Category Archives: Manufacturing Execution Systems

The Broken Promises of Manufacturing Innovation

We received a lot of feedback, positive and negative, regarding our blog on market consolidation and manufacturing software.

It obviously struck a nerve, with strong feelings on both sides of the market consolidation and mergers issue.

The Truth about Market Consolidation

Market consolidation, with independent suppliers merging either through acquisition, partnerships or takeovers, is a business tool. Some mergers work – look at the success of the Disney and Pixar merger.

Others see a dark side to market consolidation, especially in the software and technology industry. Technology doesn’t blend easily – consider the failure of the AOL and Time Warner merger. Customer service, price point, and functionality are often sacrificed when two companies become one.

Manufacturing software mergers aren’t benefiting the industry. The results of these partnerships are often more toxic than “transformative.” Keep in mind the following as you consider a potential solution born out of a technology merger or partnership:

  • The high cost of an acquisition or merger. There is a cost to any merger – development costs for combining software systems, additional training and support expenses. Customers pay that cost with an increase in the product price or higher service charges. Suppliers spin the higher price as a “benefit” of access to additional functionality the customer didn’t want and will never use.
  • The death of innovation. Innovation fuels the manufacturing software and technology industry. Software suppliers should partner with customers to keep technology relevant. Companies that purchase new functionality, rather than innovating, put their customers at risk. Purchased capability will never be as successful or integrated as functionality built directly for the software. It’s a high-cost shortcut in product development.
  • The struggle for product support. The first victim in an acquisition or merger is product support. With the companies focused on integrating products and building a new revenue line, previous customers struggle to get the attention they need from the supplier. Even after the acquisition, there will be support questions as the new company determines how to support both older offerings and new products.

Fighting Back Against Market Consolidation

According to a recent article in the New York Times, those who bought into the promise of greater efficiency and customer benefit after business consolidation and mergers are now struggling with buyer’s remorse.

With consolidation, it is easier for companies to raise prices without risking the loss of customers and suppliers can collude on price without raising the ire of regulators. Entrepreneurs and start-up companies, the engine of innovation, find it increasingly difficult to enter a market dominated by a few businesses. When they do succeed in bringing a shot of innovation to a static product line, the company is gobbled up as an acquisition.

Business works best when there is competition. Companies should focus on developing their product to benefit customers rather than building out functionality through competitor acquisition.

If you want a manufacturing software solution fueled by innovation and internal development, rather than mergers and acquisition, look for an independent vendor with a product developed and supported in-house. They will work with you as a partner in ways larger corporations can’t. Massive software companies, stretched thin by an acquisition culture and focused on growing the revenue stream rather than a product, lack the dynamism and customer focus to work as a partner with manufacturers. They leave many of their customers burdened with high-costs, software complexity and innovation atrophy.

Want to know more, or see how a partnership culture in a manufacturing software supplier can solve problems and grow your business? Contact an Application Specialist at CIMx Software for more information.

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How to Find the Best Partner for Manufacturing Software

Last week I read a press release announcing a merger between two manufacturing software companies. The goal of the new product – a combination of the offerings from both companies – was to deliver functionality neither company had previously been capable of offering.

Dangers of Software Mergers

Joint offerings like this rarely deliver the expected benefits. With no real focus on customer needs, these business mergers lead to expensive, inefficient and ineffective product offerings propped up by the promise of innovation.  Too often, the real goals are either opening another revenue stream or fixing existing flaws in each developer’s software. Purchasing a competitor’s technology and marketing it under a unified brand isn’t innovation. For companies looking at a patchwork software solution, here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Lack of Product Support

Ask how support for the “collaborative product” will be managed. Who will be responsible for support? Many times, the merger will completely change the support dynamics leaving users in customer support limbo. There will be lengthy and frustrating growing pains as the merger develops. Over time, the companies move on to other initiatives, with customers left struggling with unsupported software.

  • Functionality and Complexity You Don’t Need

Software acquisitions add functionality without thought to workflow. Continually cramming functionality into a software product creates complexity and inefficiency. The shop floor will ignore these systems. Additionally, consider the cost increase as users pay for functionality they don’t need and won’t use.

  • Expensive and Flawed Product Integration

Many product collaborations result in a lowest-common denominator solution for users. Software products developed independently, with different architecture and design, can’t be easily combined. There will be significant costs passed on to the customers to tightly link and connect the products. Some features can’t be linked, resulting in product flaws your shop floor will have to overcome.

The Power of Partnerships

Manufacturing software is critical for modern manufacturing. For companies struggling to support production with paper-based word documents, spreadsheets or modules tacked onto their existing ERP, the answer is not in the latest software partnership.

You’re not going to find a long-term, sustainable manufacturing solution with the “flavor-of-the-month” products developed in these partnerships. Unnecessary complexity, higher costs, support issues and flawed design elements eliminate any user benefit from the partnership.

Look for a software supplier ready to partner with you and your production team for a solution, and willing to focus on your unique business needs. The focus of any partnership should be your production needs and the growth of your business; not just the business of the software partners. CIMx Software has never purchased another product to increase our functionality footprint. Quantum was developed completely in-house, with a focus on empowering manufacturers to eliminate problems and increase output. Companies using Quantum know the focus is their production needs and supporting their business goals.

In our next CIMx manufacturing blog, we’ll take a look at how market consolidation is hurting manufacturers, and what you can do to find the right manufacturing software partner for you. Let us know if you have any questions, or would like to learn more about what modern manufacturing software can do for you.

Five Steps and 12 Weeks to a Manufacturing Solution

If you’re struggling with manufacturing problems – failed audits, late shipments, scrap, waste and worse, a sustainable solution is closer than you may think.

Manufacturing software has come a long way from the days of command prompts and MS DOS. With advances in software technology and the lower cost of hardware, it’s possible to quickly install a targeted software solution. You’ll eliminate the problems holding you back, and increase production output and profit.

Best of all, the right solution uses your existing work instructions and processes, and doesn’t require a risky cloud-based system.

A Better Solution for Manufacturers

Quantum can deliver a Smart Manufacturing system on a modern platform in 12 weeks or less. Here’s how we do it:

Step 1: Identify Your Primary Requirements and ROI

The project starts by developing a requirement list with a CIMx Application Engineer who will partner with you on the project. Target the source of errors and problems and identify solutions to build your list. For example, you may find paper-based work instructions often result in past revisions of planning being used for production, causing quality escapes, scrap and missed production deadlines.

Using this list, calculate the cost savings for each solution. In the previous example, how much would be saved if operators worked from only the most accurate plans? As you work, you may find a requirement doesn’t deliver enough savings. Those requirements can be tabled for a future phase of the project.

Step 2: Map-out Your Production Workflow

Now that you have a good idea of your project goals, you can begin mapping your production workflow into Quantum to identify how the software will support and manage production.

As a workflow system, Quantum is extremely effective in supporting existing workflow and modern manufacturing, unlike ERP or other non-manufacturing solutions. Once your processes are mapped in Quantum, the Application Engineer can demonstrate the workflow using your planning so you see the solution in action.

Step 3: Configure Quantum

Once you agree to the solution and how it is mapped in Quantum, the system will be configured.

You can set up specific work centers, dashboards, reports and alerts. Special workflow requirements and processes can be added for a smooth transition to Quantum. With regular progress reports and demonstrations you can track progress of the work.

Step 4: Migrate Data and Work Instructions

Using Quantum’s Data Migration Engine, CIMx moves your existing planning, documents and data into the system applying the workflow identified in step 2 – a true turnkey manufacturing software solution.

When users log into Quantum for the first time they will see only their plans, making an easy transition to Smart Manufacturing. Keep in mind, as you use Quantum further improvements can be made such as adding data collections and visual elements to work instructions.

Step 5: Final Installation and Training

When you’re ready, Quantum can be loaded at your site in less than an hour. Since the system has been configured and loaded with your planning, very little additional work is required.

All users are trained in Quantum – a process that takes less than an hour – and will begin using the software that day. The Application Engineer will be on-site to answer questions. Most companies find implementation quick and easy after requirements are identified and the workflow mapped.

Getting Started Today

MES are no longer the complex and expensive software projects companies feared in the past. Anyone with a basic understanding of a cell phone will feel at home using Quantum. In fact, most companies that eliminate paper by moving to Quantum regret not taking the plunge to digital manufacturing earlier.

Quantum eliminates the root causes of production errors and inefficiencies. A real-time view of production and access to production data will improve your production output and profit.

If you’re interested in learning more about Quantum, Smart Manufacturing or how you can eliminate paper and embrace digital manufacturing, contact CIMx today for a shop floor analysis.

Manufacturer’s Guide to Software Implementation

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

In a recent survey, Automation World and ARC Advisory found that MES systems were critical to compliance, cost reduction and profitability. They go on to talk about the importance of implementation. While that seems obvious, implementation is sometimes the last thing that prospects talk to us about. Implementation should be discussed early in the vendor selection process as it may be the single most over-looked and critical project requirement.

A Close Look at Manufacturing Software Implementation

Implementation can drive quick returns or bury you in cost. Ask questions of your potential vendors to assess their product approach. Consider how the product structure will affect implementation.

In building a software tool for your shop floor, you have to consider what you will build after you finish it. Why? Because it determines how you actually structure the tool. Let’s break this down a little further and see what it all means.

Software can be a single platform with a single login or a series of smaller products (modules, nodes, apps) tied together. If your software vendor uses or refers to the use of “implementers,” they use the second approach. The sales pitch for a module-based platform is you don’t have to pay for what you don’t use. That is true in the licensing, but my experience tells me the services are so much more expensive that you’ll end up paying more for less.

Platforms that come as one unit or product are often referred to as “out of the box” or “standard” software tools. This simply means you pay the vendor a licensing fee to get a license key that turns on the functionality you purchased. You have every right to expect this product will work without any broken links or pieces, even if you didn’t purchase the whole system.

Module-based platforms are exceptionally difficult to upgrade. This is important to know if you plan to implement new, updated software as the vendor builds and releases it. (These updates should be part of standard support and free if you pay for support.) While it seems unlikely, we do have customers that prefer to stay on a version and not upgrade. This is a great choice where it is difficult to change work practices or train your workforce for various reasons (contract workers, labor contracts, seasonal workforce).

Out of the box software may also be difficult to upgrade. You really need to ask questions of the vendor to assess this. Sustainability and obsolescence are the keys here. Need more help with this? Call us, as that could be another whole blog.

Data Management for Manufacturers

Industry Week joined the conversation with a posting around data management. Just like the implementation concerns above, data management is a fancy word that can really drive up not just the original system costs, but repetitive ones as well. The key to data is making sure it’s available to you where you need it. That could be anywhere from the point of production on an operator’s workstation to a database you can access to see how your workforce is doing.

Whether you’re looking at a standard product offering or a module-based one, take a look and be sure to ask questions of the system’s data management capabilities and approach. What can you see and how do you get it? Reporting on this data is a key task for any organization from aerospace to office furniture. If you don’t know what’s going on right now on your shop floor, then you will never know if you will be able to meet your metrics for on-time delivery, on-budget costs or the more sophisticated analysis of profit margins.

A Critical Assessment of Software Vendors

So, while compliance, cost reduction and profitability are serious benefits to an MES offering, I would suggest you use implementation strategy, speed and cost as a measure against which these benefits could be judged.

Need more hands-on help? Here are important questions you should ask your vendors to see if they meet your requirements.

  • What percent of implementation costs for your software will be services?
  • How many man hours do you expect to spend on my implementation?
  • How many of those days will be on-site?
  • What kind of relationship do you typically have with your customers?
  • How do you maintain this relationship?

Good luck with your first steps in this process and please call us if you need any help. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years in discrete, regulated businesses. We can share a thing or two to make the process a success.

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.

Overcoming Failure: Simple Steps to Improve Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Not long ago, I wrote about a concept known as “sunk cost.”  The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a cognitive bias that compels us to cling to an investment even after there is little to no chance of a beneficial return. We feel an unnecessary commitment to decisions of the past, even where we’ve lost our initial investment, and so we keep pouring more resources into it.  For example, continuing to invest in a failed business or clinging to a relationship even after its gone bad.

I’ve heard Annie Duke, a World champion poker player, discuss the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and I’m fascinated by her lessons on sunk cost, loss aversion and Decision Science. She recently wrote a blog about supermarket lines and sunk cost.  There are valuable lessons for manufacturers in her blog when you consider the amount of money you spend on infrastructure.

Sunk Costs on the Shop Floor

3d small people - way choice

Don’t let sunk costs sink your productivity and shop floor software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

As Annie Duke explains in the blog, “Our problem is that we don’t recognize that we have later chances to make a new and better decision… Instead, we either think we are done deciding and ignore new information, or think the new decision should give weight to irrelevant factors.”

Much the same could be said of manufacturing. You have to invest to stay in business. Sometimes that investment is in software. Many companies, if not most, are loathe to spend money on these systems as the software or the people who sell it don’t seem honest or can’t be bothered to understand your problems; they’ll sell you whatever they can whether it works or not.

(CIMx tries to eliminate these problems through our sales cycle, but that’s not the focus of today’s blog.)

Once you pay for software, it becomes a sunk cost. You can’t consider the initial investment in the next decision you make. So, what do you do when the software isn’t giving you the return you need? What do you do when the system isn’t working like it should, or the supplier tells you the project is running late and significantly over-budget?  At that point, you need to consider your Return on Failure.

Maximizing Your Return on Failure

We have a history of working with companies that need to improve manufacturing software.  Companies come to us almost monthly with failed software implementations; some of these companies need help, others need an all-out system rescue.  We’ve helped with a total system replacement, ensured the data they needed was in the system, or just consulted and supplied services and software to help the manufacturer get back on their feet.  You’d be amazed at how many software providers desert their customers before the system they installed was fully usable.

In an article from the Harvard Business Review, authors Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas describe the theory of Return on Failure and how the most successful companies in the world use failure to grow rapidly and sustainably.  Return on Failure is measured by the information you obtain through the failure (call this “lessons learned”) and the amount initially invested.  No matter the investment, if you can maximize the information learned, you come out ahead.

To apply this in manufacturing, once you’ve selected and started to implement a system, all is not lost if you find it does not meet your needs.  Learn where the holes are.  Create a list of what’s still needed.  Rapidly identify what’s broken.  Then, and most importantly, apply the concept of sunk cost.

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

How much is inefficient software costing you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The amount you’ve already invested in a system is irrelevant to the problem you’re trying to solve – a software system that’s currently not doing what you need it to do.  Unless the provider of the failed system can bail you out for the best price with the best result, why should you continue investing in failure?  The money you’ve spent shouldn’t factor into your next decision.  Are you worried about introducing another vendor and creating a bigger failure?  If you do nothing, then you’re accepting a shop floor digital infrastructure that will always be less than optimal. You’re basically crippling the profit driver of your company.

I would suggest it is MOST dangerous to continue investing with a supplier who has failed.  I’d also suggest a consultant can help identify the problems, but they can’t sustainably deliver an ROI for the future.  That’s not the strength of a consultant. You need a solution to the problem.

Increasing your Return on Failure involves learning from failure and creating a strategy for improving results in the future, and that’s where CIMx can help.

We’ve done it before.  Numerous times.  Our procedures are built to rapidly identify the gaps in your processes and determine the optimal strategy and solution.  With a full staff of engineers, shop floor analysis tools and products that can rapidly and robustly help you move data, we work with you to determine and implement a solution to get you up and running as quickly as possible.

Customers come to us not only with software implementations that failed, but also aging systems that are now failing or crippled by obsolete infrastructures.  We’ve even worked with customers (multiple ones if you can believe it) buying parts for aging servers off e-Bay.  Continuing to invest in systems like these represent sunk cost bias.  Continuing to pour money and resources into a failing system is not only foolish, but it’s holding your business back from optimizing production and profit.

Lessons Learned from Failure.

Each time we work with a manufacturer confronted with a failed (or failing) software system, we do our own lessons learned.  Here are a few areas that we can help, addressing each area Birkinshaw and Haas refer to:

Costly customers cost you dearly

If you are losing money regularly, you may not know your production costs.  Add manufacturing variability to that (customers changing one or more parameters on standard product), and the production estimate guessing game gets ever more dire.  With a solid system in place you can confidently estimate your production costs, and then run comparisons to determine the actual costs.  Track it daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.  You’re in control of the data.

Lack of market knowledge steals profitability

Do you know what’s really going on in your industry?  Plug competitive data into your analytics engine and see how your operation stacks up.  What if you were able to save 5% on the time it takes to complete a single shop floor operation?  Would that be the difference between a productive, profitable project and one that costs you and your customer time, money and aggravation?  The benefits you accumulate with a successful software system can be the difference between success and failure.

Alignment with the corporate strategy increases customer success

If your company were to make a broad change in how they manufacture for customers, could you identify how it would affect your ability to deliver for independent accounts?  Manufacturing software can provide a view, part by part, of how change impacts you and your customers.  If you were able to implement that change without increasing costs across your customer base, wouldn’t that increase your ability to compete?

Supporting a strong culture keeps you fully staffed

Failing systems have a negative impact on your team as well.  In a world where it is increasingly difficult to acquire and keep great employees, you need to do everything possible to help your shop floor staff to do their work.  Make their job easier by getting them the information they need.  Give them a system that empowers employees, providing access and feedback to both engineering and sales, increasing collaboration across the company.  We can provide you tools to do this.

Looking to the future provides continued improvement

Once you’ve got the right system in place, don’t stop there.  You need to continue to improve to remain competitive.  Business and manufacturing analytics provides a view into future trends.  We use trailing twelve charts to help us see forward trends.  Use this information to overcome production issues and make better decisions.

Next Steps to Increase Your Return

We’re proud of our expertise in overcoming failure for manufacturers, and want to continue helping companies in need of a technical lifeline, which is why we’re introducing a new program – the software trade-in.  We can’t take your current software licenses (and quite frankly, we don’t want them) but we’ll empower you to exchange them, license for license, with a CIMx Software system that will work for you.  We’re experts at rapid installation with a focus on strong investment returns, and our expertise will ensure you quickly replace failing systems with software that empowers production and manufacturing.

If you don’t want a heavy sales pitch, contact me directly to hear more about this, or talk to any member of my team.  We’ve made a business out of helping manufacturers improve production, and we’re ready to share our expertise.

Talk to you soon.