Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why Not Now?

Paperless manufacturing and the digital shop floor are changing manufacturing for the better, but there are still companies reluctant to embrace the future.

By Tony Cuilwik, CEO of CIMx Software

You will implement a paperless solution on your shop floor.  It will happen.  Manufacturing, the market and technology are changing too quickly to continue supporting old, inefficient paper-based processes.  The move to paperless will save money and improve your competitive position.  So why not make the move now?  What are you waiting for?

With paperless manufacturing, if you can improve production, remove errors, and see and ROI within 9 months, why not make a decision now? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

With paperless manufacturing, if you can improve production, remove errors, and see and ROI within 9 months, why not make a decision now? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Every company that has moved from a paper-driven environment to a carefully planned paperless one has saved money, improved worker morale, improved productivity and increased quality.  Paperless manufacturing delivers shop floor visibility and manufacturing control like no other product.  Companies eliminate errors, increase productivity and increase profitability with a paperless system.  Even purchasing a simple system with limited functionality is better than relying on error-prone paper.  One aerospace manufacturing company executive remarked that the purchase of a paperless solution was the best return on his money in many years of shop floor purchases.

As obvious as the choice may be for us, there are legitimate reasons for waiting and “making it work” with paper for a little longer.  I understand that, but let’s take a look at some of the reasons:

Money

Money (or the loss of money) is a good reason for any company to wait on implementing a project.  But, a good paperless system will deliver an ROI in less than 9 months.  Some companies report an ROI in less than 3 months after implementation.  The positive return on a paperless solution ranges from 3 to 10 times the initial cost annually.  As you research paperless solutions, keep these numbers in mind.  As long as you find a solution that makes sense financially, the project will pay for itself.

Risk

Any capital project carries a risk, and for many paperless manufacturing is an even greater risk because it impacts the profit driver of a manufacturing business – the shop floor.   There is a risk with any project.  For example, the promised or expected benefits won’t materialize, the project is never finished, and the money is wasted.  This is a valid concern, because in overly complex projects, projects with a massive requirement list, or a custom system, project cost and schedule overruns are common, and many companies end the project early to cut their losses.

On the other hand, many times the company will discover more benefit than initially envisioned.  They will expand the use of the technology into all corners of the plant.  The key to mitigating risk and ensuring benefit is to manage the choice of solution carefully.  Roll the project out in smaller phases, and initially focus on fewer requirements – ensuring you tackle the key project drivers before rolling out nice-to-have items.  Large, complex, and expensive solutions are a much greater risk, regardless from who they are purchased, because there are many more factors to manage in the project and heavy costs for any small change.

Fear

Following a few simple tips, you can position a project for success. Image by www.colourbox.com

Following a few simple tips, you can position a project for success. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Fear is closely related to risk, and with good reason.  Moving to paperless manufacturing is a big decision, and it will impact your business.  If you are the one tasked with making a decision, the wrong decision could be embarrassing or worse.  Software solutions are being sold with inflated promises, and when you don’t achieve the desired results, even a successful project can look like a failure.

Once again, you can minimize fear with a simple phased project utilizing small, inexpensive phases to meet bigger goals.  Rather than create a massive requirement list, make a focused list with clearly measurable ROI benefits after each step.  With a phased project, you have more control.  After each phase, evaluate the results and make changes as needed.  Look for a vendor willing to offer guarantees on price, schedule and results to further eliminate the source of fear, risk or hesitation.

Getting started on your paperless manufacturing project

Paper-based manufacturing processes are error-prone, inefficient, needlessly expensive and aren’t suited to meet the demands of modern manufacturing.  As more and more shop floors move to a paperless system, paperless manufacturing will be the new standard.  But, there are risks to moving to paperless, and as of now there are many still unwilling to implement a project.  We understand that.

But, if you’re ready, there are a few simple steps you can take to overcome fear, lower the cost and reduce the risk.  If a positive financial outcome can be shown and the expected project results can be documented and guaranteed, then “why not now?” Why wait?  Every day you delay making a decision is another day your shop floor loses money, struggles with errors, and works to overcome an inefficient system.  Make the move to paperless manufacturing or at least research your options.

Want to know more or talk about how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Give us a call or leave us a message, and let’s see what we can do for you.

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6 Ways Paperless Manufacturing Can Help Your Shop Floor

A paperless manufacturing system can quickly and easily deliver even more benefits than you might think.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ensure an early ROI for your project by focusing on items with the greatest return. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Ensure an early ROI for your project by focusing on items with the greatest return. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many companies begin researching paperless manufacturing to solve a single problem.  Depending on the problem, paperless manufacturing likely holds the solution.  No other shop floor investment addresses so many of the challenges manufacturing faces.  Which is why manufacturing firms spent more than $5 Billion on MES and paperless manufacturing solutions in 2013, and estimates predict the MES market will expand more than 20% annually.

But, a powerful and capable paperless manufacturing system offers more than just a single solution or capability.  With the right system, you have workflow control and complete shop floor visibility.  As you consider a system for your shop floor, take a look at the six capabilities that provide the foundation of any paperless system.

1)      Track, measure, record and dynamically manage work flow.

Every manufacturer must track and manage workflow – it’s the key to a production system.  The methods used to manage work vary between manufacturers, and can lead to vastly different results.

With paperless systems, work flow is digitized, allowing automated tracking and recording of work.  Management of the work flow is made possible with instantaneous communication and error-free work instructions.

2)      Create production plans with approved, accurate work instructions.

Operations benefit from standards, best practices, and process improvement plans such as Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma only when they are implemented in production.

Using a paperless manufacturing system, procedural enforcement ensures the productions team incorporates best practices on the shop floor.  Planners use only the most recent and approved plans.   A library of approved work plans, best practices and standards ensures your team completes planning in less time and with better work instructions.

3)      Collect data on all production operations.

Data is a valuable commodity.  Unfortunately for many manufacturers, the age and inaccuracy of collected data significantly limits its usefulness.

A successful paperless system collects real-time data at each work station.  The system automatically verifies specified quality metrics fall within acceptable ranges.  The collected data becomes a valuable tool for manufacturers.

4)      Create a complete, accurate production record for all products.

The production record includes every action taken, every specification read, every training module referred to, every log in and out on a job, and every measurement taken on a product.

Most (if not all) manufacturers monitor shop floor activity, but an effective paperless solution automatically creates a comprehensive production record used to verify all actions were completed accurately.  This unified record, compliant with all regulatory body or key customer standards, provides a rich source of accurate data for future use.

5)      Have a continuous real-time view of all open work orders.

In the past, a real-time view of production meant walking around the shop floor asking questions.

With a paperless system, manufacturers can get a comprehensive, real-time view of production.  Current work can be seen in the context of actual work flow order at each moment.  This real time view is invaluable to plant management and quality assurance, helping proactively solve problems and ensure smooth production.  It is a major component of business intelligence.

6)      Enable seamless communication across the enterprise from a single source of truth about production.

Many companies struggle with data coming from multiple locations with no coordination, and often communication focuses on building consensus rather than manufacturing.

Paperless manufacturing is built around the concept of a single source of truth about the product.  Everyone works from the same data and toward the same goal.  The solution has the flexibility to manage, record, and distribute information from multiple sources, eliminating mistakes from faulty information while managing WIP all the time.

Delivering Benefits and ROI with Paperless Manufacturing

Process Improvement graph.

No other shop floor solution addresses so many production challenges, or offers a bigger benefit. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

With paperless manufacturing, companies reduce quality defects, eliminate human error, minimize waste and scrap, and increase productivity.  The system delivers shop floor control and visibility like no other product on the market.

Current trends in manufacturing are pushing companies to adopt paperless solutions.  Customers demand more customization and quicker turnaround times through smaller production runs.  They expect real-time information on the status of their orders.  Paperless manufacturing offers a clear advantage over paper-driven processes in delivering these goals.

Want to learn more, or to see what paperless manufacturing can do for you, then contact CIMx today.  We’re happy to help.

Understand (and Increasing) the ROI of your MES

Many companies wonder where the inflection point will be for their paperless manufacturing project.  Let us show you how you can design a project that gives you control of your ROI.     

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I spoke to a group of prospects about the inflection point in an ROI – the point where project costs (in licensing, services, training, support, and internal resources) equal the cost savings generated by the paperless manufacturing system.  As we talked, I realized there are many misconceptions about ROI, misconceptions that lead to more frustration than certainty.

Unraveling the ROI Conundrum

ROI is a tricky thing.  The term is so overused some believe it’s more like the accounting

Often misunderstood, the ROI is a vital component of any successful MES project. Image by www.colourbox.com

Often misunderstood, the ROI is a vital component of any successful MES project. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Easter bunny than a data point.  Despite that, ROI is more important than ever to control project cost.

Over-engineering is prevalent in the MES industry… some vendors want you to add one more feature or capability, because it adds to their bottom line.  These vendors design fancy, flashy demos, post pretty YouTube videos, host elaborate conferences, with fancy marketing collateral, and even pay bloggers to help sell their services so they can offer module after module and entice you into buying more.  Let’s be honest, none of that will provide you the cost savings to justify the investment.  Without a clear ROI, you can’t be sure if the additional costs will offer a return.  You might be the poor customer with a bloated service bill helping to pay for the YouTube videos and marketing collateral.

With enough time and money, anyone can build anything, so vendors make promises that can’t be achieved except through costly custom services, even as they promise their system is “configurable.”  The higher the final cost, the more difficult it will be to achieve an ROI.  Don’t be fooled.  If extensive services are required – it is not configuration.  Configuration is done by the software itself – not by the expensive implementation team you are renting.

Here’s a tip for discovering how “configurable” your potential software solution really is – ask the vendor what percentage of the installation services are related to configuration.  Ask them how configuration changes are made.  Do you need the vendor to make changes?  If the configuration services are a large portion of the total service cost or an expensive line item on the itemized proposal costs (you should ask for those, too), then you shouldn’t expect an early ROI.  As you start adding up the costs, the inflection point may not even be visible.

An Honest Look at Projected Savings

Some vendors will offer “suggestions” on how to calculate the ROI, but you need to be careful.  We do not sell, nor do we recommend, customers rely on reduced headcount to calculate ROI.  It is tempting to build a business case on a reduced number of resources, as they are the most costly line item on your production P&L.  But that’s not really what happens…

You have more control over the ROI of your paperless manufacturing project.  Let us show you how.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

You have more control over the ROI of your paperless manufacturing project. Let us show you how. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Take your most experienced Quality Engineer.  In many cases, this is an employee with a hectic schedule, and yet is underutilized for their training.  Manufacturers need QEs to implement Continuous Improvement initiatives, but if your QE is running around the shop floor, fighting fires and trying to stay ahead of the next problem, then they aren’t being utilized efficiently.  A well-designed MES system will greatly improve the efficiency of the QE, allowing them to implement improvement plans and build new, more efficient processes for your shop floor operations.  The net effect is an entire production team that’s more efficient and more accurate.  You may find that you don’t hire to fill spaces as operators leave (and the least capable may leave as the system begins tracking shop floor efficiency), but it isn’t common for MES customers to see large gains from reduced headcount.

Maximize the Inflection Point

So, if reduced headcount is not a key factor in projected savings, how do you maximize the inflection point and increase your ROI?

At CIMx, we focus on generating ROI for our customers through understanding their workflows and providing value in more efficient work.  Our system is behavior-based, not template- or module-based.  The software provides value through your workflows and best practices, enhancing behavior rather than changing the shop floor to adapt to a new system. This is possible through the use of our architecture.  Unlike modular or template-based systems, workflow or behavior-based MES utilize a system architecture that gives customers the flexibility and tools they need to implement automatic and ever-increasing efficiency improvements to their workflow and processes – changes that have the greatest impact on your shop floor.  By not focusing on isolated, individual requirements, capabilities or functions, which can drastically increase the cost of the system, customers manage the inflection point and ensure an early ROI by focusing on the total workflow process and the largest gains.

The key is to manage what you spend on the project, and focus on items with the greatest ROI – your workflow.  Complete the installation in manageable phases that provide a planned and measurable return, and identify future expenses for the system that could impact the ROI.  The next time you have an improvement event in your business, will the system support the improvement, or must you purchase expensive assistance with customization?  If you can perform the necessary business improvements without an expensive services contract from the software vendor, then you can maximize the inflection point and your ROI.

This doesn’t mean it’s not tempting to create a massive requirements document that resembles a manufacturing wish list.  You should identify key capabilities, but make sure there is an expected ROI attached to each.  Then take a look at the workflow using the system, and identify improvements and benefits there.  It’s those benefits that will generate your greatest ROI.

If you want to see how we can deliver savings and increase profit through workflow efficiency, contact us or give us a call – we’re happy to help.

Care and Feeding of Your MES or Paperless Manufacturing System

Maximizing the ROI and benefit of your shop floor system isn’t hard, if you plan for regular upkeep and maintenance of the system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

This spring, I planted a garden in the back yard.  With the kids, I tilled the ground, added fertilizer and topsoil, put up tomato cages, and carefully planted seeds.  I’m happy to report, our efforts worked.  In just a few days we saw new growth peek out of the ground.  There are leafy green lettuce, prickly tendrils of cucumbers, and tomato vines slowly making their way up the cages.

Like any garden, your paperless manufacturing system requires a little attention to continue to operate efficiently.

Like any garden, your paperless manufacturing system requires a little attention to continue to operate efficiently.

But, here’s what I’ve come to learn… planting a (successful) garden requires some work!  We now have a “watering schedule,” and each night one of us takes the hose and waters the garden.  On the weekend, we pull weeds.  We’ve added more stakes for the wayward tomatoes that want to grow out, not up.  Keeping the belligerent cucumber in line is daily task.  But, we’ve already made our first salad from lettuce in the garden, so the diligence in our upkeep is paying off.

I see a lot of similarities between an MES or paperless manufacturing system and my garden.

Any good MES (or garden) project starts by studying your current processes and work flow, then formulating a requirement list.  Then you have to plan the project, coordinate schedules with your team, gather the tools and materials and put it all together.

But the work doesn’t stop with the installation, which I didn’t realize when the garden was planted.  You need to keep the system up and running with regular maintenance.  Change is constantly happening on the shop floor.  There are new processes, new technology, new tools and new employees.  Every change subtly alters how you might be using the system, or how the system might be supporting your shop floor processes.  This is where simple upkeep and basic maintenance can have a substantial positive impact on your investment.  Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind as you evaluate paperless manufacturing vendors or plan your own installation:

  • Is there a cost for patches?  Face it, with any complex computer system there will come a time for a patch.  It’s part of the basic maintenance of the system.  Find out if there is a cost associated with a patch.  Does the system you purchased have a patch, maintenance and upkeep plan, and who is managing it?  How will it work?  These answers will have a direct impact on the ROI.
  • Make sure your MES vendor offers value when it comes to upkeep, maintenance and upgrades.

    Make sure your MES vendor offers value when it comes to upkeep, maintenance and upgrades.

    What about upgrades?  As new technology is introduced to the market, new features and functionality will be available for the system.  Before you install a system, look at the cost (if there is one) for an upgrade.  Some systems offer upgrades free of charge (or for a minimal cost), ensuring you aren’t looking for a new MES or paperless system every few years once your current system can no longer adequately support your shop floor.

  • How much does basic service cost?  Even if you aren’t planning on making any changes or updates to the system now, there may come a time when you need a basic service.  These services could include a custom report, an integration to another system, or a data migration.  Look at the service costs when evaluating vendors.
  • Does the vendor offer a schedule or price guarantee?  If not, then keep in mind the initial project estimate may not resemble the final price you pay for the system, especially if you are charged for the basic upkeep such as patches or continuing training.
  • Can your team configure or customize the system?  Face it, some vendors will charge you less up front, knowing that you must turn to them for any configuration or customization to the system.  Ask about the administrative functions of the system, and how the configurations are handled.

Many of these questions seem simple, but the answers will have an impact on the final cost of your paperless manufacturing system and the ROI.  Even as you install the software, change is happening, affecting the overall effectiveness of the system.  Basic maintenance through patches, upgrades and further training, will help ensure the software continues to deliver positive benefits to you and your team.

Think of it like the garden… without basic upkeep, the cucumber would slowly strangle the tomatoes, weeds would overwhelm the lettuce, and a few days of no rain would turn the leaves brown.  A little bit of work ensures a healthy garden and a continuing ROI (and no one wants their MES to strangle their ERP).

Questions, or want to see how CIMx helps our customers optimize their system with a dedicated product engineer?  Give us a call or leave a message, we’re happy to help.

The Land of Paperless Manufacturing

The beginning adventures of a stranger discovering the world of paperless manufacturing.

By Lisa Kessler, Product Support with CIMx Software

Stepping into the world of paperless manufacturing can be bewildering at first, but we have the answers. Image by www.colourbox.com

Stepping into the world of paperless manufacturing can be bewildering at first, but we have the answers. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies.  The mystifying, bewildering, moment when Dorothy lands in Oz fascinates me – discovering the world is much larger, more amazing and more magical than you thought.  I find myself relating to that moment – not only because my short frame makes me feel like a munchkin, but because I’ve landed in the magical land of paperless manufacturing.

A short time ago I joined the team at CIMx Software, the leader in paperless manufacturing.   I packed up my desk at my previous job and made the journey (which didn’t involve a tornado) to CIMx.  When I started, I knew a little about paperless manufacturing, but the truth is – there was so much more I didn’t know.

The first few weeks I sat during meetings and listened intently.  I thought everyone was speaking a different language. KPI, ROI, servers, platform, as-builts… it was difficult to keep it all straight.  I kept thinking, if I only had a brain! There were no wicked witches in this new land, but there was plenty of wicked tricky software and manufacturing technology terms and ideas to learn!

I started writing down everything I could, so many acronyms, MES, SaaS, ERP, NDA, DBA, TCO, the list goes on.  I Googled everything, asked questions every chance I got, and slowly but surely it began to make sense.  It all sounds bewildering, but understanding what we do isn’t difficult at all.  We help manufacturers improve their business by managing their work flow – providing the right information to the right person at the right time.  We help keep track of and record all the data and processes that go into building stuff.  We do this by implementing low-risk, low-cost software solutions, delivering shop floor visibility and control, helping companies eliminate errors, improve quality, and increase profitability.  Ta-Dah!

Making Sense of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Looking for answers?  We're happy to help.  Send us a message and let us know what we can do.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Looking for answers? We’re happy to help. Send us a message and let us know what we can do. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

There is a lot that goes into the software we install, but I’m not a software developer.  But, I do know this; CIMx is innovative, always wanting to push farther and higher in the land of paperless manufacturing.  We’re constantly looking at how people work, and what they do with our software, and how can we can help them work better, faster, and with fewer errors.  It sounds simple, but it’s what drives us (it feels good to say, “us” there).

We really aren’t satisfied with the status quo; we’re constantly looking to improve.  It starts with our customers, and their business.  We don’t just build software, we build relationships and work with them to solve problems and improve production. CIMx stands behind their products, and is proud of the work they do (and so am I).

At the end of each day I don’t feel the urgent need to click my ruby red slippers and say “there’s no place like home” because the land of paperless manufacturing isn’t so bad.  It’s exciting, and we really are making a positive impact on our customers.  I’m still learning every day, and I’m sure I will continue to learn every day in the future.  Manufacturing is always changing, and there is always something more to learn.  That’s one thing I love about my job.

The author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, said it best “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”  I love learning and building my knowledge, especially about an industry and company you can be passionate about.  We’re excited to utilize the latest technology, to find new ways to deliver value to our customers and manufacturing, bridge the gap between the software and technology world and the manufacturing shop floor.

It’s a cool place to be.  Questions?  Give us a call.  We’re always happy to share our knowledge.