Author Archives: David Oeters

About David Oeters

Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Defining the ERP and MES Connection

When problems crop up in production, savvy manufacturers immediately search for a solution.

Many turn to manufacturing software like Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or begin looking to their existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for the functionality they are missing. Confusion creeps in at this point. As software providers expand their offering through development and acquisition, the lines blur between MES and ERP.

Removing the confusion and clearly defining the roles of the MES and ERP will eliminate this problem and help as companies plan for the future of their business.

The Role of the MES and ERP

Just as no accountant should ever use an MES to balance the books or run financials, no ERP will ever offer the functionality necessary for complex manufacturing. It can’t be done.

The MES delivers the workflow-based functionality required for discrete manufacturing. With a system based around the production value chain, it manages work and operations, and links data in a production cycle. Mistakes and quality escapes are flagged, allowing rework paths to be implemented. You can send a bill through an MES, but it’s not the optimal solution to billing.

The front office requires transaction-based functionality for financials, customer management and human resources. Data is input and tagged, creating data links, but at that point the process stops. There’s no workflow control because it’s not necessary. You could track a change order in a transaction system, but inefficiencies will cause the shop floor to struggle.

Some companies market their products as a “Manufacturing ERP.” They offer minimal manufacturing functionality tacked onto their core ERP product, often as a pricey module. It looks great in demos and claims to support some production processes, but a transaction system will never deliver the workflow control and visibility discrete manufacturers need. The inefficiencies result in “workarounds” your operators develop to overcome features that don’t work.

Fitting your Software Systems Together

Many companies initially turn to their ERP for manufacturing solutions, mistakenly believing a single software solution will lower costs and IT requirements. It doesn’t. A supplier selling an MES and ERP solution has either put a shiny “MES” veneer on top of basic ERP functionality or purchased an existing MES and completed an integration that you can’t control and they won’t be updating. You end up with an expensive solution with built-in inefficiencies, expensive upgrades, and gaps in manufacturing functionality.

The ERP and MES are separate, standalone systems that work best together when the user (your company) designs the integration points. This way, your front office has a software solution designed and built for their needs. Similarly, the shop floor and production team have the specialized functionality, visibility and control to keep up with the pace and complexity of manufacturing.

Since you aren’t buying expensive modules or customized functionality to awkwardly extend a software solution, you lower the overall cost. You have a clear upgrade path for both the MES and the ERP, and never struggle with an outdated solution.

Your company works from an integrated, cohesive production and business database. The reports use accurate data, sourced from the systems best positioned to collect and intelligently link information to increase production and efficiency while cutting costs.

Getting Started with Data-Driven Manufacturing

Once you’ve decided to eliminate inefficiency and embrace data-driven, smart manufacturing with a system like Quantum, the next question is where to begin.

Many mistakenly believe a software infrastructure project must start with the ERP, but the truth is it often makes more sense to implement an MES first.

Companies report a much quicker ROI for manufacturing software. The right manufacturing system will cost significantly less than an ERP, can be installed quickly and will pay immediate dividends through cost savings, and lower scrap and waste. The MES will reduce the scope and cost of the ERP by clearly defining the requirements of the enterprise system. With the MES in place, you won’t be pressured to purchase additional modules or software.

With manufacturing software you shield production from the disruption that often accompanies an ERP installation or upgrade. You can safely update other software when you are ready, with the comfort that your production data and shop floor are secure.

Want to know more, or see what benefits you will discover with manufacturing software? Contact CIMx for a free shop floor analysis with one of our Application Engineers. As always, the report is yours even if you decide Quantum isn’t the system for you.

What Quantum MES Can Do for You

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

The internet can be a confusing place for anyone doing research – especially for manufacturers researching Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

Research leads to more questions than solid answers. Finding the truth among lofty, but hollow, claims from ERP vendors that don’t know production can be a challenge. To clear up confusion, we’ll explain exactly what Quantum can do for you and other discrete manufacturers that are struggling to manage and improve production. Companies need solutions, not questions, to meet the complex demands of modern manufacturing.

Connecting the Shop Floor to the Top Floor

Quantum MES provides a data-driven edge for manufacturers by intelligently linking the shop floor to the top floor.

In the past, companies would struggle to manage production processes. Errors would be found only after manufacturing was complete, requiring expensive and time-consuming rework. Rampant inefficiencies, mistakes and non-productive work were common. Getting the big picture on shop floor was difficult, if not impossible. Data and information on production was either lost, inaccurate, or kept in isolated databases.

Without timely and accurate production data or process control, the company struggled to solve these problems. With scheduling based on guesswork and not capacity analysis, change orders requiring a printer and a red sticker, and a shop floor grappling with inefficiency, measurable improvement is difficult.

Companies using Quantum efficiently manage production operations by ensuring critical data and information is accurate and available when and where it is needed. The software eliminates guesswork and confusion with a built-in communication system. All aspects of the production process are integrated as everyone on the team uses the same and most up to date information. Many processes are automated, eliminating the source of errors and ensuring operators focus on production.

Smart Tools for Manufacturing

Since the software maps to and mirrors existing production operations, manufacturers find it easy to begin using the tools in Quantum, immediately improving operations. There are no extra modules or additions in Quantum, so you’ll have:

  • Built-in Finite Scheduling delivering real-time WIP dashboards to eliminate production and shipping uncertainty;
  • A closed-loop Quality System to identify non-conformances as they happen and automate rework to ensure timely delivery;
  • Process Conformance supporting standardized processes to dramatically increase accuracy and reduce production time;
  • Document Control that eliminates paper by digitizing work processes to remove errors;
  • Asset Management to track business assets throughout the manufacturing value chain, providing complete traceability for the most demanding regulatory requirements.

These tools are part of the complete manufacturing solution in Quantum. Since the software simplifies and enables the capture of relevant data across the production cycle, integrated Data Analytics delivers insights in real time to support data-driven business decisions that accelerate the benefits of the software. Visualization and feedback loops provide a critical foundation for Smart Manufacturing. With Quantum, your business will synchronize and integrate business operations from the top floor to the shop floor.

With industry-focused configurations, enterprise and multi-site options, and turnkey implementation and training – Quantum delivers error-free manufacturing and enterprise wide visibility for companies of any size at a price you can afford. Contact CIMx today to see what Quantum can do for you.

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 www.CIMx.com and let us know what your biggest challenges are.

The Future of Wire and Cable Harness Manufacturing

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Every year, wire and cable harness manufacturers and suppliers descend on the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee for the Electrical Wire Processing Technology Expo. I’d heard from both customers and industry experts this was the show to be at.

With so much to see and do in Milwaukee, it’s taken me a few days to process it all. What can a new attendee learn? As an industry, where do we go from here?

Here are my key takeaways from the 2017 EWPTE show:

  • The Promise and Limits of Automation: Many suppliers offered tools to control machines and automate wire harness processes. Automation will eliminate errors and reduce costs, but these strategies offer diminishing returns. Automating a single machine or process limits benefit. How many companies use the same machines across their shop, or utilize the same process for every product or lot? Automation offers tremendous benefits, but it’s not ready to revolutionize the industry. Versatility and real-time flexibility are trending toward the top of the industry.
  • Strategic Optimization for Manufacturing: Manufacturers are continually looking for ways to optimize processes and improve results. It wouldn’t be a manufacturing show without a focus on optimization, and 2017 EWPTE didn’t disappoint. Seminars offered optimization strategies for a variety of wire harness applications, or monitoring and data collection tools to better manage machine efficiency. Machine and tool optimization is only one piece of an optimization strategy. Connecting operators with their machinery using advanced analytics and visual work instruction completes the puzzle.
  • A Focus on Employee Productivity: Wire harness manufacturing is fundamentally a manual process. Increasing production and maintaining a competitive advantage requires more than new machines. It requires an investment in employees. Suppliers are responding with new products, including tools to lay out wire harness design using augmented reality and active feedback loops on the shop floor to increase production. Paperless Manufacturing systems proactively manage production, helping employees focus on value-added work among other capabilities in the software.
  • The Next Big Thing in Wire Harness Manufacturing: In the past, outside technologies and influences have pushed wire harness forward. At the show, many attendees wondered where the, “next big thing” in wire harness might come from. The pressure is on the industry, and companies need to adapt or OEM and Tier 1 manufacturers will find a wire harness supplier that will. Wire harness companies need to roll out new products faster, shorten the lead time on orders, and deliver more accurate bids and estimates. Companies must deliver more value to succeed in a competitive market.

With so much pressure on wire harness manufacturers, many companies might turn to a single investment, a fancy crimping tool or testing machine, as their sole solution.

A real solution requires more than a single machine. It requires an evaluation of your manufacturing processes to identify the issues holding back production and the business. Are you collecting and using your production and labor data? How are you managing scheduling? What factors influence your production lead time?

After listening to industry experts during webinars, and talking with the manufacturers and suppliers at the show, it was reaffirmed that companies recognize dated methods of managing production no longer deliver the results necessary to succeed. Wire harness companies know best-guess estimates and pencil-whipped production records won’t deliver a competitive advantage.

After my first year attending EWPTE, I can see the rumblings of change in our industry. I can’t wait to see where we go from here. Want to learn more about Paperless Manufacturing and how real-time production data and finite scheduling can benefit your company? Contact CIMx for a free demo of our software for wire harness manufacturing today.

Simple Steps to Improve Production Quality

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Every manufacturer struggles to improve quality during production.  Any level of defect is unacceptable, causing scrap, rework, missed ship dates, and lost profit.  Quality defects can cause a host of other problems more difficult to measure; including customer’s losing confidence in your product and frustration on the operations team.

While you may have a team working hard to improve quality assurance and quality control, manufacturers must be judicious in pursuing increased quality.  With any quality program, there are diminishing returns for the initiatives.  Adding more people to Quality Control, or creating additional checklists for production, will not always bring an acceptable return.

However, there are simple steps you can take to bring sustainable improvements in quality and provide a solid foundation for future initiatives.

A Closer Look at Manufacturing Quality

There are two distinct aspects to production quality.

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

Continuous sustainable quality improvement is only possible with a digital system. Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Quality assurance is usually defined as the management of the quality of parts, materials, tools, production engineering plans, production processes and all aspects of the work flow.  Quality assurance focuses on the proactive preparation for the release of orders, eliminating common sources of errors by guaranteeing inventory and tooling is available and creating of easily understood production instructions.  These are two critical elements to support an efficient production process.

The other aspect of production quality is Quality Control, commonly defined as the data collection measurements and inspections made during production to ensure products meet or exceeds specifications.  Quality control requires accurate measurements be taken during production, and a record made of all metrics in the engineering specifications.  By identifying and eliminating defects early, before they become more serious and costly, overall workflow and production performance is improved.

Simple Steps to Improve Production Quality

Manufacturers using paper to manage quality and production are creating an environment with a high risk of quality defects.  Paper simply cannot adequately support modern manufacturing, especially not as a tool in Quality Assurance and Quality Control.  Companies relying on paper will see limited improvement in manufacturing quality, but larger gains are impossible due to the fundamental flaws of using paper to manage production.  Build books filled with brief instructions and difficult-to-understand steps printed off a few hours earlier, and quality measurements hastily scribbled on sheets of paper do nothing to control or manage quality.

Continuous sustainable quality improvement starts by eliminating paper from the production process and transitioning to Paperless Manufacturing.  Consider these simple steps:

  • Convert the paper environment to a digital environment.

There’s no need to recreate your work instructions.  Move your existing, corrected instructions to a digital format that can quickly be accessed by engineering as they are planning.  The shop floor benefits with revision controlled, accurate work instructions and multimedia production assistance when needed.

  • Integrate production information from inventory management to shipping.

Incorporate all production documents and data in common records that can be accessed when and where they are needed.  Eliminate the struggle production has in finding information when they need it, by linking relevant data to each operation.

  • Use digital methods to assure and control quality at every step.

Automatically collect data and ensure specifications are met. Shorten the time a defect is identified and corrected with automatic tolerance and a closed loop disposition system.  Create proactive alerts for inventory shortage, machine issues, or bottlenecks.

Companies that have embraced paperless manufacturing have seen their production quality increase, often dramatically, by using readily-available technology to aid, manage and control the materials and process steps of the work flow.  Automating the process of collecting metrics and responding to defects at the point of occurrence isn’t difficult, and will improve quality and profitability.  Unlike systems that only target specific areas of the manufacturing value chain, paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation to improving both Quality Assurance and Quality Control across the production workflow.

Contact CIMx Software to see how Paperless Manufacturing can improve quality for you.

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.

3d small people - rolls gear

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.