Monthly Archives: June 2017

Five Steps to Eliminating Manufacturing Tech Debt and Optimizing Production

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Recently, we’ve seen manufacturers waiting to begin technology and manufacturing software projects.

Sure, they have no real-time production visibility. Error-prone quality control and production reports on departmental spreadsheets are common problems, but these companies think the process works (mostly).

They are accumulating manufacturing tech debt that will have to be paid soon. In the meantime, waiting is increasing production risk and cost to unsustainable levels.

What is Manufacturing Tech Debt?

Tech debt, a phrase we’ve discussed before, is a concept first proposed by Ward Cunningham, a computer programmer credited with creating the first internet wiki. In programming, you collect tech debt when you program quickly to get a job done fast, rather than completing work slowly and correctly. In Cunningham’s view, you’ll have to pay that tech debt in future development to fix that “quick” programming into better, more stable design.

Developers can program quickly in the beginning to meet critical deadlines, but as long as they continue fix the early design choices (and slowly pay off the tech debt) the project never flounders due to those early decisions.

Manufacturing tech debt works similarly. You can hold off correcting inefficiencies and production errors, but eventually you will have to pay your debt. Another homegrown computer system or departmental spreadsheet will keep production running, but it adds tech debt. Your critical data and processes are more inefficient, more disconnected, and the pressure on the shop floor to “make it work” even greater as you accumulate debt.

The cost of that debt is insidious. How much time and productivity is wasted searching for information on spreadsheets? How much scrap accumulates because the shop floor can’t find critical data during production? These costs quickly add up, growing your manufacturing tech debt. These homegrown solutions continue to silo and segment information in the company, and if the person who developed the solution ever leaves, that data may be lost forever.

As customer demands increase and the talent and labor pool shrinks, the cost of this debt will accelerate. It’s going to hammer many unsuspecting companies still clinging to spreadsheets and paper.

Increasing Efficiency by Paying Down your Manufacturing Tech Debt

Here’s the good news – paying off your manufacturing tech debt is easier than you think with modern tools and technology. Here are a few steps you should take as soon as possible:

  • Identify your key needs. What inefficiency or problem has the greatest impact on production?
  • Set an acceptable budget. Waiting is not an option. You don’t need a massive budget, but look at what you are wasting in time and production and set a reasonable budget for a solution.
  • Assign a team to the problem. If you assemble key stakeholders, including someone who can manage money and assemble executive resources, you’ll kick start a solution.
  • Select an area to test the solution. Many times, projects get bogged down with scope creep. Select a single area, or one old database, to update. Limit the initial project.
  • Do something! The only way pay down your manufacturing tech debt, improve efficiency, and eliminate the nagging problems holding back production is to take action.

Most, if not all, companies that invest in a project to eliminate their Manufacturing Tech Debt see an immediate return in increased efficiency, fewer errors, and increased productivity. Some companies report a 3 to 1 return on their investment in new manufacturing software within the first year.

What Comes Next for Improved Production

One mistake many manufacturers make is considering only their existing software as a potential solution. They already have an ERP, and will try to enhance the existing system to meet their needs.

The ERP was never designed with production in mind, and can’t adequately support manufacturing. The ERP is a transactional system, and is perfect for HR and finance functions. It was never meant to support the workflow and process work of the shop floor, no matter how many modules you add.

Manufacturing tech debt requires a manufacturing, specifically Paperless Manufacturing, solution.

Want to know more, or get a free evaluation of your shop floor with an Application Engineer, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis.

Bridging the Gap between Your PLM and Manufacturing

Manufacturing and engineering are both symbiotic and disjointed. While manufacturing relies on engineering to do their work, engineers are not trained to provide manufacturing exactly what they need at the design phase; that’s further downstream.

These key differences require a bridge between the PLM tools in engineering and production operations on the shop floor.

It All Starts in Design

Engineers create a long list of documents during product design to ensure a product meets the customer’s needs and can be manufactured with the available materials, tools, machinery and people. Different products require different levels of complexity, including drawings, specifications, designs, materials, measurements and other detailed lists of requirements. A Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system keeps all the information organized for the engineer.

This diversity, however, makes it more difficult for manufacturing, where work moves quickly and there’s not a lot of time to read. The PLM that was so useful during design cannot break down the work into operator-sized information packets for the shop floor.

Manufacturing Pushes the Pace

Manufacturing operates at a much faster pace than engineering. The shop floor doesn’t have time to digest complex information before beginning production. Even in the most labor-intensive, discrete production environments, operators work at the fastest possible pace.

Operators don’t have time to search for information on a drawing or spec sheet. If it’s not on the screen when operators need it, productivity and profitability fall drastically. Even a few minutes spent searching can make the difference between a profitable production run and a project overrun.

Manufacturers need to manage the production process with speed and precision; design engineers need details that inherently slow that production down.

Where is the Bridge?

The bridge lies between design and manufacturing. Design and manufacturing get the specific tools they need to do their jobs – tools that are significantly different.

  • PLM design is absolutely required in most modern, complex manufacturing settings. Complete control of engineering design increases competitiveness of the resulting product.
  • Engineering design for complex manufacturing can’t be done by the transactional ERP.
  • Current PLM product offerings meant to work in manufacturing require far too many interactions by the operators to be effective.
  • Companies need bi-directional data transfer between design and manufacturing. Production should provide valuable feedback to design.
  • Traditional MES systems (used on manufacturing shop floors) struggle to get information back to the PLM.

A Solution for Both Manufacturing and Design

Without the proper design, production can’t build correctly and without the detailed instructions, production can’t do its work. There is no sacrifice here that will work. As engineering information flows to the shop floor already, this part of the equation is complete. What’s missing is the critical link for manufacturing back to design and manufacturing engineering (there are holes in both areas traditionally).

What Can Help?

ERP systems can’t. These are transactional systems that will force the design and manufacturing engineers to separate every production step or list them as a single step without the associated, “nested” details that are so critical to the operators.

PLM systems can’t. We’ve already seen how these systems manage documents, but not the associated instructions. Operators can’t build from the documents, as they don’t have the time or experience, typically, to differentiate what specific work needs to be done at each step.

This leaves just the MES and even at that, most MES systems won’t touch the PLM without extensive programming and customization. Manufacturers also need process enforcement, work center or operator-based work instructions, quality control and access to all the PLM documentation that’s required to do the job.

Recently, we introduced a product platform that makes live communication between the PLM and the MES a reality, without the requirement for customization. While we understand many of the problems facing manufacturers, digging into this problem, we’ve found that we have only scratched the surface. Plenty of additional problems exist in connecting systems in the manufacturing environment. What other issues do you have? We’re interested to know.

Our goal is to break down the walls between engineering, design and the shop floor. That is where we see the real power of the Smart Factory or Manufacturing 2.0. Visit us online at and let us know what your biggest challenges are.