Category Archives: Paperless Manufacturing

Simple Steps to Improve Production Quality

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Every manufacturer struggles to improve quality during production.  Any level of defect is unacceptable, causing scrap, rework, missed ship dates, and lost profit.  Quality defects can cause a host of other problems more difficult to measure; including customer’s losing confidence in your product and frustration on the operations team.

While you may have a team working hard to improve quality assurance and quality control, manufacturers must be judicious in pursuing increased quality.  With any quality program, there are diminishing returns for the initiatives.  Adding more people to Quality Control, or creating additional checklists for production, will not always bring an acceptable return.

However, there are simple steps you can take to bring sustainable improvements in quality and provide a solid foundation for future initiatives.

A Closer Look at Manufacturing Quality

There are two distinct aspects to production quality.

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

Continuous sustainable quality improvement is only possible with a digital system. Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Quality assurance is usually defined as the management of the quality of parts, materials, tools, production engineering plans, production processes and all aspects of the work flow.  Quality assurance focuses on the proactive preparation for the release of orders, eliminating common sources of errors by guaranteeing inventory and tooling is available and creating of easily understood production instructions.  These are two critical elements to support an efficient production process.

The other aspect of production quality is Quality Control, commonly defined as the data collection measurements and inspections made during production to ensure products meet or exceeds specifications.  Quality control requires accurate measurements be taken during production, and a record made of all metrics in the engineering specifications.  By identifying and eliminating defects early, before they become more serious and costly, overall workflow and production performance is improved.

Simple Steps to Improve Production Quality

Manufacturers using paper to manage quality and production are creating an environment with a high risk of quality defects.  Paper simply cannot adequately support modern manufacturing, especially not as a tool in Quality Assurance and Quality Control.  Companies relying on paper will see limited improvement in manufacturing quality, but larger gains are impossible due to the fundamental flaws of using paper to manage production.  Build books filled with brief instructions and difficult-to-understand steps printed off a few hours earlier, and quality measurements hastily scribbled on sheets of paper do nothing to control or manage quality.

Continuous sustainable quality improvement starts by eliminating paper from the production process and transitioning to Paperless Manufacturing.  Consider these simple steps:

  • Convert the paper environment to a digital environment.

There’s no need to recreate your work instructions.  Move your existing, corrected instructions to a digital format that can quickly be accessed by engineering as they are planning.  The shop floor benefits with revision controlled, accurate work instructions and multimedia production assistance when needed.

  • Integrate production information from inventory management to shipping.

Incorporate all production documents and data in common records that can be accessed when and where they are needed.  Eliminate the struggle production has in finding information when they need it, by linking relevant data to each operation.

  • Use digital methods to assure and control quality at every step.

Automatically collect data and ensure specifications are met. Shorten the time a defect is identified and corrected with automatic tolerance and a closed loop disposition system.  Create proactive alerts for inventory shortage, machine issues, or bottlenecks.

Companies that have embraced paperless manufacturing have seen their production quality increase, often dramatically, by using readily-available technology to aid, manage and control the materials and process steps of the work flow.  Automating the process of collecting metrics and responding to defects at the point of occurrence isn’t difficult, and will improve quality and profitability.  Unlike systems that only target specific areas of the manufacturing value chain, paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation to improving both Quality Assurance and Quality Control across the production workflow.

Contact CIMx Software to see how Paperless Manufacturing can improve quality for you.

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Solutions to Manufacturing Skilled Labor Shortage

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Modern manufacturing requires skilled workers – a fact many companies aren’t prepared to address.

CIMx recently attended a manufacturing trade show and had the opportunity to speak with manufacturers about their industry concerns.

One topic kept coming up again and again – the workforce. Manufacturers are worried they won’t have enough skilled workers to meet production demand.

Manufacturing companies are receiving new orders and business is growing, but many question whether the current workforce can manage demand. If they can’t, and they need to hire more, can they find a hire with the right skill set? Will the right employee be willing to work in manufacturing? If they do take the job, how quickly can new workers be trained? If an employee leaves, is there someone available to take their place?  What critical skills will be lost when someone retires?

New orders and a growing business is a good sign for manufacturing in America, but only if companies can keep up with demand.

Understanding the Problem

Quality.

There are steps manufacturers can take to solve the skilled labor gap. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The skilled labor problem shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who observes the industry. We’ve spoken about it before, and the industry warns the problem will continue to grow as older employees retire and manufacturing processes continue to evolve.

Recently, the need for skilled labor, especially with technology and software skills, has accelerated as companies increasingly turn to smart manufacturing, automation, and data-driven production to increase throughput and profit. The industry isn’t attracting workers with the right skills to manage and optimize modern manufacturing.

There isn’t a single core reason for this problem, but a combination of factors. Consider this:

  • Manufacturing has changed, but a college graduate is more likely to imagine a factory worker with a wrench than a tablet. Manufacturing has done little to change this dated perception, but some companies, such as GE, are taking positive steps to recognize the problem.
  • Our industry has been shortsighted in addressing the technology gap on the shop floor. Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the struggle of manufacturing to attract software developers. A critical reason is the perceived lack of support technology workers see in the industry. Companies still rely on paper on the shop floor, ensuring graduates turn to tech firms, rather than manufacturers, for employment.
  • Manufacturers don’t offer the training programs skilled tech workers need. Without training, workers can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology, leading to job stress and lower productivity. Only recently have companies begun designing vocational programs for skilled labor.

Solving the Skilled Labor Gap

There is no magic solution to the skilled labor shortage in manufacturing, but there are steps companies can take to mitigate the problems.

  • Eliminate information silos. Consider the critical skills and best practices in your manufacturing workflow as an asset and protect them. Too often, companies take for granted work will “just get done” without considering the process. Manufacturers need to capture critical processes, helping to create internal training programs for new employees.
  • Increase employee productivity. Dated and error-prone paper-based processes hinder production. Employees spend more time managing paper and looking for information than actually building products. Modern tech workers, the ones manufacturing needs to attract, will find work in industries with more job satisfaction when faced with paper build books.
  • Empower current workers. The solution may not be a new hire, but empowering existing employees. Utilizing a software system such as an MES or Paperless Manufacturing will provide an HMI current workers can use. It won’t give you a programmer on the shop floor, but it will allow you to better manage people, processes and machines during production.
  • Manage the workflow. Errors often occur when workers don’t read or even consult the work instructions. Paperless Manufacturing uses process enforcement ensure the shop floor follows steps precisely. In this way, the system becomes a digital instructor; ensuring knowledge and experience aren’t lost when someone retires and the manufacturing engineers instructions are followed precisely.
  • Fill in the technology gaps. Study your processes and identify where there are gaps. Develop a strategy to fill those gaps. Focusing effort and resources on one aspect of the manufacturing value chain will offer minimal benefit if other areas are hindering overall efficiency.
  • Change the culture. As evidenced by the difficulty in attracting skilled labor, manufacturing has an image problem. Slick commercials and an investment in technology will help, but without confronting head-on the culture that created the image, problems will persist. Many manufacturers are reluctant to embrace change, adopting a strategy of waiting when faced with challenges. Tech workers know this, and it drives many to seek employment elsewhere.

Where will Manufacturing Go from Here?

Manufacturing is changing. Whether you call it Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, or another term, manufacturers need new skills and new workers to capitalize on the opportunity.  Waiting another year or doing nothing is not a sustainable solution as skilled workers continue to seek employment in industries where they are appreciated and supported.

The first step to solving the skilled labor gap is to admit there is a problem, and then developing a strategy to overcome it.

Want to learn more, or see how Paperless Manufacturing can be the foundation for improved manufacturing and shop floor modernization? Then contact CIMx today for more information. We’re happy to help.

The Waiting Game, MES and Paperless Manufacturing

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

As manufacturers decide to wait to implement a modern manufacturing system, they fall further and further behind their competition.

Not long ago, we started working with a manufacturer still using paper to manage the shop floor.

They printed 80 pages of work instructions for every order. Some days they would have 30 or 40 orders on the shop floor at once – 2,400 to 3,200 pages a day they were managing. They collected data using paper. Afterward a clerk typed the data into a spreadsheet. They tracked orders using email, and as-built records were assembled by hand.

The manufacturer wanted to double their output and improve production records. We worked with them to map their processes to our software – Quantum. Using the system, they could automate production records and increase production. It was a shop floor solution that offered tangible, measurable improvements.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer decided to wait and continue to operate in an inefficient, out of control production process.

The Cost of Waiting

At first, waiting seems like a safe choice, but if your current system is not optimized it’s a decision that leads to increasing risk and cost. Consider this:

  • If a shop floor problem that would be solved by the software is costing your company $1,000/day, then you need to consider every day you wait is a $1000 loss you can never get back – with the cost quickly compounding over time.
  • The data you aren’t collecting, or collecting incorrectly, is data that’s gone forever and will never help improve manufacturing outcomes.
  • Sustainable process improvement requires the process enforcement and accurate analytics provided by manufacturing software. Attempting other methods leads to shop floor frustration.
  • Improved quality is one benefit of an MES. Current scrap reduction is part of the ROI of a system.
  • Manufacturing continues to adapt to and implement modern technology. MES provides the foundation of modern manufacturing, and waiting will only make the transition more difficult in the future.

Waiting is not a solution to production problems. Once a potential solution has been identified and you confirm the long-term viability of the solution, waiting on implementation will drastically increase the risk and cost of production, with the shop floor falling further and further behind.

If you want to learn how MES or paperless manufacturing can help, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis.  We work with you to quickly define the best solution for your shop floor challenges. The analysis is yours for no cost or obligation, and it provides an easy first step toward increased production. We’re 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.

3d small people - rolls gear

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.

Say Goodbye to “MES Fear” in the New Year

Many companies play a waiting game with their shop floor improvements, letting profit and opportunity slip through their fingers.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  As 2016 swiftly approaches many of us are considering the New Year’s resolutions we plan to make (and break) come January.

These resolutions are often personal – lose weight, quit smoking, and spend less time on Facebook and more time with family.  But what if we focused on a resolution to improve our business? What if we resolved to eliminate the fear of change? What if we quit ignoring the fundamental problems holding our shop floor back and invested in optimized production?

Embracing Opportunity with MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Many manufacturers run their core business on outdated software systems. They struggle with outdated paper processes because they fear upsetting the status quo, or are confused about the cost and benefits of a modern software system. Manufacturers fear manufacturing software systems are too complex and aren’t designed for manufacturing. They believe the production floor won’t be able to utilize the tools in the system, and the software will end up as shelfware. These fears force them to rely on old and inefficient processes. They know these processes cost them money and productivity, but they feel helpless to change them.   Scrap, data errors, paper-based operations and out-of-control production processes keep the shop floor from excelling.

3d small people with a checklist

Embrace change and improve production by eliminating software fear in 2016. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

By embracing change and jumping into the future with a modern, easy-to-use MES platform you can quickly eliminate many shop floor headaches and start the New Year off right. Embracing a modern MES costs less money and is less of an investment in time and resources than you might think.  With a little planning and the right MES you will see a return on your investment before the end of 2016. You’ll be prepared for the future of manufacturing with a system that gives you complete shop floor visibility and control.

Consider the benefits of saying goodbye to fear and embracing change with MES and Paperless Manufacturing:

  • Operations scheduling. Work Order scheduling with Quantum eliminates guesswork, giving management confidence in meeting customer demand.
  • Performance analysis. Develop and utilize KPIs with a real-time dashboard you can access anywhere and anytime, helping focus and support data-driven process improvement.
  • End-to-end traceability. Mitigate risk and ensure compliance with automated product serialization and sequential assembly data for better supply chain management.
  • Quality management. Improve quality with minimal effort using real-time quality checks, automatic tolerance checks and a complete custom disposition system.
  • Workflow management. Procedure management, and process sequencing and control, ensures you have the procedural enforcement to optimize operations quickly and easily.
  • Resource management. Labor management and machine maintenance tools provide simplified shop floor administration – dramatically improving efficiency with minimal effort.
  • Document control. Quantum’s library of master planning, derived directly from your existing planning with additional error checks and security, complete digital audit records and product history eliminates inefficiencies based on error-prone paper-based records.

With a modern manufacturing software system that uses existing work instructions and processes, and an efficient phased implementation, your team will be trained and the system up and running in a few short weeks. You’ll have the benefit and tools you need to charge into the New Year with confidence and increased profitability.

Worried about cost?  A new system configured to your shop floor and manufacturing processes shouldn’t cost millions to digitally run your shop floor.  With a modern, Smart MES you don’t need to design an entire new system or add custom functionality that drives up the cost and complexity with limited benefit. With core functionality in place and a modern software platform, you can quickly map the system tools to your processes, getting software customized for your needs at a much lower cost.

Don’t let opportunity continue to pass you by. There has never been a better time to invest in manufacturing software. Going into the New Year plan for improvement and invest in optimized manufacturing.   If you are looking to forge ahead and leave fear behind, we’d love to help you build a case for improvement, ROI, and positive change.

For a free shop floor analysis contact CIMx, we look forward to hearing from you!

4 Ways You Can Attract and Retain Skilled Manufacturing Workers

As the demand for manufacturing increases, the need for a skilled workforce will grow, but many companies are doing little to address the problem.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

MES Training Classroom

Make a change in your business before the skilled worker shortage has an impact on your bottom line. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There is a growing problem in manufacturing – a skilled workforce shortage, some are calling it. This shortage is increasing as workers retire and new workers aren’t trained or ready to fill them. According to “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing 2015 and Beyond,” the results are ominous, “Over the next decade, nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. Many young people entering the workforce never considered manufacturing a viable career option. There are also better paying jobs out there for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates since the wages for manufacturing are declining according the National Employment Law Project (NELP). In addition, this problem is also self-inflicted. According to an article by Michael Collins in IndustryWeek, many companies eliminated their internal training programs in the ‘80’s because, “… apprentice-type training was lost in many American corporations, because it is long term training and doesn’t have a ‘good’ ROI.”

No matter the root cause, the industry is reaching the point where continuing to hope for a solution will have an adverse effect on our ability to continue meeting customer demands according to a survey of CEO’s and manufacturing executives. Luckily, there are solutions for a motivated manufacturer:

  • Make training a priority again. Companies need to see training as a long-term investment. With a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing, training could include a quick video of machine set-up attached to work instructions. If implementing a full apprenticeship program is too difficult, then look at other alternatives for shop floor training.
  • Invest in operations. Many manufacturers think of investments only in the long term. Understandable, considering many shop floor machines last 30 to 40 years. But, companies can’t continue to support outdated software systems which exacerbate the need for specialized training. Modern software systems, better managing manufacturing information, make it easier to replacing retiring workers.
  • Address the need for machine maintenance on the shop floor. According to the Collins article, “Why America Has a Shortage of Skilled Workers,” machine operation, maintenance and repair are an area where there is a critical need for skilled workers. Utilizing work instructions for machine maintenance and operation addresses this need with minimal effort. Work instructions offer “training” for the shop floor, with process enforcement and buy-offs mitigating the shortage of skilled workers.
  • Change the perception of manufacturing. Many young people entering the workforce perceive manufacturing as a dirty job with little opportunity, especially since the struggles of the auto industry.  Growing up with smart phones and modern computer systems, with a world of information at hand, there is little outward appeal to manufacturing for new workers. It is up to us to change that perception by creating a work environment that better appeals to younger workers.
Invest in a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing to manage information and alleviate the skilled worker shortage. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Invest in a shop floor system like MES or paperless manufacturing to manage information and alleviate the skilled worker shortage. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers still using paper-based manufacturing processes and outdated computer systems are also competing for the next generation of skilled workers. These companies are doomed to fail because they haven’t addressed critical shortcomings in their operations.

The skilled worker shortage is a problem, but it’s a problem that can be overcome for companies willing to embrace the future of manufacturing. We can’t rely on schools and colleges alone to solve the problem, and adding more training and apprenticeships isn’t the answer. Addressing the negative perception of manufacturing as a career will help attract the best new workers, while on-the-job teaching with software solutions to support shop floor training, will position manufacturing for future growth. Want to learn more, or see how your shop floor production can be improved with a modern paperless manufacturing or MES system, then contact CIMx today for more information.

Calculate the Benefit of Innovation in your Manufacturing Software

Optimize your investment with a disciplined approach to judging innovation in MOM, MES and paperless manufacturing systems using a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

The other day I bought a new cheese slicer. Of the 4 or 5 different models, I choose one with an “innovative” design. I like innovation (who doesn’t?) and figured it HAD to be better.

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The first “innovation” was an ergonomic handle with an odd swirl of rubber and ridges for my palm, and I hated it. It was designed for a much smaller chef, because the swirl put my fingers in a vise and the ridges dug into my palm. The other innovation turned out to be an adjustable cutting guide that actually worked, letting me control the width of the slice – opening up a whole new vista of cheese slicing delight!

I know the term “innovation” has become white noise in the manufacturing tech industry. Everyone uses it, and all sales copy includes (what does this mean) variants of the term (innovation, innovative, revolutionary, advanced… blah, blah blah…). There is a real need for innovation in manufacturing software, especially MES and MOM systems. Our industry is grappling with accelerating change – new technologies, customer expectations, market shifts, new regulations, and more. Innovation is a strategic advantage, and can be the difference between barely surviving and thriving. To manage change, manufacturers need suppliers who innovate.

Ignoring the marketing to discover true production benefit in innovation can be an almost impossible task. Companies duped by innovation promises may end up with a system that never works as promised, or with a system that can’t adapt as your manufacturing needs change.

Here are five questions to help you determine the benefit in manufacturing software systems:

  • Does the innovation add real benefit?

Innovation is about recognizing a need and applying a solution. A key element of that simple equation is NEED. Adding complexity, cost, or processes to a system isn’t innovation if it’s not addressing a need. In fact, increasing complexity is counter-intuitive to innovation.

  • Is the innovation built on a solid foundation?

An adjustable cutting guide on a cheese slicer that doesn’t slice cheese isn’t really a benefit. Likewise, an innovative reporting system on an MES that doesn’t offer shop floor control isn’t useful. Don’t get distracted by marketing. Make sure the system is built on a solid foundation and effective solutions.

  • Is the supplier “buying” innovation?

As a company grows, it becomes more difficult to innovate. Innovation requires agility you don’t find in massive corporations. This leads some big companies to buy smaller companies and products for their innovation. They package the systems together and call it “revolutionary” and innovative. Don’t be fooled. Real innovation doesn’t come from throwing software products together. It requires organic growth and development after the “Eureka” moment.

  • Where will the innovation go from here?

It’s important to see an innovative new feature or function as part of a cohesive product. Many failed innovations never find a fit in the processes offered by the overall product, especially in a software ecosystem. Consider the struggles Apple is currently having with the Apple Watch. It is an innovative product, but many consumers struggle to see how it fits in the overall Apple ecosystem. You shouldn’t have to wonder how to use a feature.


As manufacturers grapple with change, innovation from software suppliers will be of strategic importance. You need a MOM or MES system that is agile, flexible, adaptable, and easy-to-use. Software companies can’t just “promise” innovation, they need to show it. Hopefully, the questions above will help you evaluate suppliers who promise innovation.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can add immediate production benefits and revolutionize your shop floor. Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.