the conversation with vendors and your selection team early in the process for an optimal solution.