Category Archives: Process Control

A New Vision of Mobile Manufacturing

Don’t be fooled, mobile manufacturing requires more than just an app.  It requires an integrated mobile solution delivering shop floor functionality on the go.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I love music.  A few years ago I wanted a new stereo system.  I had a single requirement – I wanted to use my MP3 player with the sound system.  I wanted to throw parties, fill the house with music that fuels the fun.  Problem was – I didn’t do my research.  I bought a system with the words “MP3 Compatible” in big, bold letters on the box.

Unfortunately, “MP3 Compatible” meant a single USB port.  The stupid thing never worked, and was about as functional as fins on a kangaroo.  I couldn’t plug my player directly into the port.  Instead, I had to download my music onto an empty zip drive.  Then I had to plug the zip drive into the USB port.  After a few minutes, a song MIGHT start playing.  Maybe.  I couldn’t control the music, and between songs there was a LONG delay.  If I ever downloaded something other than music, an error would flash and the whole system shut down.

Honestly, the system and my music player were as compatible as fire and ice, and as functional as those fins.  I felt cheated, used and angry.  My excitement crumbled as the truth of my purchase became apparent.

What can mobile manufacturing do for you?

Using a tablet, smart phone, or other mobile device to access a true paperless manufacturing system will boost productivity, help eliminate errors, and increase work flow visibility.  Imagine giving your shop floor anytime and anywhere connection to production documents, including work orders, safety documents, training videos and more.  How much more productive will your team be if QA conducts real-time quality checks from anywhere?  How would shop management like anywhere access to real-time production data?

Can your manufacturing software support mobility on your shop floor? Image  by www.colourbox.com

Can your manufacturing software support mobility on your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Unfortunately, many MES or paperless manufacturing vendors make promises regarding “mobile manufacturing compatibility” that fool many companies into accepting awkward functionality and systems that never work as promised.  Compatibility between a shop floor system and mobile devices is neither important nor useful, compatibility between the application software and the work flow processes is how you achieve true mobility.  You need a scalable, adaptable solution that supports your work flow processes.

For some vendors, “mobile manufacturing” is a simple app that provides a view of some production data from a mobile device.  Turn on the app and you can see shop floor trends, and maybe identify potential shop floor problems, but that’s about it.   These apps might allow you to open a document from your web device, see the production schedule, and maybe move an item on the screen, but that’s the limit of their app-functionality.

Other vendors promise mobile manufacturing as an add-on project once the initial project is complete. They can do it, if you want, but it leads to additional service fees, project schedule bloat, and complicated and risky implementation.  Like me and my “MP3 Compatible” sound system, manufacturers buy a system, only to see the limits of “compatibility” once they have the system on the shop floor.

True Mobile Manufacturing

True mobile manufacturing offers an integrated mobile solution within the core system, not an app.  The power of the complete manufacturing system should be available from most mobile devices, and offer interactive functionality, not just read-only screenshots of data.  Mobile manufacturing should ensure quick and easy access to your MES or paperless manufacturing system from almost any device.

How much more could you do with an integrated mobile solution on the shop floor?

How much more could you do with an integrated mobile solution on the shop floor?

Don’t be fooled.  Look for browser-based systems (though, be careful you aren’t diving head first into the dangerous world of the Cloud).  Look for systems that are fully compatible with the web, and offer complete mobile functionality, not an app or two.

The future of modern manufacturing is embracing mobility.  Even if you aren’t ready to give your shop floor a tablet now, in a few years (or less) you may need shop floor software that offers mobile manufacturing.  Take the time, do your research and find a solution with integrated mobile manufacturing, not just an app or hastily slapped-on “mobile compatibility.”

… unless you want to watch your dreams of an efficient, mobile shop floor crumble like my dream of music-fueled parties…

Let us know if you want to learn more or see how integrated mobile manufacturing can transform and benefit your shop floor.

Uncovering the Real Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Curious to know the real benefits of MES, we asked a shop floor production team what the top benefits of the system were one month after their successful rollout.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Curious to know what benefits you will discover with your MES?  We asked the shop floor what they thought one month after installation.

Curious to know what benefits you will discover with your MES? We asked the shop floor what they thought one month after installation. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Ever read a press release about an MES implementation project and marveled at the carefully worded quotes?  Full of buzzwords like, “synergistically,” or “significantly reduced (or increased)” and “comprehensively,” each press release reads like a carefully scripted marketing piece – only the names are changed.

Let’s be honest, you don’t read a press release for the truth.  The Vice President of What-everness quoted in the press release isn’t the one using the system, he’s following the script and looking at a report someone prepared for him.

Not long ago, we implemented a complete MES and Paperless Manufacturing system for a customer.  To help meet new FDA regulations, they needed the complete solution installed and implemented across their production lines in less than 4 months.  To uncover the “true” story regarding the benefits of MES and paperless manufacturing, we asked the shop floor production team what they thought about the software.  How is it making their life easier, their work better, and benefiting their operation?  Here are the “top” benefits they identified one month after the successful rollout:

Shop Floor Benefits of Paperless Manufacturing

  • Solving compliance and regulation challenges.  Meeting the changing FDA and customer regulations was a constant effort before the project, but the system has solved nearly all the challenges with minimal effort or extra work.  No other solution could provide so many answers in a single tool.
  • Real-time access to Quality Data.  Before implementing the solution, Quality Control (QC) was forced to wander the shop floor to collect data, or they would evaluate historical (and often outdated) data.  QC now has remote access to the real-time quality data of any order with the single press of a button.  According to the customer, Quality Control is now proactive, focusing effort on improvement.  Improving quality wasn’t a primary driver for the project, but the benefits from paperless manufacturing are exciting.
  • MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help you work better, faster and with fewer errors.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help you work better, faster and with fewer errors. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    No more paper.  Simply removing paper from the shop floor was a huge improvement.  Before the system, massive build books and orders were assembled and used, leading to piles and piles (and more piles) of paper. Paper (moving paper, organizing paper, using paper, fixing mistakes from paper, and more) was one of the top frustrations for many shop floor employees.  Now, paper is only used when and where it makes sense.   Records, orders and work instructions are digital and much easier to use.

  • Visibility of the shop floor.  Before the system, planners had research the progress of each order before planning work for the next shift – a time-consuming and error-prone process.  Now, planners have instant access to a dashboard updated in real-time for the status of each order. Time isn’t wasted creating status reports just so they can tell what orders to prepare.  Future work can be accurately planned with minimal effort.
  • Easier data collection and quality control.  The shop floor once had to write data collections and quality checks on a spreadsheet attached to the work travelers.  So much data had to be collected, it, “… gave everyone carpal tunnel.”  Collecting data interrupted work and slowed production.  Now, data is easily and accurately collected as work is completed, and is automatically attached to the relevant order, saving time and eliminating a frustration.
  • Process control, accountability, and visibility.  Prior to the system, it was difficult to enforce policies or shop floor improvement projects, or even implement a system of process enforcement.  Now it is much easier to implement a system to enforce best practices and track employee work.  Workers must now open plans before work begins, so revisions can be accurately communicated to the shop floor.  Through the as-built report, all work is tracked.  Everyone is accountable for their work – success and failures.  When corrective action on an order is needed, it can be done quickly and appropriately.  Overall, quality and productivity have significantly increased.
  • Library of planning.  All plans are stored in a single database under revision control, ensuring only the latest approved plans are used.  Planning has confidence they are using the “right” plan.  There is no need to research whether revisions have been made or not before the plan is added to an order.  Planning is easier and more efficient, and many of the errors that occasionally creep into work orders are eliminated.

Many times with an MES or Paperless Manufacturing implementation (especially an off-the-shelf system), there will be unexpected benefits that add significantly to the ROI.  For example, this system was installed to support data collection on the shop floor and help facilitate meeting FDA regulations.  These goals were met, but the shop floor is also benefiting from increased accountability.  Quality Control benefits from access to real-time quality data, and planners now work from a library of revision-controlled planning.  Each of these points, while not a primary focus of the project or a requirement, figured prominently in our discussion of the benefits of the system and was praised by the shop floor team.

Overall, the project has been extremely successful, and the customer is already looking at other ways the software can benefit their business.  Want to know more, or see how a system can benefit your shop floor?  Give us a call or leave us a message.  We’re happy to help.

Making Sense of MES: Template-based and Behavior-based Systems

For manufacturers engaged in process-improvement projects, the difference between success and failure is having the right shop floor software system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Humans love to categorize.  It helps us make sense of things.  We bring order out of chaos by putting things in their place, grouping the countless multitude into finite categories.

The problem is, sometimes we can be fooled into bad decisions by simplistic or faulty categorizations.  For example, take a look at shop floor solutions.  Software systems that monitor and support manufacturing operations, including paperless manufacturing, MES and MOM systems, can be grouped into two categories: template-based and behavior-based.  One category offers a clear advantage to shop floor process improvement.

Template-based Systems

A template-based solution requires people to conform their work to screens of information and specific sequences of data input.  Users work from the forms and

Process Improvement graph.

Sustainable and continuous process improvement requires the right tools and support system. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

templates that guide the work on the shop floor.  Think about the ERP screens that are highly formatted data collection vehicles which digest transaction information.  They can be easy-to-use, with a structured format that drives consistency, but the system struggles to adapt to changing processes or user needs.

There are many template-based systems on the market, and people routinely input data into them and digest output information with little regard for whether it improves efficiency or profitability.  These do the job, but there is little opportunity for improvement.  People just feed the information into the prepared slots, and gather instructions from other slots… which feels very Orwellian, but I digress.

Behavior-based Systems

A behavior-based system adapts to shop floor processes and behavior, including manufacturing work flow.  The architecture is structured around screens or windows users edit and reconfigure as needed.  Key data can be collected at any point in the process.  Users configure the screens, and attach or open the information they need.  The entire system can be quickly adjusted.  This way, the system adapts to support behaviors that produce an efficient and productive shop floor.  The system becomes a foundation and tool for process improvement because of the adaptability.

In a behavior-based system, one production line or area might require text-based work instructions and multiple measurements.  Another area in the same plant might use assembly work instructions with images or videos, and require only a few key quality data collections.  Behavior-based systems are flexible, designed to optimize work flow process through tools that promote and support behavior under control of local management.  A flexible behavior-based system can use existing work instructions enhanced by software tools with minimal set-up and preparation.

Supporting Shop Floor Process Improvement

Process improvement programs, such as Lean manufacturing or Six Sigma, optimally support a behavior-based shop floor solution.  The only way to optimize work flow is to configure the support system to best match the value-added activities at each point in the process.  Forms and fixed templates dictate a structure that limits adaptation.  In a template-based system, the shop floor processes will struggle to adjustments to improve the processes, adding a significant amount of non-value-added work.

Process Improvement strategies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma deliver measurable shop floor benefits.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Process Improvement strategies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma deliver measurable shop floor benefits. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Process improvement requires behavior-adjustment, which template-based systems don’t promote.  For example, the Six Sigma process requires analysis of the work flow.  When a source of quality escapes is identified, processes will be changed to reduce variation.  A behavior-based system can be configured to the new process, and ensure the shop floor incorporates the new process into the work flow.

In this example, as a company improves steps in the work flow to reduce variation, data collection will change.  Using the same templates and forms after adjustments have been made will do nothing to promote a change in behavior.  Additionally, in a template-based system, moving material over to new templates will often require significant work, in addition to potentially expensive service charges for adjustments to the system itself.

The Secret to Successful Process Improvement

Success with Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and process improvement requires adaptation and adjustments to shop floor behavior.  You will need to change the flow of information, adjust data collection and record keeping in the support systems.  This can be done in phases across manufacturing operations.  This process isn’t how a template-based system is designed.  A behavior-based shop floor system is adjustable, supports process improvement, and offers a foundation for promoting behavior adjustment.

Look closely at the characteristics of the software system you evaluate.  Can you use your current work instructions with the system?  How much control do you have over the system?  Does it work with your process, or will you have to adjust your process?  The difference between a template-based system and a behavior-based system is the difference between successful continuous improvement and watching error-prone processes and inefficient behavior slowly take root again on your shop floor after a process improvement campaign.

Will You Survive the Imminent Demise of Paper-Based Manufacturing?

Still reluctant to explore paperless manufacturing on your shop floor?  Change is happening, and the decisions you make now will shape your future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes you can see global change happening from miles away.  The first time I logged onto the Internet I knew there was so much more to this new world than text-based games and discussion forums.

tombstone-black-whiteAnd sometimes global change can surprise you.  I’ll admit, the tablet-craze was a shock.  It couldn’t fit in my pocket, and it didn’t have nearly the functionality of a laptop, yet it’s a craze that doesn’t seem to be fading.  Reality TV was another surprise.  Honestly, how can we explain the Kardashians?

That said, are you ready for the demise of paper-based manufacturing?  Are you surprised that paper travelers and paper build books are gasping for breath and struggling to survive?  How will you respond when the market demands you move to paperless manufacturing?

Still in denial (which, in this case, is not the river in Egypt), then consider this:

  • Customers are demanding more custom manufacturing and small runs.  Their business needs more control over the manufacturing you provide.  The market is moving away from traditional manufacturing.  It doesn’t provide the control and visibility custom manufacturing requires.  Sure, paper works, but it provides diminishing returns that cut into your bottom line.
  • Big data is here.  You’re going to see more tools to convert that data into responses that benefit your business.  Process improvement, for example.  You need data and process control to implement Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing.  Paper-based manufacturing is a glaring hole in big data.  It doesn’t provide adequate support for analytics.
  • Manufacturing needs stronger information tools than paper can provide.  For example, visual information and multi-lingual work instructions aren’t easily supported on paper.  Complex manufacturing drives paper toward bigger and bigger build books, creating more errors and more problems, while a paperless solution provides scalable tools for the work.
  • Quality is improved with paperless manufacturing, and quality was recently cited in studies as more important to profitability in manufacturing than productivity.  Paper is the source of many quality escapes in manufacturing (lost information, and lack of revision control, for example), while paperless manufacturing directly addresses many of these problems.
  • Technology has eliminated many of the concerns potential customers have with paperless manufacturing and MES.  For example, with Quantum, CIMx can install a paperless manufacturing system in a few weeks.  Training for the system can be completed days.  With a phased implementation, the customer is in complete control of the installation and gains production benefits quickly.
Prepare for the future and improve production with paperless manufacturing. Image by www.colourbox.com

Prepare for the future and improve production with paperless manufacturing. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

I will admit, even with the clear benefits of paperless manufacturing there will be shop floors that cling to paper, fearing change.  They may be profitable, in spite of themselves, but it is hard to deny the market is moving (rapidly) toward paperless manufacturing.  In 2013, manufacturers spent $5 billion on paperless manufacturing systems.  That’s a LOT of money to be spent without a clear ROI and benefit.

The world is changing, are you ready?  Will the market drive change on your shop floor, or will you control the change, ensuring maximum benefit for your business?  Or will you be stuck carrying a giant phone book tethered to the wall by a rotary phone while your competitors are using a smart phone?

Want to learn more, or are you ready to make a change.  Contact CIMx today to learn how we can help, or sign up for our free webinar.

Four Paperless Manufacturing Predictions for 2014

We take a look at the manufacturing topics and trends you’ll be talking about in 2014, and offer hints and tips to help you get a leg up in the New Year.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

This year, I began thinking as 2013 rumbled to a close and 2014 burst on the scene in a polar vortex, considering what to expect in the New Year.

Manufacturing is in a pretty good place right now, with six straight months of growth according to ISM, and reports predicting continued growth and confidence in manufacturing for 2014, but there are still concerns and risks.  This week, we’ll highlight for manufacturing a few 2014 trends, and look at ways your business can turn a challenge into a competitive advantage.

Is your manufacturing business ready for 2014?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Is your manufacturing business ready for 2014? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

1. Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

As more and more servers become virtual, and businesses continue to search for ways to drive down IT costs, maintenance, and total cost of ownership, consolidation through the cloud is becoming an appealing option (or reality) for many companies.

Manufacturing isn’t ready to fully embrace the cloud.  There are still challenges to working in the cloud that make the option a non-starter for many companies.  Cybersecurity is one.  If there is one thing we’ve learned from the recent data breach at Target, and the continuing saga of NSA snooping, it’s that the cloud isn’t nearly as secure and safe as we would like it to be.  For manufacturing, where security and secure accessibility is paramount, the cloud is an unnecessary risk.

In 2014, vendors continue to adapt their offering and messaging regarding the cloud to manufacturers.  Keep an eye out for new innovations to target security and accessibility.  For your own business, be wary of fully embracing the latest trends.  Look for ways to utilize the strength of the cloud while minimizing the risk. 

2. Mobile Manufacturing

More and more of us are embracing mobile computing (tablets and cell phones) over the traditional PC.  Businesses are making the move as well, as employees find advantages in mobility.

What can you you do to make future trends work for you?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can you you do to make future trends work for you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In 2014, look for manufacturing to continue slowly embracing mobility.  There are apps and software focused on mobile manufacturing, but they don’t yet offer a practical shop floor solution.  For example, have you ever tried to view a complex CAD drawing on a cell phone screen?  In addition, cost and security is a limiting factor.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will work for many businesses, but not for the secure shop floor.  Many shop floors are a dangerous place for an expensive mobile device.

We see manufacturers taking practical first steps to embracing mobile manufacturing.  Quality Control with a tablet and a strong MES can walk the floor and proactively increase quality, rather than waiting for a problem to happen.  For your own shop floor, look at ways you can benefit from the mobility – implementing it where it makes sense.

 3. The Qualified Worker Crunch

This is an issue we’ve seen in the past, but it’s also one that the industry continues to grapple with in 2014.

The skilled labor shortage continues to impact manufacturing in America.  According to statistics, more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled.  A study by Thomasnet.com reveals more than 80% of the current manufacturing workforce is between 45 and 65.  Studies have identified the shortage as not just a manpower issue, but an education issue.  Colleges are taking steps to address the issue with new programs and training opportunities, but manufacturers have also begun looking at ways they can ensure new workers can be effectively trained, and the knowledge and skills of the older workers can be passed on to a new generation before critical skills are lost to worker turnover.

In 2014, look for more attention to be spent identifying critical shop floor skills and for process enforcement and training to be a focus of manufacturing.  Take a close look at the processes and training programs you have in place to minimize the impact of the qualified worker crunch on your business.

Is your enterprise security up to date?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Is your enterprise security up to date? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

 4. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data

In recent years, we’ve been riding the wave of Big Data and the Internet of Things due to advances in our ability to collect and store data.  It’s an issue we’ve seen manufacturing grapple with in the past.

The challenge we see for manufacturing in 2014 is collecting the “right” data and having the shop floor and process visibility and control to act on it.  We’re seeing the customer, supplier chain and the shop floor connected by information.  Big data holds the promise of improved quality and production, and an optimized and efficient enterprise, but only if your company has the tools and ability to act on the data – shaping manufacturing of the future through technology, real-time data and analytics.  Customers expect data and information at their fingerprints.  Are you ready?

As I wrap this blog up, I already see issues I’d love to explore further (3D PrintingGreen ManufacturingRobots on the shop floor?), but the issues and trends presented here offer opportunities for the New Year.  The strategic steps you take now can have a positive impact on your business in 2014.

What do you think?  What issues do you see impacting the industry in 2014?  Leave us a comment and let us know.  Our friends at the manufacturing software reviews site Software advice are also conducting a survey on the most popular manufacturing products, and if you’d like to contribute, take the survey here and see what other industry leaders are using and planning for 2014.  And as always, if you have a question don’t hesitate to ask.  We’re happy to help.

How We Can Make the Internet of Things Work for Manufacturing

The future is coming and carrying a wealth of production data, are you ready to capitalize on it?  Is your competition?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the term, Internet of Things (or, if I was a Cisco Champion, The Internet of Everything), but I quickly filed the term away for future consideration.  Yet, we are quickly coming to the point where we may soon be a cog in the grand Internet of Things machine whether we want to or not, and it’s going to have a tremendous impact on manufacturing.

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The Internet of Things is a conceptual world in which every object (a Thing) is given a Unique Identifier (UID) and the ability to automatically collect data and transfer it over a network without human or computer interface.  Currently, a Thing can be anything, from a sensor on your cell phone, to an RFID chip in a package, to a health monitor (such as the FitBit Flex) worn to track footsteps and your health.  In this way, everything operates in a giant system, continually collecting data to give a real-time assessment of a moment.  Still confused?  Consider it the first step toward living in the Matrix, or the tool the NSA is using to keep tabs on us.

According to Techtarget.com and modern computer theory, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a reality due to the, “… convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.”  With the recent increase in length of IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits with Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), we have a system in place to create the IoT.  According to Steve Leibson and TechTarget, with IPv6 “we could ‘assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.’” This means, we’ve built a system that can assign a UID to everything on our planet.  It’s not a question of can we build the IoT, but when – if we’re not already living there.

The result of the Internet of Things is more data, and more accurate data.  Previously, nearly all data was captured by humans punching buttons, typing or measuring – which lead to gaps in data, or data that was just plain wrong.  But, in the future, more (vastly more) accurate data will be collected with minimal effort – and it is up to us to make the most of it.

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Do you think your business will dodge this incoming deluge of actionable data?  Don’t bet on it.  Manufacturing is at the forefront of the IoT.  According to McKinsey & Co, “… 40% of the connected devices will be related to real time analytics of supply chains and equipment,” such as those used in manufacturing.

When I saw that statistic, and began considering what the Internet of Things will mean for the shop floor, I’ll admit – I was intimidated at first.  Many of us have enough trouble getting product out the door, let alone pouring over data gathered by the boxes in shipping, metal press machines, and the assembly line.  But that’s not thinking ahead, and it’s letting a potential advantage slip through our fingers. 

Now, more than ever, manufacturing needs to start looking at process control.  It’s time to see the shop floor not as a tool of the ERP or CRM (you know… a machine you crank-up so you can fill orders) but an integrated piece of a cohesive enterprise.

Choices and options.

The shop floor control provided by paperless manufacturing will ensure you capitalize on the data provided by the Internet of Things. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com.

Ask yourself, do you have process visibility and control?  Do you know where an order is before the RFID on your packaging does?  Do you have true shop floor control?  If the Internet of Things reveals a potential problem, are you confident in your ability to fix it before your business starts losing money?  How are you going to capitalize on real-time, actionable data your IoT-enabled enterprise will begin delivering?  Once your customers are plugged into the data the system is generating, are they going to like what they see?

Face it, the future is coming and paper-based work instructions won’t give you the control and visibility you need, so what are you going to do about it?  Give CIMx a call and let us show you how process control, visibility, and the Internet of Things can work for your business.

How You Can Make Manufacturing Collaboration Work for your Shop Floor

Knowledge-driven enterprises are using collaboration to successfully solve problems, but manufacturing struggles to use collaboration in the modern production environment.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes, you come across articles on the Internet you just have to investigate.

Here’s one.  It involves robots, stolen gold, missing treasure, NASA engineers, world-renowned oceanographers, and manufacturing.  A man named David Lang wanted to investigate the legend of missing gold deep underwater at the bottom of a well.  He recruited Eric Stackpole, a NASA Engineer, to create a sea exploration robot, known as OpenROV, to search for the treasure.  They offered free step-by-step instructions on building the robot on their website, and used crowdsourced modifications to improve the robot.

Don't waste your most valuable resource - your employees.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t waste your most valuable resource – your employees. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Crowdsourcing and manufacturing collaboration have vastly improved the original robot, and lowered the cost.  “That’s what actually makes the project so successful: rapid iteration,” one of the inventors said. “We can build one for the same price as a 1,000 (robots) and change on a dime.”

Think about that… two treasure-hunters have tapped into a problem-solving resource and found benefits that would be the envy of discrete manufacturing shop floors across the world.  Customer modifications and change orders are simplified without raising costs.  Quality and production improves.  Best practices are collected, and overall cost drops.

Yet, manufacturers struggle to create a collaborative work environment.  In fact, according to the latest estimates, manufacturing is growing less collaborative, as knowledge silos build and employees and their best practices retire and are lost.  Customers are demanding custom orders that manufacturers can’t meet.  Rapid iteration is difficult, if not impossible.  How can a shop floor work collaboratively when they can’t even be sure if the paper-based work instructions are correct?

I read the story of Lang, Stackpole and their hunt for missing gold and recognized a few lessons manufacturing should consider in the future:

  • Shop floor and process visibility is critical.  The free (and very visible) step-by-step instructions offered by Lang and Stackpole inspired crowdsourcing.  Real-time data collection and visibility, and integrated computer systems and shop floor assets, should be your goal.
  • Data collection is the key.  Process improvement and increased quality are important benefits of crowdsourcing and collaboration, and you can’t measure or compare improvements without rigorous data collection.
  • Shop floor process control ensures sustainable collaboration.  Paper-based work instructions are too rigid to be sustainable.  Look at paperless manufacturing to improve collaboration.
  • Improved communication builds collaboration.  The OpenROV website and forum allows users to easily share ideas.  Real-time data collection and visual work instructions is a good beginning to improving collaboration.
  • A complete communication network using flexible computing platforms builds collaboration and eliminates knowledge silos.  Custom-built programs and legacy systems are the foundation for tribal knowledge in many companies.
The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

So, if two guys looking for gold at the bottom of the well can do it – improve production through collaboration – why do we manufacturers with all our innovation, resources and know-how struggle to make it work?

Admittedly, Lang and Stackpole don’t have much regulation to worry about and amazingly low overhead, but there is a benefit to collaboration the industry is recognizing.  The ideas presented here shouldn’t be seen as a checklist for collaborative success, but goals that will help foster a more collaborative manufacturing enterprise.

Have you considered collaborative manufacturing before?  If so, what steps have you taken to create a shop floor that works collaboratively or uses crowdsourcing?  Let us know!