Category Archives: ERP

The Problem with Managing Tools, Parts, and Materials in your ERP – and What You Can Do About It

Not long ago, we worked with a manufacturer struggling with a serious scrap problem.

They were a make-to-order composite manufacturer building an expensive product with several critical components. The problem was – operators often used the wrong component. Components were similar and the specifics precise, so every mistake generated scrap, delayed the shipment, and left the sales team scrambling for new excuses.

It didn’t take long for the CIMx Application Specialist to discover the problem… the shop floor was trying to manage production with a bill of material in their ERP.

The ERP Doesn’t Understand Your Bill of Materials

The bill of materials is a critical part of the production process, but if it’s being managed in an enterprise system like an ERP, the system and the shop floor sees it more like a shopping list than a specification, and that’s a problem costing your business productivity and profit.

For manufacturing, especially discrete manufacturing, assets are more than just a list – they are critical specifications required in accurate and error-free manufacturing. But if a shopping list is all the shop floor gets from the ERP, you have lost production conformance. There’s no validation or control in how parts and materials are used in production – just a list that may or may not be referenced later in the production process.

The Struggle Is Real on the Shop Floor

We’ve seen it happen before – operators find costly workarounds for the gaps and problems the ERP is causing. For example:

  • The shop floor hides tools they know they will need because the ERP isn’t tracking production or the assets used. It’s better for them to hide tools now than search for them later.
  • Operators grab materials during kitting without even consulting the bill of materials. They’ve done it before and know what they’re doing.
  • Tools and machines on the shop floor are out of calibration because the static bill of materials doesn’t track the shop floor or assets.
  • Experienced operators work from memory anyway, and never even look at the plans or bill of materials because there’s no validation, no process conformance, and no control of work.
  • There’s no way to specify tools and materials anyway, so mistakes aren’t caught till the end, and then it’s a problem for somebody else.

Many shop floors operate like this. Work is done and products ship, but it’s often in spite of production processes and planning. The ERP can’t support the conformance and control required for make-to-order manufacturing.

Process Control for Make-to-Order Manufacturing

The problem is the reliance on their ERP. The ERP can store information, but it’s not driving the conformance and control this manufacturer needs. The hands-off manufacturing approach of the system is fertile ground for mistakes and increased production costs. The shop floor tries to eliminate the errors, but they’re getting no support from the ERP.

The first step to solving the scrap problem for this customer is moving the bill of materials out of the ERP during production and into a production control system – Quantum.

During kitting, Quantum validates critical materials against the specifications on the bill of material. If the shop floor picks or tries to use the wrong materials, a simple barcode scan will flag the mistake and corrective action can be taken immediately. The problem ends there, minimizing the cost and impact on the schedule.

If necessary, conformance can be driven throughout the production process using pass/fail data collection and automated validation checks against the parts and materials specifications on the bill of material. The manufacturer can control the process and add necessary safeguards.

Problems are eliminated. The shop floor gets the support they need at every phase of production. The bill of material becomes a tool for error-free manufacturing and the foundation of conformance rather than a shopping list.

Contact CIMx today to learn more about Quantum and how you can turn a bill of material into a production tool that drives profit, and eliminates errors and scrap.


Does Your ERP Speak MFG?

Manufacturers come to CIMx Software with critical manufacturing issues and need solutions to the problems holding back their business. After digging into their issues we often discover a common cause…

Their ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) doesn’t speak MFG (Manufacturing).

Problems Hiding in Your Production Lifecycle

Most discrete manufacturing problems derive from the blind spot in the company’s ERP to manufacturing. An ERP has limited control over the core of their business – production. Unable to identify the root cause of problems, or know how much money is lost with every transaction, quality, velocity and revenue decline. Work is done and production continues, but the management team is constantly fixing problems as they happen. The ERP working alone limits growth and negatively impacts profit.

The ERP, while it manages financials and may store work instructions, fails to provide the control make-to-order production requires. Without rigorous control to eliminate variability, the shop floor is victim to inconsistency. Quality decreases, mistakes are made and money lost. With the shop floor relying solely on an ERP, managing complex production requirements becomes a daily struggle.

Here are 3 ways a process control system can help your ERP:

  • Bringing Workflow Control to the ERP

An ERP is a transaction-based system; dividing work into individual, self-contained transactions. However, discrete manufacturing processes are workflow-based, not transactional. Discrete manufacturing workflow is a series of interconnected if/then steps, not self-contained transactions. An ERP will struggle to support change and process control on the shop floor because both are characteristics of workflow systems. The ERP architecture isn’t designed for workflow, and can’t provide the control make-to-order manufacturers require.

  • Connecting the Shop Floor and Front-office

Regardless of what some software suppliers’ claim, an ERP is focused on the front office and not the shop floor. An ERP uses the tables and forms that make running a business easy. You shouldn’t have engineers, quality control and the shop floor navigating screens and drop down menus designed for order processing and accountants. Many systems do offer a friendlier “shop floor” screen for production, but underneath the new screen is a system designed around tables and forms that limit the flexibility and control make-to-order manufacturer’s need when a customer calls with a change order.

  • Deliver Company-wide Production Visibility

Many ERPs provide storage for form-based planning. The system attaches planning to an order and sequences it before sending it to the shop floor. After that point, an ERP offers no visibility into the production process. The system waits for the order to complete so it can bill the customer. The ERP is not a production control system. Make-to-order manufacturers need control and visibility to identify problems before they happen and ensure error-free manufacturing to the highest quality.

Bringing Production to Your ERP

Companies, especially make-to-order manufacturers, need to address the problems caused by the ERP on the shop floor, especially as they plan growth. A homegrown spreadsheet isn’t a solution and doesn’t help the ERP speak MFG. Using a spreadsheet is putting a band-aid on your production problems. With a production control system like Quantum, you link production directly to your ERP. Your software works seamlessly across the company.

Let the ERP focus on the front office. Give the production team a production control system. Optimize every phase of your business, and don’t force your production supervisor to work with a financial system.

Want to learn more, or see how software that speaks MFG can benefit you? Contact CIMx today to discuss your production needs. Set up a pilot program to test a production control system that eliminates the problems holding back your business today!

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.

Are You Getting the Whole Story from Your MES Vendor?

The decisions a vendor makes while building their system can have an impact on the viability and cost of your solution.  Learn how you can protect yourself from hidden costs and frustration.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Make versus Buy?  It is a question that has vexed many a manufacturer looking for the shop floor control and visibility an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) or paperless manufacturing system will provide.

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by

Building your own software system, the “make” in this equation, has its advantages.  You can design the system you want, and if you have the patience, resources, and money to make it happen, that’s the system you will get.  But, it will be significantly more expensive and risky than other options, and you will need to invest time and resources to secure the long-term reliability and maintainability of the software.

Buying a software system means reaching out to vendors, researching options and how they will work with your workflow and shop floor, and purchasing the solution you need.  It is less expensive, and you have software support (at least, with reliable vendors you do), but it does require initial work, and training and preparation on the shop floor.

There is no right or wrong answer to the make versus buy question for you.  That said, MES and paperless manufacturing vendors also face the option to make versus buy, and their answer can have a major impact on the product they offer you.

The Genealogy of MES Functionality

Today, with the rapid rate of change in technology and manufacturing processes, MES and paperless manufacturing systems will need new functionality to maintain their competitive edge.  The vendor needs to decide how they will fill the hole in their product.

Some vendors “make” the functionality by writing new code and continuing to develop their product.  There are benefits to “make” for customers.  By developing the functionality in-house, vendors ensure the addition is tightly integrated with the core product, and it works seamlessly with the other product capability.  The functionality should be thoroughly tested before it is released to the public, giving you confidence in the results.  In addition, any installation, implementation, and training will be done by the people who wrote the software, which is always a benefit.

Other companies elect to “buy” the functionality.  They see a hole in their offering, and do exactly what a potential customer does – market research, find a company or product that fills the hole, and then purchase the solution.  The vendor adds necessary functionality in their product, but it is a budget-based, not an innovation-based solution.

The Benefits of an Innovation-based Solution

There are problems with “buy” based solutions in MES and paperless manufacturing software.  First off, any purchased solution must be, somehow, integrated with the main product.  This is not always an easy process, especially when solutions use different system architecture.  Many products, filled with pre-purchased functionality (they sometimes call them “modules”) end up with a maze of integration points that lead to additional complexity and risk when it is integrated.

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by

It can lead to other problems as well.   In an MES system, every interaction has offsetting interactions throughout your production.  A non-conformance in one area has repercussions in notification, messaging, resolution, archiving, reporting, and more.  Without the right architectural approach, the loosely linked functionality is adjusted and readjusted each time you have a new requirement or you need to update the system.  Over time, the need to adjust the system to account for the genealogy of the individual systems that make up your software significantly increases the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of your system.  It becomes a confusing software mess that hinders production and adds cost.

Sure, the vendor may have found a quick and easy solution to their missing functionality, but you’ll be paying for that solution over the life of the software.  Have fun with that…

Behavior versus Transaction-based Software

This is a common problem for manufacturers that turn to their ERP vendor for an MES solution.

When we started in MES eighteen years ago, there were just half a dozen vendors on the market.  ERP systems were just being implemented in manufacturing, and MES focused on connecting the shop floor.

Over the next 10 years, ERP vendors searched for ways to expand their customer offerings and gain a critical edge on competition.  At the very heart of an ERP (any ERP) is the transaction.  The ERP focuses on documenting and managing the transactions that make up your business.  Because the ERP was a transaction-based system, it was far too complex for these vendors to integrate a simultaneous workflow-based system that is the foundation of an MES.  Vendors who tried to build their own MES usually delivered a template-based system (which uses transaction architecture) that requires significant training and will never mirror your existing workflow without customization.  Other vendors started buying MES and offering them as “add-ons” to their primary offering, the ERP.

All too often, a “buy” MES purchased by an ERP vendor is not likely to be integrated with the main platform.  Sure, they may have developed a plan for integration, but it isn’t going to be any better than another MES integrated to the ERP.  Since the vendor didn’t build the MES, they are going to have difficulty supporting it, and any additional functionality you’d like to add to the MES, or upgrades or updates, will be another purchase or a development struggle since MES is not their primary expertise.

This is why many companies don’t offer free product upgrades with new releases.

Consider where and how the system and functionality came from before making a purchase.  Are you talking to an ERP vendor about MES?  If your ERP vendor has an MES, chances are it’s a “buy” and not a “make.”  The vendor who built and developed the software will ensure better support, lower risk, lower project complexity, more software updates and upgrades, and a much lower overall TCO.

Be sure your vendor “makes,” and not “buys” the functionality you need for the shop floor.

Is Your Shop Floor Hammering to Make It Fit?

Most manufacturers know quality and efficiency would suffer if they asked their shop floor to use the wrong tool, but all too often that’s what happens when a shop floor uses an ERP to do the work of an MES.

By Kristin McLane

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Hammer to fit.  It’s a term we use at CIMx to talk about the inevitable moment in manufacturing when you realize your sub-assemblies don’t fit properly, or a part is a little bit off.  Many times, the solution is to tap, bang, press, cajole or weasel the part back into place.  It’s not a best practice, and I’m sure no credible manufacturing expert ever proudly claimed to be the best at “hammering it in place.”  But, if you’ve ever been on a manufacturing shop floor, you know there’s not a lot of time to stand around (or at least there shouldn’t be).  Many times you do what you can to keep the process moving, but hammer to fit is NOT the optimal manufacturing process.

Here’s the point… in the low tolerance, highly-engineered world of discrete manufacturing… or, to be honest, all manufacturing today, I don’t think anyone ever wrote “hammer to fit” in the work instructions.  There is always a solution for making the parts fit and the customer wouldn’t accept something that was done any other way.

In fact, many times there isn’t even a hammer available on the shop floor.  A hammer is the least seen tool in the tool crib.  I’ve seen drills, saws, all kinds of tools that attach or separate objects, but rarely have I ever seen a hammer.  So if we don’t really hammer parts to fit them together (really – most times we take it apart and make it right), then why do many of us try to make our supporting tools – such as software, applications and processes – do things they weren’t built for?  Using the wrong tool for shop floor control and visibility is like writing “hammer to fit” in your work instruction and expecting efficient operation and quality results.

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from

We’ve been banging on the topic of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) versus MES (Manufacturing Execution System) for a while now.  We started a dialogue on why you need both – and you do – and what each system does.  An ERP system, naturally or through the use of add-on functions, simply cannot do what an MES does. It’s not built to deliver the process control or visibility the shop floor needs.

If you need to track, bill, order, sell or report on something, use your ERP.  But if you need to build, use an MES.  Simply put, the MES builds things while the ERP tracks.  Trying to use one system to do the work of the other is using a tool to do a job it wasn’t meant to do.  You can make it look like it fits, but the solution isn’t efficient and it won’t last, won’t perform, it’s probably costing you money, and it most certainly isn’t supporting your shop floor the way you need it to.

If you need an ERP, there are lots of vendors out there that provide the window into your data an ERP gives you.  If you need shop floor and process control and information management, then use an MES.  Talk to us, we’re happy to help.  Visit us at

Overcoming Invisible Stop Signs Holding Your Shop Floor Back

An MES and an ERP are very different systems, and if you don’t understand the role each play, you may be hurting your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback recently on our discussion of the differences between MES and ERP.  Obviously there is a real need for information out there, and some confusion on the topic.

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back.  Image by

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back. Image by

The confusion is understandable.  A quick search online reveals little information on why it is important for manufacturers to have both systems.  ERP vendors focus on why an ERP is important, and MES vendors focus on their shop floor capability.  Many ERP vendors even market MES offerings or modules.  It is easy to believe an ERP can do it all, leading many manufacturers to struggle with a less than optimal system.

But, as we have said, the ERP and MES play different roles and use different structures.  The ERP is a transactional system.  It logs transactions, one at a time, and creates an ordered system for filing and retrieving the information.  An ERP will use the information to analyze patterns and trends – data tools focused on historical information.

Since the ERP is focused on collecting and analyzing historical data, it’s not designed to process a flow of information.  It sees data points, not operations.  Data points work great in finance, and are necessary for invoices, bills, payments, customers, and other transaction-driven business functions typically handled by the ERP.

The shop floor isn’t transaction-driven, it’s process-driven with a focus on completion of work, not just collecting and organizing information.  Information on the shop floor could include formulas, engineering drawings, safety precautions, quality metrics –process-driven information.  Many of these are inherently if/then processes, which cannot be handled effectively by a transactional system.

For example, think of a non-conformance on the shop floor.  In a transactional system, data would be logged and organized.  In a process-driven system, the information would be logged, and a next step in the process would be activated (if X happens, then Y).  It is an important difference.  An MES offers a clear advantage over an ERP in this case.

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control?  Image by

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control? Image by

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  The ERP works like a stop sign on the road.  When a transaction happens, data is entered into the system.  No further action can occur until the data is in the system.  As data is entered, the next car (data) waits until the preceding one is complete.  Think of an invoice.  It enters the system, and until it is entered no payment can go out or funds be collected.  This is an efficient system for invoicing, but the stop sign, starting and stopping will slow shop floor work, and become detrimental to productivity.

An MES and paperless manufacturing work more like a traffic circle or roundabout.  Shop floor work should move at a steady, continuous pace.  The roundabout will manage traffic and movement.    Progress is managed, visible, continual and controlled.

Don't sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Don’t sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Shop floor processes operate the same way.  Work progresses evenly throughout the day and across the floor, with the MES not only collecting data and marking progress, but driving and controlling it.  Different groups or individuals may need to come together to work on a specific process.  Work will speed up or slow down naturally as the work orders come in and are filled.  The MES will manage the process.  It continually provides directions for each step, one at a time and as a whole.

Stop signs are a detriment to progress, and are the least efficient way of moving processes and work.  They may keep things from running into each other, but they aren’t going to increase productivity.  An ERP is designed to manage, record and analyze business processes, while an MES is designed to boost productivity, deliver shop floor visibility and manage shop floor processes.

Any ERP that promises to do both is either fooling you, selling you two individual systems, or not fulfilling either role effectively.

How Do You Steer the Shop Floor? The Difference Between MES and ERP

Struggling to understand how an MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help your shop floor?  Look no further than a parking lot for an easy-to-understand answer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We often turn to the familiar for help explaining the unfamiliar.  This is why we often use the line, “It tastes like chicken,” when struggling to describe a new food.  We know chicken, and it creates a comfortable, easily relatable connection.

Who is driving your shop floor?  Photo by

Who is driving your shop floor? Photo by

This may be why so many of us see an ERP and MES system as interchangeable, never seeing the critical difference between the two.  An ERP is familiar.  We understand ERP – accounting, payroll, billing and records.  MES is the shop floor, the heart of manufacturing that can be a confusing hurricane of machines, tools, processes and materials.  We turn to the familiar and make a connection (maybe even sub-consciously) between ERP and MES.  The roles and systems become mixed in our mind.

But it doesn’t work that way, and trying to force an ERP to do the work of an MES usually has a negative impact on your business.  I’m going to take a different approach this time, and turn to the familiar to explain the difference…

Think of your manufacturing business as a car.

An ERP works like the windows and mirrors on your car.  It offers a convenient way to view, track and plan your business.  With an ERP (or a rear view mirror) you can track where you have been.  You use the windshield to see where you are going.  Look out another window to see where you are.  Orders come in, money goes out, old employees retire and new ones arrive as you track customer data, create invoices, look at expenses and more.

But a car, and your business, isn’t just windows and mirrors.  You need an engine to move the car, and a way to guide and control the engine.  An MES is the dashboard and GPS of your organization, giving visibility and control of the engine, the shop floor and manufacturing, to you.

With a good dashboard and GPS, you have the directions and maps (visuals) to where you need to go.  You have a wheel, gas pedal, brake and more to give you control over the engine.  You can track progress and receive warnings when something goes wrong.  By organizing and transmitting work instructions digitally, collecting shop floor data, tracking quality, and controlling production, you control the heart of your operation.

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES - You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES – You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by

Sure, you might be able to find the local mall without a map, and if you point the car VERY carefully, you may never need to turn the wheel, but life is much easier with a good dashboard, GPS, and a car you can steer.  An MES delivers the drawings, blueprints, details, inspections, directions and other information you need to build your product.  It doesn’t just hand it to you in a heap.  It organizes it, just like a GPS or dashboard.  It provides turn-by-turn assistance, then tracks real-time data during production and gives you control of the process.

When you run into an issue (and who doesn’t on the shop floor), an MES can help.  A GPS offers advice on avoiding construction and adjusts the arrival time based on your current speed.  An MES provides workarounds for production problems, re-routes work around machines not functioning, and gives you real-time access to product ship times.  To put it simply… windows don’t give you that level of control.

And just like a car, I wouldn’t want to drive (or ride in) a car with no windows.  It’s not pleasant to travel with no idea of where you are going or where you’ve been.  I’m also much happier driving with my GPS and a reliable dashboard giving me visibility and control over the engine, direction and speed of the car.

Make sense?

When asked, “What is MES?” I’ve heard people start quoting ANSI/ISA-95 standards, or listing system functions and features, but it’s not until I imagined riding in a runaway shop floor (or a fast-moving car) with no brake or steering wheel did I realize how critical MES was for a manufacturing operation.