How to Find the Best Partner for Manufacturing Software

Last week I read a press release announcing a merger between two manufacturing software companies. The goal of the new product – a combination of the offerings from both companies – was to deliver functionality neither company had previously been capable of offering.

Dangers of Software Mergers

Joint offerings like this rarely deliver the expected benefits. With no real focus on customer needs, these business mergers lead to expensive, inefficient and ineffective product offerings propped up by the promise of innovation.  Too often, the real goals are either opening another revenue stream or fixing existing flaws in each developer’s software. Purchasing a competitor’s technology and marketing it under a unified brand isn’t innovation. For companies looking at a patchwork software solution, here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Lack of Product Support

Ask how support for the “collaborative product” will be managed. Who will be responsible for support? Many times, the merger will completely change the support dynamics leaving users in customer support limbo. There will be lengthy and frustrating growing pains as the merger develops. Over time, the companies move on to other initiatives, with customers left struggling with unsupported software.

  • Functionality and Complexity You Don’t Need

Software acquisitions add functionality without thought to workflow. Continually cramming functionality into a software product creates complexity and inefficiency. The shop floor will ignore these systems. Additionally, consider the cost increase as users pay for functionality they don’t need and won’t use.

  • Expensive and Flawed Product Integration

Many product collaborations result in a lowest-common denominator solution for users. Software products developed independently, with different architecture and design, can’t be easily combined. There will be significant costs passed on to the customers to tightly link and connect the products. Some features can’t be linked, resulting in product flaws your shop floor will have to overcome.

The Power of Partnerships

Manufacturing software is critical for modern manufacturing. For companies struggling to support production with paper-based word documents, spreadsheets or modules tacked onto their existing ERP, the answer is not in the latest software partnership.

You’re not going to find a long-term, sustainable manufacturing solution with the “flavor-of-the-month” products developed in these partnerships. Unnecessary complexity, higher costs, support issues and flawed design elements eliminate any user benefit from the partnership.

Look for a software supplier ready to partner with you and your production team for a solution, and willing to focus on your unique business needs. The focus of any partnership should be your production needs and the growth of your business; not just the business of the software partners. CIMx Software has never purchased another product to increase our functionality footprint. Quantum was developed completely in-house, with a focus on empowering manufacturers to eliminate problems and increase output. Companies using Quantum know the focus is their production needs and supporting their business goals.

In our next CIMx manufacturing blog, we’ll take a look at how market consolidation is hurting manufacturers, and what you can do to find the right manufacturing software partner for you. Let us know if you have any questions, or would like to learn more about what modern manufacturing software can do for you.

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What Can Turnkey Manufacturing Software Do for You?

A manufacturing software solution is only as good as the data that fuels it.

Many implementations fail to connect existing production data to the new software. Once the system is installed, users are forced to fill the vast empty software space with data – planning, work instructions and production documents. There’s little forethought given to the migration process. This leaves gaps and errors the shop floor will continue to struggle with.

Missing Data Hurts Production

Without a strategy to migrate existing data, production will suffer even after implementation. Avoidable production errors and inefficiency will persist. Missing data forces the shop floor to rely on conjecture during production. Engineers must recreate files or leave holes in the planning if they can’t access critical data – creating production waste and mistakes.

Data silos are born in the gaps you leave in the new software. Users create disconnected and inefficient data sources to get the information they need and fill the information gaps. Rather than helping users work more efficiently, the new software has forced users to develop homegrown solutions to access critical data that didn’t fit the rigid requirements of their new system.

The Advantages of a Turnkey Manufacturing Solution

A turnkey manufacturing solution like the Quantum platform eliminates problems by intelligently migrating and linking all of the required production data to create a comprehensive source of workflow information. This process solves problems and provides proven production advantages:

  • Accelerate production, process improvement and user-acceptance with your critical production data pre-loaded into the system.
  • Retire expensive and disconnected databases, and eliminate production errors through Smart Manufacturing by transforming passive flat files into intelligently-linked active data.
  • Increase production output by accessing data through a comprehensive source of manufacturing information.

Quantum utilizes a Data Migration Engine (DME) with powerful ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) capability to extract data from any source system or file. Quantum applies correction algorithms to the data removing common errors before transforming the data and linking it to active objects. When complete, engineers and users have the data they need in a format ready for use in production or predictive analytics.

Since it’s the data they are already using, users immediately begin work without the errors and frustration that often accompany a new implementation. The company can focus on rapid process improvement rather than struggling to overcome problems.

Contact CIMx today to learn how the Data Migration Engine and Quantum will accelerate system implementation and provide a rapid ROI for businesses seeking a solution to their manufacturing problems.

5 Powerful Benefits of Production Data Visibility

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Production data fuels the manufacturing industry. Putting this strategic information to work adds profit and production to your business.

As employees collect and use data locally in a wide variety of homegrown formats, data silos are created diminishing the overall value of production information. Over time, competing spreadsheets and shared drives of disconnected production data create inefficiencies and errors. The problem is as much cultural as technological, preventing alignment between sales and operations.

Align Sales and Operations with Data

Unlock the business value of your data by making it accessible across the enterprise. Here are five reasons why data visibility and aligning production databases must be your next improvement project:

  • Work from a single source of production truth

Employees use guesswork and estimates if they can’t find the data they need. This leads to errors and mistakes. With a single source of accurate and accessible production information, there’s no need to guess. Employees work faster with critical information at their fingertips.

  • Eliminate redundant data entry

If sales, operations and dispatch all keep their own spreadsheets tracking related elements you end up with employees doing the same work again and again. Redundant data entry is error-prone and creates waste. Eliminate wasted time and focus on value-added work when you adopt comprehensive, modern data collection standards.

  • Provide revision-controlled, accurate information

Many companies struggle with document and change management. Inaccurate and outdated work instructions and production data create errors and frustration. With documentation under revision control, you can better manage change. Employees work with confidence knowing they have the most accurate and complete production information.

  • Work from a single screen

According to a recent survey, shop floor workers waste 30 minutes to 2 hours every day looking for information. With a single production database and data visibility, employees make data-driven decisions to increase productivity and respond accurately to change.

  • Align the business from shop floor to top floor

Manufacturers identify alignment between sales and operations as a critical business need. Collaboration requires everyone working toward the same goals, with the same vision of the business. Foster collaboration and alignment by linking sales and operations with accurate production data.

Empowered, Data-Driven Manufacturing

Data visibility is the foundation of increased output and business growth. Data collection standards provide the basis of sustainable process improvement and business collaboration.

Start by eliminating the silos and moving your historical data to a manufacturing system. If possible, convert your data to object-oriented files so you can begin running reports on it, providing the trending and analysis that is the foundation of data-driven, Smart Manufacturing.

Want to learn more, or see how a Data Migration Engine can eliminate data silos and empower an MES to do more for manufacturing and production? Contact CIMx today to talk to an Application Engineer about Quantum and learn how to unleash your production data for higher output and profit.

Five Steps and 12 Weeks to a Manufacturing Solution

If you’re struggling with manufacturing problems – failed audits, late shipments, scrap, waste and worse, a sustainable solution is closer than you may think.

Manufacturing software has come a long way from the days of command prompts and MS DOS. With advances in software technology and the lower cost of hardware, it’s possible to quickly install a targeted software solution. You’ll eliminate the problems holding you back, and increase production output and profit.

Best of all, the right solution uses your existing work instructions and processes, and doesn’t require a risky cloud-based system.

A Better Solution for Manufacturers

Quantum can deliver a Smart Manufacturing system on a modern platform in 12 weeks or less. Here’s how we do it:

Step 1: Identify Your Primary Requirements and ROI

The project starts by developing a requirement list with a CIMx Application Engineer who will partner with you on the project. Target the source of errors and problems and identify solutions to build your list. For example, you may find paper-based work instructions often result in past revisions of planning being used for production, causing quality escapes, scrap and missed production deadlines.

Using this list, calculate the cost savings for each solution. In the previous example, how much would be saved if operators worked from only the most accurate plans? As you work, you may find a requirement doesn’t deliver enough savings. Those requirements can be tabled for a future phase of the project.

Step 2: Map-out Your Production Workflow

Now that you have a good idea of your project goals, you can begin mapping your production workflow into Quantum to identify how the software will support and manage production.

As a workflow system, Quantum is extremely effective in supporting existing workflow and modern manufacturing, unlike ERP or other non-manufacturing solutions. Once your processes are mapped in Quantum, the Application Engineer can demonstrate the workflow using your planning so you see the solution in action.

Step 3: Configure Quantum

Once you agree to the solution and how it is mapped in Quantum, the system will be configured.

You can set up specific work centers, dashboards, reports and alerts. Special workflow requirements and processes can be added for a smooth transition to Quantum. With regular progress reports and demonstrations you can track progress of the work.

Step 4: Migrate Data and Work Instructions

Using Quantum’s Data Migration Engine, CIMx moves your existing planning, documents and data into the system applying the workflow identified in step 2 – a true turnkey manufacturing software solution.

When users log into Quantum for the first time they will see only their plans, making an easy transition to Smart Manufacturing. Keep in mind, as you use Quantum further improvements can be made such as adding data collections and visual elements to work instructions.

Step 5: Final Installation and Training

When you’re ready, Quantum can be loaded at your site in less than an hour. Since the system has been configured and loaded with your planning, very little additional work is required.

All users are trained in Quantum – a process that takes less than an hour – and will begin using the software that day. The Application Engineer will be on-site to answer questions. Most companies find implementation quick and easy after requirements are identified and the workflow mapped.

Getting Started Today

MES are no longer the complex and expensive software projects companies feared in the past. Anyone with a basic understanding of a cell phone will feel at home using Quantum. In fact, most companies that eliminate paper by moving to Quantum regret not taking the plunge to digital manufacturing earlier.

Quantum eliminates the root causes of production errors and inefficiencies. A real-time view of production and access to production data will improve your production output and profit.

If you’re interested in learning more about Quantum, Smart Manufacturing or how you can eliminate paper and embrace digital manufacturing, contact CIMx today for a shop floor analysis.

The Key to Success with Data-Driven Manufacturing

Data-driven manufacturing – using facts and data rather than conjecture and guesswork to manage manufacturing processes – should be the goal of any forward-thinking manufacturer. Many companies struggle to realize the benefits of data-driven initiatives, even as the decline in cost of technology, software and hardware make it available to companies of any size or industry.

The problem isn’t the technology – it’s how it is being implemented.

The Human Element in Manufacturing Technology

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review identified four challenges facing companies implementing data-driven manufacturing. Moving from a Time-Triggered to an Event-Triggered Control System, a Unified Data Model and the other items discussed in the article are critical in finally realizing the full benefit of data driven manufacturing.

But what the article, and much of the industry, hasn’t addressed is the human element in data-driven manufacturing.

Humans play a critical role in managing production and workflow. While some processes can be completely automated with machines and sensors working together in a closed-loop control system, focusing on technology alone will leave holes in your processes. The operators must have easy and unimpeded access to relevant information during production.

Manufacturing software, specifically an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) designed with Smart Manufacturing tools, is the only solution that adequately meets this requirement.

Accelerating Production with MES

The key to true data-driven manufacturing is the MES.  By focusing only on technology of manufacturing and not addressing the end users, companies will struggle to maximize the benefit of the data they are collecting.

For example, automating machines to signal required maintenance and then automatically adjusting routing while the maintenance work is done is a perfect example of data driven manufacturing in action. Production doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and changes will have an impact on processes across the company. At this point, the MES should inform the operators of the updated routing. The dashboard used by Sales should also reflect the change, so the customer can be informed of the impact on the order.

The MES connects operators and machinery by communicating relevant data to the people best positioned to act on it. Without that communication, you’re left with disconnected and inefficient processes.

Looking Beyond Data-Driven Manufacturing

Companies are now collecting relevant production data, but without getting it to the right person at the right time, the data loses relevancy. An MES controls the manufacturing processes by managing information. In true data-driven manufacturing, the MES or manufacturing software system incorporates the human element and connects users to the critical data.

Without an MES, your data-driven manufacturing systems are still leaving potential production and profit on the table.

Want to know more, or see how true data-driven manufacturing works with a Smart MES? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis.

Manufacturer’s Guide to Software Implementation

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

In a recent survey, Automation World and ARC Advisory found that MES systems were critical to compliance, cost reduction and profitability. They go on to talk about the importance of implementation. While that seems obvious, implementation is sometimes the last thing that prospects talk to us about. Implementation should be discussed early in the vendor selection process as it may be the single most over-looked and critical project requirement.

A Close Look at Manufacturing Software Implementation

Implementation can drive quick returns or bury you in cost. Ask questions of your potential vendors to assess their product approach. Consider how the product structure will affect implementation.

In building a software tool for your shop floor, you have to consider what you will build after you finish it. Why? Because it determines how you actually structure the tool. Let’s break this down a little further and see what it all means.

Software can be a single platform with a single login or a series of smaller products (modules, nodes, apps) tied together. If your software vendor uses or refers to the use of “implementers,” they use the second approach. The sales pitch for a module-based platform is you don’t have to pay for what you don’t use. That is true in the licensing, but my experience tells me the services are so much more expensive that you’ll end up paying more for less.

Platforms that come as one unit or product are often referred to as “out of the box” or “standard” software tools. This simply means you pay the vendor a licensing fee to get a license key that turns on the functionality you purchased. You have every right to expect this product will work without any broken links or pieces, even if you didn’t purchase the whole system.

Module-based platforms are exceptionally difficult to upgrade. This is important to know if you plan to implement new, updated software as the vendor builds and releases it. (These updates should be part of standard support and free if you pay for support.) While it seems unlikely, we do have customers that prefer to stay on a version and not upgrade. This is a great choice where it is difficult to change work practices or train your workforce for various reasons (contract workers, labor contracts, seasonal workforce).

Out of the box software may also be difficult to upgrade. You really need to ask questions of the vendor to assess this. Sustainability and obsolescence are the keys here. Need more help with this? Call us, as that could be another whole blog.

Data Management for Manufacturers

Industry Week joined the conversation with a posting around data management. Just like the implementation concerns above, data management is a fancy word that can really drive up not just the original system costs, but repetitive ones as well. The key to data is making sure it’s available to you where you need it. That could be anywhere from the point of production on an operator’s workstation to a database you can access to see how your workforce is doing.

Whether you’re looking at a standard product offering or a module-based one, take a look and be sure to ask questions of the system’s data management capabilities and approach. What can you see and how do you get it? Reporting on this data is a key task for any organization from aerospace to office furniture. If you don’t know what’s going on right now on your shop floor, then you will never know if you will be able to meet your metrics for on-time delivery, on-budget costs or the more sophisticated analysis of profit margins.

A Critical Assessment of Software Vendors

So, while compliance, cost reduction and profitability are serious benefits to an MES offering, I would suggest you use implementation strategy, speed and cost as a measure against which these benefits could be judged.

Need more hands-on help? Here are important questions you should ask your vendors to see if they meet your requirements.

  • What percent of implementation costs for your software will be services?
  • How many man hours do you expect to spend on my implementation?
  • How many of those days will be on-site?
  • What kind of relationship do you typically have with your customers?
  • How do you maintain this relationship?

Good luck with your first steps in this process and please call us if you need any help. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years in discrete, regulated businesses. We can share a thing or two to make the process a success.

Defining the ERP and MES Connection

When problems crop up in production, savvy manufacturers immediately search for a solution.

Many turn to manufacturing software like Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or begin looking to their existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for the functionality they are missing. Confusion creeps in at this point. As software providers expand their offering through development and acquisition, the lines blur between MES and ERP.

Removing the confusion and clearly defining the roles of the MES and ERP will eliminate this problem and help as companies plan for the future of their business.

The Role of the MES and ERP

Just as no accountant should ever use an MES to balance the books or run financials, no ERP will ever offer the functionality necessary for complex manufacturing. It can’t be done.

The MES delivers the workflow-based functionality required for discrete manufacturing. With a system based around the production value chain, it manages work and operations, and links data in a production cycle. Mistakes and quality escapes are flagged, allowing rework paths to be implemented. You can send a bill through an MES, but it’s not the optimal solution to billing.

The front office requires transaction-based functionality for financials, customer management and human resources. Data is input and tagged, creating data links, but at that point the process stops. There’s no workflow control because it’s not necessary. You could track a change order in a transaction system, but inefficiencies will cause the shop floor to struggle.

Some companies market their products as a “Manufacturing ERP.” They offer minimal manufacturing functionality tacked onto their core ERP product, often as a pricey module. It looks great in demos and claims to support some production processes, but a transaction system will never deliver the workflow control and visibility discrete manufacturers need. The inefficiencies result in “workarounds” your operators develop to overcome features that don’t work.

Fitting your Software Systems Together

Many companies initially turn to their ERP for manufacturing solutions, mistakenly believing a single software solution will lower costs and IT requirements. It doesn’t. A supplier selling an MES and ERP solution has either put a shiny “MES” veneer on top of basic ERP functionality or purchased an existing MES and completed an integration that you can’t control and they won’t be updating. You end up with an expensive solution with built-in inefficiencies, expensive upgrades, and gaps in manufacturing functionality.

The ERP and MES are separate, standalone systems that work best together when the user (your company) designs the integration points. This way, your front office has a software solution designed and built for their needs. Similarly, the shop floor and production team have the specialized functionality, visibility and control to keep up with the pace and complexity of manufacturing.

Since you aren’t buying expensive modules or customized functionality to awkwardly extend a software solution, you lower the overall cost. You have a clear upgrade path for both the MES and the ERP, and never struggle with an outdated solution.

Your company works from an integrated, cohesive production and business database. The reports use accurate data, sourced from the systems best positioned to collect and intelligently link information to increase production and efficiency while cutting costs.

Getting Started with Data-Driven Manufacturing

Once you’ve decided to eliminate inefficiency and embrace data-driven, smart manufacturing with a system like Quantum, the next question is where to begin.

Many mistakenly believe a software infrastructure project must start with the ERP, but the truth is it often makes more sense to implement an MES first.

Companies report a much quicker ROI for manufacturing software. The right manufacturing system will cost significantly less than an ERP, can be installed quickly and will pay immediate dividends through cost savings, and lower scrap and waste. The MES will reduce the scope and cost of the ERP by clearly defining the requirements of the enterprise system. With the MES in place, you won’t be pressured to purchase additional modules or software.

With manufacturing software you shield production from the disruption that often accompanies an ERP installation or upgrade. You can safely update other software when you are ready, with the comfort that your production data and shop floor are secure.

Want to know more, or see what benefits you will discover with manufacturing software? Contact CIMx for a free shop floor analysis with one of our Application Engineers. As always, the report is yours even if you decide Quantum isn’t the system for you.