Monthly Archives: December 2014

Technology Breakthroughs That Will Deliver Manufacturing Success in 2015

Many manufacturers struggle to capitalize on the latest technology, instead using outdated processes and tools. Embrace the digital shop floor in 2015 with breakthrough technology.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A Growing Divide around the Digital Shop Floor

As 2014 winds to a close and companies prepare for 2015, analysts and prognosticators peer into their crystal ball to analyze the future. This year in manufacturing, they predict Big Data and analytics, 3D Printing, robotics, and enhanced connectivity (via the Internet of Things and mobility) shaping our industry.

Are you prepared for the future of manufacturing? A digital shop floor is an easy first step.  Image by

Are you prepared for the future of manufacturing? A digital shop floor is an easy first step. Image by

Its human nature to wonder at the future, and marvel at shiny new technology, but the truth is many manufacturers struggle to implement basic shop floor technology such as an MES or paperless manufacturing, much less capitalize on cutting-edge technology. These companies are faced with a massive Technology Debt – the total cost of replacing outdated technologies or systems as they begin to degrade the overall functionality of the company. This debt negatively impacts production throughout the supply chain, as companies struggle to meet market demands.

Consider this – Software Advice, a company that helps match buyers with software solutions, recently released a survey of manufacturers with annual revenues of $100 million or less on their reasons for purchasing new software. The survey found forty-five percent of prospective buyers managed manufacturing operations manually. They used paper, spreadsheets or accounting software to manage shop floor operations. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed sought a software solution simply to help plan and manage day-to-day manufacturing operation.

The Manufacturing Software Small Business BuyerView 2014 survey from Software Advice reveals our industry is at a critical junction. Some companies have embraced technology, while others struggle with outdated processes and tools. Unless addressed, this dichotomy will only grow, creating an almost insurmountable gap between manufacturers operating in similar industries and creating bottlenecks in the supply chain.

Paying Off the Manufacturing Technology Debt

Before we start looking to the future, it’s time to pay our technology debt. Fortunately, there are solutions.  Consider this:

  • The availability of lower-cost technology.

In the past, many companies, especially small- and mid-sized businesses, were reluctant to embrace high-cost solutions. With no guarantee of success, a failed project could mean ruin. Today, many companies are still reluctant to embrace technology, despite the availability of lower cost solutions. Browser-based software, low-cost software platforms, and integrated circuit manufacturing technology have made viable software solutions more affordable than ever.

  • The improvements in configurable software solutions.
Build your business by paying your technology debt now, when you can receive an ROI in less than one year.  Illustration by

Build your business by paying your technology debt now, when you can receive an ROI in less than one year. Illustration by

In the past, for specialized industries the only available and viable software solution involved custom software. Custom solutions cost millions with development scheduled over several years. Supporting the software was equally expensive. Custom solutions lose efficiency over time, eventually becoming outdated legacy code. Today, with improved technology, configurable, out-of-the-box solutions can be found to meet the requirements of every industry, in addition to delivering operational improvements.

  • The efficiency in modern implementations.

According to the Software Advice survey, most companies prefer solutions that can be implemented in 1 to 3 months. While there are still solutions in the market requiring years to develop and implement, some solutions are designed to be implemented in a few months or less using modern project management techniques such as Agile. Improvements to the UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) have removed the unnecessary complexity of past solutions, minimizing the training time and improving the adoption rate of the technology on the shop floor. With modern software, companies are only as reliant on their internal IT resources as they want to be.

  • Low-risk installation options.

In the past, custom shop floor software was a high-risk for purchase. A project required several years and millions of dollars to design, develop and implement with no guarantee of success. Today, lower-priced, out-of-the-box configurable solutions help mitigate the risk. Options such as pilot programs and phased implementations help ensure success by managing risk and the pace of change for your company. Look for vendors you can trust to partner with you during the project, instead of simply supplying software before moving on to another project or service charge.

Safely Embracing the Future of Manufacturing

As 2015 begins, it is important to look to the future, but it is equally important to consider the technology debt your company may have accrued. How much debt do you have? Growth and profitability plummet when debt accrues, and can negatively impact all facets of your operation. New software tools and platforms, phased implementations, browser-based technology, configurable solutions and more can now deliver practical, high technology solutions to all manufacturers, no matter the company-size or capabilities of the IT department.

With current technology, there's no reason not to embrace low-risk paperless manufacturing.  Photo by

With current technology, there’s no reason not to embrace low-risk paperless manufacturing. Photo by

In the past, many companies delayed paying their technology debt, but that is no longer a viable option.  Customer and regulatory demands, new technology and processes, and changes to the workforce are driving manufacturers to adapt and improve. Without addressing the technology needs of the shop floor, companies risk losing their competitive edge and customers.

Companies recognize this fact.  “As we move into 2015, I believe we will see more and more small manufacturing companies start to adopt software solutions that help better plan and manage day-to-day manufacturing operations,” explains Victoria Adesoba, manufacturing small business researcher at Software Advice.

As one year ends and a new one begins, we will see companies adopt 3D Printing, Big Data analytics, and robotics. For many more companies, 2015 will be about paying a rapidly growing technology debt – utilizing tools that have finally made it possible for small- and mid-size manufacturers to (safely and efficiently) embrace the digital shop floor.

Want to see how you can start paying down your technology debt and improve your operations with a low-cost software solution that offers an ROI in less than a year?  Contact CIMx today to schedule a free evaluation of your shop floor.

Overcoming the Shop Floor Grinch and Finding MES Success

Many paperless manufacturing projects fail not due technology, but cultural or personality problems.  We show how to overcome the problems and find success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't let a Grinch hold up your MES project.  Illustration by

Don’t let a Grinch hold up your MES project. Illustration by

We’ve done a lot of MES and paperless manufacturing implementations over the years, so we’ve also heard a lot of excuses as to why a digital shop floor would never, ever, work. “That’s not how we do it,” is one that comes up a lot. Most often, that’s quickly followed by. “It’s never going to work,” or “I can’t use that.”  We often also hear phrases, like, “Why do we need that?” or, “That won’t work.”

There are times when those phrases are uttered out of fear – fear of change or fear of the unknown, but other times those phrases are a sign of mistakes made early in the process.  They are often uttered by the grizzled shop floor veteran. He (or she) know their way around the shop floor, and have worked out the “best practices” for their job. A new system, even one that automates many of the most annoying and time consuming tasks or eliminates the errors that cause quality escapes or scrap, can’t (and probably shouldn’t) replicate the processes they are comfortable with.  Maybe they’re afraid of what the new system will mean for them?

Many times, when you start pushing them to change their ways, adjusting their work station, or forcing them to log in with a user name they don’t want, people can get grumpy, stubborn. This time of year, you could say they become Grinch-like.

It’s going to happen. The grump, or the Grinch, will make an appearance any time you make a major change on the shop floor (even a positive change) and you haven’t positioned your team for success. You can’t ignore them, and you can’t let the Grinch hold your shop floor back, so what do you do?

Never fear – here four steps you can take to give your Grinch-iest a dose of the paperless manufacturing spirit:

  • Identify the shop floor leaders, and get them involved early.

Before you even select a vendor or start configuring a solution, identify the shop floor leader(s) and bring them into the project. Bring them in early. If the (potential) Grinch really does understand how the shop floor works, and knows the processes, they can add value. Plus, by giving them a stake in the solution, they have an interest in ensuring the project’s success and can help overcome resistance from other workers.

  • Introduce the system through a phased implementation.

Many implementations fail when the shop floor tries to take on too much change withoutconsidering the needs of the end users. With a phased implementation, you select what parts of the project to tackle, and when you tackle them. Start with areas more receptive to change. Early success will make the transition easier.

  • Conduct training on the shop floor.

Face it, online training modules and the peace and quiet of a classroom will never compare to training on the shop floor. There is a big difference between an online lesson and the noise, speed, sound and pace of actual production. Until your workers can see the system in action, in the environment where they will be using it, they may not fully grasp the benefit.

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Manufacturing is the heart of your business. No matter what software you purchase, you need to make sure it enhances production. Some systems, especially older software requiring integration of multiple modules, will create unnecessary complexity or hinder work. Take a moment and actually listen to the concerns of the Grinch – make sure the system is providing the intended benefit and not hurting efficiency.

In the end, with any new MES or paperless manufacturing system there will be those that fear change, or are reluctant to embrace a new way of working. Recognize potential problems early in the selection and configuration phases of the project, and address the concerns of the Grinches and Grumps early.

Success in an MES or paperless manufacturing project is dependent on the culture of your shop floor as much as the technology that provides the foundation of the system. Address the culture needs early, and ensure the project is seen as a benefit to your shop – not just the latest toy for the front office.

Questions, or want to see how paperless manufacturing can benefit you? Let us know and we can have a project engineer review your shop floor for a system.

How to Find an MES Solution You Can Trust

Don’t be “wowed” by software solutions that aren’t addressing the challenges facing your shop floor. Learn how you can find the solution that’s right for you.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't be fooled by manufacturing software with fancy packaging. Look for a product that addresses your core requirements to build an ROI.

Don’t be fooled by manufacturing software with fancy packaging. Look for a product that addresses your core requirements to build an ROI.

Ever watch late night TV or infomercials for the latest inventions offered to the unsuspecting public?

Consider the Flowbee hair cutter system. For just $79.99 (or $114.90 with the Super Mini Vac), you can have a razor attached to a vacuum cleaner that will safely cut your hair to any length between ½” to 6”. For that low-low price, you’ll never have to go to a barber or hair stylist!  Is it worth it? Apparently, many think so…

How about cola-flavored wine? Ever heard of pet-dating services?  Infomercials are full of products offering questionable value.

I’m not arguing there isn’t a market for the Flowbee.  As funny as it may seem, many (especially parents) love their Flowbee. Unfortunately, I believe these products are sold more for the “wow” factor than actual functionality, leading to a sharp pang of buyer’s remorse once the product arrives.

The WOW Factor in MES purchases

The wow factor is alive and well in the software industry. Some MES customers feel the same buyer’s remorse once their system is installed. Our industry is filled with products sold for the “wow” factor, not actual manufacturing solutions.

This is why many demos feature a “similar” product without actually showing your work instructions. Vendors sell functionality that isn’t even in the product yet. Many MES vendors make promises their software developers aren’t ready to fulfill. Once it comes time to implement, new code has to be written. A simple project explodes with service costs and an expanding implementation schedule. As the vendor struggles to fulfill contractual obligations and promises, your shop floor suffers.

Companies quickly discover the buyer’s remorse, similar to the oenophile (wine connoisseur) who discovers coca cola and wine don’t mix.

Seeing Past the WOW Factor

When selecting an MES or paperless manufacturing solution, start with a focused project requirement list.  If your list is pages and pages long, you’re setting your project up for failure.  Focus on those requirements and your shop floor challenges, not the wow factors vendors offer to finalize a sale.  Consider this:

  • Modules do not make a better software product, and more modules do not make an even better solution. In fact, each one of those modules will require an integration and some customization, which can quickly add up to a more complex, and expensive, system.
  • Offering a bazillion versions of the same product doesn’t mean the one you finally select is any better than other solutions, or other versions of that software. The core software isn’t likely to change, no matter how many different names you slap on it.
  • Counting the number of KPI reports on your super-cool dashboard should not be a core criteria for your software selection. Reports are easy to design and write. A scalable, functional solution designed to improve production is more important.
  • An ERP is different from a PLM, which is different from an MES. Each serves a unique function in the production process, and anyone selling you an “integrated” solution has either bundled three different software products together so they look the same, or is offering you a less-than optimal solution for each.

Building Trust in your Vendor

The success of any MES project is determined by how well the software solves production challenges.  Illustration by

The success of any MES project is determined by how well the software solves production challenges. Illustration by

Your requirement list may change as you begin selecting and down-selecting vendors, but the core challenges facing production won’t change. Features and function that don’t address those core challenges should not be a key factor in your selection.

Look for a vendor you can trust. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, you need a vendor willing to tell you both the good and the bad.  Any vendor who isn’t willing to say “no” when it’s necessary doesn’t see your business as a long-term partner, just another commission.

Don’t be dazzled by the Flowbee of software solutions. Make sure you have a solution and vendor you can trust. Want to know more, or see how paperless manufacturing might benefit your shop floor? Give us a call and let us see what we can do for you.

Benefits of Agile to your Paperless Manufacturing Implementation

Customers often ask us how we can ensure the accuracy of our project estimates and budgets. Our answer is simple – Agile.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Agile offers our customers a competitive edge, saving time and money, when it comes to MES projects. Illustration by

Agile offers our customers a competitive edge, saving time and money, when it comes to MES projects. Illustration by

The other day, I came across an online ad citing a product as the “most widely-used” in the industry, helping create “Lean benchmarks” that turn “data into action.” It sounds nice, with pretty keywords, but, to be honest, I don’t really know what any of that means.

This is the problem with much of the marketing-talk out there. I don’t care if you are “Lean-enabled” or your company is “widely-regarded” or “a leader in manufacturing technology.” I want to know what you are going to do for me if I use your product.

For example… CIMx is an Agile enterprise. Through Agile, we are more efficient, flexible, scalable, proactive and adaptable. We are a more reliable and predictable supplier because we are Agile – it’s how we can get more done with a higher quality in less time and fewer resources, but throwing out terms like “agile-enterprise” or business agility” isn’t customer-oriented, and doesn’t explain the benefit. It’s all about us, and not our customer.

Let’s take a look at what Agile means to the CIMx customer:

Introduction to Agile

An Agile enterprise embraces change to eliminate the organizational stress that paralyzes many businesses when they are forced to adapt. Using Agile, a CIMx project integrates planning and execution, allowing us to continually optimize resources and strategy during a project and adjust to changing requirements. Project requirements are broken down into small sets of focused work items (things the customer needs) that can be demonstrated and tested. This allows the team to complete requirements over a short, predictable period of time such as a few weeks within a sprint. Typically the requirements with the highest priority are tackled first. Once those requirements are met, the team meets the project stakeholder (generally the customer) to review and prioritize the next set of requirements. This method of frequent feedback and continual reassessment is the key to Agile. It eliminates surprises, misunderstandings and schedule slippages, and saves a customer a bundle of rework expenses.

The Benefits of Agile

Agile offers clear benefits over past project management techniques, which involved in-depth planning, long periods of time, and a massive set of requirements without priority. With Agile, you have:

  • Flexibility.

CIMx can quickly adjust to changing project or customer needs with minimal loss of productivity or cost to the customer. The CIMx team uses the sprint to tackle the individual requirements of a larger project. The goal of the sprint is to fulfill the requirement. After each sprint, the project is re-evaluated with the customer and a new set of requirements prioritized. This gives the customer greater control over the project.

  • Scalability.

To meet customer needs on larger requirements without exploding the budget or wasting the customer’s money, CIMx uses Agile to shift resources to a priority, then move them to other projects once the requirement is complete. In Agile, planning parallels execution, making it much easier to adequately estimate the resources necessary to meet a requirement. With planning tied so closely to each phase of execution, customers can be sure the adequate and necessary resources are applied to each phase, keeping the project on schedule without wasting the budget, overcharging the customer, or having the project explode into complexity.

  • Efficiency.

CIMx uses Agile to complete projects on-time and on-budget without the huge teams and massive service charges you find while working with other software vendors. With many failed projects, problems only appear late, when any solution requires massive cost and schedule overruns. Agile provides customers continual project updates, and the project team constant feedback. Problems can be discovered and solved early, before they impact the schedule or budget. The work done is always focused on the customer’s highest priority. Since the project goals are continually being evaluated, everyone on the team stays focused on serving the customer to the best of their ability.

For CIMx, the greatest benefit of Agile may be eliminating project uncertainty and ensuring we all have the resources and support we need to do our job efficiently. Rather than grappling with an overly complex project without clear direction or an adequate plan, we focus on manageable tasks that continually make progress toward the overall project goal. Receiving continual feedback from the project manager and customer ensures we are on target and everyone is working toward the same goal.

Okay, I may be falling into “market-speak,” but operating as an Agile enterprise is a clear benefit for our customers. They often ask how we can offer such realistic schedules and deliver projects with efficient teams and lower cost, and the answer is Agile.

5 Truths to Shatter the “Too Big to Fail” MES Myth

Many companies seek out the biggest MES vendor, believing it is the “best” option for their manufacturing software.  That decision is often the biggest obstacle in project success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Process Improvement graph.

Are you selecting your software vendor for the right reasons? Illustration by

We’ve all heard about banks and financial institutions that are simply, “too big to fail.”  The reasoning – we’ve based so much of our financial well-being on the success of the company, failure would negatively and irrevocably impact the global market.

This same reasoning drives many companies to seek manufacturing software solutions from the biggest vendor they can find.  Size becomes the driving factor in the selection process, while every other factor, such as shop floor needs, ROI, or production benefit, becomes a secondary consideration.   The unfortunate result – many companies come to regret their decision and end up with a less than adequate and entirely over-priced solution.  Truth is, many times with MES a solution is too big to succeed.  Consider these factors:

  • The right solution is more likely to ensure success than extra manpower. For most companies, success will be reached by a solution that successfully maps to your work processes and delivers tools to help your team work better, faster, and with fewer errors.  Throwing manpower and tech support at a problem isn’t project management.
  • Old software will increase the risk, complexity and cost of a project. Many large companies offer older software because they no longer innovate.  Big companies don’t have an appetite for the risk required of innovation.  They buy smaller companies or different products to simulate innovation, while their core software gets old and dusty.
  • The amount of functionality is less important than the software’s match to your process needs. Few companies ever use all the functionality offered in manufacturing software.  A library of software modules and a sea of buttons on the screen don’t make the software better.  The right button and a sensible solution will.
  • Large service teams mean higher service costs, additional complexity, and greater risk. If a solution is truly flexible and scalable, massive service teams shouldn’t be necessary.  The system should adapt to your needs, offer a platform for improved production, and not require wholesale changes to existing operations.
  • Long-term project success requires an upgrade plan and flexibility. Often with a long development project, by the time the software is finished the production needs will have changed.  The software is already out of date.  Look for vendors that offer an upgrade plan and is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of your shop floor.

Enough time, patience, money and resources will ensure the completion of any software project.  However, simply completing a project isn’t success.  There are many examples of a “big solution” offered by a large company that ends up slowing down production on the shop floor.  “Big solutions” are often complex, and more focused on added functionality – such as front office reporting, data analysis, or PLM or ERP tools, rather than the shop floor.  As a result, the managers and shop techs dislike the solution enough to avoid it.  To be honest, why should they use it if it doesn’t offer them the tools they need?

When evaluating the size and scope of a project, especially one with a larger vendor, consider your companies appetite for cost and complexity.  Will the solution be used?  A solution will offer no ROI if no one uses it.  Also consider the installation schedule.  Technology changes so rapidly that 5-10 year old solutions can be obsolete before it is installed, especially from an efficiency, quality improvement and savings perspective.

Want to help ensure a successful MES or paperless manufacturing project?  Determine your key priorities with a focused list.  Minimize additional “wants” or lesser priorities, and use the list to drive your selection of a vendor.  The list will keep you focused on the key priorities that determine project success, rather than corollary factors with little ROI, such as the size of the company you are considering.

With modern software solutions, the size of the company is no longer a driving factor in the success of the software.  Steve Jobs once said “A small team of A players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”  Make sure you work with A players.

Want to learn more, or talk about how you should go about creating a list of key priorities?  Give us a call and talk to a project engineer about how we can help.