Category Archives: manufacturing technology

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.

Can You Navigate Your Manufacturing Software?

In this virtual and connected world we live in, a website should represent who you are and what you do. You can learn a lot from a manufacturing company’s website. 

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

Like many people in this day and age I’m often perusing the web. Sometimes it is work related; other times I’m purchasing things, sometimes I’m just trying to find an interesting article to read.  I don’t always know what I’m looking for, but I do know, if I land on your homepage and it looks disorganized and chaotic…I’m moving on without a second glance.

Things move fast. I don’t have time to decipher your website to find what I need.  I need answers now – clear, concise answers.  What do you do?  How do you do it?  Can you help me?  Your website should be designed with the end user in mind – me.  If it’s not, and I can’t find a compelling reason to stay, then I have better things to do.

In manufacturing, time and speed are also critical.  Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve production, reduce errors, save time and save money.  Manufacturing software, like paperless manufacturing, are a crucial tool for modern production.  These systems aid in best practices, eliminate errors, and manage information.

Software to Optimize Production

digital solution

Is your software offering a solution, or creating more confusion? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

To optimize production, you need software that not only manages workflow and processes, helping eliminate out-of-control processes, but does so in a way that ensures you and your team focuses on manufacturing, not managing the software.

If your first impression of a software system is a website, do you really think a site that is a confusing mess that is almost impossible to navigate – and is so incomprehensible you aren’t even sure what the software does– is going to improve your workflow or manage your shop floor?

CIMx has been in business for nearly 20 years, in fact we developed one of the very first Computer-Aided Process Planning systems. We’ve helped many manufacturers as they begin researching software tools. Some know what they need, others may be uncertain; they just know they need to do something.

This drives home the importance of a well laid out website.  If you have to keep a shop floor running, you don’t have time to browse 20+ pages of  messaging to see if they can help.  You need clear communication, precise outcomes, and defined benefits.  You need software that will not only improve processes, but is also easy to use, easy to implement, and won’t take years to deliver an ROI.

If it takes you hours of effort to navigate a website, how long will it take an operator to find a work plan in the system, or for an engineer to roll a revision? How much effort will be wasted operating the software? How much more benefit would you have if the software was easier to use?

This is something to consider as you plan your digital manufacturing strategy. Just as in production, complexity does not mean improvement – results do.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing might help improve your shop floor, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re always happy to help.

The Critical Role of IT and Operations in Digital Manufacturing

Implementing digital manufacturing requires both IT and operations resources.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Disruptive technology is having an impact on manufacturing as companies grapple with implementing and using new tools without hurting their core business. The struggle leads many companies to wait and do nothing, while opportunities for improvement pass them by.

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New technology holds tremendous promise for the shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises to integrate the manufacturing value chain to eliminate errors and problems before they happen. Smart Factories and Smart MES utilize integration and connectivity to automate the transfer of information, improving processes through the use of data and business intelligence. Companies that embrace technology have a competitive advantage, and those that don’t, or delay improvement projects, will slowly lose money and market share to better prepared competition.

Digital manufacturing, the smart combination of data and technology with operation processes, is the foundation of these disruptive technologies. Data and technology sitting on the shop floor does little unless it’s integrated with workflow processes. Likewise, an operations team will struggle to optimize operations unless the right technology and data tools are in place to support improvements. Operations and IT working together is the foundation of digital manufacturing.

Without operations and IT synchronized, companies will struggle to implement the technology and processes necessar will wait on improvement projects, continuing to use error-prone paper-based processes and old technology and falling further behind their competition.

Aligning IT and Operations for Digital Manufacturing

The solution is to clearly map out the roles for IT and Operations before the project starts. The key is logically defining the roles and building collaboration focused on corporate goals, rather than individual organizations within the company.  Organizations that approach decisions seeking collaboration will find success, while those that see the process as a battle will struggle. Consider these roles:

  • Operations should be focused on the functionality of the software system. They will use the system every day, and their work will deliver the ROI. Any system that doesn’t directly benefit shop floor operations will struggle to even be adopted by users.
  • IT should focus on the technology, installation, security and management of the system. They will support the system and work with the production process and databases. More than just the day to day maintenance of the software, they ensure the solution remains relevant over time, either through standard updates, continuing to work with the vendor and collaborating with operations to adjust to changes as needed.

You may utilize a different approach, which is fine. Mapping out the roles for an improvement project will not only help build collaboration, it will eliminate the confusion that can lead a company to delay an investment in new technology. Building a joint requirement list between operations and IT is easier, and you’ll have more confidence in the final software selection.

There has never been a better time to invest in digital manufacturing and a Smart manufacturing system. Contact CIMx today to see how quickly and easily you can improve production with a software solution.

5 Steps to Assessing Your Digital Manufacturing Strategy for 2016

Experts agree a digital manufacturing strategy is a critical component to success moving forward. We offer tips on crafting a successful strategy for your shop floor in 2016.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Experts agree 2016 will be a year of change for manufacturers. The actions companies take now will have a dramatic impact on the success, or failure, of their business in the future.

Quality.

Do you have a plan for success in 2016? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing thrives on data and information. Digital Manufacturing uses data and technology to empower and improve production outcomes through seamless communication across the organization, and workflows supported by timely and accurate digital information. IDC (International Data Corporation), an intelligence and analysis firm for the IT and consumer technology market, predicts 20% of manufacturing companies will import IT resources in 2016 for a digital manufacturing strategy. Other experts see a digital manufacturing strategy as a key to growth. According to Damian Hennessey, Commercial Director for Proto Labs, an advanced manufacturing company based in the United Kingdom, in manufacturing, “… there is a potential for a strong resurgence as it (the industry) embraces a digital revolution. New business models are being built around customer demand, production speed, and enhanced software programming.”

Creating a Digital Manufacturing Strategy

To manage change, mitigate risk and position themselves for success, companies must craft a digital manufacturing strategy for 2016. These 5 simple steps form the core of a personalized strategy for your company:

  1. Review your current environment and digital manufacturing strategy.

Before crafting a strategy for the future, you need to assess your current environment. How is work completed? How are you currently managing manufacturing operations? Are you collecting data during production? Where have you automated processes to eliminate errors and ensure employees are focused on value-added work? What KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) do you collect? Do you have access to real-time KPI’s? How much work is required to collect this data? Finally, how does critical information move through the enterprise?

Your goal in this stage should be an honest assessment of how you are currently utilizing data. Many times, the results can be shocking. Tracking data in a single area is relatively simple, but as you add pieces or areas to your analysis, the complexity increases dramatically.

  1. Identify weaknesses in your current workflows and digital manufacturing strategy.
Process Improvement graph.

The strategy you create now can bring you future success, or future failure. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Every company will operate differently, but once you understand your current environment there are questions you can ask to start the analysis – how do you get information to the shop floor? Are you still printing paper build-books and travelers? How do you collect information from operations? Are you manually updating the ERP once work is complete? Look at the process you use to collect information and transfer it to the people who need it, including your customers. What about your supply chain? How quickly and efficiently can you manage change in operations? Often times you will find gaps and inefficiencies, and the potential solutions become the core of your future digital manufacturing strategy.

Even so, you shouldn’t set goals or requirements at this point. Stay focused on your current processes.

  1. How are you collecting, storing, and transferring information?

After reviewing your current strategy, look for “silos” where data can’t be easily accessed. You want an efficient flow of information through the organization. Difficulty accessing vital information at the right time and place is a key source of error and inefficiency for many manufacturers. Consider quality control – reactive quality checks conducted after work is complete result in additional errors and scrap. Does customer service have real-time information on production? Do you use information from the supply chain? Is vital data sitting unused on disconnected machines across the company? Do you have a single-source of manufacturing truth for your company, or does everyone collect their own “nuggets” of data they need?

A comprehensive digital manufacturing strategy should eliminate the barriers between employees and the information they need to do their work better, faster, and with fewer errors.

  1. How do you want your company to operate in the future?

At this point, you should have an understanding of your current processes, and there are likely problems you want to fix, but this isn’t a strategy. A strategy operates proactively, so calculate how your company could operate in the future.

Consider the opportunities offered by digital manufacturing. Is increasing production speed or managing change a priority for you? Will you be focused on eliminating errors and waste, or moving employees to value-added work by automating processes? Another digital manufacturing strategy might focus on process improvement by driving consistency across the enterprise. Each goal is attainable, and all have tremendous value. Prioritizing goals help you shape and refine your strategy, so you have a place to start and a direction to move, and allow you to implement change in phases. Once you have a goal, you know what problems you should solve first, and what can wait for future phases.

Remember, the digital strategy should align with the business strategy, and the changes you make will have effects far beyond the shop floor. Consider this as you prioritize your initiatives.

  1. What early, easy success can you find to jumpstart your digital strategy?
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Plan with confidence and enjoy a more productive and successful business. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Start your project off on the right foot by identifying the low-hanging, easy-to-reach fruit in your digital strategy. You will discover relatively simple items in your strategy that deliver an early ROI to help pay for and enable later phases.

For example, paper is a source of errors and costs for many manufacturers. A paperless manufacturing system can be completed relatively quickly, depending on your current processes. The system adds value almost immediately and will become the foundation for your overall strategy, including collecting machine data via the industrial internet (IIOT) or adding visual work instructions. Automating quality and tolerance checks through a digital system is another relatively easy success once you begin collecting shop floor data.

Each phase of the overall digital strategy should build toward the goals you identified in the previous step, so selecting an easy success first should help build excitement in the organization for future phases.

Kick Off 2016

For most of us, the most difficult step is the first one. By tackling a larger project like crafting a digital manufacturing strategy into manageable steps you can deliver impressive results with less work and less risk.

Want to learn more, or see how a free shop floor analysis with a manufacturing expert can identify manageable strategies for your shop floor to enable digital manufacturing, then contact CIMx today at info@cimx.com. We’re always happy to help.

The Benefits of MES Expertise

Spend enough time in the manufacturing software industry, and you’ll find software experts, manufacturing experts, and plenty of salespeople, but an MES expert is what you really need.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

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MES Success is much easier with the support of MES Experts. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

For more than 20 years, CIMx Software has developed software solutions for manufacturers. In the beginning, it wasn’t called MES (Manufacturing Execution System) or Paperless Manufacturing. MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management) was still short for Mother, and IoT (Internet of Things) was science fiction and not imminent fact. Our system was known as CAPP (Computer-Aided Process Planning). CAPP was a powerful tool for manufacturing back then.

Today’s systems are built on modern software platforms – easy-to-install, implement and adapt. With the right system you plan production and manage your shop floor, the software becomes the foundation of an IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) and digital manufacturing enterprise. The solution provides the discipline and data to implement a successful continuous improvement program. It eliminates the root cause of errors, reduces scrap and waste, and mitigates many of the risk factors that hold back manufacturing.

Working with manufacturers for more than 20 years to solve their costliest and most vexing problems has made CIMx MES experts. MES expertise is critical for success in an implementation for your shop floor.

Why You Need MES and Paperless Manufacturing Expertise

You have manufacturing expertise. You know how to build products and design workflows to maximize production safely and efficiently. IT experts maintain, implement and update technology. With enough time and money (okay, a lot of time and money) a team of software experts can build a software system.

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

A project guided by MES Experts gives you confidence in success. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

MES experts bridge the gap between those disciplines – bringing experience in manufacturing, an understanding of technology, and intimate familiarity of the software. MES expertise enables a solution provider to guide the implementation and cultural fit of the solution. They ensure you have the right solution optimized for your production operation by removing unnecessary complexity, lowering the overall cost and investment, and delivering better results.

Without this expertise, your shop floor may be forced to adapt to the demands of the software, rather than the software working for you. Systems like this will offer you the functionality you need, but at a much higher cost in productivity and effort than you expect to pay. The solution will never be optimized, and you’ll never see the benefit of a system optimized for you.

At CIMx, we know and love manufacturing and technology. We study the latest trends and technology looking for advantages for our customers. We work closely with manufacturers to understand their processes, and then apply the best technology solution for superior results.

Don’t assume a sales person or IT Solution provider has MES expertise. If a company representative doesn’t know discrete manufacturing from an assembly shop or MRO facility, or is just focused on their product and not your processes, then they may not have the MES expertise you need. You may be left with an overly complex, expensive solution that your shop floor doesn’t want to use.

Get to know your solution provider before signing a contract. Evaluate whether they have MES expertise. With the right provider, you shouldn’t have to figure out how you can make all the pieces of the solution work together for you. From the beginning the solution should support you.

Want to learn more, or see what a provider with real MES expertise can do for you? Then give CIMx a call today for a free shop floor evaluation by real MES experts. We’re always happy to help.

Successfully Navigating MES Growing Pains

The MES continues to come of age as technology and shop floor needs change. We take a look at where the industry has been, and where your shop floor wants to be in the future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When I first started working in manufacturing software, the perception of an MES was a massive, monolithic SYSTEM that covered the shop floor in digital web. Users fed the machine, or were crushed by it. Development and implementation was a multi-year (and multi-million dollar) campaign suitable only for the most hale (and solvent) adventurers. The SYSTEM was designed by a software company using a comprehensive list of exacting requirements. Once in place, users were coerced into utilizing it, crammed and jammed into digital processes dictated by the software SYSTEM through forms, endless menus and new procedures, thus submitting to the will of the machine.

No thought was ever given to upgrades, future uses, or any changes. It was all about getting something – anything – in place.

That was the past, but today the world is different. Technology has changed, grown, and the shop floor needs and expectations are different. We’ll take a look at where MES is today, and where we might (or should) be going in the future, and what that means for companies looking at an MES.

The MES Ecosystem today

Today, technology has moved away from the older paradigm of enterprise software systems (even though you can still find SYSTEMs lingering on the market). Browse through the market and you can find several different types of paperless manufacturing and MES systems. Cloud-based systems, for example, offer SAAS (Software As A Service) pricing and benefits, quick installation and scalability, but many companies are reluctant to use the cloud for production, since it can be susceptible to connectivity and security issues. Selecting a cloud-based system increases risk (data, compromised security, and service loss) in addition to reduced flexibility.

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Other companies offer a Utopian Vision of an integrated software system, encompassing MES, ERP, PLM, QMS and more. They talk about collaboration and shared infrastructure, enterprise accessibility and global networks as key benefits, but also present challenges. These all-encompassing systems have become a new iteration of the old, monolithic MES SYSTEM. Many times, they are built on the same platform as those old systems, using the same code and same processes as past SYSTEMs. Implementation and development is, once again, a slow, laborious endeavor – high risk and expensive.

Projects and systems like this will solve problems and provide benefits, just like they did in the past, but at a cost. The restrictive processes enforced by the system will limit flexibility and cause problems at individual sites struggling to adhere to the system requirements – resulting in a loss of overall efficiency. Many times, a flaw in the workflow or system will be “managed” rather than eliminated because the cost of the fix is difficult in the strict confines of what the SYSTEM can handle.

Modular, or module-based systems have similar benefits and flaws. These systems will offer a higher initial flexibility, allowing users to initially select the functionality (or modules) they want to “build” their own system. The problem is, many times these modules are cobbled together older systems given a new name and a new UI, offering disparate functionality, requiring multiple integrations, and resulting in uneven support. Sometimes, the initial software was even built on an entirely different platform. Companies with these systems will have increased upgrade costs and, depending on the configuration of modules, limited flexibility.

Discover the Modern MES

Modern MES, built using the latest technology and platforms, are much more agile – operating less an all-encompassing SYSTEM and more as a foundation for improved production, with tools that increase efficiency and solutions to eliminate problems that hinder manufacturing. Rather than plugging a module or adding a new system, users turn on and use functionality as they need. Process changes don’t often require redevelopment of the programming, or even reconfiguration. More likely a simple change in how the software tools are used will more than satisfy shop floor needs.

Maximize your MES by ensuring you have a modern MES. Modern Systems can be installed quickly and easily, often in as little as a few weeks depending on the hardware and infrastructure in the facility. Most times a modern system will utilize your existing work plans. Another characteristic of a modern MES will be a lower cost of updates and upgrades. Adding functionality is significantly easier with modern software tools. This will lower the overall cost of updates, making them smaller part of the TCO Total Cost of Ownership). Support costs should also be lower, with most (if not all) of the standard maintenance being automated or requiring little IT support.

At their core, agile modern MES are less complex than the highly customized MES of the past, and more focused on the basic functionality necessary for modern manufacturing and the tools your shop floor needs to work better, faster and with fewer errors.

Putting the Paperless Manufacturing Puzzle Together

Companies need to realize the manufacturing environment is changing faster now than it ever has before, and the rate of change continues to accelerate. New tools and technology such as 3D Printing, Big Data, IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, and even customer expectations are forcing manufacturers to adapt like never before. To compete, companies need a paperless manufacturing or MES system that will adapt and grow with them.

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to MES and manufacturing system. Look for an agile, adaptable software that will support your shop floor even as change happens. Want to know more, or see what paperless manufacturing can do for you? Then contact us today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.