Monthly Archives: May 2015

Making Sense of the ROI for an MES

Many shop floors struggle to justify the cost of an MES, even as errors and inefficiencies that would be eliminated with a shop floor system drain profit and production from the company.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Here’s the problem for shop floor and operations managers looking to implement an MES or paperless manufacturing solution – many of the greatest benefits of a shop floor system offer soft savings, but management approves investment with an analysis of the hard savings from a capitol project.

The ROI Conundrum for MES

Many companies struggle to justify the expense of shop floor software, even as problems drain profit and production from the bottom line. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Many companies struggle to justify the expense of shop floor software, even as problems drain profit and production from the bottom line. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider this – you put in a modern MES, and you’ll have real-time production data that provides the foundation for continuous improvement. Shop floor production and control improve, errors and quality escapes are eliminated, and planners benefit from revision control and a library of approved work plans. Many Shop Floor Managers and Quality Engineers drool at the prospect of any ONE item in that list.

But, a business case isn’t built on “better,” but on hard numbers. Procurement and the CFO don’t care about, and may not even understand, revision control. How can the shop floor measure the benefit of real-time data and continuous improvement? How do you articulate the savings from fewer errors, when you struggle to consistently capture any data at all from your shop floor processes? For the CFO, “more data” is nice, but it doesn’t translate to a line item in the finances.

Truth is, there is a disconnect between the accepted way we measure ROI, and the needs of production operations and modern manufacturing. Typically, ROI requires a measurement of hard savings and direct benefit from a capital investment. Modern manufacturing seeks continuous improvement, agility and flexibility from an MES – all characteristics that are difficult to measure with hard data, and aren’t easily quantified with numbers.

The Problem for Manufacturing

In a way, accepted accounting techniques don’t adequately represent the true value of an MES – at least, not without a leap in logic or an adjustment in the techniques used. This doesn’t mean there is a problem with MES or standard accounting practices; it just means you are using the wrong tool to take the measurement. A good example might be using a ruler to measure temperature. The ruler offers hard data, just not the right data to measure a summer day.

This disconnect, while unfortunate, is often compounded by the reluctance of some companies to quantify and value the perceived benefit of the shop floor system. Rather than finding a way to communicate the need for better production control, and connect a shop floor tool like paperless manufacturing to company goals, they decide it is easier to make what they have work and ignore a potential long-term solution.

In the end, this problem costs manufacturers revenue and production every year. Scrap and waste accumulate for no reason other than the operations team hasn’t found a way to collaborate and communicate with the financial team.

Breaking Out of the Cycle

I’m not suggesting operations get a free pass when they seek money for a shop floor system. I suggest we need to adjust how we determine ROI when discussing MES. The shop floor needs to assign value to their investments early in the process, and collaborate early-on with internal partners as they select a software solution.

Building a business case and determining ROI shouldn’t cause a shop floor improvement project to crash and burn. Done right, it should help a company determine if the selected system is the right one, helping create an even better solution for the company.

Want to learn more, or see how you can better collaborate on an MES solution? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor solution analysis. We’re always happy to help.

Seeing Through the MES Demo Smoke and Mirrors

Don’t be fooled – for some software companies, the demo is more about hiding the truth than illustrating how they can help you.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Okay, I don’t often rant, but today will be an exception.

Not long ago I sat through a demo for a new computer application (not an MES or paperless manufacturing system) sold by a big-name company. The demo consisted of beautifully-shot and professionally-done video “highlighting” key features of the system.

Making sense of some MES demos can leave anyone with anger issues. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Making sense of some MES demos can leave anyone with anger issues. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There were screenshots of the application, mixed with scenes of happy people enjoying a life of improved productivity with their new software purchase. There were graphs showing how significantly productivity would be increased. The narrator’s soothing voice walked me through every scene and feature, even taking time to crack a joke or two. There were snazzy special effects illustrating the real-world results of the application, and infographics to expand on key concepts. Problem was, I never saw my material in the video or how I could use it. I was never certain how it would work for me, and the software supplier never made answering that question a priority.

I spent 30+ minutes going over those key features in the video, and sure, I’d love my office to run as smoothly (and happily) as the one they presented. I’d love to work like the models and actors in that perfect office, to point at the screen and watch as the work magically completed itself and my KPI’s unfurled before me, but I knew that’s not how it was going to work.  I really wanted to see my material in their software. I wanted to see how it would work for me, and how it would solve my problems.

I asked the moderator (let’s be honest, she can call herself a moderator, but she was a sales rep) if she could see my material in the system, and she gave me some canned excuse about “pre-configured” settings and how they offer an “industry-first user-centric” platform. I asked her a few more questions about how to use the software, and she repeated lines from the video. She promised to talk to the engineers about getting me answers and a private-look at how the screen would layout with my material, but she couldn’t do that today. It was a verbal dance of almost yes that still ended with a resounding NO.

Why not? Why couldn’t they say yes, turn on the application and show me something? Share the screen with me so I can see how it would work! Was it too difficult to put my material into the system, and if it was that difficult then how could I possibly do it? Was the software too tired? Was there something fundamentally wrong with my stuff that would cause the “web of functionality” (the narrators’ words, not mine) collapse into oblivion? If the software is that easy to use, why not use it for me?

I’ll be honest – I’d be happy if it didn’t work the first time. You can learn a lot from an inadvertent mistake and the steps taken to correct it. I know you can’t get perfection in a live system, and that’s great. Let me see the moderator dive into the system and figure it out. Let her fumble around just like my team would once they started using the system.

Here’s my rant – you should be able to demo in the actual system of a true off-the-shelf software solution, especially and MES or paperless manufacturing system. If you can’t, then I don’t believe it is off-the-shelf. If the system can really use outside material easily, then why not do it? I’d rather have honesty than perfection in a demo, so take that software for a test drive and let’s see it!

If you can’t do that, then you probably don’t have the right software for me. What do you think? Am I being too critical here? Has anyone else had an experience like this?

Successfully Navigating MES Growing Pains

The MES continues to come of age as technology and shop floor needs change. We take a look at where the industry has been, and where your shop floor wants to be in the future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When I first started working in manufacturing software, the perception of an MES was a massive, monolithic SYSTEM that covered the shop floor in digital web. Users fed the machine, or were crushed by it. Development and implementation was a multi-year (and multi-million dollar) campaign suitable only for the most hale (and solvent) adventurers. The SYSTEM was designed by a software company using a comprehensive list of exacting requirements. Once in place, users were coerced into utilizing it, crammed and jammed into digital processes dictated by the software SYSTEM through forms, endless menus and new procedures, thus submitting to the will of the machine.

No thought was ever given to upgrades, future uses, or any changes. It was all about getting something – anything – in place.

That was the past, but today the world is different. Technology has changed, grown, and the shop floor needs and expectations are different. We’ll take a look at where MES is today, and where we might (or should) be going in the future, and what that means for companies looking at an MES.

The MES Ecosystem today

Today, technology has moved away from the older paradigm of enterprise software systems (even though you can still find SYSTEMs lingering on the market). Browse through the market and you can find several different types of paperless manufacturing and MES systems. Cloud-based systems, for example, offer SAAS (Software As A Service) pricing and benefits, quick installation and scalability, but many companies are reluctant to use the cloud for production, since it can be susceptible to connectivity and security issues. Selecting a cloud-based system increases risk (data, compromised security, and service loss) in addition to reduced flexibility.

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Other companies offer a Utopian Vision of an integrated software system, encompassing MES, ERP, PLM, QMS and more. They talk about collaboration and shared infrastructure, enterprise accessibility and global networks as key benefits, but also present challenges. These all-encompassing systems have become a new iteration of the old, monolithic MES SYSTEM. Many times, they are built on the same platform as those old systems, using the same code and same processes as past SYSTEMs. Implementation and development is, once again, a slow, laborious endeavor – high risk and expensive.

Projects and systems like this will solve problems and provide benefits, just like they did in the past, but at a cost. The restrictive processes enforced by the system will limit flexibility and cause problems at individual sites struggling to adhere to the system requirements – resulting in a loss of overall efficiency. Many times, a flaw in the workflow or system will be “managed” rather than eliminated because the cost of the fix is difficult in the strict confines of what the SYSTEM can handle.

Modular, or module-based systems have similar benefits and flaws. These systems will offer a higher initial flexibility, allowing users to initially select the functionality (or modules) they want to “build” their own system. The problem is, many times these modules are cobbled together older systems given a new name and a new UI, offering disparate functionality, requiring multiple integrations, and resulting in uneven support. Sometimes, the initial software was even built on an entirely different platform. Companies with these systems will have increased upgrade costs and, depending on the configuration of modules, limited flexibility.

Discover the Modern MES

Modern MES, built using the latest technology and platforms, are much more agile – operating less an all-encompassing SYSTEM and more as a foundation for improved production, with tools that increase efficiency and solutions to eliminate problems that hinder manufacturing. Rather than plugging a module or adding a new system, users turn on and use functionality as they need. Process changes don’t often require redevelopment of the programming, or even reconfiguration. More likely a simple change in how the software tools are used will more than satisfy shop floor needs.

Maximize your MES by ensuring you have a modern MES. Modern Systems can be installed quickly and easily, often in as little as a few weeks depending on the hardware and infrastructure in the facility. Most times a modern system will utilize your existing work plans. Another characteristic of a modern MES will be a lower cost of updates and upgrades. Adding functionality is significantly easier with modern software tools. This will lower the overall cost of updates, making them smaller part of the TCO Total Cost of Ownership). Support costs should also be lower, with most (if not all) of the standard maintenance being automated or requiring little IT support.

At their core, agile modern MES are less complex than the highly customized MES of the past, and more focused on the basic functionality necessary for modern manufacturing and the tools your shop floor needs to work better, faster and with fewer errors.

Putting the Paperless Manufacturing Puzzle Together

Companies need to realize the manufacturing environment is changing faster now than it ever has before, and the rate of change continues to accelerate. New tools and technology such as 3D Printing, Big Data, IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, and even customer expectations are forcing manufacturers to adapt like never before. To compete, companies need a paperless manufacturing or MES system that will adapt and grow with them.

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to MES and manufacturing system. Look for an agile, adaptable software that will support your shop floor even as change happens. Want to know more, or see what paperless manufacturing can do for you? Then contact us today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.

4 Tips for Evaluating New Technology for Manufacturing

Use these insider tips to cut through the hype and evaluate new tech and tools with a critical eye to deliver benefits rather than bloatware for your shop floor.

Written by David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Use this handy tool to evaluate new shop floor technology to reduce risk and ensure an ROI. Image by www.colourbox.com

Use this handy tool to evaluate new shop floor technology to reduce risk and ensure an ROI. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Today, new technology and applications for manufacturing are flooding the market. Companies are trying to capture Smart Manufacturing lightning in a bottle for quick profits, or discover how, exactly, the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to work. Every one of these products promises they can make everything better with their application, or system, or plug-on (or –in), or tool, or some other magic widget that will add instant Industry 4.0 deliciousness to your existing MES or paperless manufacturing system.

There is so much noise out there; it’s difficult to separate hype from truth, or fact from fiction. Products can promise the world, but in manufacturing if it’s not improving workflow and processes, it’s not worth it. A new manufacturing tool or system must be implemented with operational need in mind, and not just for the flashy “new-ness” of it.

Even so, manufacturing leaders must work to maintain a competitive edge, and be prepared to seize the opportunity offered by new technology. In a tight market, even a small improvement can lead to increased profit. You need a tool to evaluate new technology for potential benefit. With that in mind, we’ve prepared 4 critical questions you can use to more accurately evaluate new technology. As you ponder the promises made by a tech company, consider the following:

  1. Does it solve a problem or improve operations?

From our experience, most companies install new software or technology to solve a specific problem. It might be a failed audit, or out of control paper on the shop floor or inscrutable production documents stored in boxes. Before installing a new tool, evaluate the benefit. Will it solve a specific problem? How will it improve operations? Don’t add functionality without a clear benefit.

  1. Do you have an accurate estimate of the ROI for the investment?

You will need an objective way to evaluate the new software or tool. The ROI (Return on Investment) is a comparison of the cost of the tool against the benefit of the functionality. Before installing anything, make sure you have an accurate estimate of the ROI. Many of the flashy, shiny new tools will offer “Wow” factor with little return. A system that offers a low cost solution that improves production in a number of ways will have a much greater ROI.

  1. Will the solution grow with you?

Static, custom-built software systems are no longer a viable investment. Technology and operational needs change so quickly, the moment you install a system it will begin to lose value. Before you install or implement anything, have an upgrade path in place. What is the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of the solution, once you consider the cost of updates? You need a software system that adapts and grows as your needs change.

  1. Are there gaps in how you will utilize the system?

You need to think beyond the data collected by a new system to determine the benefit. Do you have a way to act on and implement real-time data, or are you still relying on error-prone paper-based work instructions? Do you have machines with an output that can’t be used by the monitoring system? Want to use dynamic scheduling? Make sure you are collecting the data you need to adequately feed the system.


New technology promises to reshape manufacturing in ways that were unheard of a few short years ago. But, you need to approach the marketing promises with a critical eye to ensure you can adequately benefit from the investment, or you aren’t putting your faith in a piece of flashy tech that will be outdated in a few short months.

Got more questions? Contact us for a free evaluation to identify technology gaps that may be holding your shop floor back. We love manufacturing, and we love technology, and we’re happy to help any way we can.