Category Archives: mid-size manufacturer

Manufacturing Software and Paperless Manufacturing in 2017

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We regularly review the manufacturing software market.  Last year, we were twice caught off-guard by references to the “death of Manufacturing Execution Software” (MES) by both a major analyst firm and a competitor.

Manufacturing software isn’t dying.  With the changes to our industry, the growth of technology, and the need for companies to better manage resources and production, there has never been more need for strong software tools to support production.  Paper, a modified spreadsheet, or an ERP modified with some shop floor functionality, simply can’t provide the capability manufacturers need.  There is no magic bullet, super-system to solve all your enterprise problems and replace manufacturing software.  Predicting the “death of MES” flies directly in the face of what we see every day.

The Premature Demise of Manufacturing Software

In the first case, an analyst predicted MES vendors would need to specialize to survive the next 5 – 10 years.  I agreed whole-heartedly with this analysis; manufacturing systems do need to adapt.  The era of the 200+ MES vendors that do it all is over.  Technology is so prevalent with apps and devices everywhere, there’s no way a general, “everything to everybody” system can thrive. His solution, however, was an incredibly and wildly expensive master system that utilized every hot button technology analysts obsess over.

When I read similar content from a competitor, I thought back to the analyst’s prediction.  The thing they had in common, however, wasn’t the prognostication.  It was their blindness to more than 90 percent of the manufacturing market – firms that don’t make the Fortune 50.  Each was looking at the market of multi-million dollar software implementations with automation, IIoT and BA that only the fewest manufacturing companies can consider.

Process Improvement graph.

Take steps to improve production and profit with Paperless Manufacturing in 2017. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

 

This doesn’t mean MES is dying.  Manufacturing software for the rest of the industry is adapting, better utilizing technology to improve both functionality and efficiency.

Years ago, we started talking about Paperless Manufacturing as a focus long before others picked it up. We wanted to empower manufacturers to improve productivity and quality, eliminating compliance issues by eliminating error-prone and inefficient paper on the shop floor with a system and software tools that are easy-to-use and quick to implement out of the box.  Now everyone seems to be talking about paperless manufacturing (which isn’t another way of saying MES is dying).

Many analysts and major software providers focus on only the very largest manufacturers in the world, completely ignoring the largest segment of the market.  They both offer solutions for only the largest companies. Their position makes sense for those companies, but I struggle when they use that perspective to move the needle without considering the entire market.  It’s no wonder a majority of manufacturers struggle to find software designed for them, or believe manufacturing software is going to bankrupt their business.

Manufacturing Software Solutions for the Market

I don’t understand these analysts and massive software providers refusal to see the manufacturing world below $1 billion.  For these companies, there is no Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), no Smart Connected Assets, no Factory-Automated shop floor in the works.  These hard-working manufacturers need immediate, focused and sustainable help to survive the current challenges of global competition, worker shortages and a lack of interest among new workers for manufacturing.  Predictive analytics is fun to read about, but it’s not going to get the next order out the door.

The good news is there are systems and software solutions designed for these companies. With modern technology, there’s no reason why all manufacturers can’t support their production operations with software.  The right system can save money, improve production and quality, and get orders out the door.  Manufacturers and a production operations team shouldn’t have to struggle with inefficiency.

There are even software systems that can be installed and help improve production and efficiency this year (not all can, so be sure to understand the service and ask for qualifications and guarantees).  The law of averages tells me that for every US $10 million in revenue you have on the top line, you can conservatively spend between US $35,000 and $50,000 on a system.  That’s more than enough to move from inefficient paper to paperless manufacturing and all the benefits it brings.

You will need to create a short, focused list of requirements; some vendors can even help you with that.  Here are a few things to watch out for as you start researching the market:

  • Template-based systems (fill in the boxes or blanks) work well only for those companies that have consistent, never-failing production. These are useful in automated settings where input is minimal and variation is seldom.
  • Services-to-install are an area that some vendors will underbid on. Ask for a fixed-bid to complete the work, a guarantee of deliverables and make sure the vendor offers a very strong complaint process.
  • Upgrades must be included in annual support. Always buy the annual support to ensure you can upgrade.  New functionality will keep your production operations modern and focused.
  • Be knowledgeable about the vendor’s support practices before you sign on the dotted line. Ask how they support customers and call the support line before you purchase to see how you are treated.  Their handling of issues will be fairly consistent throughout your tenure with them.

Make 2017 the year you start doing something to improve your competitiveness, profitability and quality.

If you don’t know how to take the first steps, reach out to us at CIMx Software.  Our goal is to provide our manufacturing software to as many companies with a real need as we can, and we’re offering programs right now that can immediately accelerate your research and get you started.  We can help you assess your needs with a Shop Floor Analysis, a market review and other helpful tools.

Want to know more? Contact CIMx today, we’re happy to help.

Advertisements

A Simple Solution to the FDA’s UDI Requirement

New FDA regulations regarding UDI (Unique Device Identification) are causing worry among medical device manufacturers.  We show how you can fulfill the new requirements in a few simple steps.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are times when a potential solution may cause more trouble than the problem itself.  A good example… the day I decided to use a hammer to open a jar of peanut butter.  It was a disaster we still call the “great peanut butter explosion.”  Another example – my neighbor tried to use a chainsaw to tear out weeds on his back fence.  The only thing left standing among the carnage was the weed.

The problem is the solution isn’t scaled to the problem.  In the end, you aren’t even solving the original problem, just creating a new problem.

Manufacturers working to meet the imminent deadline for UDI regulations set by the FDA are running into the same struggle – they are offered solutions that aren’t scaled to the problem.

Understanding the FDA’s UDI Requirements

The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is rolling out a UDI (Unique Device Identification) for medical devices.  The system will help identify product problems more quickly, target product recalls, and improve patient and user safety.  The UDI is a unique numeric or alphanumeric code consisting of two parts – the Device Identifier (DI), which identifies the specific model of the device, and the Production Identifier (PI) that identifies specific details related to the manufacturing of a device, which could include (among other things) the lot or batch number, the serial number, the date a device was manufactured and the expiration date.

When combined with the Global Unique Device Identification Database (GUDID), the FDA will be able to identify problems with a device and track defects to more effectively issue recalls.  The FDA has created an aggressive schedule for compliance – the first phase of compliance begins on September 24, 2014.  An extension of the compliance date must be submitted by June 23, 2014.

These regulations require medical device companies accurately collect manufacturing data.  Fulfilling the UDI requirements means real-time data collection, accurate archiving of manufacturing data, and shop floor control – all benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing.

A Solution Scaled to Your Shop Floor Needs – Phased Implementation

Why struggle with a solution that doesn't work for you?  Phased Implementation puts you in control of the project.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Why struggle with a solution that doesn’t work for you? Phased Implementation puts you in control of the project. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Unfortunately, some manufacturers are struggling to meet the new requirements.  Faced with the imminent deadline, they look for MES solutions, and end up with a custom or highly-configured system that takes months (or even years) to build.   Add in the time necessary to install the system and train the shop floor in its usage and the exorbitant cost, and the solution begins to resemble the hammer to a glass jar of peanut butter.

Other times, a manufacturer will select a “module” for bar codes and labeling to meet the FDA requirements.  The vendor will offer them a data collection module or two (or three), and then a reporting module, a work instruction module, and then an integration module to put it all together.  Soon the single-module solution has become a massive MES project much more complex than anyone thought.  It’s a chain saw waiting to pull up a weed.

With paperless manufacturing and a phased implementation, you control the scope of the project and ensure the solution is scaled to your manufacturing needs.

With a phased implementation, the entire system is quickly installed straight out-of-the-box (or you use it as a cloud application).   You begin benefitting from the software in less than 30 days with UDI labeling built in from the start.  There’s no need to separately install each module or application.  There is no reason for multiple integrations or additional complexity.  Once installed, you decide what functions to turn on and pay for.  Your team is trained only on what you need.  Select the parts of the system you need to meet the UDI requirements, and focus on the functions that deliver the greatest result and ROI, resulting in a controlled transition to a more effective shop floor that easily incorporates the new FDA requirements for UDI.

Even better – you aren’t trapped by your solution.  When you and your team are ready, roll out new functionality and enhanced capabilities.  Since you are supported by the full software package, you have access to the latest software updates, releases and upgrades.  The solution will never become obsolete or another piece of legacy software.

A Different, better solution to the FDA UDI Regulations

Make your project a success with paperless manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Make your project a success with paperless manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The truth is, paperless manufacturing was designed as an alternative to traditional MES.  Utilizing the latest technology and building on CIMx’s experience as a best-in-class MES provider, paperless manufacturing delivers innovative MES functionality, including all the tools and functionality you need to meet the new UDI requirements, at less than 10% of the cost traditional MES.  Paperless manufacturing applications are easy to adapt, configure, add features and evolve without increasing the cost or creating custom software.

The UDI requirement deadline is fast approaching (if it hasn’t already passed) but you can still meet the requirements with minimal cost and complexity using a solution scaled to your shop floor needs.  You can improve your shop floor, improve quality and production, and deliver an ROI in months, not years.  Want to know more?  Give us a call or leave a message – we’re happy to help.

6 Tips for Shop Floor Training That Works

For many, shop floor training means production downtime with no benefit, but it shouldn’t.  We offer a few simple tips to create a training program that delivers results.

 By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Make your shop floor training work for you and your team.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Make your shop floor training work for you and your team. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

I went to a training session not long ago for a new computer program.  It was held in the library of the local school.  I sat beside a poster of a cat falling off a tree with the words, “Hang in there!” written on the bottom.  I used a keyboard chained to the computer, and my knees bumped into dried gum under the desk.

“Now, I know you all are wondering if this training will work,” the moderator asked.

Damn right, I thought to myself.  First off, I don’t work anywhere near a poster of a cat, and I don’t use a keyboard I can’t move.  Next, the files I use are never just sitting on the desk top waiting for me to work on them.  Plus, if I’m already wondering if the training will work, then you haven’t done a good job of preparing the training!

Truth is, all too often training is thrown together at the last minute and no one is excited to be there.  It’s doomed to fail from the beginning.  With a little thought and planning you can deliver training that delivers measurable benefits to the shop floor, here’s six tips to get you started:

Shop Floor Manufacturing Training Tips That Work

  1. Give your shop floor access to training materials:

Context is important.  I’ll admit, sitting beside 4 copies of Charlotte’s Web and that kitten poster did not help me focus on ingesting digital files into an ERP.  In the same way, if you conduct training in a classroom or even as a webinar, are you giving the shop floor the right context for the training?  Training on the shop floor will always deliver a bigger benefit than training in other places.  Give them access to a library of training materials they can use when they need it most, not when it’s convenient to shove everyone in a classroom.

  1. Attach training to your work instructions:
Process Improvement graph.

Improve production results with visual work instruction and anchored instruction. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Even better, you can offer training through your MES or paperless manufacturing system.  Attach training materials directly to the work instructions.  When the need for training comes up, users can go through the training as they work.  This is known as “Anchored Instruction,” or placing instruction in a meaningful, problem solving context.  Studies have shown knowledge and skills taught using Anchored Instruction are used quickly and more appropriately, with users developing expertise faster.

  1. Develop an accessible library of best practices:

The truth is, no book or instructor can deliver the real-world best practices of actual users, and all too often this knowledge is lost, becoming tribal knowledge totally dependent on the employee, not the organization.  A library of best practices will help capture this knowledge, ensure the information is not lost, and will become the basis of training that delivers real shop floor benefit.

  1. Utilize existing shop floor practices in the training:

Many times, it’s not the shop floor developing the training.  The instructor will develop “sample cases” to be used in the training, not actual work processes.  Even worse, the system users are being trained on doesn’t or can’t incorporate existing work processes.  This is especially true for template-based MES systems.

As much as possible, use existing work plans or operations for the training.  This will add context to the training and lend immediacy.  If you can’t use existing work operations or plans, then you may not have the right system installed.

  1. Ensure you have revision controlled work plans before conducting training:

Not long ago, I came across a shop floor using 4 different versions of a single work operation.  The operation was in 4 different plans, used by two different divisions, but it did the EXACT same work.  This became apparent during training, and led to a wasted day when work stopped and the confusion was sorted out.

This happens more than you might think.  Make sure your training is relevant by ensuring everyone is working from the same plans.  If you want to drive consistency and best practices on the shop floor, you need consistency in your work plans.

  1. Capitalize on visual work instructions:

At my training, I was given “supplementary materials” that would “enhance my work training.”  The supplementary material was simply a stapled packet of 8 pages going over the lessons.  There were no screenshots or pictures, just endless text.  A single screenshot showing me where the digital file went once ingested would have eliminated frustration and confusion.  Visual work instruction is an easy-to implement, but invaluable, tool for your shop floor.  For example, you can be sure you’re using the right part with a simple picture attached to the work instruction.

 

Drive consistency and increase production with shop floor training that works!  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Drive consistency and increase production with shop floor training that works! Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I’ll be honest, my training that day was 8 hours.  I went back to the office and spent 5 hours trying to figure out how to ingest a digital photo.  It was 13+ hours of training for a 5 – 10 minute operation.  Since then, I haven’t used any of that training.  There was no context.  The world of the school library seemed distant from my work environment.

Training is necessary for any organization.  You need to onboard new employees, you need to build and develop critical skills and incorporate changes to processes and SOP (Standard Operating Procedures).  Rather than accept training as a necessary (and likely useless) task, turn it into an advantage for your shop floor.

How do you handle shop floor training?  What procedures have you implemented, and how are they working?  What could you do to quickly improve the results from your training procedures?  Let us know – we’d love to hear from you.

Fix Your Shop Floor Processes Now

Don’t fall into the “If it ain’t broke…” trap.  Sometimes your biggest mistake is in not doing anything.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” but it’s become the rallying cry of procrastinators everywhere.  Unfortunately, it’s a rallying cry that ends up a funeral dirge or death knell…

Case in point… my neighbor had a rattle in the car engine.  It sounded like an engine wheeze – metal on metal.  “No big deal,” my neighbor said. “It’s just something loose and the car’s working fine.  I’ll get to it before vacation.”

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Vacation passed and the rattle continued.  Other priorities and expenses came up, so why bother with a rattle that wasn’t hurting anything?  That is, until he destroyed the engine on his way to a business meeting.   The car overheated, the head gasket blew and it completely ruined the engine.  My neighbor missed his meeting, spent more than $4,000 fixing his car, enjoyed a night on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck, and was forced to coordinate rides to work and trips to the grocery store while the car was fixed.

Lesson of the story… a simple belt replacement ended up costing him thousands in repairs, plus lost time, missed meetings, and endless aggravation.

Choices and options.

How will you handle broken and inefficient processes on your shop floor? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

It’s a lesson not all manufacturers understand.  Software Advice recently released a survey (found here) detailing manufacturing software buyer trends. The report, by Software Advice’s analyst Derek Singleton, identifies paper and spreadsheets as the primary method of tracking manufacturing processes for many of the manufacturers taking the survey.  Research by Oracle has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, add complexity and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  So why do so many companies continue to use paper-driven processes to control the shop floor (the heart of manufacturing)?

Because if it ain’t broke, why fix it?  If all your shop floor knows is inefficiency and is comfortable with it, then why change?

More than increasing risk, paper-driven processes significantly increase costs for businesses.  As reported by Oracle, a study by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found businesses, “spend $20 in labor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document,” (www.aiim.org).  The money has to come from somewhere, so these costs are either eaten by the manufacturer or passed along to the customers.  So why are companies throwing away money on paper?

I go back to my neighbor and the months he spent with a rattle in his engine.  He knew he should do something, but other priorities came up and the engine never seemed that bad.  “It’s more work to fix than deal with it”, he told me once.

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency?  What steps are your competition taking?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency? What steps are your competition taking? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

For manufacturers operating in a paper-driven environment, going paperless would mean buying and installing a new system (which takes valuable IT resources), integrating a new process, and training the shop floor.  It feels like a lot of work for some nebulous, paperless return.  If the decision-maker isn’t a shop floor employee, it is even more difficult to justify the cost since you don’t feel the paper-based shop floor pain on a daily basis… and so, life under, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” goes on.

But there is a danger to the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” mentality, and the grinding noise in my neighbor’s engine perfectly illustrates it…  We recently worked with a manufacturer that repeatedly failed audits due to paper-based record-keeping.  In less than a month, we were able to install a system on the shop floor and begin collecting audit-worthy as-built records.  Another manufacturer lost a major client because they couldn’t guarantee timely change orders – a simple function in paperless manufacturing and MES.  Waiting to fix shop floor challenges isn’t a solution, it means disaster hasn’t struck yet.  Worse yet is failing to recognize there is a problem and it needs fixing.

So what does this mean for you and your shop floor?

Another section of the Software Advice study identifies improving or automating processes as the top reason manufacturers purchase new manufacturing software.  Other reasons include updating or modernizing their software, additional features and functionality, and company growth.  Another part of the study identified improving efficiency as the primary reason companies seek to replace existing manufacturing software.  We are seeing a consistent drive to improve the shop floor, and the beginning of a movement away from the “If it ain’t broke…” mentality because people are starting to realize “It is broke”.

Companies are beginning to take control of their own destiny and take action proactively, rather than reactively.  The manufacturing marketplace is tightening, and proactive process and efficiency improvements are a competitive advantage for many companies.   More and more companies are turning every day to paperless manufacturing and manufacturing software for an advantage.

“If it ain’t broke…” isn’t a recipe for success in modern manufacturing.  Take a lesson from my neighbor – if you hear a grinding engine wheeze in your shop floor, get it fixed or you might be stuck waiting while your competition moves ahead.  Are there problems you are waiting to solve on your shop floor?  Are there problems you don’t even recognize on your shop floor?  Are your work processes a victim of the, “it ain’t broke…” mentality?  If so, let us know.  The solution may be much closer, easier to solve, and less expensive, than you might think.

Is Paperless Manufacturing Right for You?

No matter your company size or industry, paperless manufacturing delivers shop floor benefits (if you have the right system).

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

A while back, I had a leak in my basement- water from the shower came pouring out of the ceiling in a torrent, splashing across boxes of Christmas decorations.  I called a plumber, who gave me an estimate that included major construction, a replacement pipe, and a team of plumbers.  The estimate made me dizzy, but what could I do- shower in the basement below the leak?

Choices and options.

You have a shop floor challenge and you’re not sure what to do. Have you considered all the solutions available? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

I called another plumber who offered to take a look.  He studied the waterfall, and then cut a small hole in the closet outside the bathroom.  With a little wire and a wrench, he fixed the leak in 10 minutes.  “No worries,” he said. “The pipes are fine, but the fitting came loose.  I changed the seal, so it shouldn’t happen again.”  Total cost of the repair was less than $100.

The moral of the story… sometimes a solution is much easier, much cheaper and much closer than you might think.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen played out time and again in manufacturing.  A business will struggle with out of control shop floor processes, inefficient operations, significant loss from scrap and rework, or even failed audits because they believe a solution like paperless manufacturing or an MES is out of reach, too costly, and too complex.  They know the solution exists, but they think it won’t work for them.

Some try to build a software solution in-house, thinking this will get them a “personalized” solution under their control for less money, not realizing how much time and cost is involved in writing computer code from scratch.  An effective in-house solution can take YEARS of effort, with no guarantee of success.

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Other companies limp along with patchwork solutions, legacy systems, or increasingly larger stacks of spreadsheets and documents traveling the highways and byways of their shop floor.  These companies believe software solutions are designed for multi-national companies with sales in the billions and the resources to pay for a team of programmers.  This belief leads many smaller companies to continue to use paper build books and excel spreadsheets.

You’ll be happy to know, the solution IS much closer than you imagine.  CIMx offers paperless manufacturing solutions for any size company, large or small, in any industry.  It is the right system for many manufacturers.  Here’s why:

  • CIMx offers scalable solutions.  CIMx designed a paperless manufacturing solution that scales to your operations.  You never have to take on more complexity or functionality than you want or need.  If all you need is improved quality, or as-built records, or a real-time view of production for improved customer service, paperless manufacturing offers a solution.  With CIMx, you can focus on the solution you need, then integrate additional capabilities when you are ready.  The solution scales to your needs, your operation doesn’t struggle to scale to the solution.
  • Phased implementation gives you control of the process.  The entire system can be completely installed in weeks.  At that point, you select the features and functions you want, turning them on in phases and using them when you are ready.  You and your team never take on more cost, risk, or change than you are prepared to manage.
  • Use your current processes and work instructions. With CIMx, there is no need to change your work instructions or adapt your current processes.  The system doesn’t require you to squish or adapt your current processes or instructions into new forms or tables.  The CIMx solution works as a tool for you.  This minimizes change and shop floor disruption, and ensures an even quicker ROI.
Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

On top of that, CIMx offers one of the most effective support systems in the industry.  Rather than an impersonal help desk or support line, you have an applications engineer assigned to your account who is available for training, questions, and product support.  They know you, your business and your system.   They offer solutions instead of questions, and ensure the software is really benefitting your shop floor.  You never have to worry that once the system is installed, you are left on your own.

Ever since the waterfall in my basement, I’ve quit assuming the easiest, most practical solution isn’t for me.  I won’t take a reactive approach to problem solving, instead I try to use the BEST solution with the RIGHT answer (yeah, I’m looking at you broken air conditioner).  This approach has saved me money, minimized frustration and made me happier.

So what challenges does your shop floor face?  Have you thought about what paperless manufacturing can do for you?  Contact CIMx Software today to learn how we can help you overcome shop floor challenges with solutions that include workflow control, shop floor and production visibility, mobile manufacturing, and visual multi-media work instructions.  We have a number of solutions ready to tackle your biggest problems.