Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tips to Stay Focused on Production Improvement in 2017

By Liz Hamedi, Customer Experience Specialist with CIMx Software

Every New Year there is a behavior cycle that begins among manufacturers and manufacturing software providers.

Manufacturers reach out to software and solution providers at the beginning of the year to solve their production problems and eliminate the frustrations.  Problems are holding their business and production back.  It’s a New Year and time for a new start, they tell us, and the company is motivated to get something done.

As the year goes on, they lose focus and start making excuses.  The project is too big, or not what they expected or some other problem took precedence.  By the end of the year, they end up right where they were the previous year, and the cycle begins again.

The solution, and improved production, is closer than these companies realize. For 2017, our goal is to deliver solutions that help manufacturers and improve efficiency.  From our experience, there are three reasons companies wait on a manufacturing software solution: money, risk and fear.

Eliminating Manufacturing Software Indecision

Money is a concern for every business.  Many software projects fail because the team focuses on the price tag and cost rather than the ROI.  Years ago, when all software solutions were exorbitantly priced and complex, the ROI was measured in years.  Today, with the advent of modern software technology, a powerful off-the-shelf software solution will deliver an ROI in less than 9 months.  Start your project by considering what the problems you want to solve cost the business.  Look for a system that will solve problems and fit your budget. Look at the value beyond the initial price tag and consider the ROI. Software won’t only solve problems, but accumulate value.

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Want to improve production? Stay focused on proactive improvements, rather than reactive solutions. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Risk keeps many projects from ever starting, even when there is a compelling need for a solution. Many Manufacturers recognize change is needed, but without a guaranteed benefit they hesitate.  In their mind, a software solution is a factor they can’t adequately anticipate, and a failed project can negatively impact the whole business.  Today, there are steps a company can take to minimize risk.  Start with a pilot program.  Test the software in a single area or production line before rolling it out to the whole plant.  Look for software that supports an agile phased implementation, helping minimize disruption and allowing for greater control of the implementation process.

Fear motivates many manufacturers to find excuses rather than solve problems. Many fear the software solution will be worse than their current situation.  They fear the impact on the company and co-workers.  They fear the resource cost – IT is already overworked and understaffed, and there is no way they can possibly support another system.  There may be other problems, such as outdated planning or an existing software system that may be difficult to integrate, causing hesitation.  Identify these fears early in the process and engage the software supplier in a solution. Often through open dialogue you will discover the solution is much easier than you think.

A Promise for Improved Production

Make 2017 the year you eliminate errors and modernize your manufacturing operations.  At CIMx, we’re here to walk with you every step of the way.  For many, the first step is the hardest, but once you identify a solution, the benefit will greatly exceed the cost.

Reach out to CIMx today and discover how we can solve your production problems and deliver benefits and results in 2017.

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Manufacturing Software and Paperless Manufacturing in 2017

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We regularly review the manufacturing software market.  Last year, we were twice caught off-guard by references to the “death of Manufacturing Execution Software” (MES) by both a major analyst firm and a competitor.

Manufacturing software isn’t dying.  With the changes to our industry, the growth of technology, and the need for companies to better manage resources and production, there has never been more need for strong software tools to support production.  Paper, a modified spreadsheet, or an ERP modified with some shop floor functionality, simply can’t provide the capability manufacturers need.  There is no magic bullet, super-system to solve all your enterprise problems and replace manufacturing software.  Predicting the “death of MES” flies directly in the face of what we see every day.

The Premature Demise of Manufacturing Software

In the first case, an analyst predicted MES vendors would need to specialize to survive the next 5 – 10 years.  I agreed whole-heartedly with this analysis; manufacturing systems do need to adapt.  The era of the 200+ MES vendors that do it all is over.  Technology is so prevalent with apps and devices everywhere, there’s no way a general, “everything to everybody” system can thrive. His solution, however, was an incredibly and wildly expensive master system that utilized every hot button technology analysts obsess over.

When I read similar content from a competitor, I thought back to the analyst’s prediction.  The thing they had in common, however, wasn’t the prognostication.  It was their blindness to more than 90 percent of the manufacturing market – firms that don’t make the Fortune 50.  Each was looking at the market of multi-million dollar software implementations with automation, IIoT and BA that only the fewest manufacturing companies can consider.

Process Improvement graph.

Take steps to improve production and profit with Paperless Manufacturing in 2017. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

 

This doesn’t mean MES is dying.  Manufacturing software for the rest of the industry is adapting, better utilizing technology to improve both functionality and efficiency.

Years ago, we started talking about Paperless Manufacturing as a focus long before others picked it up. We wanted to empower manufacturers to improve productivity and quality, eliminating compliance issues by eliminating error-prone and inefficient paper on the shop floor with a system and software tools that are easy-to-use and quick to implement out of the box.  Now everyone seems to be talking about paperless manufacturing (which isn’t another way of saying MES is dying).

Many analysts and major software providers focus on only the very largest manufacturers in the world, completely ignoring the largest segment of the market.  They both offer solutions for only the largest companies. Their position makes sense for those companies, but I struggle when they use that perspective to move the needle without considering the entire market.  It’s no wonder a majority of manufacturers struggle to find software designed for them, or believe manufacturing software is going to bankrupt their business.

Manufacturing Software Solutions for the Market

I don’t understand these analysts and massive software providers refusal to see the manufacturing world below $1 billion.  For these companies, there is no Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), no Smart Connected Assets, no Factory-Automated shop floor in the works.  These hard-working manufacturers need immediate, focused and sustainable help to survive the current challenges of global competition, worker shortages and a lack of interest among new workers for manufacturing.  Predictive analytics is fun to read about, but it’s not going to get the next order out the door.

The good news is there are systems and software solutions designed for these companies. With modern technology, there’s no reason why all manufacturers can’t support their production operations with software.  The right system can save money, improve production and quality, and get orders out the door.  Manufacturers and a production operations team shouldn’t have to struggle with inefficiency.

There are even software systems that can be installed and help improve production and efficiency this year (not all can, so be sure to understand the service and ask for qualifications and guarantees).  The law of averages tells me that for every US $10 million in revenue you have on the top line, you can conservatively spend between US $35,000 and $50,000 on a system.  That’s more than enough to move from inefficient paper to paperless manufacturing and all the benefits it brings.

You will need to create a short, focused list of requirements; some vendors can even help you with that.  Here are a few things to watch out for as you start researching the market:

  • Template-based systems (fill in the boxes or blanks) work well only for those companies that have consistent, never-failing production. These are useful in automated settings where input is minimal and variation is seldom.
  • Services-to-install are an area that some vendors will underbid on. Ask for a fixed-bid to complete the work, a guarantee of deliverables and make sure the vendor offers a very strong complaint process.
  • Upgrades must be included in annual support. Always buy the annual support to ensure you can upgrade.  New functionality will keep your production operations modern and focused.
  • Be knowledgeable about the vendor’s support practices before you sign on the dotted line. Ask how they support customers and call the support line before you purchase to see how you are treated.  Their handling of issues will be fairly consistent throughout your tenure with them.

Make 2017 the year you start doing something to improve your competitiveness, profitability and quality.

If you don’t know how to take the first steps, reach out to us at CIMx Software.  Our goal is to provide our manufacturing software to as many companies with a real need as we can, and we’re offering programs right now that can immediately accelerate your research and get you started.  We can help you assess your needs with a Shop Floor Analysis, a market review and other helpful tools.

Want to know more? Contact CIMx today, we’re happy to help.

2016 Year in Review for Manufacturing Technology

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

At first glance, 2016 was a year of promise linking production priorities with emergent technologies.  Speculation was rampant with industry buzzwords flying fast and furious – Smart Manufacturing, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Digital Thread, Data Mining, Cloud technology.

What is lost in the speculation of 2016 is the technical and industry hurdles we need to overcome before the speculation becomes a practical reality for our industry. Consider this:

  • The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will use machine sensors and automation to better manage production processes, identifying and eliminating problems before they happen…once we determine the format and infrastructure of the IIoT, significantly lower the cost of integration, and agree on how security will be managed.

  • Cloud-based apps offer companies the chance to reduce capital and infrastructure expenses and manage software remotely…as long as they relinquish control of their data and apps to the service providers and accept increased costs and potential downtime.

  • Smart Manufacturing heralds the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT)…so Production Managers with enough time, resources, and a willing and able IT resource to implement and support smart, connected devices can improve production outcomes.

  • Manufacturing customers see the promise of collaborative manufacturing and customization, and are expecting more from manufacturers, and manufacturers are using 3D printing and digital PLM tools to provide flexibility not found in traditional manufacturing processes…hoping they can maintain margins while frantically searching for new value streams to improve profits.

A Dose of Manufacturing Truth

As exciting as it was to speculate on the future in 2016, we’ve ignored the current manufacturing truth faced by many companies. Businesses don’t need speculation, they need practical solutions.  According to a study by Adobe, 82% of the companies still rely heavily on paper.  Four out of five businesses say they are trying to use less paper, but a third of the companies actually used MORE paper.  These companies aren’t thinking about the Digital Thread, they wonder how they can continue supporting their business.

An operations team struggling to manage massive paper build books and unsure how to access the latest revision of production plans isn’t considering smart-connected machines.  A company with a single, overworked IT resource isn’t ready for a Smart Manufacturing strategy.  A shop floor supervisor struggling to identify shipping dates and manage production schedules isn’t thinking about IIoT.

The solutions our industry is focused on and the suppliers offering them are still years, perhaps even decades, from providing a viable application for most manufacturers.  For example, an IIoT solution will require new machines, sensors to integrate with a shared database, a common machine language for all those sensors, a tool for mining the information for actionable data, and a method of automating the process. Currently, it’s expensive, with only limited applications.

The largest companies, with the money, resources and time to devote to speculation, are exploring the options and opportunities. Often, the goal is to monetize the technology and offer it on the market as a product or module for an existing application. The company hasn’t even worked out how to use it in their own processes.

Where We Were in 2016

Rather than speculate, I’d like to take an honest look at 2016.  Let’s see where our industry is now, rather than 10+ years from now.

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How are you using technology in production and operations? Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve come across companies that have implemented an MES, or have stitched together different applications to remove paper from their processes and better manage and record manufacturing digitally.  Today, these companies are working to improve their processes, optimize production, and further support the manufacturing value chain.

The push to further optimize can lead to additional risks.  Companies are working toward integrating their software systems, such as ERP, PLM and ERP, through a single system.  Most of these projects have run into trouble, as the complexity of the integrated software slows, rather than supports, enterprise processes.  Brian Carpizo, a Team Lead with Uptake, an IIoT company in Chicago, described the problem in an article in Forbes as “… the converged IT/OT world does not lend itself to one-vendor systems of record or some kind of mega-ERP. The problem is just too complex.”

CIMx regularly works with companies struggling with inefficient, legacy software systems that should have been retired years ago.  These companies purchased manufacturing software during the advent of MES in the early 1990s; some built their own systems using Microsoft Access or other computer software. These early systems used custom code, making it expensive and difficult to upgrade.

Today, companies still using that old software pour more money and resources into maintaining the inefficient status quo, a logic fallacy known as a “sunk cost” that blinds businesses to the opportunity for improvement. Continuing to wait leads the company further into Technology Debt.  These companies are looking for a smooth transition to a new system.

Finally, there are a significant number of manufacturers still clinging to traditional, error-prone paper-based manufacturing. From our experience, whatever the reason for waiting each year to implement even a simple software system to better manage production operations, the company falls further and further behind their competition. Often, management doesn’t realize how easy and inexpensive a possible software solution is to implement.

A Bridge Forward in 2017

I’m not arguing against Smart Connected devices and technology. Technology will have a positive impact on manufacturing, now and in the future.  Automation and the IIoT are promising, and there are companies leveraging the Cloud to improve current business outcomes.

But to focus on technology still years away from practical application while ignoring the struggles of the majority of the industry in 2016 isn’t really putting your audience’s interests first.  We’re excited by the opportunity new technology offers, and we’re looking at ways to best utilize it in our product offerings, but in no way was this reflective of the work done in 2016, or the status of manufacturing last year.

A review of the year should focus on the business, and not the future.  There are tools out there now to help businesses still relying on paper and inefficient technology.

Next week, we’ll take a close look at what you can do in 2017 to deliver a positive impact on your business.