Category Archives: Six Sigma

The Margin Wars – How to Succeed in Global Manufacturing

Ed Deaton | CIMx Software

Let’s be frank, most of your customers can’t tell the difference between your plant and the next job shop on their vendor list.

You may have the best machinery, the most skilled operators and a spotless reputation, but all they really care about are the big three: quality, turnaround-time and price.

It’s frustrating, illogical and unfair; but it’s the world we sell in.

To stay competitive in manufacturing your shop needs to become the go-to supplier for every run. This means guaranteeing delivery dateseliminating turnbacks and producing the same work with fewer resources than your competitors.

 

Three Steps to Victory
Your secret weapon in the Margin Wars is simple. Enforce lean manufacturing tactics with a modern production control system.

How many bids have you lost in the last five years to undercutting competitors or overseas shops? It’s not enough to just be competitive with the plants in your area anymore; it’s your shop against the world.

Follow these 3 tips to connect, correct and control production with your existing Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Take control of your shop to gain control of your market.

Connect Your Resources
Lean manufacturing requires every resource on your shop floor to be as efficient as possible. This means optimized scheduling, complete asset control and total conformance on every build.

Manufacturers attempting to manage the complexities of their shop with spreadsheets and paper find themselves stuck in a damage control loop. Unreliable data, guesswork and unexpected changes lead to daily chaos, forcing your leadership team to spend more time putting out fires than growing your business.

Tip 1: Leverage your existing MES to tether every aspect of your workflow and guarantee your shop is running at maximum efficiency. Make sure your system allows priority-centric scheduling and real-time rerouting to avoid bottlenecks when the unexpected strikes.

 

Correct Errors in Real-Time
If you accept scrap and turnbacks as simply the cost of doing business then you’ve become your own worst enemy.

The biggest threat to the sustainability of your business is waste: wasted time, wasted materials and wasted opportunities. To maximize your margins it’s essential that you eliminate the waste that is eating away at your bottom line.

Tip 2: Your leadership team needs the ability to visually track every order throughout production in real-time to correct errors as they occur. Live Production Dashboards built into your MES allow your team to prevent workflow errors before they occur and react to issues instantly, eliminating defects and bottlenecks.

 

Control Every Stage of Production
In order to maintain quality while bidding competitively, your shop needs to plan each operation to perfection while capturing the necessary data every step of the way. Paper travelers, dry erase boards and pencil whipped data sheets are error prone, time consuming threats to production.

You need to ensure your customers that every tolerance has been checked and every specification met.

Tip 3: Digitizing your travelers, work instructions and data collection sheets ensure your Operators are following every step and completing every check necessary to remain compliant, all on one screen. Collect the data required for audits and build quality work faster with digital shop floor control.

 

Next Steps
The key to winning the Margin Wars is simple: make more with less. Take the steps required to gain market share by implementing an MES designed to control production from Engineering through Delivery. Give your team the tools they need to build it right™, ahead of schedule and under budget with Quantum.

Connect with a CIMx Application Expert to discuss your workflow and determine if the Quantum MES/MOM is the right solution for your shop. Request a quote or schedule your live demo today!


Manufacturing Software Experience | CIMx Software
For more than 20 years, CIMx has developed software solutions that connect, correct and control production for U.S. manufacturers of all sizes. Build it right with Quantum®.

Schedule your live Quantum demo with a CIMx Application Expert today!

The 9 Most Common Manufacturing Symptoms, and How to Cure Them

The 9 Most Common Manufacturing Symptoms, and How to Cure Them
When looking for a solution to manufacturing problems, it’s important that you find the cure rather than just treating the symptoms.


Common Manufacturing Symptoms

Every manufacturer faces daily frustrations. Problems crop up that slow production, increase paperwork and waste resources. It isn’t until these issues start impacting the bottom line that solving the problem becomes a priority. Unfortunately, by that time, the damage has been done.

Think of your day-to-day production issues as symptoms and your manufacturing software as the doctor. You may schedule a check-up for a minor pain, but you expect your doctor to address the underlying issues. If your doctor only focuses on curing the symptoms, you’ll be back in their office with a similar problem the next week.

Manufacturers share a lot of their symptoms with our team when discussing potential production solutions. Here are some of the most common.

The Most Common Manufacturing Symptoms:

  • Decreases in Quality
  • Increases in customer turnbacks
  • Generating too much scrap
  • Missing ships dates
  • Increases in overtime
  • Frequently failing audits
  • Unreliable production records
  • Misplacing orders
  • Losing customers

You can put a band-aid on any of these problems by installing sidecar modular systems, but inevitably, that symptom will find a way to manifest in another area of your shop. Modular systems rely on this “finger in the dam” approach to keep you coming back for more. Your shop doesn’t need another short-term solution. It needs the cure.


The Cure is Production Control

In every manufacturing symptom listed above, the underlying issue connects back to a single problem: a lack of end-to-end production control.

The right MES enforces Quality and provides your supervisors real-time visibility on every order. Process control equates to less operator errors, which increases Quality and eliminates customer turnbacks.

Higher Quality eliminates scrap, cuts wasted resources, keeps production on schedule and brings your project in under budget. If you’re ahead of schedule you aren’t paying for overtime or rushed shipping costs. Your business is charging the same amount with less overhead while building trust with your customers.

In addition to end-to-end production control, a true MES collects data on every order in a permanent as-built record. This eliminates the tremendous amount of time and manual data entry errors that plague production. With production under control and your order data all automatically logged in a single, complete as-built record, audits are a breeze.


Next Steps

For more than 20 years, CIMx has developed complete solutions for manufacturers. The experience and innovation behind CIMx systems have delivered decades of increased production and cost savings. Quantum™ is designed to deliver the production control your team needs to build it right™, ahead of schedule and under budget. Cure your shop floor problems, with Quantum.

Schedule your live Quantum demo with a CIMx Application Expert today!

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.

Paperless Manufacturing Is Changing Our Industry, Are You Ready?

Our world is going paperless, the question is who will drive the change when it reaches your shop floor?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I recently got an eye-opening wake-up call to the paperless future.

It was finally time to retire my 16-year old air conditioner and upgrade to a high-efficiency system.  I did my research and price-checked estimates before choosing a company.  I called up the sales rep to select a system, schedule the installation and sign the paperwork… then things got interesting.

“Paperwork?” the rep said. “No need… we can do everything online.”

Isn't it time to free yourself from paper by looking at the benefits of paperless manufacturing?   Photo by www.colourbox.com

Isn’t it time to free yourself from paper by looking at the benefits of paperless manufacturing? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

And he was right.  He worked in his office while I sat on my couch with a laptop.  We spoke via the Web.  I filled out an online questionnaire while he pulled up data on my house.  It took him 45 seconds to send over three choices for my new system, incorporating the questionnaire and data.  I looked over the options while the rep finished credit approval.  A choice was made and he emailed a contract. I e-signed and he chose an installation team.  The entire process took 15 minutes.  I never left the couch, and even ate a sandwich while we worked.  The secure computer system efficiently managed the details, integrating all the pieces.

Honestly, why did I feel the need to “sign” paperwork?  I assumed that’s the way it was done, and inefficient travel and paper-based errors were the cost of business.  In retrospect, my misgivings could have torpedoed the process.

The Future Is Here, and It’s Paperless

Face it… the world is going paperless, and we are all better for it.  Digital systems connect people and businesses with machines and processes like never before, adding value and improving productivity.  Many industries and companies have made the move, including:

  • Paperless house closings through Ellie Mae;
  • Paperless shopping through Amazon and online retailers;
  • Paperless medical records;
  • Paperless accounting and recordkeeping;
  • Paperless service industries, including HVAC and Mechanic shops;
  • Paperless college education through University of Phoenix.

The digital revolution is impacting manufacturing in ways we are only now beginning to understand.  Paperless manufacturing, the process of adopting paperless work instructions to manage information and work flow on the shop floor, is changing the industry.  For example, 3D Printing, or Additive Manufacturing, requires a digital design and work instruction, not a paper-driven one.  A new Standard Interchange File Format, developed by ASTM International, will allow a seamless transition from design to physical printed object, but only if the shop floor has made the conversion to digital.

Paperless Manufacturing Solutions

As an industry, manufacturing is moving toward paperless processes.  Look at the latest trends in manufacturing such as mobile manufacturing, 3D printing, on-demand manufacturing, and customer-centric manufacturing.  Utilizing real-time information on the shop floor will require paperless systems.  Even contemporary process improvement initiatives in manufacturing, such as Lean, Six-Sigma and agile manufacturing all rely on the functionality offered by paperless manufacturing.

The future of manufacturing isn't paper build books. Photo credit www.colourbox.com

The future of manufacturing isn’t paper build books. Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers believe moving to paperless manufacturing requires a significant investment of time, energy and resources.  This may have been true in the past, but new technology and processes have made it possible for more companies to make the transition to paperless manufacturing, reducing the cost and minimizing the risk.  No longer is paperless manufacturing and MES solutions reserved for the largest corporations or complex discrete manufacturing.  Manufacturers of all sizes and in all industries will find workflow process control benefits with paperless manufacturing.

As more industries adopt paperless systems, manufacturers that cling to paper will discover their business isolated as they find it increasingly difficult to integrate with paperless systems.  The cost of duplicate work will increase, and processes will continue to grow more inefficient.  These companies will have fewer options and less opportunity.

To be honest, I installed my new AC less than two months ago, and I can’t imagine going back to a paper-based system.  Change is coming, so ask yourself, who will drive the change to paperless manufacturing on your shop floor?  New paperless manufacturing and manufacturing solution systems are lowering risk, reducing cost, and minimizing the pain of installation, implementation and training.  CIMx offers a system that incorporates your current processes and work instructions, making implementation even more efficient.  Want to look over options or learn more about paperless manufacturing, contact CIMx Software today.

Putting secrets of baseball to work on your shop floor!

There are baseball lessons that will improve manufacturing production, increase efficiency, and deliver real-time shop floor visibility and control.

Baseball is a tradition in Cincinnati (the home of CIMx).  Every spring, little league baseball teams appear in every open field, and residents sport at least one (and probably more) piece of Cincinnati Reds apparel.  The city is awash in a sea of red and white for every home game. Excitement for the game is infectious.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

So I leapt at a recent invitation to a game.  A few friends offered me an extra ticket.  It was a great game!  The home team won, I got beer and a hot dog.  But, I didn’t know it was a “working” game.  It turns out one of my friends was a baseball statistician, and we were there to help with a project.

While I watched the game for a wicked curveball, a nice defensive play, or a massive home run, my friend was thinking about probability, applied statistical methods, quantitative analysis and variance theory.  During the game, each of us had a notebook filled with lines and data collection notes.  My job was to collect data on each pitch.  It was hard work!  I had scribbled notes in the margins, question marks all over the page.  Ever try to see the difference between a slider or a split finger fastball from the second tier of a stadium?

And when we were done, sitting at the bar over wings, collating the data was a huge headache.  A key data point was lost under mustard.  Another page of data was missing, likely victim of an overzealous stadium attendant.  My statistician friend was not amused at my unscientific “guess-timates.” After 3 hours of collating, we left without a clear mathematical picture of the game.  All we had was a messy collection of data points that inspired little confidence.

Which, unfortunately, reminds me of shop floor data collection and as-built records for many manufacturers.

I’ll admit my friend set-up what seemed like a “can’t-miss, error-free” system for collecting data.  I just had to mark the sheet for each pitch, log the number for each batter and pitcher, and keep track of when and where in the game we were.  Sounds simple, right?  It was, until reality hit.  We had pitching changes and substitute batters (change orders), bathroom breaks (user-errors), missing and torn notebooks (paper-errors), unreadable data (shop-errors), unreadable notes (input-errors).  All five of us at the game are college-graduates with successful careers, but I was amazed at the number of errors we ran into during the course of a single game.  It was the perfect example of the challenges facing shop floor data collection.

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

The cost in effort, manpower, and money to create an accurate as-built with paper records is a losing proposition.  Quality?  Unless you have a strong data collection system, then quality production analysis is going to be a “guess-stimate.” Want to use real-time data to track orders or improve production? Can’t do it when your data sits getting dusty in the margins of your as-built book or work order traveler until someone types it into your database. Can you really say your data is secure cruising around the shop floor?  Looking at Lean Manufacturing or Six-Sigma production improvement?  Paper data collection will not get your team where it needs to be. How long does it take you to answer a production question when a customer calls?  Is that acceptable?

So how does baseball keep such accurate records and data?  They have a team of statisticians collecting data throughout the game and a digital system collecting data and identifying errors, which are quickly corrected when needed. Data is kept in a secure location (so stadium attendants can’t clean it away).  The system is designed to automatically create usable records (real-time reporting) from the data so baseball junkies can get their fill of real time baseball stats at the click of a button.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

We have accurate baseball records going back decades.  This is data we can trust (as long as you ignore potential “juicing” in your analysis).  Want to know how the Cincinnati Reds did in 1982? The data is there, accessible at a push of a button, and it is trustworthy.  Not that you would want that data, because it happens to be one of the worst seasons for the Reds (first time they finished in last place since 1937).

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Your shop floor can and should work like that.  Data collection should be a seamless part of the process for real time data collection, just like the team of data junkies that pore over and analyze every baseball game. Ensure accurate data with built-in safeguards.  Improve quality with a system that compares work plans with current data, flagging non-conformances. Production improvement is possible only with accurate and efficient data collection.  What could you do with anywhere, anytime access to real production data?  If the baseball brainiacs can access the pitch count from a random game five years ago, why can’t your shop floor produce accurate as-builts when it comes time for an audit?

The truth is, they can.  It is not difficult to implement shop floor data collection.  A controlled, phased implementation is a low-risk process that ensures an ROI for each phase, and will improve production, reduce errors, ensure quality, and create accurate real-time records that for an easy, timely, and efficient audit.

So, my first effort at baseball stadium data collection was a failure (but did get me a free baseball game, beer, a hot dog, and wings… so it wasn’t THAT much of a failure).  But, we learned a lesson.  Next time, we’re going with tablets and an app (our own version of mobile manufacturing). A laptop is collecting data and correlating it for real time accuracy. We set up a process one evening, tested it during a game on TV, and it’s ready to be implemented at the next game.

What kind of shop floor data collection system do you have?  How do you use and control your production data?  How quickly can you prepare for an audit?  If you’d like to know more about how you can improve your manufacturing process and shop floor data collection, contact us today. We’re happy to help.

3 Tips for Successful Shop Floor Resolutions!

Break the cycle of broken New Year’s Resolutions with these simple to implement ideas.

The New Year has become synonymous with renewed energy, passion, and the resolution list.  Perhaps it’s the holiday joy or eggnog that motivates us to personal and professional improvement.

But, unfortunately, all too often reality sets in quickly after the New Year.  Promises and goals are renegotiated and adjusted, before eventually being put aside sometime during the doldrums of February.

Set yourself up for success in 2013 with these tips.

Set yourself up for success in 2013 with these tips.  Photo: colourbox.com

Let’s be honest… it doesn’t have to be that way.  The energy, passion and motivation that starts the New Year, and drives the beginning of many manufacturing improvement projects, doesn’t have to fade.  So, as the New Year rolls around and many of us in manufacturing are planning for Q1, here are a few ideas to ponder and ways to ensure the motivation and energy we all find after the holidays lasts the whole year.

 1) Do Your Homework!

Many of us set aside an hour or so to write out resolutions, which leads to goals that sound good, but may not be the best solution.  By the time you determine the resolution is not all it’s cracked up to be, you’ll have lost the motivation and energy necessary to replace it with a better one.

Take time to do research before writing resolutions or making improvement plans.  Even a few hours of reading and studying pay HUGE dividends for your business.  Make research part of the resolution.  Ask questions of potential vendors and collect information.  Many of us are afraid of opening the floodgates to sales calls, but an honest vendor will help ensure you have the best solution plan.  In fact, once you’ve done a little research and understand what you are getting into, you’ll be even more motivated and driven.

Example: There are more options than ever for manufacturers looking at paperless manufacturing.  In fact, CIMx is preparing a new product for 2013 that will deliver paperless manufacturing to shop floors that may never have imagined paperless would work for them.  Okay, this might sound like a shameless pitch, but the truth is, the marketplace is continually changing with new products and options.  Gather information and make an informed decision on how to proceed.

 2) Set Manageable Goals!

January 1st seems to hold more opportunity than February 12th (and no, I have nothing against February 12th, but you get the idea).  This means the massive undertakings you plan at the beginning of the year may not be as possible as you imagined.  And all too often, when one part of a resolution doesn’t seem possible, we put aside the entire resolution.  Creating a complex, ambitious goal will likely lead to nothing getting done, and 2013 being another year of the “same-old.”  But, setting a smaller goal or a few smaller goals that lead to quick rewards and measurable improvements make it much more likely you’ll find success and make positive changes.

Example: Here’s a simple improvement with quick rewards: digitize your shop floor.  This might seem like a massive undertaking fraught with risk and high costs (despite new options that minimize risk and cost), but the simple step of making paper work instructions digital lead to savings and production improvements, and it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. 

For example, many remember those massive, yellow phone books that wasted ink, paper and time.  Now, the phone book is online and user-friendly.  Why can’t we do the same thing with work instructions?  Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to shuffle paper from printers, to shop floor, to cataloging and storage, only to haul it back out for an audit?  Digitizing the shop floor is a simple process with real rewards.

3) Make Change Sustainable!

Does anyone remember no-carb diets?  Years ago, it was all the resolution-rage.  But, let’s be honest, a diet of steak and hamburger is NOT sustainable.  You need to spend some time considering how sustainable a change is before you set a goal.  Plan on how you will make a lasting, positive improvement.  You need processes and change management systems in place before you dictate improvements on your shop floor.

Example: No one can honestly deny Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma won’t improve production.  Fewer errors leads to more profit.  The problem many manufacturers have is collecting the data necessary to implement changes, and implementing procedural enforcement to sustain change.  Integrating process improvements such as Lean and Six Sigma into software processes or features will ensure success and maximum benefits.

There is an energy and optimism that accompanies every New Year.  Capitalize on the energy by making positive changes to keep your business competitive, profitable and successful.  Your goal for each year should be steady improvement, because the competition is continually finding ways to improve.  Opportunity is out there.  Do your research, set achievable goals, and make sure those goals are sustainable.

What are your goals for the New Year?  What areas do you want to improve, or what challenges are you faced with on your shop floor?  Tell us!  Putting your plans in writing will add even more motivation to improve and deliver success in 2013.

Do you have any questions about this, or any of our blogs, or just want to know more? Leave a comment or email us at cimxsoftware@cimx.com.

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.

– Albert Einstein

It’s better to plan and prepare for success in the future, than close your eyes and hope for the best!  Photo: colourbox.com

The truth is, you can’t stop the future, and no one has mastered the fine art of predicting it.  But, you can  put yourself in position to capitalize on change, even without a crystal ball.

“Agile” manufacturing and the increasing role of information technology are two trends shaping manufacturing and the shop floor.  Understanding these trends, and the changes they are making, can shape our decisions as we plan for 2013 and beyond.

Agile Manufacturing

Agile manufacturing is a response to customer demand for customized high-quality, low-cost, make-to-order or configure-to-order products.  Manufacturers are becoming more flexible and responsive to customer needs, helping the industry survive and prosper with continuous and unpredictable change.

There are several factors motivating the move toward agile manufacturing.  As globalization increases, manufacturers must manage worldwide supply chain and customer needs with agile manufacturing.  Rapid changes to technology lead to shortened product and technology life cycles.  Fickle customer demands and market dynamics are other factors motivating agile manufacturing.

To succeed with agile manufacturing, businesses must have faster, better, shop floor communication.  Customer requests need to rapidly reach designers, who make changes to production plans and send the revised plans to operations, who need assurance production is building the correct products.  Management needs to see at a glance the status of the shop floor so they can quickly make strategic and tactical decisions.  The entire process requires streamlined, efficient communication.

For an organization to succeed in agile manufacturing, products and information must move quickly and efficiently throughout production.  Knowledge must be available when and where it is needed.  Mobile manufacturing, or using mobile technology such as tablets, and mobile computers in manufacturing, are important tools in agile manufacturing.

Information Technology

In the past, traditional manufacturing was a labor-intensive mechanical process.  Today, more sophisticated advanced manufacturing is based on information technology.  Success is determined by an organization efficiently moving, producing, and using information both on the shop floor and in the marketplace.

Efficient communication and information technology speeds up productivity, which is the basis of agile manufacturing.  Continuous improvement of process control is enabled when you have real-time visibility of production, increasing and maintaining quality.  “Smart manufacturing” seamlessly links all departments in a production plant, delivering products faster and with a higher quality.  “Smart supply chains” link suppliers to the shop floor, ensuring on-time delivery and enabling lean manufacturing.  All of this is based on communication and information being delivered to the right person at the right time.

Looking at emerging trends can be both exhilarating and scary.  It’s an exercise I like to do every few months as I work on goal-setting.  You don’t need a crystal ball to see manufacturing has changed and is continuing to change.  Technology is driving this change, and technology is changing faster and faster.  The truth is, the old models where manufacturing employees spent up to 60% of their time collecting and processing information inefficiently will no longer work.  The key to success is efficiently using information to guide manufacturing, and businesses better able to meet this goal are poised for success in the future.

What has your business done to meet the growing trend of agile manufacturing?  Have you implemented any manufacturing intelligence projects in your plant?  If so, let us know how it is helping.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next time, we’ll take a look at what you can do when you’re tasked with process improvements in manufacturing.  Membership on a continuous improvement committee can mean more than an occasional lunchtime meeting!