Monthly Archives: April 2015

Who Owns the MES Project?

Many times an MES or Paperless Manufacturing implementation becomes an internal political struggle, which leads to production consequences that may take years to recover from.

By Brandon Mendenhall, Product Support Engineer for CIMx Software

Are your hurting your company by not sharing ownership of your shop floor system? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are your hurting your company by not sharing ownership of your shop floor system? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

From our experience, most MES and Paperless Manufacturing implementation projects begin with a specific problem the customer needs to solve. This problem may be a failed audit, a quality escape, or even just out-of-control paper records. One person or group may be determined to solve the problem. They will drive the project, attending the implementation meetings and demos, and drafting the list of requirements. Even so, they may not be the ones LEADING the project… That may be an entirely different group in the organization, which can be a serious problem for many implementation projects.

Maximizing the Benefit

With technology changing at a rapid pace, shaping all aspects of enterprise operations, it becomes a challenge to determine who owns information systems such as MES.  In the past most assumed IT supported/owned all technology, but today those lines are blurred and we need to question those assumptions. So, the question remains, who is responsible for Manufacturing Executions Systems (MES)?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all type of answer. Consider this – the goal of systems like an MES or QMS (Quality Management System) is to improve production, so is IT best positioned to select and implement MES and QMS functionality?  Is Operations or Sales and Marketing best suited to maintain and upgrade the system over the life of the installation? The idea that a single group should have full ownership of a system is dated and inefficient. As complex and integral as today’s enterprise software is, joint ownership is necessary. User groups need to have an active role in supporting and maintaining the system.

Tips for Sharing Ownership

Each group in a company has different priorities and different requirements for a new software system. IT may require ease of implementation and a low-maintenance system, so they may look for an additional module or add-on to an existing system, rather than a whole new implementation. For management, it may be analytics, and for sales and customer service it may be a real-time view of production. Operations may need data collection, or elimination of paper build books.

For the software, there are two key factors that must be considered when selecting an MES. One would be the infrastructure, and the other would be the functionality of the system.  IT is best suited to manage the infrastructure requirements. They should already be monitoring and maintaining the infrastructure for the company, which makes them a key asset to ensure that the MES can be implemented and function on the organizations current infrastructure.

The second key factor is the functionality of the system. For most manufacturers, production is the key profit driver for the company. Since an MES directly impacts production, plant operations should at least guide the functionality requirements. The users utilizing the system to manage and improve production need to influence the final selection of the system. Other users may have different requirements, but the primary requirements should be focused on production needs.

Putting All the Pieces Together

Understanding that multiple groups are dependent on the success of an MES helps build a stronger relationship between departments and more easily allows support and functionality to scale as the company grows. IT can best determine when to change or upgrade the infrastructure of the system, while Operations can guide the adoption of new functionality to meet the changing needs of production. Even Management and sales and marketing should provide input in the direction of the system.

In the end, an MES is a critical foundation for the enterprise, and each department needs to provide input to maximize the effectiveness of the software.

Organizations run into issues when there are barriers between departments/teams. It’s crucial to understand that not just one person has responsibility for an MES, but all groups impacted must take ownership of the requirements, maintenance and implementation. When you begin the project with this goal in mind, the silos and barriers that once crippled a company can be eliminated as the system becomes the foundation for improved processes across the enterprise.

Is Your Shop Floor Ready for Vacation?

Ever wonder how production will continue if you, or someone else, isn’t there? If so, you have a serious problem, and we have a solution.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

If you have a shop floor where information and expertise are isolated to individuals, a simple vacation can be a prelude to disaster. Image by www.colourbox.com

If you have a shop floor where information and expertise are isolated to individuals, a simple vacation can be a prelude to disaster. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

I have a simple question for you. If you went on vacation tomorrow, or won the lottery, or were hit by a bus and lost your memory, or just decided to take a day off to watch table tennis, could your co-workers manage operations? How efficiently could your responsibilities be transitioned to someone else? What would they miss? What tasks would fall through the cracks?

Even though manufacturing relies on processes and workflow, and we all work to develop best practices for every task, most of us struggle with knowledge gap. It seems like every shop floor is filled with missing information, or information silos. We’re so focused on completing orders that documenting processes is never a priority.

And so, when a particularly wicked game of table tennis comes on, everyone scrambles to “cover.” This is a sign of a much deeper, and more dangerous, problem. You have less control of your production, the center of your business, than you might think.

Eliminating the Information Drain

Information silos develop when processes aren’t fully documented. In those hidden zones inside a workflow, employees develop methods for getting work done. They “make it work.”

It’s not until one piece from the massive production puzzle is missing that we see the gaps.  We call this the “information-drain” on the shop floor.

An MES or paperless manufacturing solution does more than remove paper, or collect shop floor data and set schedules. First and foremost, it manages workflow. Orders and planning are stored in the system, which are then organized as operations in a work plan. With modern MES, data collection, asset management, and more can be added to individual plans. The entire workflow should be mapped to the digital system, and can be easily retrieved and reviewed.

Done correctly, the system will expose “information silos” and eliminate them. The information needed to complete each task is loaded to the system. Even a quality check to collect measurements and remove non-conformances, often handled separate from production, can be set up as an operation in the system. Information from other systems used in production can be integrated if data from a PLM or the ERP is used in an operation. The system organizes everything you need to know to complete work.

Once you start mapping processes to the system and using procedural enforcement on the shop floor, the “make-it-work” methodology is quickly eliminated.

The Paperless Manufacturing Solution

Many people approach an MES or paperless manufacturing to solve a specific problem such as quality escapes, out-of-control paper on the shop floor, better data collection, production visibility or to manage regulatory audits, but a key benefit of the system is managing workflow and processes. A (welcome) by-product of using the tool is better understanding of the processes in production.

Paper-based records and planning, which is often filled with gaps, incomplete, and many times never even used, is the breeding ground for knowledge silos.  Without a system to guide response, your (physical) presence is necessary when problems occur. Solutions require you to physically gather critical information, or supply the knowledge needed for the solution. With a digital solution, knowledge is safety and completely encapsulated in the system, providing the context your team needs to implement a response to problems – leaving you to go on vacation whenever you choose without jeopardizing your company production flow.

Want to discover how easy it is to use your planning in a paperless system or to map your shop floor processes to our MES? Give us a call or set-up a time for a free workflow analysis. We’re always happy to help.

Newton’s Laws and MES: What the Laws of Motion Tell You about Your Shop Floor?

Isaac Newton’s physical laws have become the basis of modern manufacturing. They also help explain why many manufacturer’s struggle to improve, and point to a solution.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

What direction is your shop floor heading? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What direction is your shop floor heading? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

We use Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion every day. They may not be as popular among scientists as more revolutionary theories – like General Relativity, Supersymmetry and Quantum Mechanics. Though we may never think about it, the shop floor operates efficiently using Newton’s Laws of Motion.

It may also help explain why so many manufacturers struggle to improve, grappling with the same tired issues year after year. Consider this:

  • Newton’s First Law (Improvement starts with change!)

Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.

Also known as the Law of Inertia, Newton’s First Law states that unless there is no net force acting on an object (or a shop floor), then the object will maintain a constant velocity.

For a shop floor, this means that unless someone (or something) pushes, then the shop floor will continue to operate as it has in the past. Errors will continue to be made, paper and misplaced records will continue to pile up, and problems will continue. Even worse, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, over time energy loss and inefficiency will increase in the system (your shop floor). According to physics, doing nothing is not an option if you want to stay competitive.

Let’s be honest – there will be some who are happy with good enough, and they see the problem they know (errors and inefficiency) as preferable to the problems they don’t know (what will life be like with a system managing operations and eliminating problems?) That’s fine – if you are  struggling to improve and fear change even if you are wasting money – then go for it.

But, as Newton’s First Law says, if you want to change or improve, you’re going to need net force acting on your current operations.

  • Newton’s Second Law (You control the rate of change and improvement!)

Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object). Or, Force = Mass times Acceleration (F=MA).

Use a phased implementation to improve your shop floor in manageable steps. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Use a phased implementation to improve your shop floor in manageable steps. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Newton’s Second law explains the relationship between mass, force, and acceleration. If you know the weight of an object and how fast you want it to move, you can figure out how much force you will need to apply.

I don’t think anyone expects to throw their shop floor, but we are (or at least should be) in control of the pace of change in operations. Does the shop floor manager worry about incorporating too much change at once? Then start with a pilot program on one line to test the capabilities of the new system. Slower acceleration (A) in a smaller area (M) will require less work (F). Then, when you are ready, apply a little more force and move it to another area.

Start with a single function of an MES or shop floor paperless manufacturing system, such as Quality, and then roll out new functionality. Focus first on the most important features to help build an ROI. Eventually, you can completely upgrade operations without the growing pains that plague many implementations. We call this a “phased implementation,” and it works well.

  • Newton’s Third Law (It’s human nature to embrace improvement and reject inefficiency.)

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Accord to the Third Law of Motion, in every interaction between objects there is an equal and opposite force that acts on both objects. Another description of this Law is the “action-reaction force pairs.”

At first glance, you might think this is good reason to do NOTHING. After all, if you are upgrading your shop floor, then there must be a disastrous downgrade approaching.  Maybe you see a full-scale revolt of the workers who don’t want you to take away their beloved paper build-books.

But the truth is, the world thrives on the action-reaction pairs. It is what allows a bird to fly and fish to swim. The wings of a bird push the air downwards, and the air pushes the bird up. The bird instinctively knows how to adjust. Measured and deliberate change on the shop floor will inspire production to improve. By working to improve you create the force to enact improvements.

Without directly confronting the source of problems, you’ll never make a sustainable improvement in your operations. It is human nature to adapt and adjust to change to action and reaction force pairs. Once you determine a path forward for your shop floor, trust they will adapt and embrace the benefits.


 

If you see a need for improvement in your operations, and you know the status-quo won’t be good enough in the future, then now is the time to act. Seize the moment and give us a call for a free review of your shop floor operations. Starting a project that brings positive change and benefits to your operation is easier than you might thank.

It’s Not Just About Sales – It’s About Building Lasting Relationships

Even in the manufacturing software industry, every company has a different tactic for building profits. Understanding the sales process can tell you a lot about the company.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

In her blog (a blog I often take time to read), The Irreverent Sales Girl states, “I think the biggest mistake salespeople make today, is that they try to pretend they’re not salespeople.”

What can the sales process for a new MES tell you about the long-term success of the implementation?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can the sales process for a new MES tell you about the long-term success of the implementation? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Companies need to make money, but when they haven’t taken the time to ensure their product adds value to the customer and profit to their business, they struggle to build trust with customers (a common problem for some MES suppliers) and resort to smoke and mirrors to hide the true cost of their product. Every business needs a mechanism or system for generating profit. Without it, you have no way to pay salaries or grow the company.

For some MES suppliers, that may be through service charges. These companies will offer a smaller base product and have a whole “implementation” team to build out your system with modules or add-ons. Other suppliers might focus on building a custom system. Or they may sell the software at an extremely high initial price, then pass it to the customer to use and implement as they see fit. Future sales may focus on upgrades. Many companies that offer extensive analytics, but only rudimentary MES functionality, often generate profit this way. These strategies can be very profitable for the supplier, but do not support the long term success of the implementation.

Whether you’re selling a 20oz. porterhouse, classic cars, or software that can run a manufacturing shop floor, the ultimate goal is the same…make the sale and grow profit. But, for CIMx a sale is worth nothing if it comes with a dissatisfied customer because of how we have designed our sales process to generate profit. Customer relations are vitally important, if not more important than the sale itself.  Our goal is to build trust from the start.   Building trust brings loyalty in the future.

CIMx builds a relationship with our customers – fine tuning our sales process around the customer’s needs. We want our customers to rely on our software for many years, and to come to us with their manufacturing challenges. It wouldn’t do any good to rush through a sale, dump a less than stellar product, and then disappear. Our goal is to offer an outstanding product that adds critical value to our customers. As their business grows, CIMx grows with them. We must help the people we’re selling to.

When working with CIMx, here is what you should expect:

 

  • We research our customers – We’ll take a look at our customer’s website prior to talking to them. We try to understand what they make, how they function, and what their priorities are so we know what questions to ask. We take the time to ensure the first call is of value.    
  • Have more than one call – Selling MES software is not a race to the finish (unless you are only concerned about dollar signs). Manufacturing is a complex business, and taking the time to fully understand our customers adds value and benefit. 
  • Move at our customer’s pace – We’ll ask about timelines – a customer in investigative stages will have different priorities than one already at requirements. Pushing a customer forward before they are ready doesn’t make anyone feel comfortable. 
  • Learn our customer’s processes – Our goal isn’t to sell software with custom code, but we do want to design a solution for our customers. We do this by mapping the customer’s processes to our software. It is important to show how our software can specifically help the company.  Our goal in the sales process is to help manufacturing companies be the leanest, most efficient they can be, and we do that by using their material and processes. 
  • Focus on ROI – We aren’t selling shoes here – an MES is a much bigger investment. We know our customers need to see an ROI to prove the software is a worthwhile investment, so we base our sales process on the ROI. Our goal is to solve the prospects manufacturing challenges and ensure there is a return. 
  • Follow-Up – For CIMx, the sale is only the first step in the process. We make sure our customers are not just satisfied, but happy. We’re available to our customers, and care about how the system is helping them succeed. Installation is just a first step.

 

We’ve seen this process work. Many of our sales have come from referrals from our current customers.  

Every MES company and every salesperson has their own process and way of generating income. It is important to keep your eye on the prize…which for us isn’t just the sale. For us, the goal is knowing our product is helping manufacturing companies thrive. Knowing our customers are happy, knowing they feel comfortable with us and our product, and knowing they’ll stick with us for years to come.  If we succeed in the sales process, then we know when our customer’s face another manufacturing challenge, we’ll be the first supplier they call to seek a solution.

 

If you are interested in learning more about MES and how it can benefit your shop floor give us a call.  No matter what stage you’re in, we will move at your pace, discuss your needs, and make sure you are comfortable at each step along the way.  We are happy to help and look forward to speaking with you.