Monthly Archives: March 2015

Making Sense of the MES Module Conundrum

If you buy a manufacturing software solution as “modules,” how much benefit and potential is lost with only a partial solution? What are you missing?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How many modules will it take to get the functionality you need? Illustration by

How many modules will it take to get the functionality you need? Illustration by

In 1997, MESA (Manufacturing Execution Systems Association) defined the scope of MES with 11 different functions. These functions include areas such as Quality Management, Labor Management, Data Collection & Acquisition, and Performance Analysis. Over the years, the scope and models used by MESA have changed, but the goal has remained the same – to provide a view of what can and should be accomplished with an enterprise system (MES) to increase performance.

Here is my problem – many suppliers offer piecemeal “module-based” systems as MES or Paperless Manufacturing. With a clearly defined scope for an enterprise system, how can you offer only a partial solution to a shop floor and expect them to operate at maximum efficiency? It’s like giving someone a few pieces of the puzzle and telling them to make it work.

For example, some companies offer Shop Floor Data Collection as a “module” to the main software system. It is an additional cost, and additional work to install. Sure, it may be marketed to the manufacturer as a bonus that can be “added” when they are ready, but without shop floor data collection you don’t have a complete solution. Other companies may offer Performance Analytics in a “Service Pack” with an additional cost, Maintenance Management in a Tooling Module, and Product Tracking and Genealogy as yet another installation because it’s not part of their core “Manufacturing Management or Paperless Management” solution.

It makes no sense! How can you offer a partial system and call it a “Manufacturing Solution?”  Why aren’t these pieces fully integrated into a cohesive solution? Why does the product have to be doled out piece by piece? Is this really a better way to manage information on the shop floor and control the elements of production?

The Foundation of a Total Solution

An MES should provide the foundation for production. Information enters the system and is managed and controlled throughout the production process before it is moved to another enterprise system. The problem with the flawed “module” approach to MES implementation is it leaves holes in the foundation – holes that create errors and inefficiencies. Production just disappears in those gaping holes as your team scrambles to fill the hole with non-productive effort.

A complete shop floor software solution should provide the foundation of information management for production. Illustration by

A complete shop floor software solution should provide the foundation of information management for production. Illustration by

Consider this – if your “manufacturing management system” is just pushing orders to the shop floor and not collecting data, you don’t have a complete view of manufacturing or any way to effectively introduce process improvement. Quality control will be hindered and process enforcement incomplete. By removing an important function of a complete system just because it’s in a different module, you hurt the effectiveness of the entire system.

It would be like buying a car with the steering wheel missing, and the dealer asking you if you want the “4 Tires Upgrade.” Having only a few pieces of the puzzle offers only part of the solution. You might be happy with those parts, but the overall solution, and maximized system effectiveness, is still out of reach.

A Better Shop Floor Solution

So, why do companies offer modules if they are so problematic and ineffective? Many times it is because the system they offer was once focused on a single MES function. It might have started its life as Inventory system or a simple ERP, and the MES functionality was added later. It might even have been a whole different system that was purchased and smashed together to make a “new” product.

When looking for a manufacturing solution, position your shop floor for growth and improvement by making sure you have a true MES or Paperless Manufacturing solution. Don’t focus on a list of functions or individual requirements, but look at process and make sure there are no “holes” in the solution. The system needs to provide a complete foundation for production management.

This is why CIMx doesn’t offer modules. We offer the complete solution to every customer. Once installed, customers turn on and use the functions they need, and can add new features and functions at their own pace because the entire solution is in place and waiting.

Don’t be fooled by the Module conundrum, and end up purchasing a partial solution that leaves your shop floor searching for the missing piece of MES puzzle. Want to learn more, or talk about what a Paperless Manufacturing solution could do for you? Give us a call, we’re happy to help.

5 Easy Tips for Building Support for Paperless Manufacturing

Many manufacturing companies are resistant to change. Build consensus and excitement for an MES or paperless manufacturing project following these easy-to-use tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't ignore the cultural requirements when selecting a manufacturing software solution.  Image by

Don’t ignore the cultural requirements when selecting a manufacturing software solution. Image by

Implementing a shop floor or manufacturing system such as paperless manufacturing or MES is as much a cultural project as a technology upgrade. The problem is, many companies focus solely on the technology. They spend time and energy looking at software platforms and functionality, build a list of requirements and develop a software solution, only to see the project fail from internal resistance, a cultural disconnect or miscommunication.

Never fear – the solution to the cultural challenge is easier than you might think. Having worked with many manufacturers transitioning from paper to an electronic system, we’ve see how these 5 tips can turn the most reluctant co-worker into a paperless manufacturing supporter:

  1. Build an inclusive project team. You need to include on the project team a representative from all areas of the business affected by the new software system. This might mean someone from quality, the shop floor, engineering, IT, and the front office. Even as you are selecting a new system, you should build internal support and project champions.
  2. Develop an action plan early. Many times, people are reluctant to embrace change because they aren’t sure what it will mean. They might believe the new system will eliminate jobs or ruin what they love about their work. Get ahead of the rumors with your action plan. Give people an idea of the project schedule and how it will affect them (for the better).
  3. Never isolate the Doubters. For every project, there will be those people who “just don’t see how it will work.” It would be easy to charge ahead and ignore them, but this would be missing an opportunity. Invite them into the process. Include them in a pilot program, and get their feedback. Let them be invested in the project, and they will be your strongest supporters.
  4. Set benchmarks for the project. To build support for the project, you need to measure success. Without identifiable benchmarks, it will be difficult to track success or failure, or control the internal narrative of the project. Open and honest benchmarks are vitally important for the audience tracking the project especially the person proving the funding.
  5. Determine the ROI. Nothing defines the success (or failure) of a project like the ROI. Let people know how much money the project will save with fewer quality escapes, improved productivity, non-conformance management, or shop floor data collection and business intelligence.

The benefits of a shop floor system are obvious. Simply removing error-prone and inefficient paper from the shop floor with digital work instructions can save more than $100,000 per year in paper handling and printing costs alone! Yet, many are still reluctant to embrace change. Following these simple tips will address the cultural concerns of the project early and efficiently to ensure project success.

Want to learn more, or discuss how a paperless manufacturing project will benefit you and your company? Give us a call.

5 Keys to Effective Shop Floor Data Collection

Want to Increase quality, improve production and increase profitability? An effective shop floor data collection will do all this and more, and is much easier to implement than you think.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

How effective is your shop floor data collection? Illustration by

How effective is your shop floor data collection? Illustration by

How important is quality to manufacturing? According to a recent study, it may be the most critical factor in manufacturing profitability. A 1% to 2% increase in productivity may represent more product, but a 1% to 2% increase in quality represents less waste, less scrap, more product, more productivity, more efficiency, and happier customers.

Data collection provides the foundation for quality improvement in manufacturing, and every manufacturer has a quality team or processes in place, yet many companies never realize the full benefit of quality improvement due to ineffective data collection. They struggle to turn the data they collect into real benefit or measurable improvement. In fact, many times inefficient data collection will lead to errors, additional scrap and waste, as well as lost production.

Take a moment to evaluate your current plan for data collection using the follow criteria to identify areas for potential improvement:

  • How “smart” is your data collection?

A smart data collection program is proactive. By catching and eliminating errors early, you can minimize waste and save money and production. A “dumb” data collection delays review of the data, or may not have a plan in place to take corrective action. Looking at a report of mistakes a month after they happened highlights a month of lost opportunity for improvement, and leaves the cause of errors in place.

  • Does your data collection include automatic tolerance checks?

Automating as much of the data collection and check-off process as possible removes potential sources of errors and keeps shop floor employees and the quality team focused on critical tasks. For example, automating tolerance checks will identify quality escapes the minute data is collected. Comparing collected data against the engineering specs is best left to the software system.

  • Does your system eliminate potential input errors?

The truth is, your data is only as good as the system used to collect it. How many times do you input the data? Any more than once is a sign of wasted effort and increased errors. How long do you wait to input the data? What is your source for the data? If you wait till the end of a shop floor shift, when data is collected from handwritten notes on the traveler, then you have a problem. The data you are using is unreliable, out-of-date, and is costing you money. Look for ways to streamline and improve the reliability of your data collection and input.

  • Do you have access to real-time reports?

With modern manufacturing tools and advances in software and technology, there is no reason why the shop floor shouldn’t have access to real-time reports. Today, you can implement a low-cost and low-risk paperless manufacturing system in less than a month, and have a dashboard with real-time shop floor visibility and quality control soon after. With an automated system, you can also move the people who once assembled reports onto more important tasks.

  • How are you using the data that’s collected?

Consider when you are collecting data. Many times a company will collect data once all the work is done. Unfortunately, this data is collected too late to take corrective action. It’s true, this data can be used in an audit or to eliminate a defective product, but both the work and materials are wasted, and planning and shop floor scheduling is unreliable as product is pulled after production. Consider when you can best utilize the data, and when it should be taken. Look at the reasons why you aren’t getting the data you need when you need it. Taking a few moments to collect shop floor data during production is time well spent.

The goal for all manufacturers should be continuous improvement toward optimal production given the machines, equipment and processes being used.  The single most important requirement to achieve that goal is continuous monitoring of shop floor results.  Collection of result data that is automatically verified against specifications and available to decision makers who are tracking progress of all work orders across the shop floor is the best way to continually monitor production and achieve continuous improvement. Give CIMx a call today or leave us a message and ask for a free review of your shop floor processes and a plan to optimize production flow.

The Curious Connection between Waffle House and your MES Vendor

Waffle House has turned its commitment to customers into an enduring brand. What commitment has your MES supplier made to you?

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Have you heard of the Waffle House Index? It’s a metric used by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to track the severity of a storm… and a metric that can give you key insight into the level of service your MES supplier provides.

Waffle_clip_art_hightWaffle House offers quality American breakfast food all day long, every day, and the company prides itself on serving customers no matter the weather. This has become a hallmark of the Waffle House brand – the website even promises “Each restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and quality is constant location to location.”

On May 22, 2011, a tornado struck Joplin, Missouri. The storm was rated an EF5, with 158 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. EF, which stands for Enhanced Fujita, rates the estimated wind speed and storm damage, and an EF5 represents the worst storm damage possible. With winds estimated at more than 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), buildings can be decimated in seconds. In Joplin, the 2 Waffle Houses stayed open during the storm, and continued serving food – tasty waffles and delicious southern cooking – throughout the storm and recovery. As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate explained to the Wall Street Journal, “If you get there (to a disaster area) and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”

Following the Joplin storm, FEMA added the Waffle House index to its disaster dashboard. With the index, FEMA tracks Waffle Houses open in the area of storm damage. Where a Waffle House is closed, FEMA prioritizes the area for disaster recovery service.

Waffles and your MES

Will your MES Vendor make a commitment to you? How quickly can you reach someone to answer a critical question? Illustration by

Will your MES Vendor make a commitment to you? How quickly can you reach someone to answer a critical question? Illustration by

Can you imagine the branding power available to a business so reliable emergency authorities use it to track disaster response? The Waffle House commitment to the customer can be summed up simply – “The Lights Are Always on at Waffle House.” While it may be a fantastic boon to marketing, it also represents a business with tight business processes and an effective planning model. Storms aren’t predictable. They build quickly and strike even faster. When considering effective disaster recovery, you need to be prepared for everything and anything, and have a plan in place to respond to a situation accurately and efficiently, to ensure reliable service in the most difficult situations.

Which led me to the thought – how will a software supplier index you when it comes time for a service call? Where do you rate on their list of priorities? Do they have a “customer” index, or even a plan for serving their customers in a disaster like Waffle House does? Most manufacturing software suppliers offer a yearly “service plan” to customers, but what does this mean? Are those suppliers making a commitment to you and your business?

You see, at CIMx, our goal with our service plan is to deliver effective solutions and service to our customers as quickly as possible, with minimal (or even no) service disruption and no unnecessary service costs. Get effective software expertise when and where it needs to be. This starts with our Application Engineers. Every one of our customers has an engineer dedicated to their account. The engineer is the project leader for the software implementation, and conducts all training and service for the customer. Supporting the Application Engineer, we have plans in place designed to deliver scalable support when and where our customers need it.

With the Application Engineer, we’ve eliminated the “middle man” – those horrible call centers and help desks that normally handle customer calls – to ensure our customers speak directly to the person best positioned to answer customer questions and lead the response. For the Application Engineer, the customer is the highest priority. It’s a standard level of service for CIMx, and it’s become our “the light’s always on” commitment to our customers. For our customers, the Application Engineer is a trusted partner ready at a moment’s notice to work with them to get their production up and running as quickly as possible, no matter what the problem is (because it is a point of pride here at CIMx that our software is, first and foremost, stable and adaptable, and NEVER prone to failure).

A Commitment to Customer-Centric Paperless Manufacturing

How will your shop floor benefit from customer-centric customer service through an Application Engineer assigned to your account? Illustration by

How will your shop floor benefit from customer-centric customer service through an Application Engineer assigned to your account? Illustration by

Most importantly, we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact our customer support plans have. I recently had a conversation with a customer upgrading our software at multiple sites. Most customers can do this on their own, but when the customer upgrades through several versions or has multiple platforms to support, as this customer was potentially doing at the sites, they often ask for advisory help (which brings up the point – does your MES supplier allow you to upgrade without a service contract or the vendor’s help?) We were writing a contract for the engineering services and had applied the standard response time to the proposal, when the customer told me our response time was “faster than I need on this project.” I was floored. We respond more quickly than he needed?

For me, this was verification our processes and planning were paying off. We provided a level of service that was more than was necessary, which I should think is rare among manufacturing software suppliers. So, I’m curious, what level of service do you receive from your vendors? What is their commitment to you once you’ve purchased the software? Is it enough? Do you have a plan in place for when the unexpected happens? What are your support dollars doing for you?

Where does your software supplier fit in the Waffle House index?

The Shop Floor Culture Wars and Paperless Manufacturing

Conflict and mis-communication between IT and Operations may be hurting your company more than you think.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software
How smoothly does your shop floor operate? Illustration by

How smoothly does your shop floor operate? Illustration by

We work with manufacturing companies around the world. We’re a software company so we have developers, software engineers and IT experts on staff. We also love manufacturing – the hum of machines on the shop floor and the smooth efficiency of processes and schedules.  These (seemingly) dichotomous interests give us a unique perspective on the manufacturing industry… we know the software and technology and love the science and culture of manufacturing, which may be why we are so dismayed at the silent Culture War we see being waged at many companies.

IT versus Operations… we’ve come to expect the unspoken conflict between these departments every time we work with a new company. In one organization, we were shocked to learn many in IT had never visited a shop floor or even knew what, exactly, the company made. In another company the Director of Operations told us he wasn’t sure what the IT department had to do other than fix computers. The organizational separation between IT and Operations causes serious harm to a business, limits the organizations ability to collaborate or communicate, and stifles creativity and efficiency. Vital information gets buried inside the organizational silos built between the departments.   These cultural differences within an organization lead to non-productive work and wasted resources.

The problem (I hope) isn’t open conflict or true warfare, but that decisions are made by both groups independently. Often, a company will assign responsibility to one group or another, and rather than working collaboratively one department will vigorously defend their power. Collaboration is seen as a loss of power.

From our perspective, there is absolutely no reason for this separation – no benefit. And yet, because implementing paperless manufacturing is as much a cultural project as a technical one, these silos that fuel the organizational culture wars are magnified during the implementation. Consider this:

  • How much is shop floor dysfunction costing you? Illustration by

    How much is shop floor dysfunction costing you? Illustration by

    Implementing a software solution like paperless manufacturing or an MES without feedback and consultation with operations can lead to a system that causes more problems than it is worth, and ends up being unused. Operations is process-based, and any tool must be integrated with the processes as much as the business infrastructure.

  • Without IT expertise, the software system may never be fully integrated into other systems, and may not ever have the support necessary to optimize production. Trying to cram more software tools onto servers haphazardly is a task doomed to failure.
  • Miscommunication and misinformation during the selection and implementation can lead to gaps in coverage or service, leading to frustration and operational inefficiencies, and a solution that never delivers the full ROI.

When positioning yourself for success in a system implementation, the core problem is simple – both operations and IT play a critical role in a software system implementation for manufacturing, and any time you have these two organizations operating at cross-purposes, the project has little chance of success.

Solving Shop Floor Dysfunction

Any solution to this problem starts with bridging the gap between IT and Operations, and eliminating or minimizing the barriers and silos that develop between departments. There are several simple steps that can be taken by organizations plagued by internal culture wars:

  • Foster a culture that looks to the future.
Improving shop floor efficiency is easier than you might think. Image by

Improving shop floor efficiency is easier than you might think. Image by

Silos develop when employees cling to the, “way things have always been done.” Internal departments look inward when they want to protect their way of doing things, which eliminates the opportunity for improvement and promotes organizational silos. Elect representatives from both IT and Operations to develop and manage process improvement programs, helping employees to embrace a culture of change. Focus on innovation and improvement, rather than maintaining the status quo.

  • Help IT understand operations.

While it may not seem like a productive use of employee time, you can gain a lot by helping your IT department learn about production. Get them on the shop floor, and let them see how manufacturing struggles without digital tools. Give them an understanding of the shop floor processes and how operations works, and they will be in a better position to support production initiatives.

  • Get IT involved in the project early.

If Operations sees IT as only, “the people who work on the computer,” then you aren’t adequately engaging one of your best internal resources. Don’t wait to get IT involved in a project till you need them, get them involved early and let them help build the requirements. Their involvement will help ensure you have a system optimized for your production environment.

  • Share ownership of the system.

Many companies feel the project is over once the system is installed, but today, in a world where change is the only constant in manufacturing, maintaining the viability of the system is a critical competitive advantage. This can best be done, without putting an undue burden on either department, by electing a “system-leader” from both Operations and IT. Operations can focus on the functionality of the system, while IT can focus on other aspects of the software.

Shop Floor Efficiency the Easy Way

Illustration by

Illustration by

This may seem like an overly simple solution to a complex problem, but many employees and organizations fail to see the “big picture” connection between IT and Operations. Operations drive profit and generate money, while IT gives Operations the tools and support they need to succeed. There really is no difference – both work to serve the customer and the business.

Without collaboration and communication between IT and Operations during the selection and implementation of a new manufacturing software system, companies are often left with a software system that never meets expectations or operates efficiently. Requirements may be met, but the overall benefit to the organization is lacking. Opportunity is lost.

Want to know more, or see how CIMx can help you bridge the gap between IT and Operations? Give us a call or let us know how we can help.