Monthly Archives: June 2016

What Tesla Teaches You about MES

The software sales process has never been customer-centric, but that may be changing.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Researching and buying software is a horrible job.

When you buy a commodity, many rely on the “seeing-is-believing” methodology.  Until you can hold a product in your hand, feel and use it, see it in action, the buyer will be reluctant to let go of their money.

Have you ever tried to hold software in your hand? Can you imagine “trying-out” an MES without training or an implementation?  Software is already one of the most challenging things to sell, and MES even more challenging.

You can demonstrate software, but rarely will an MES do exactly what the customer wants or needs.  Remember our last blog on manufacturers crafting requirement lists with 250 items or more?  No product will exactly match all 250 the way a customer wants (unless they pay for high-priced customization and additional complexity.)

We recognize an MES is not easy to buy, but there are actions suppliers can take to benefit the customer.

A Lesson from Tesla

Not all commodities rely on “seeing-is-believing.”  Tesla has turned the car industry on its head by not following conventional wisdom.

There’s a Tesla dealer near my house where I can look at a single turquoise blue S model sitting in a showroom.  I can sit in the car.  I can see it and touch it, but I can’t turn it on.  I imagine the road underneath my feet as the ever-so-smooth sales guy talks me through its performance, offering an impression, but still not the experience itself…

Despite Tesla’s reluctance to just give the customer what they think they want – the showroom’s always full.  People are buying these cars without driving them, paying $30, $40, even $70,000 dollars without demanding the “just-because-I’m-here,” discount.

Tesla broke the mold.  Where other electric car makers went after the young, hip, eco-conscious millennials and cost-conscious seniors, Musk went directly for the luxury car market.  He identified a better way of selling his product.

The Flaw in the MES Sales Process

So what’s that have to do with MES and software sales?

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

IS the software sales process for MES working for you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It’s simple.  People expect software to be incredibly complex.  Companies think they’ll have to change their processes and labor through a long “learning” period.  They expect the project to be a major investment in time, money, resources and effort.

Software suppliers are counting on this. They offer products with significant “service” charges attached to them, and a whole team (you are paying for) to help you through the process so they can capitalize the expectations.

The software sales guy is not helping, either.  They only make a commission when you buy it.  There’s incentive for him or her to tell you what you want to hear.  The supplier eagerly agrees to every one of the requirements, seeing the project and price grow like a hungry, bloated monster.

Going back to the “seeing-is-believing” conundrum in software sales, you need to trust the sales person to answer every question and help you navigate the purchase process.  The sales person is only making money if you spend it, so they keep telling you what you want to hear.

Sound miserable?  It is.

A Better Way to Sell Paperless Manufacturing

Most companies are happy to sell manufacturing software this way, but there are better options.

For example, our business model is focused on software products, and not software services. Our goal is to make money when you use our product, and not when you ask us to fix the product because it’s not working the way you want it to.

We take a consultative approach to sales. We make sure there is a technical resource or application engineer to answer questions honestly, and not just a sales rep. We know our solution may not be right for everyone, and we’ll tell a prospect to look elsewhere if we can’t adequately help them.

We also offer a guarantee.  We’ve talked about our guarantees before, but I’m not just selling us here.  I’m selling anyone in this industry that’s willing to provide you a written guarantee as part of the project – they will meet your written requirements for the amount of money in the proposal.  If they’re able to do that, I’d trust them.

Finally, with CIMx you have personalized demos. Our goal is to show (as close as possible) what the experience will be like on the shop floor. We put your material into the system and mirror your shop floor processes, offering you as close to a “see” as possible.

It’s a different way of selling software, it doesn’t follow conventional wisdom and it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if you’d like to learn more then contact us today.

As for that Tesla, I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m willing to buy one yet, but I still admire the approach Tesla is taking to re-invent the car-buying process, even if I can’t feel the hum of the engine and purr of the road beneath my wheels.

The Curious State of the MES Industry

Manufacturers shouldn’t expect MES projects to be late and over-budget, but many do. They should expect exceptional customer service and successful data migration, but that’s not what many suppliers offer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Recently, I was in a Verizon store trying to transfer information from my old phone to a new device.  This is not rocket science.  We should know – our software has helped put the space shuttles, the Delta Rocket, commercial aircraft and satellites into the air.

This is a simple data transfer, moving my applications, names, numbers and other information from an old device to a newer, smoother, faster device.  After a few minutes in the store, I began to doubt Verizon could finish the job.  Could I still use the new phone without my data?  Of course – I could also start over and just copy what I needed, one application or contact at a time, but I didn’t want to.

Computer devices around 3d small person.

Working with an MES supplier shouldn’t be confusing or frustrating. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know how easy the migration should be, because we’ve spent a lot of time, energy and brainpower working with data.  Last year, we introduced a new product offering that transfers data from any platform to any other platform.  We are using it to migrate, move and repair all kinds of data, including embedded data links and legacy databases that haven’t been updated for decades.

So why can’t Verizon move a few apps and files?  From what I can tell – they don’t want to.  They don’t feel it’s worth their time.  It’s an expensive use of their resources in an industry with consumers who have come to accept crappy customer service. For them, there is no value in offering the service.

And that’s when I started to think about the MES industry.

MES Suppliers versus Manufacturers

In 20 years in this business, I’ve never met a manufacturer that doesn’t have existing data they need to move to a new system.  Whether they have 20 years of data, or just 30 months, they need access in order to continue work. As a computer system ages, slowly drifting into obsolescence, access becomes difficult and the system starts holding back production.

Once they see the problem; most companies do nothing right away.  They take time (lots of it) to get everyone together to discuss what they need in their new system.  Prospects end up with requirements that read like a wish list for Santa.  Last year, we had a prospect tell us they had created a “very modest” list of requirements.  They wanted a quick ROI and were tightly controlling the project asks.  The sheet they sent had close to 250 line items (which make me wonder what the “not-modest” requirement list looked like).

Efficient Manufacturing

Are you letting MES expectations hold your project back? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

This has become an industry standard because, much like the ill-fated and poorly equipped smart phone service providers, people have come to expect expensive, overly complex and mostly late projects from the software suppliers in our industry.  They believe an incredibly long and maddeningly-detailed requirement list is a necessity to play the game.  Suppliers are happy to play along, especially since most providers can’t deliver a project on-time or on-budget.

It’s true.  We constantly hear horror stories of projects gone wrong – delivered, but phenomenally over-budget, with functionality missing and a system that leaves the users disappointed.

When working with MES providers, companies create a huge list of asks to help protect themselves and their project.  If they’re going to jump in and spend the time and the money, they figure they need to get the bang for the buck.  Plus, if the project is going to under-deliver, the customer assumes it is better to fill up the requirements.

A Better Way to Manage MES Projects

Bigger projects don’t mean better results.  More service charges won’t deliver more effective software.  Adding another report or another piece of esoteric functionality isn’t going to protect you from failure (in fact, it will add to the complexity, which is never a good idea).  A brand-name (large provider) also does not guarantee success; the delivery may eventually come, but long after your needs have changed.

3d small people with a checklist

Work collaboratively with your MES supplier, and expect them to work collaboratively with you. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Back to Verizon, who broadcast on commercials non-stop how they’re the largest this, the best that.  Offering the largest data network in the world doesn’t do anything if you force the customer to move information from one phone to another.  All that network power does me no good if I can’t access my contacts.  They are making their product less accessible.

Eventually, I did solve the problem on my own.  Shortly after leaving the store, thoroughly disgusted with the time wasted, the service (lacking) and the attitude (the 20-something Verizon rep cited her years in the industry as proof she could get the job done – before she totally failed at it), I was able to move my applications over.  Today, my phone and I are operating smoothly, despite any help from the supplier.

It’s true… the promise of a better network doesn’t mean better customer service. Similarly, the promise of a more expensive and complex MES does not mean a better system or improved production.

Take the time to work with the MES supplier to understand your needs and develop a project plan and requirement list. Together, you can design a project that benefits production, rather than setting everyone up for failure. Develop trust with the supplier and work collaboratively. Want to see what working collaboratively can do for you?  Ask for a shop floor analysis – it’s the first step toward seeing how an MES can benefit you.

Honestly, not every MES supplier can work like this. The focus on massive, overly complex projects using software developed decades ago is so embedded in our industry; some companies see project overruns and missed deadlines as the cost of doing business.  The supplier relies on those expectations and the customer cringes and comes to expect it… which is too bad, because it shouldn’t be that way.

So as not to leave you thoroughly discouraged, there are vendors who do what they say, and companies who believe the status quo isn’t good enough.  We offer written guarantees on price, project and timeline, and we don’t overpromise just to get a sale.  I don’t know another provider that’s out there that does what we do, but surely we can’t be the only one in the industry who provides projects on-time and on-budget?

In the meantime, I’m still looking for an honest telecommunications company who can manage a simple migration between phones.  Let me know if you find anyone.

The Importance of an MES to Optimizing Manufacturing Quality

Procedures and checks can only take your quality improvements so far. To maximize your quality, you need to design quality feedback loops.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Manufacturing companies are continually pursuing quality improvements, and with good reason. Improved quality not only increases productivity and profit as non-conformances and scrap are reduced, ensuring the shop floor is focused on product that ships, but also aids in sales. Consumers buying a product don’t care about productivity and efficiency; they care about value and quality – manufacturing quality.

MES and the Human Element

A sustainable solution to quality improvements requires feedback loops. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers are wasting resources and effort on quality initiatives with limited benefit, relying on quality procedures and checks to catch quality escapes and eliminate them in the future – efforts that never achieve the expected results.

Trying to use paper processes or even a separate QMS (Quality Management System) or other system is the problem. The manufacturer may not be collecting the right information, can’t enforce quality initiatives on the shop floor, can’t identify where or why the quality escape occurs, and is finding the problem too late for corrective action. Without a system to address the total manufacturing value chain, there can be no cohesive solution to improving quality.

The Benefit of an MES to Quality

An MES or paperless manufacturing system creates an integrated system for managing the production process. It’s a single source for shop floor visibility and control, transmitting and managing information along the manufacturing value chain.

According to Jamie Finchbaugh, Lean Advisor and Speaker, quality initiatives require feedback loops between the consumer, the design team, and operations, with production information getting to the right people at the right time to positively impact Quality. From Finchbaugh’s article in IndustryWeek magazine, Is Quality a Result or a System, “Since quality is dynamic, we cannot just design it out of the system; we have to effectively react to it. Your feedback, and feed-forward, loops must be designed to be visible, relevant and timely.”

An effective MES allows you to design and re-design your quality feedback loops to optimize your quality. It acts as a single source of manufacturing information, providing real-time information anywhere and anytime, as well as the process enforcement and shop floor control necessary to close the feedback loop. Paper processes and disconnected software systems will never offer this level of control or sustainability.

Consider this – an MES can provide automatic tolerance checks for the data collected, so an operator immediately discovers a problem. If it falls within a certain range, a disposition plan is automatically sent to the operator to manage the non-conformance. Quality is informed, and can provide sign-off on the solution if necessary, but the feedback loop provides a solution to the people best positioned to manage the problem. In the future, process enforcement ensures the shop floor makes the necessary adjustments to improve quality.

No other tool can directly address the feedback loop like an MES. No other tool provides the capability of an MES to improve quality.

Companies still relying on paper are forced to create another procedure, quality check or dated report to somehow eke out a slight quality improvement.  Customers are demanding more of manufacturers, and dated methods will no longer deliver the expected results.

Want to learn more, or see what a quality program based on an MES can do for you? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis to learn more.

How Much Can You Trust Your KPIs?

There is more to effective manufacturing analytics than reports. You need an effective and efficient process for collecting data.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Manufacturing is changing.

3d small people - way choice

Are you using data to optimize production?  Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the past, it was enough to write a few notes on the traveler, type them into a spreadsheet at the end of the day and print up a report. As long as work was completed and product moved, a shop floor could get by.

With the advent of new technology, smart manufacturing, and a digital foundation for production, paper-based data collection is no longer sufficient to support the shop floor. With paper, you can’t easily access the relevant analytics to support process improvement and collaborative manufacturing. There’s no reason not to have relevant and actionable data on production, and a plan to optimize the shop floor.

While reports are important to shop floor optimization, a process to collect the data, relevant data, is equally important. Consider these questions as you review your shop floor analytics program:

  • How is the data being collected?

If you implement a shop floor system to collect and collate data, but still rely on scribbled notes on the traveler or an operator’s memory, then your reporting system is never going to be as effective or efficient as you need.  Transcription errors or missing data may also compromise the accuracy and usefulness.

  • Are you collecting data in all the relevant areas of the process?

Knowing a product has a non-conformance is important for your customer; you also need to know the root cause of the quality escape. Knowing where the non-conformance occurred is a critical step for process improvement. You need to collect data throughout production, not just at completion.

  • Are there holes in the data collection?

Many companies focus their data collection on machines. Pulling data from a machine is easy, but many times non-conformances occur at other points in the manufacturing process. Without data collected at every operation and every critical step, you’re faced with questions on when and how a non-conformance occurred.

  • Quality.

    An MES will not only collect data, but give your data relevance. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Is the data you are collecting relevant?

Data needs perspective and context to be relevant. An MES provides a framework for manufacturing. The data collected is automatically contextualized with a process, becoming more than a single point in production. It becomes an element in a process.

Giving Production Data Relevance

An MES creates a foundation that both collects the data and gives it relevant perspective. It provides a way to seamlessly, and many times automatically, collect data in real time during the production process.

Data collected is connected to an operation, a production, a work order, and to an operator. You can see the events preceding the data collection and the events following.

If you’re still struggling to peel back the layers in your manufacturing process and understand the root factors in operations, then contact CIMx today for a free shop analysis to see what data an MES can reveal for you.