Category Archives: manufacturing software

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.

5 Powerful Benefits of Production Data Visibility

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Production data fuels the manufacturing industry. Putting this strategic information to work adds profit and production to your business.

As employees collect and use data locally in a wide variety of homegrown formats, data silos are created diminishing the overall value of production information. Over time, competing spreadsheets and shared drives of disconnected production data create inefficiencies and errors. The problem is as much cultural as technological, preventing alignment between sales and operations.

Align Sales and Operations with Data

Unlock the business value of your data by making it accessible across the enterprise. Here are five reasons why data visibility and aligning production databases must be your next improvement project:

  • Work from a single source of production truth

Employees use guesswork and estimates if they can’t find the data they need. This leads to errors and mistakes. With a single source of accurate and accessible production information, there’s no need to guess. Employees work faster with critical information at their fingertips.

  • Eliminate redundant data entry

If sales, operations and dispatch all keep their own spreadsheets tracking related elements you end up with employees doing the same work again and again. Redundant data entry is error-prone and creates waste. Eliminate wasted time and focus on value-added work when you adopt comprehensive, modern data collection standards.

  • Provide revision-controlled, accurate information

Many companies struggle with document and change management. Inaccurate and outdated work instructions and production data create errors and frustration. With documentation under revision control, you can better manage change. Employees work with confidence knowing they have the most accurate and complete production information.

  • Work from a single screen

According to a recent survey, shop floor workers waste 30 minutes to 2 hours every day looking for information. With a single production database and data visibility, employees make data-driven decisions to increase productivity and respond accurately to change.

  • Align the business from shop floor to top floor

Manufacturers identify alignment between sales and operations as a critical business need. Collaboration requires everyone working toward the same goals, with the same vision of the business. Foster collaboration and alignment by linking sales and operations with accurate production data.

Empowered, Data-Driven Manufacturing

Data visibility is the foundation of increased output and business growth. Data collection standards provide the basis of sustainable process improvement and business collaboration.

Start by eliminating the silos and moving your historical data to a manufacturing system. If possible, convert your data to object-oriented files so you can begin running reports on it, providing the trending and analysis that is the foundation of data-driven, Smart Manufacturing.

Want to learn more, or see how a Data Migration Engine can eliminate data silos and empower an MES to do more for manufacturing and production? Contact CIMx today to talk to an Application Engineer about Quantum and learn how to unleash your production data for higher output and profit.

The Key to Success with Data-Driven Manufacturing

Data-driven manufacturing – using facts and data rather than conjecture and guesswork to manage manufacturing processes – should be the goal of any forward-thinking manufacturer. Many companies struggle to realize the benefits of data-driven initiatives, even as the decline in cost of technology, software and hardware make it available to companies of any size or industry.

The problem isn’t the technology – it’s how it is being implemented.

The Human Element in Manufacturing Technology

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review identified four challenges facing companies implementing data-driven manufacturing. Moving from a Time-Triggered to an Event-Triggered Control System, a Unified Data Model and the other items discussed in the article are critical in finally realizing the full benefit of data driven manufacturing.

But what the article, and much of the industry, hasn’t addressed is the human element in data-driven manufacturing.

Humans play a critical role in managing production and workflow. While some processes can be completely automated with machines and sensors working together in a closed-loop control system, focusing on technology alone will leave holes in your processes. The operators must have easy and unimpeded access to relevant information during production.

Manufacturing software, specifically an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) designed with Smart Manufacturing tools, is the only solution that adequately meets this requirement.

Accelerating Production with MES

The key to true data-driven manufacturing is the MES.  By focusing only on technology of manufacturing and not addressing the end users, companies will struggle to maximize the benefit of the data they are collecting.

For example, automating machines to signal required maintenance and then automatically adjusting routing while the maintenance work is done is a perfect example of data driven manufacturing in action. Production doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and changes will have an impact on processes across the company. At this point, the MES should inform the operators of the updated routing. The dashboard used by Sales should also reflect the change, so the customer can be informed of the impact on the order.

The MES connects operators and machinery by communicating relevant data to the people best positioned to act on it. Without that communication, you’re left with disconnected and inefficient processes.

Looking Beyond Data-Driven Manufacturing

Companies are now collecting relevant production data, but without getting it to the right person at the right time, the data loses relevancy. An MES controls the manufacturing processes by managing information. In true data-driven manufacturing, the MES or manufacturing software system incorporates the human element and connects users to the critical data.

Without an MES, your data-driven manufacturing systems are still leaving potential production and profit on the table.

Want to know more, or see how true data-driven manufacturing works with a Smart MES? Contact CIMx today for a free 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.

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.

Manage Change on the Shop Floor with Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

With any software system, there’s a balancing act between flexibility and standardization.  Where flexible solutions give you agility, standardization is sustainably repeatable.  You need both in a system for your shop floor.

Manufacturing utilizes negotiable and non-negotiable rules to manage work and deliver repeatable processes.  Enterprise software solutions need to support these processes and change the “negotiable” rules where it is necessary.

A recent visit to a small airport showed the importance of accommodating change.

When Processes Get In the Way of Success

You see, I travel a lot.  It’s standard practice for airlines to reward frequent travelers with perks like early boarding or a special boarding area.

This trip, I was at an airport too small for a special area. So, at 7 in the morning with a crowd of tired and frustrated travelers seething because the plane was hours late, the oblivious gate agent rolled out this threadbare red carpet to welcome the frequent travelers.

“Please step off the mat,” she told a few weary travelers that were anxious to board.  The comment didn’t go over well as the one or two frequent travelers in the crowd hurried onto the plane and the rest were instructed to step back a few feet so she could roll up the carpet.

People argued.  I could understand.  It was early, and many passengers had been waiting for more than an hour. “It’s not me,” she said. “It’s the airline policy.”  The gate agent proceeded to calmly roll up the carpet, carefully put it away, and then settle back to her place at the gate.

Manufacturing Software and Production Agility

I’ve run this chain of events through my mind. I can relate to the need for processes and consistency. For manufacturers and others, repeatable processes are a sure sign of success… unless they aren’t.

Consider what “process and consistency” cost the company in this situation.

Did the benefit to the few customers that qualified warrant what looked like an entitlement for the rest?  Was it worth forcing angry and exhausted customers to continue standing on sore feet while you rolled up a stupid carpet no one in their right mind really cared about? Add to that price the loss of goodwill you would have gained if you just let the passengers on the plane.

Consistency and repeatable processes are critical for modern manufacturing, but flexibility and the ability to adjust to market conditions is a growing priority. Manufacturing software should manage change as well as consistent processes.

Systems that can’t manage change are going to limit a company, rather than increasing efficiency or competitive advantage.

Evaluating Current Manufacturing Software

3d render of time concept roadsign board isolated on white background

Manufacturing is changing. Are you ready? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There are two types of systems on the market – forms-based and workflow-based systems, and each manage change on the shop floor very differently.

A forms-based system uses forms, or fields for data, in the software. Users input data in one field, tagging the information, and retrieve it in another.  It’s easy to use and operate, but limiting when it comes to managing change.  If you don’t have the right form or fields, the shop floor will struggle to accommodate changes to processes.

Workflow-based systems are more effective at managing change.  A workflow system is designed to support a series of work activities that lead to completion. A change in processes or work requires only a simple change or addition to the workflow being supported by the software.

Reports are run on data collected by the system or the users, making it easy to run the reports required by the customer. You’re not bound by what data you can retrieve from the forms in the software.

With workflow-based software users can adjust their processes to accommodate change and still use the software as intended, rather than trying to cobble together a solution outside the scope of the system they purchased.

In the case of the clueless gate agent… the shop floor manager could see how current processes weren’t supporting conditions on the shop floor, and could adjust the workflow as needed, without having to contact the supplier for a new form.

There would be no need to piss off the customers so you could roll out a carpet.  Everyone leaves happy.

Want to learn more, or see how a workflow-based system works? Contact CIMx today for a free demonstration of our software.