Monthly Archives: August 2016

Four Clues to Evaluating Current Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

If you take the pulse of the manufacturing software market, you’ll be surprised by what you discover.

We recently did an early demo of our product for a manufacturing prospect gone cold. A new Application Specialist was learning the job, and we offered a short demo as a way to engage the prospect and for our employee to get some experience.  We expected our main contact and maybe one or two others to show up. We were surprised when 20 executives and managers joined.

The limited discussions we had with this prospect had all been at a very high level. To have access to this many decision makers and influencers this early in the process seemed out of place.  I’ve been wondering what compels an executive to sit through a demo this early in the process, but the patterns are clear.

The Four Clues

We’re seeing signs of change in the MES market. Consider this:

  1. Manufacturers are hungry to learn more about MES and digital manufacturing.

It used to be our first calls were with quality managers or engineers, but today we are just as likely to get a call from a Vice President or Executive. The c-suite is taking an active role in the process early-on because they realize how critical the manufacturing software decision is.  They also fear getting taken by suppliers who are less than honest.  The MES purchase today is a critical foundation for the future. Sitting through a demo is an investment.

  1. Companies are searching for software solution truth.

Prospects are looking for a way to see through the empty promises offered by some software vendors.  The IoT (Internet of Things), Smart Manufacturing and the Digital Thread are terms companies use to confuse buyers into getting a solution that doesn’t really do what they need it to.  Prospects tell us regularly that software suppliers are unable to present their solution in the demo; they show illustrations of it (read more below) but rarely the real thing. Companies are beginning to question claims about functionality. They want to see the software, not a presentation.

  1. The term “out-of-the-box” has been hijacked.

Prospects are telling us that most demos they see from other MES vendors are “canned” (some are even using PowerPoint slides and short videos to “demonstrate” functionality).  Where they are able to see a real system in use, the prospect can’t ask the vendor to veer off script.  And even though almost every MES supplier markets their solution as “out-of-the-box,” for some systems a “live” MES demo requires extensive configuration of the system itself, making it unsuitable for most prospects.   The core product probably has some functionality that works out-of-the-box (OOTB), but it’s not enough to demo so vendors hide behind scripts and scenarios.

  1. A “robust” training program is not necessarily a good thing.

Want to know if a software vendor is bending the truth when they talk about their product? Ask how long training will take.  A lot of required training before using a system is not the sign of a “better” product, and a poorly designed product isn’t going to help you solve problems.  If you really don’t trust their answer, check out their website.  Verify the number of training videos or courses they offer.  Robust functionality with a laundry list of training courses that take days or weeks to complete can often signal inflexibility.

Optimizing Your Software Purchase

The long-term customers and prospects we work with are always searching for ways to improve production.  With 20 years in the industry, we have a lot of experience helping manufacturers.

Lately, we’ve had more and more prospects searching for OOTB functionality. They want to see the software, not a PowerPoint presentation.  Consultants and services companies that build custom systems or connect modules are posing as OOTB software suppliers, with sales people making promises the software team can’t keep.

“Can you demo from the live product?” It’s the one thing manufacturers challenge us to do all the time.  We can, and it’s the thing they comment on regularly.

Software vendors should show you what they can do today. Without a live demo, can you count on the system to work?  With enough time and money, anyone can build you something to do exactly what you ask, but the only way that you’re going to see a strong return on investment (ROI) is if the core system meets your needs. You shouldn’t have to rely on another module, software services, customization or extensive “configuration.”

Give us a call for more tips on MES or paperless manufacturing systems.  Whether you’re a CIMx customer or not, we’re tired of industry disinformation and happy to answer your questions, so contact us today to learn more.

By the way, our Application Specialist gave a fantastic demo of the product with just one month of work under his belt.  It’s hard to imagine software vendors with rigid systems and unnecessary complexity and don’t demo live could have had him demo-ready that early.  With CIMx, it just works.

Outlook and Email is not Manufacturing Software

As many manufacturers outgrow their process plan solution, some end up using email to manage their critical production processes.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Do yourself a favor.  Pick a day this week and look at your Outlook Inbox.  How many messages do you get a day?  Do you know how to find that?  If not, here are directions.  How many messages are in your Inbox right now?  How many remain unopened?

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Relying on email or messaging software will create more production problems than they solve. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

On any given day, I’m receiving several thousand emails.  Over 95% end up in my spam filter.  The other 5% are distributed based on content, some going into automated folders for review later, or directed to the main folder for immediate review.

Without these filters and rules, email can be overwhelming.  Even with my systems and my rigorous controls, problems happen and messages are lost or misplaced.  I can’t rely on Microsoft Outlook to run my business.  Yet, there are manufacturing shop floor systems out there that run your shop floor using the same tools.

We sit right in the middle of our industry – MES and manufacturing software.  We are used in the very largest companies in the world to put rockets into space, huge commercial planes into the air and are with you during critical, invasive hospital procedures.  We’ve worked with soap, wire, carbon fiber and glass.  We’ve completed medical and aerospace audits and we’ve even worked with wood cabinetry.

The largest manufacturers in the world might call on us to implement an enterprise system that connects one or more large-scale facilities into standard processes or even cross-plant performance reporting.  Smaller and mid-size businesses might use us to keep track of orders on their shop floor and tell their customers ship dates for products.  And all the companies in between need us to keep their shop floors working smoothly, productively and with few if any errors.

As these smaller and mid-size businesses try to push their revenues up, they find they’re outgrowing their software tools. The job shop system that ran routings around the floor falls short when they try to expand the product line or customize orders for customers.  So many of these manufacturers look for a quick-fix, and turn to email-based shop floor solutions that use Outlook as a messaging tool to help.  Ouch.

Outlook is not the right tool for this.  Sure, mail has the little red flag to mark something as important and even “read receipt” messaging to make sure that your colleague received the information.  But should you use it as a tool for production?  Hardly.  Email is unresponsive, unhelpful and generally slow in terms of production planning and shop floor work.

When looking for a tool that will help with production and the shop floor, consider this:

  • Email should not, be your primary means of communicating an issue. If the operator or worse, your Quality Engineer, is constantly monitoring their screen for email alerts or notifications that an important message awaits, they do not have their eyes on your actual production – which is bad news.  Our system, similar to many, can send an email when a certain process finishes, a problem arises or someone’s waiting on approvals or a piece of work.  We hope, however, that the email is well-aged by the time the engineer looks at it.
  • Ask the software supplier where and how, specifically, Outlook or messaging of any kind is used within the product. Ask them to describe how important issues are handled and what happens when one team needs to speak to another. You don’t want production delayed while the shop floor waits for someone to read a critical message.  A system without push technology might lead to workers wandering the shop floor rather than running jobs at their work centers.
  • Consider how the system captures messages in the production record. A system using email as a primary means of communication is probably not adding them to the final build record or the record that’s created is simply a string of these communications reported without a connection to the associated work completed.  That can be a problem, especially when you need an accurate production record.

In the end, a quick fix may seem an easy solution, but open you to greater risk and other production problems. Need more help?  Reach out and tell us what you need.  You’ll find that we open every email that gets through the filter, but you’ll probably have more luck, just like your shop floor, in not relying on Outlook for your most critical items.

What to do when an ERP vendor wants to be an MES

There is a big difference between an ERP and an MES, as companies using their ERP on the shop floor have discovered.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Every day, we work with manufacturers to make them more productive, and every day we hear stories about Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems trying to replicate an MES. The ERP supplier promises they can replicate the functionality of an MES in their system, offering a single solution for the manufacturers software needs.  Why buy multiple systems when you can get everything in a single purchase?

Trust me – this never turns out well. If you really want to improve and support manufacturing, you need an MES. Manufacturing is one of the most complex processes in business today, and a few features tacked onto an ERP aren’t going to help.

Defining the ERP

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Can your ERP really support optimized production? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

An ERP is a transactional system.  It can keep track of things – employees, vendors, customers, orders.  An MES is based on workflow and processes, completely different than a transactional system.  If you need to build something then send it to a customer, an ERP can track an order and the payment, but how does a system like that help you plan work, implement changes to the plan, and give you visibility into processes and workflow?

On the shop floor, the ERP can easily keep track of a routing; it’s a thing.  A routing is a list of work centers (things) and it can put those centers into an order. The ERP can list out what you will need to complete the work, and maybe even attach a document or spreadsheet.  That simple listing works perfectly fine in the core mechanics hard-wired functionality of an ERP – leading many to believe there is an MES lurking inside the ERP. Mapping workflow isn’t a natural function within a transactional system.  It can’t tell you where the order is, when it’ll get to the next step, or whether the order will finish on time.  Worst of all, an ERP can’t help you when things go wrong.

Identifying the Gaps in an ERP

And things go wrong on the shop floor.  Parts are missing.  Machines break down.  Operators make mistakes.  The ERP fails you completely when it comes time to adjust workflow or automate processes to mitigate production disruption.

Sure, with custom-built tools, complex integrations and savvy coding, the ERP can be linked to shop floor machines.  A unique screen can be added so operators log in, tracking when work starts.  An ERP offers the illusion of workflow control, but it’s a shiny veneer on shallow functionality.

Most systems like this quickly fail under the pressure of supporting production, and the shop floor is forced to develop homegrown work-arounds. We’ve seen shop floor workers holding dirty plastic folders with the actual work instructions on a supposedly “paperless” shop floor supported by an ERP. It’s even worse with job shop software that uses email as the vehicle – nothing like putting the fate of production in the same tool an email spammer uses!

These systems simply weren’t designed to support workflow processes or the shop floor, and putting in a request for manufacturing functionality with an ERP implementer who doesn’t fully grasp the complexity or requirements of production is setting the whole team up for failure. Having an ERP company go out and buy an MES so they can market itself as an “all-in-one” solution is basically letting the ERP vendor charge more for a solution they don’t really support.

The Benefit of an MES

Only a system built to handle workflow can optimally support manufacturing.  The system has to connect the individual steps in a rhythm that can be redirected, rescheduled or rerun as things change, and it has to minimize complexity.

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What can MES and Paperless Manufacturing do for you? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

If the software has separate modules for Work Instructions, Data Collections and Non-conformance Management (all critical components of a shop floor system), then there isn’t a natural connection between these processes, and it’s likely operations will need to develop “work-arounds” for the missing functionality. When you start connecting modules for processes with other modules for functionality, the complexity grows.

When a company licenses, sells, and implements modules independently, you know it’s either a modular MES (lots of problems and costs there) or an ERP trying to be an MES. The core system doesn’t have the functionality you need.  The modular MES vendor will build it for you; the ERP vendor will try to cobble together some solution to sell you.  Both will fail. Neither will give you the flexibility you need.

Manufacturing has different needs than the front office. You wouldn’t ask Human Resources to use a CNC machine, and the sales team isn’t going to use a dynamic scheduler, so why are you asking Operations to use the same tool as Procurement? If you consider manufacturing the core of your business, the profit driver, shouldn’t you give them a tool designed for their unique needs?

An ERP is great for the front office, but it will never offer the same benefit as an MES for production.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Call us and ask questions.  We’re always willing to help.

Manufacturing has different needs than the front office. You wouldn’t ask Human Resources to use a CNC machine, and the sales team isn’t going to use a dynamic scheduler, so why are you asking Operations to use the same tool as Procurement? If you consider manufacturing the core of your business, the profit driver, shouldn’t you give them a tool designed for their unique needs?

An ERP is great for the front office, but it will never offer the same benefit as an MES for production.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Call us and ask questions.  We’re always willing to help.

Getting to Zero in Manufacturing

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

For production, the goal shouldn’t be minimizing quality escapes, but eliminating them, and that requires the deep understanding of processes you only get with an MES.

A few months ago, I needed my furnace repaired. Winters in Ohio can be brutally cold, and we needed a solution fast. The repair company rushed the replacement part from a warehouse in Arizona (because the best place to keep furnace supplies is in the brutal heat of Arizona), only to have the part arrive broken.

I was furious (and still cold), the repair company apologetic, and the manufacturer defensive. After looking at potential solutions, we ended up going with another part supplier.  This single, broken furnace part led to a lost sale, a potentially lost customer (the repair company didn’t know if they could use the supplier again), additional charges, and a lot of aggravation – all because of a part that didn’t work.

As a manufacturer, how do you let a part out the door that doesn’t work? With so much potential risk, how do you not have processes in place for ensuring problems like this don’t happen?  The repair company tested the part the minute they received it, and quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t broken, there was a problem with the manufacturing – a problem quality control should have caught.

Identifying the Source of Quality Escapes

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What can MES and Paperless Manufacturing do to improve quality? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The problem in situations like this isn’t really the processes, but the lack of shop floor visibility. They don’t know what happens between the time an order comes in and the moment it ships, so unless EVERY single part is checked, there is going to be errors and problems that slip through.

For these manufacturers, quality control is reactive, rather than proactive. Broken parts are (hopefully) found and removed before they are shipped, preventing the immediate problems but ensuring you deal with the same issues again and again in the future.

The problem is not just broken products, but also parts or materials that don’t meet specs.  Rework will mitigate this loss, but finding it later after the complete production run adds to the cost of the rework.

The real cost of quality defects is much larger than many manufacturers realize. In the end, the cost of defects is significantly higher than the cost of a comprehensive solution to eliminate the defects.

A Comprehensive Solution for Improved Quality

To effectively address quality control, and stop shipping broken parts, you need a solution with the power to address the entire manufacturing value chain. Consider this –a Quality Management System will give you tools for disposition programs and for analyzing data, but it won’t offer the process enforcement and automated feedback loops necessary to eliminate the root cause of errors. Better production planning will help the shop floor to do their work better, and a simple data collection system will give you more data to analyze.  These systems are good at what they do, but none offer a complete solution capable of addressing the factors contributing to quality control problems.

Only an MES or paperless manufacturing system offers the complete manufacturing value chain visibility and control you need to truly address quality control.

With an MES, you have complete production visibility, with accurate and automated production records. With data collection, you can see in real time where the errors are occurring, and can design automated feedback loops to ensure problems are eliminated as they happen. You have control and visibility of the supply chain, ensuring parts and supplies meet exacting standards. By automating processes, monitoring production, and integrating best practices into production, you can begin to automate steps in a comprehensive quality control program that is a foundation of smart manufacturing.

This is what your customers have come to expect from a modern manufacturer, and there is no reason you can’t deliver what they expect.

Want to learn more, or see how you can start a modern quality control program, then contact CIMx for a personalized shop floor analysis with an application engineer – a simple first step to improving manufacturing quality.

Implementing a Successful Strategic Plan for Manufacturing

Many manufacturers use aggressive strategic plans to improve production, but without a shop floor system the goals are unsustainable.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Do you have a strategic plan for manufacturing growth?

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You need a solid digital foundation to implement a successful strategic lan for manufacturing. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Every company should have one. They help guide and shape the daily decisions of the company, and provide a common goal and purpose. For manufacturing, a business that relies on repetition and predictability more than others, a strategic plan is a critical tool in stimulating business growth.

The problem for many is the disconnect between the strategic planning and shop floor operations. Adding a bullet point in the strategic plan to reduce waste, or improve production is great, but the relentless pace of production doesn’t leave much opportunity for implementation.

A committee will meet, a few ideas get tossed around, a few words said at a morning meeting, and then another order will come in and the good intentions of the strategic plan are lost in the relentless need to get product out the door.

Making Shop Floor Changes that Work

There are several challenges facing manufacturers implementing a strategic plan, beyond what most companies will face:

1. Visibility

Many manufacturers simply have no visibility of their production processes. They don’t know what is happening on the shop floor, other than in dated reports and employee intuition. Without actionable data and insight into processes, any plan to implement a production strategy will be a “best guess.”

2. Control 

In a paper-based production environment, shop floor control comes from the morning huddle, a shift in the production line or work center, or a new best practice that is quickly forgotten. During production, the shop floor will use a process they know rather than a new process almost every time.

3. Analytics

More than just visibility, analytics is the ability to drill down into the data in real time to discover actionable insight. This is more than just a report generated each morning; it’s using data to drive decisions in real-time to improve outcomes.

Paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation to implement a strategic plan to improve production operations. Automating processes, setting up reports using real-time data, and managing information throughout the manufacturing value chain are all tools and benefits of the paperless system critical to successfully implementing and executing the strategic plan.

Without a system, the shop floor will struggle to meet goals or sustain improvement.

Want to see how paperless manufacturing can help you improve production and meet strategic goals? Contact CIMx today for a personalized shop floor analysis. It’s a critical step in any improvement project.