Category Archives: manufacturing software

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.

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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.

Four Clues to Evaluating Current Manufacturing Software

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

If you take the pulse of the manufacturing software market, you’ll be surprised by what you discover.

We recently did an early demo of our product for a manufacturing prospect gone cold. A new Application Specialist was learning the job, and we offered a short demo as a way to engage the prospect and for our employee to get some experience.  We expected our main contact and maybe one or two others to show up. We were surprised when 20 executives and managers joined.

The limited discussions we had with this prospect had all been at a very high level. To have access to this many decision makers and influencers this early in the process seemed out of place.  I’ve been wondering what compels an executive to sit through a demo this early in the process, but the patterns are clear.

The Four Clues

We’re seeing signs of change in the MES market. Consider this:

  1. Manufacturers are hungry to learn more about MES and digital manufacturing.

It used to be our first calls were with quality managers or engineers, but today we are just as likely to get a call from a Vice President or Executive. The c-suite is taking an active role in the process early-on because they realize how critical the manufacturing software decision is.  They also fear getting taken by suppliers who are less than honest.  The MES purchase today is a critical foundation for the future. Sitting through a demo is an investment.

  1. Companies are searching for software solution truth.

Prospects are looking for a way to see through the empty promises offered by some software vendors.  The IoT (Internet of Things), Smart Manufacturing and the Digital Thread are terms companies use to confuse buyers into getting a solution that doesn’t really do what they need it to.  Prospects tell us regularly that software suppliers are unable to present their solution in the demo; they show illustrations of it (read more below) but rarely the real thing. Companies are beginning to question claims about functionality. They want to see the software, not a presentation.

  1. The term “out-of-the-box” has been hijacked.

Prospects are telling us that most demos they see from other MES vendors are “canned” (some are even using PowerPoint slides and short videos to “demonstrate” functionality).  Where they are able to see a real system in use, the prospect can’t ask the vendor to veer off script.  And even though almost every MES supplier markets their solution as “out-of-the-box,” for some systems a “live” MES demo requires extensive configuration of the system itself, making it unsuitable for most prospects.   The core product probably has some functionality that works out-of-the-box (OOTB), but it’s not enough to demo so vendors hide behind scripts and scenarios.

  1. A “robust” training program is not necessarily a good thing.

Want to know if a software vendor is bending the truth when they talk about their product? Ask how long training will take.  A lot of required training before using a system is not the sign of a “better” product, and a poorly designed product isn’t going to help you solve problems.  If you really don’t trust their answer, check out their website.  Verify the number of training videos or courses they offer.  Robust functionality with a laundry list of training courses that take days or weeks to complete can often signal inflexibility.

Optimizing Your Software Purchase

The long-term customers and prospects we work with are always searching for ways to improve production.  With 20 years in the industry, we have a lot of experience helping manufacturers.

Lately, we’ve had more and more prospects searching for OOTB functionality. They want to see the software, not a PowerPoint presentation.  Consultants and services companies that build custom systems or connect modules are posing as OOTB software suppliers, with sales people making promises the software team can’t keep.

“Can you demo from the live product?” It’s the one thing manufacturers challenge us to do all the time.  We can, and it’s the thing they comment on regularly.

Software vendors should show you what they can do today. Without a live demo, can you count on the system to work?  With enough time and money, anyone can build you something to do exactly what you ask, but the only way that you’re going to see a strong return on investment (ROI) is if the core system meets your needs. You shouldn’t have to rely on another module, software services, customization or extensive “configuration.”

Give us a call for more tips on MES or paperless manufacturing systems.  Whether you’re a CIMx customer or not, we’re tired of industry disinformation and happy to answer your questions, so contact us today to learn more.

By the way, our Application Specialist gave a fantastic demo of the product with just one month of work under his belt.  It’s hard to imagine software vendors with rigid systems and unnecessary complexity and don’t demo live could have had him demo-ready that early.  With CIMx, it just works.

Outlook and Email is not Manufacturing Software

As many manufacturers outgrow their process plan solution, some end up using email to manage their critical production processes.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Do yourself a favor.  Pick a day this week and look at your Outlook Inbox.  How many messages do you get a day?  Do you know how to find that?  If not, here are directions.  How many messages are in your Inbox right now?  How many remain unopened?

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Relying on email or messaging software will create more production problems than they solve. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

On any given day, I’m receiving several thousand emails.  Over 95% end up in my spam filter.  The other 5% are distributed based on content, some going into automated folders for review later, or directed to the main folder for immediate review.

Without these filters and rules, email can be overwhelming.  Even with my systems and my rigorous controls, problems happen and messages are lost or misplaced.  I can’t rely on Microsoft Outlook to run my business.  Yet, there are manufacturing shop floor systems out there that run your shop floor using the same tools.

We sit right in the middle of our industry – MES and manufacturing software.  We are used in the very largest companies in the world to put rockets into space, huge commercial planes into the air and are with you during critical, invasive hospital procedures.  We’ve worked with soap, wire, carbon fiber and glass.  We’ve completed medical and aerospace audits and we’ve even worked with wood cabinetry.

The largest manufacturers in the world might call on us to implement an enterprise system that connects one or more large-scale facilities into standard processes or even cross-plant performance reporting.  Smaller and mid-size businesses might use us to keep track of orders on their shop floor and tell their customers ship dates for products.  And all the companies in between need us to keep their shop floors working smoothly, productively and with few if any errors.

As these smaller and mid-size businesses try to push their revenues up, they find they’re outgrowing their software tools. The job shop system that ran routings around the floor falls short when they try to expand the product line or customize orders for customers.  So many of these manufacturers look for a quick-fix, and turn to email-based shop floor solutions that use Outlook as a messaging tool to help.  Ouch.

Outlook is not the right tool for this.  Sure, mail has the little red flag to mark something as important and even “read receipt” messaging to make sure that your colleague received the information.  But should you use it as a tool for production?  Hardly.  Email is unresponsive, unhelpful and generally slow in terms of production planning and shop floor work.

When looking for a tool that will help with production and the shop floor, consider this:

  • Email should not, be your primary means of communicating an issue. If the operator or worse, your Quality Engineer, is constantly monitoring their screen for email alerts or notifications that an important message awaits, they do not have their eyes on your actual production – which is bad news.  Our system, similar to many, can send an email when a certain process finishes, a problem arises or someone’s waiting on approvals or a piece of work.  We hope, however, that the email is well-aged by the time the engineer looks at it.
  • Ask the software supplier where and how, specifically, Outlook or messaging of any kind is used within the product. Ask them to describe how important issues are handled and what happens when one team needs to speak to another. You don’t want production delayed while the shop floor waits for someone to read a critical message.  A system without push technology might lead to workers wandering the shop floor rather than running jobs at their work centers.
  • Consider how the system captures messages in the production record. A system using email as a primary means of communication is probably not adding them to the final build record or the record that’s created is simply a string of these communications reported without a connection to the associated work completed.  That can be a problem, especially when you need an accurate production record.

In the end, a quick fix may seem an easy solution, but open you to greater risk and other production problems. Need more help?  Reach out and tell us what you need.  You’ll find that we open every email that gets through the filter, but you’ll probably have more luck, just like your shop floor, in not relying on Outlook for your most critical items.

Implementing a Successful Strategic Plan for Manufacturing

Many manufacturers use aggressive strategic plans to improve production, but without a shop floor system the goals are unsustainable.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Do you have a strategic plan for manufacturing growth?

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You need a solid digital foundation to implement a successful strategic lan for manufacturing. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Every company should have one. They help guide and shape the daily decisions of the company, and provide a common goal and purpose. For manufacturing, a business that relies on repetition and predictability more than others, a strategic plan is a critical tool in stimulating business growth.

The problem for many is the disconnect between the strategic planning and shop floor operations. Adding a bullet point in the strategic plan to reduce waste, or improve production is great, but the relentless pace of production doesn’t leave much opportunity for implementation.

A committee will meet, a few ideas get tossed around, a few words said at a morning meeting, and then another order will come in and the good intentions of the strategic plan are lost in the relentless need to get product out the door.

Making Shop Floor Changes that Work

There are several challenges facing manufacturers implementing a strategic plan, beyond what most companies will face:

1. Visibility

Many manufacturers simply have no visibility of their production processes. They don’t know what is happening on the shop floor, other than in dated reports and employee intuition. Without actionable data and insight into processes, any plan to implement a production strategy will be a “best guess.”

2. Control 

In a paper-based production environment, shop floor control comes from the morning huddle, a shift in the production line or work center, or a new best practice that is quickly forgotten. During production, the shop floor will use a process they know rather than a new process almost every time.

3. Analytics

More than just visibility, analytics is the ability to drill down into the data in real time to discover actionable insight. This is more than just a report generated each morning; it’s using data to drive decisions in real-time to improve outcomes.

Paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation to implement a strategic plan to improve production operations. Automating processes, setting up reports using real-time data, and managing information throughout the manufacturing value chain are all tools and benefits of the paperless system critical to successfully implementing and executing the strategic plan.

Without a system, the shop floor will struggle to meet goals or sustain improvement.

Want to see how paperless manufacturing can help you improve production and meet strategic goals? Contact CIMx today for a personalized shop floor analysis. It’s a critical step in any improvement project.

How to Increase Efficiency with New Employees Using MES

An MES or Paperless Manufacturing system offers the most effective resource in onboarding new manufacturing production employees.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

We recently spoke to a manufacturer about implementing an MES. Business was booming, new orders were coming in and a system would solve many of their problems. They needed to increase production, decrease scrap, and track orders with better scheduling and production records.

Even so, they were reluctant to implement the software because they weren’t sure how to train their employees, new and old, on the system. “It’s going to be complex,” they told us. “I don’t know if we can manage everything.”

MES and Complexity

I won’t lie… some MES are complex.

There are systems with multiple pull down menus, floating windows, disconnected data, and a bazillion fields to fill out for the simplest function in the system.

But, if you have a modern system focused on supporting productivity and offering automated functions, you have an MES that reduces complexity in the manufacturing process.  In fact, with some systems (like Quantum) users can be trained in an afternoon.

There is no better way to onboard new employees than with an MES, especially one designed to minimize complexity like Quantum.  Consider this:

  • Improved planning.

With a strong MES, planning can be improved with additional, contextualized information such as visual work instructions, safety instructions, and best practices. You can ensure workers are using only the most relevant information. Rather than teaching new employees how to navigate paper packets that may (or may not) have all the information they need, they automatically receive the information they need, when they need it.

  • Procedural Enforcement.

With procedural enforcement, you can be sure the shop floor is doing the correct work at each step in the process.  Procedural enforcement creates a behavioral system that makes best practices second nature.  The system walks new workers through process steps accurately and correctly.

  • Automated tolerance checks.

Automated tolerance checks identify quality escapes immediately, mitigating quality problems with new employees and offering on-the-job quality training. New employees learn immediately what causes a quality problem and can adjust the behavior before it becomes a habit. Real-time analytics build collaboration and process improvement for new employees.

  • Contextualized data collection

Data collection is a critical step in production visibility and quality standards, but it’s often an afterthought. Notes are scribbled on the traveler after the work is done, and is more guesswork than precision. An MES makes it easy for employees to easily collect critical data at the precise moment in the production process, often automating data collection.  This eliminates the guesswork and lets new employees focus on their work.

  • System familiarity.

Today, many young people, the largest source of new employees, grew up using software systems like Quantum and MES.  They are comfortable accessing information in the software, completing work in conjunction with the system. The training with an MES, a modern MES, will be significantly less than trying to teach paper-based manufacturing that is more tribal knowledge than process.

Increasing Productivity with Paperless Manufacturing

Rather than fighting against technology, it’s time to embrace the advantages offered by manufacturing software and a modern, user-friendly MES.

You shouldn’t see new employees as a reason to avoid change, but a time to implement, especially as the younger generations have become more and more comfortable with using software and technology in their work. Not only is paper less efficient, but training is guesswork with no standard or platform to provide a foundation for production.

Want to learn more, or see how easily you can implement a paperless manufacturing system? Contact CIMx today for a personalized shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

Are There “Gentlemen’s Rules” in MES Sales?

Many software suppliers are more focused on the sale than the solution when working with customers.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Twenty-something years ago, software demos gave potential customers a good idea of the system they were buying.

Today, as software functionality continues to expand and teams of consultants scramble for profit (read our blog on Tesla for more on that), it’s difficult for manufacturers to know what they are purchasing.  The skill in selling software has grown faster than the market’s ability to discern fact and fiction.  The rules in the software market have gotten skewed, and without rules, how do we play (or purchase a system)?

Gentlemen’s Rules in Cycling

I was an avid cyclist.  After competing for 18 years on the cycling circuit in the US, I’m content now to watch the Tour de France in a comfortable armchair.

MES and the Human Element

Does your implementation team really know the software and your processes? Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

The Grand Tour is an amazing spectacle.  If you live in France, the month of July is dedicated to the sporting event.  It is called one of the most grueling sporting events in the world.  For 21 days straight, almost 200 cyclists (usually 22 teams of 9 riders) compete in road stages that make Death Valley seem leisurely.

In cycling, there’s always been an unwritten gentlemen’s code of conduct. If you are a rider, a competitive one, you know it.  And you live by it…

Cycling is, at its heart, a team sport.  Inevitably, the entire group (the peloton) doesn’t ride together – the group will split as the race speeds up or the hills get steep.  In these situations, the gentlemen’s code ensures:

  • you never attack the leader if he or she is down;
  • you work together and everyone takes a turn, and;
  • if you’re not able to work with the group, you may sit on the back (where there’s less wind and it takes less effort) but you won’t participate in the sprint or receive points on the day.

The code subtly manages the race.  You don’t win if you can’t do the work.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the software industry has a similar rule…

As a customer, you want to get the best product for your business.  The purpose of the demo(s), the Request for Proposals (RFPs), and the other stages of the software purchase process is to determine how well the system will serve your manufacturing needs.  The process should let you “try out the team,” who will be providing your new system, ensuring only a company that can do the work will earn the job.

But, that’s not how it works today.  Many suppliers use resellers so they never work with an end user. Other suppliers are so big, there are layers and layers of bureaucracy between you and the people who really know the software.  Most customers only meet the sales team, and are introduced to a few people on the installation project leads – a team focused on sales and collecting commission or service charges, and not meeting the goals of the implementation.

How are those implementations working out?  How many companies suffered with a poor software installation when the salesperson (who was well-liked liked) made promises the solution couldn’t keep?

Implementing a Code of Conduct for Software Sales

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

Are you confident your team is focused on shop floor improvement? Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Let’s go back to my gentlemen’s code theory.  If the sales team tells is focused on closing the sale, are they really worried about what your needs will be in the future?  When you have an issue, are they there to help you, or are they counting on your service charges each time a problem comes up?  Are the sales or implementation team best positioned to answer your questions?  You never even meet the real software experts (if there are some).  In fact, it’s not in the interest of some companies to review every option or potential problem before an implementation, because their sales model is based on the additional service charges they’ll be getting from you.

I’m not suggesting you find a better salesperson.  It certainly helps the process, but I think you need to look deeper.  With the increase in consultants, and the constant attrition in the marketplace as smaller companies are eaten by the monolithic software enterprises, the “team” concept in software sales has disappeared.  As software companies absorb functionality from other systems, finding someone, anyone, who understands the software enough to provide adequate, or useful, support, is almost impossible. This leads to higher cost, additional complexity, and a software product that never works the way it was sold.

A gentlemen’s code of conduct would help eliminate many of these problems.  Consider this:

  • The software supplier should walk a customer through the entire implementation process (eliminating those “surprise” service charges that creep into many projects).
  • No system should be installed without an upgrade path. Systems shouldn’t fade into obsolescence.  (Read more about it here.  It’s critical.)
  • The software supplier should offer a guarantee and benchmarks for the system and implementation. They should take some risk in the project, and not expect the customer to carry the burden.
  • No product should require a manufacturer to completely change their processes and work instructions. Too often the shop floor ends up serving the software, rather than the software supporting production.

I’m sure every person who has ever worked with a software supplier could add to this list, but it’s a start, and we need to start somewhere.

Will Your Supplier Go the Distance?

We should all work for our customers like members of a cycling team.

This year’s Tour has been one for the books.  Last week’s stage to Mont Ventoux reminded me of a software installation gone awry.  With winds topping 60 to 100 kms/hr, race officials cancelled the last 6 kilometers of the race.  None of the teams complained, even though the decision hindered the advantage of the top climbers.  Unfortunately, many people had camped on the side of the road for those final 6 kilometers, and as word spread, those people waiting at the top started to make their way down the mountain.  The crowded roads caused the leader to crash badly.

If something like this happened during an MES implementation, many suppliers would sigh and extend the schedule, halt production on the shop floor while they fixed the problem, or call procurement with more service charges.  Installation is a tricky process and things go wrong.  Is your software vendor willing to change the requirements or project plan when problems happen?  How painful will the service charges be?  How will they work with you?

If you have a problem, will your team (if you even have one) do what the leader did on Mont Ventoux?  With a wrecked bike and watching other groups pass him as he waited for a team car, he began to run.  Running in the Tour de France?  In 25 years, I’d never seen it.  He did what it took to keep the winning jersey with Team Sky.  And he delivered.

That’s the difference between working with a team focused on your goals and with people who really care about your success and the product they offer, and working with just another software reseller.