Category Archives: Manufacturing solution

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.

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?

ART-Solutions-&-Benefits-WEB-071013

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.

The Curious State of the MES Industry

Manufacturers shouldn’t expect MES projects to be late and over-budget, but many do. They should expect exceptional customer service and successful data migration, but that’s not what many suppliers offer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Recently, I was in a Verizon store trying to transfer information from my old phone to a new device.  This is not rocket science.  We should know – our software has helped put the space shuttles, the Delta Rocket, commercial aircraft and satellites into the air.

This is a simple data transfer, moving my applications, names, numbers and other information from an old device to a newer, smoother, faster device.  After a few minutes in the store, I began to doubt Verizon could finish the job.  Could I still use the new phone without my data?  Of course – I could also start over and just copy what I needed, one application or contact at a time, but I didn’t want to.

Computer devices around 3d small person.

Working with an MES supplier shouldn’t be confusing or frustrating. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know how easy the migration should be, because we’ve spent a lot of time, energy and brainpower working with data.  Last year, we introduced a new product offering that transfers data from any platform to any other platform.  We are using it to migrate, move and repair all kinds of data, including embedded data links and legacy databases that haven’t been updated for decades.

So why can’t Verizon move a few apps and files?  From what I can tell – they don’t want to.  They don’t feel it’s worth their time.  It’s an expensive use of their resources in an industry with consumers who have come to accept crappy customer service. For them, there is no value in offering the service.

And that’s when I started to think about the MES industry.

MES Suppliers versus Manufacturers

In 20 years in this business, I’ve never met a manufacturer that doesn’t have existing data they need to move to a new system.  Whether they have 20 years of data, or just 30 months, they need access in order to continue work. As a computer system ages, slowly drifting into obsolescence, access becomes difficult and the system starts holding back production.

Once they see the problem; most companies do nothing right away.  They take time (lots of it) to get everyone together to discuss what they need in their new system.  Prospects end up with requirements that read like a wish list for Santa.  Last year, we had a prospect tell us they had created a “very modest” list of requirements.  They wanted a quick ROI and were tightly controlling the project asks.  The sheet they sent had close to 250 line items (which make me wonder what the “not-modest” requirement list looked like).

Efficient Manufacturing

Are you letting MES expectations hold your project back? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

This has become an industry standard because, much like the ill-fated and poorly equipped smart phone service providers, people have come to expect expensive, overly complex and mostly late projects from the software suppliers in our industry.  They believe an incredibly long and maddeningly-detailed requirement list is a necessity to play the game.  Suppliers are happy to play along, especially since most providers can’t deliver a project on-time or on-budget.

It’s true.  We constantly hear horror stories of projects gone wrong – delivered, but phenomenally over-budget, with functionality missing and a system that leaves the users disappointed.

When working with MES providers, companies create a huge list of asks to help protect themselves and their project.  If they’re going to jump in and spend the time and the money, they figure they need to get the bang for the buck.  Plus, if the project is going to under-deliver, the customer assumes it is better to fill up the requirements.

A Better Way to Manage MES Projects

Bigger projects don’t mean better results.  More service charges won’t deliver more effective software.  Adding another report or another piece of esoteric functionality isn’t going to protect you from failure (in fact, it will add to the complexity, which is never a good idea).  A brand-name (large provider) also does not guarantee success; the delivery may eventually come, but long after your needs have changed.

3d small people with a checklist

Work collaboratively with your MES supplier, and expect them to work collaboratively with you. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Back to Verizon, who broadcast on commercials non-stop how they’re the largest this, the best that.  Offering the largest data network in the world doesn’t do anything if you force the customer to move information from one phone to another.  All that network power does me no good if I can’t access my contacts.  They are making their product less accessible.

Eventually, I did solve the problem on my own.  Shortly after leaving the store, thoroughly disgusted with the time wasted, the service (lacking) and the attitude (the 20-something Verizon rep cited her years in the industry as proof she could get the job done – before she totally failed at it), I was able to move my applications over.  Today, my phone and I are operating smoothly, despite any help from the supplier.

It’s true… the promise of a better network doesn’t mean better customer service. Similarly, the promise of a more expensive and complex MES does not mean a better system or improved production.

Take the time to work with the MES supplier to understand your needs and develop a project plan and requirement list. Together, you can design a project that benefits production, rather than setting everyone up for failure. Develop trust with the supplier and work collaboratively. Want to see what working collaboratively can do for you?  Ask for a shop floor analysis – it’s the first step toward seeing how an MES can benefit you.

Honestly, not every MES supplier can work like this. The focus on massive, overly complex projects using software developed decades ago is so embedded in our industry; some companies see project overruns and missed deadlines as the cost of doing business.  The supplier relies on those expectations and the customer cringes and comes to expect it… which is too bad, because it shouldn’t be that way.

So as not to leave you thoroughly discouraged, there are vendors who do what they say, and companies who believe the status quo isn’t good enough.  We offer written guarantees on price, project and timeline, and we don’t overpromise just to get a sale.  I don’t know another provider that’s out there that does what we do, but surely we can’t be the only one in the industry who provides projects on-time and on-budget?

In the meantime, I’m still looking for an honest telecommunications company who can manage a simple migration between phones.  Let me know if you find anyone.

5 Ways You Find Real Value with a Smart MES

Not all manufacturing software is the same. Critically evaluate your current software or a new solution to understand its potential value. 

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Critically look at the value a system will add before installing manufacturing software. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Critically look at the value a system will add before installing manufacturing software. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There are a lot of MES and manufacturing software systems out there for companies to choose from, but not all are created equal. They all offer similar functionality. They manage manufacturing information, sending work instructions to the shop floor and collecting data on production.

While some MES offer just the standard core functionality, other systems, especially older software, struggle with functionality-creep, attempting to handle everything from your product lifecycle to financials. We believe ERP (Enterprise Resource Management) and MES are different. Tools that pile functionality in the system force users to work the software rather than manufacturing.

Smart MES are different. An MES that focuses on delivering value to the manufacturing process is a Smart MES. It enables users (and the business) to work better, faster and with fewer errors. Forward-thinking, modern Smart MES become the foundation of the Smart Factory and a critical tool for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT).

Characteristics of a Smart MES

Don’t get fooled by empty MES promises. Here are 5 critical characteristics of a Smart MES you can use to evaluate software systems:

  • It’s more than work instructions on glass. Some systems offer bare minimum functionality – work instructions are emailed to the floor where data is collected on a spreadsheet. A Smart MES provides dynamic, visual work instructions, system connectivity, asset management, and more. You need a system that supports modern manufacturing. Older, less dynamic systems can’t do that.
  • The software adapts to changing conditions on the shop floor. With enough money, you can build your own MES that meets every need you have right now. Whether you build it yourself or implement a module-based MES system, delivery of today’s requirements in a few years’ time is not good enough. By the time the system is delivered, your needs have changed. With a change in regulations or a new piece of technology, the system you designed will be outdated. A Smart MES adapts and grows with you, allowing you to work in the system to meet the changing needs of your shop floor.
  • The system allows users to focus on manufacturing, and not on using the software system. Some MES are so complex users spend more time navigating screens and pull-down menus than actually doing their job. Smart MES eliminate unnecessary complexity and directly support production improvements. Necessary training for the software should be measured in hours, not days. Complexity never increases benefit in manufacturing software.
  • Smart MES use shop floor data to improve production. Using a modern, data-driven manufacturing software system with real-time production data, you should see potential problems. The Smart MES will have integrated tools like scheduling, change orders, and procedural enforcement to implement a solution for any potential issues.
  • The software minimizes disruption and cost. Some MES require you convert your processes and work instructions to a new format. The result of this conversion is costly shop floor disruption and a struggle to adopt the software. Other systems offer a plethora of modules and add-ons, delivering a complete solution only to users willing to pay for it. With a Smart MES, it should be easy to adopt the tools to your current processes, and the functionality you need should come fully-loaded out of the box.

An MES is more than Functionality

Benefit is found beyond the functionality list. Look at the value a system will add to your shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Benefit is found beyond the functionality list. Look at the value a system will add to your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Modern manufacturing software shouldn’t be measured by functionality. Most systems can deliver the minimally viable prouct (MVP) that you require; look past that for a few big wins that help your production, like scheduling or asset management.  True benefit is found in the value it adds to your production and manufacturing environment. This is the difference between a basic MES and a Smart MES. A Smart MES enables data-driven, digital manufacturing and becomes the core of the Smart Factory.

Contact CIMx today to learn more about the Smart MES and what it can do for you.

Paperless Manufacturing and Procrastination

You may not realize it, but many companies procrastinate away profit and production. We offer easy-to-use tips for eliminating tech-procrastination.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

Are you procrastinating away profit and productivity as you wait for a new software system? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you procrastinating away profit and productivity as you wait for a new software system? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, Tierney and Baumeister discuss how to set realistic goals, monitor progress, pick your battles, and look beyond immediate challenges.  Studies show, by doing these things you will decrease stress and increase your personal energy and health.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to my job and how paperless manufacturing helps companies increase their own productivity. Of course, there is a whole chapter on procrastination and how it affects willpower. I have found procrastination to be a huge factor for companies considering, but not moving forward with a paperless manufacturing project. Companies know they need to do something, but discover it is much easier to do nothing, even as profit, success and productivity drain away.

Many procrastinators (including corporate and business procrastinators) overestimate the size of a task which can cause anxiety before the project even starts.  Therefore, potential solutions are put aside and expensive production errors continue as they have for years past. Companies ignore an easy solution out of ignorance, not because there is any real problem.

There are some simple tips you can use to avoid procrastination and move forward with a beneficial paperless project:

  • Focus on starting, not finishing – by doing this, you avoid getting overwhelmed. Decide what can be done right now, the finish line will come, but no one gets there in one stride.
  • Break things down into short tasks – implementing an MES system is a large investment, so it won’t happen overnight. There are several steps in the process, take them one step at a time. This is an advantage of a phased implementation.
  • Celebrate small advances – by doing this you avoid getting discouraged during the process. Each task completed is a step closer to shop floor success and more productive manufacturing.
  • Find others who support your cause – by doing this, you are creating a circle of support to help push the project forward, even on days when you may feel overwhelmed, your MES team can trudge on.
  • Don’t let budget hold you back – there may not be an active budget for a paperless initiative, but if you don’t get started on building your case there never will be. Gather the information you need, you may find budget once you show the powerful benefits MES can provide.
  • Create a benefit list – develop a list of MES functionality and how each feature will solve your shop floor problems. This will help you stay focused on the project and will be a huge selling point for your business case down the road.
  • Don’t give up – there are always setbacks during a big project. Don’t get discouraged.  If you need to, find a way to rework your goals in order to keep advancing. 

Getting started

Creating a list of questions regarding your shop floor inefficiencies is the first hurdle to overcoming procrastination.  What could we be doing better?  What are we going to do about it?  What challenges do we face?  How can we overcome them?  What can MES do for us?

After you answer these questions, research MES systems and see which systems can solve the problems you’ve identified in your manufacturing processes.   Bring your questions to us, we would love to help.  Our team can identify what you need, how to solve your critical production problems, and work out a rapid ROI. We’ll take you through each step in the process. Contact CIMx today for more information.