Tag Archives: Collaboration

Who Owns the MES Project?

Many times an MES or Paperless Manufacturing implementation becomes an internal political struggle, which leads to production consequences that may take years to recover from.

By Brandon Mendenhall, Product Support Engineer for CIMx Software

Are your hurting your company by not sharing ownership of your shop floor system? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are your hurting your company by not sharing ownership of your shop floor system? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

From our experience, most MES and Paperless Manufacturing implementation projects begin with a specific problem the customer needs to solve. This problem may be a failed audit, a quality escape, or even just out-of-control paper records. One person or group may be determined to solve the problem. They will drive the project, attending the implementation meetings and demos, and drafting the list of requirements. Even so, they may not be the ones LEADING the project… That may be an entirely different group in the organization, which can be a serious problem for many implementation projects.

Maximizing the Benefit

With technology changing at a rapid pace, shaping all aspects of enterprise operations, it becomes a challenge to determine who owns information systems such as MES.  In the past most assumed IT supported/owned all technology, but today those lines are blurred and we need to question those assumptions. So, the question remains, who is responsible for Manufacturing Executions Systems (MES)?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one size fits all type of answer. Consider this – the goal of systems like an MES or QMS (Quality Management System) is to improve production, so is IT best positioned to select and implement MES and QMS functionality?  Is Operations or Sales and Marketing best suited to maintain and upgrade the system over the life of the installation? The idea that a single group should have full ownership of a system is dated and inefficient. As complex and integral as today’s enterprise software is, joint ownership is necessary. User groups need to have an active role in supporting and maintaining the system.

Tips for Sharing Ownership

Each group in a company has different priorities and different requirements for a new software system. IT may require ease of implementation and a low-maintenance system, so they may look for an additional module or add-on to an existing system, rather than a whole new implementation. For management, it may be analytics, and for sales and customer service it may be a real-time view of production. Operations may need data collection, or elimination of paper build books.

For the software, there are two key factors that must be considered when selecting an MES. One would be the infrastructure, and the other would be the functionality of the system.  IT is best suited to manage the infrastructure requirements. They should already be monitoring and maintaining the infrastructure for the company, which makes them a key asset to ensure that the MES can be implemented and function on the organizations current infrastructure.

The second key factor is the functionality of the system. For most manufacturers, production is the key profit driver for the company. Since an MES directly impacts production, plant operations should at least guide the functionality requirements. The users utilizing the system to manage and improve production need to influence the final selection of the system. Other users may have different requirements, but the primary requirements should be focused on production needs.

Putting All the Pieces Together

Understanding that multiple groups are dependent on the success of an MES helps build a stronger relationship between departments and more easily allows support and functionality to scale as the company grows. IT can best determine when to change or upgrade the infrastructure of the system, while Operations can guide the adoption of new functionality to meet the changing needs of production. Even Management and sales and marketing should provide input in the direction of the system.

In the end, an MES is a critical foundation for the enterprise, and each department needs to provide input to maximize the effectiveness of the software.

Organizations run into issues when there are barriers between departments/teams. It’s crucial to understand that not just one person has responsibility for an MES, but all groups impacted must take ownership of the requirements, maintenance and implementation. When you begin the project with this goal in mind, the silos and barriers that once crippled a company can be eliminated as the system becomes the foundation for improved processes across the enterprise.

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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!

Where Will Your Shop Floor Be In 10 Years?

All signs point to major changes for manufacturing, so what are you doing to prepare for the future?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I came across a recent news article about a man in New Zealand using a 3D Printer to build a replica of a 1961 Aston Martin DB4.

Okay, let’s get all the amazement and wonderment out of the way now….

First, he is building a car with a $500 Solidoodle 3d Printer.  This is a readily available printer, easily found by a web search.  It’s easy to use, and even easier to purchase.    Apparently, you can use it to build a car frame (the interior of this car will consist of the engine of a 1993 Nissan Skyline).

What steps are you taking now to ensure you have the shop floor you want in 10 years?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What steps are you taking now to ensure your future? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Next, this is his first attempt at 3d Printing.  So far, he has spent a total of $2,000 on the project.  Sure, Ivan Sentch, the man behind the project, estimates it will be five more years before he can drive the car, this is still a private citizen using a simple printer in his free time to BUILD A CAR!

Now, the really interesting point in this article is near the bottom, “Sentch believes it will be at least a decade or two before 3D printing will be used regularly for useful projects.”  Useful projects like cars, home appliances, and mechanical parts that are currently being manufactured in factories all over the world.  These factories and shop floors are the heart of our industry.

Let that sink in a moment…

I’m not suggesting we’ll suddenly shut down factories and start printing space shuttles in our garage, but a fundamental change is coming on par with Henry Ford and his manufacturing methodology and the rise of industrial robots.   This means many manufacturers will have to adapt or succumb.  Readily available manufactured goods via 3D printers will change the market.  To compete with a $500 printer, manufacturers need to offer customers more.

The retail industry is already grappling with this trend.  Why should a consumer travel to a store when they can order what they want on the web, via Amazon or another online outlet?  Stores have had to adapt, look at multi-channel sales and even question their role and function to the modern consumer.  It has required difficult choices, a lot of work, and a willingness to accept that what once felt comfortable and brought in enough profit isn’t going to cut it any longer.

10 years is not that far in the future.  A man in New Zealand spent $500 for a 3d Printer and gave us a glimpse of what the future will be like. So, where do you see your business and shop floor in 10 years?  What are you doing to prepare for the future?  Is it enough?  Now is the best time to start asking those important questions, and seek out someone who can help you plan for the future.

Secrets to Overcoming the Qualified Worker Crunch

As manufacturers struggle to find qualified shop floor workers, it’s not enough to hope secondary education will improve.  It’s time to start finding solutions ourselves.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Managing and controlling information is the key to successfully training new employees.

Managing and controlling information is the key to successfully training new employees.

A recent survey by The Chronicle and the American Public Media Marketplace shined a light on the struggles manufacturers face when hiring qualified employees.  In an article reviewing the survey, hiring managers described potential candidates as, “woefully unprepared,” saying they lacked, “basic workplace proficiencies,” or even the, “ability to solve complex problems.”  Assessments such as these do not bode well for the future of manufacturing.

It is easy for businesses to blame higher education.  According to another article, “In 2008, the Boeing Company ranked colleges based on how well their graduates performed within the corporation.” Some blame does rest with education programs, but not all of it.

Technology and processes are continually adapting.  New tools are constantly shaping the workplace.  Many companies struggle internally to adapt to these changes.  It is unrealistic to expect education to incorporate change any quicker.  Additionally, new employees struggle with entering organizations where information is secularized in Information silos.  Many times, new employees replace retirees, and have no access to the critical company information contained in those silos – silos that are many times reflect the accumulated knowledge of the retiring employee.

As we look for solutions, we should start with how we are currently managing corporate information.  No matter the source of the “worker crunch,” there are ways businesses, especially manufacturers, can help prepare new employees while improving current operations.  The goal should be getting the right information to the right people at the right time.  For example:

  • Capturing Work Flow and Process Information from work experience that is currently in use within an information system.
  • Collecting and archiving these rich work flow experiences as Best Practices are a good way of ensuring information isn’t lost in a silo, and you have clear goals and processes in place when it is time to onboard a new employee.
  • A library of On-demand Training is an effective way to teach best practices.  It ensures employees are maximizing efficiency and quality, and allow your team targeted training lessons when they will have the greatest impact without pulling people from more productive work.
  • Increase Internal Collaboration with a shared data base and a single version of the truth in your internal records.  Process controls that collect data in a single, shared database help eliminate those challenges.
  • Procedural Enforcement is another way you can ensure best practices are adopted and used by your team, and will improve quality.
  • Study how you Control and Manage Information in your company.  Many times, especially in paper-based systems, there is no way to adequately collect and control data, and new employees will step into a system with no access to the information they need to be successful.

Successful companies begin with an effective workforce.  While it is easy to cast blame for the worker crunch, there are steps a smart business can take to ensure new employees have the greatest chance of success.  Those steps start by capturing, managing and distributing information and eliminating information silos, and will improve production, increase quality, and benefit employee morale.

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.

Shining the Truth on Mobile Manufacturing Myths

Mobile Manufacturing is a hot topic in the industry, but many manufacturers are clinging to myths holding their company back.

By David Oeters, CIMx Software Corporate Communications

Manufacturers see the advantages of mobile technology on the shop floor.  For example, how much more effective could your quality control be if they could implement a hold from the shop floor?  How much more effective would your organization be if customer service had access to real time data on production from anywhere?  Would leadership meetings benefit from real-time production reports and dashboards?

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Mobile manufacturing obviously holds promise, including increased quality, better process control and productivity, but while companies search for information, little benefit has come from these investigations into mobile or collaborative manufacturing.  Perhaps it is the misguided belief mobile manufacturing is simply giving iPads to the shop floor employees, or that mobile manufacturing will lose production data, holding companies back.

We wanted to take a few minutes to shine the honest truth on the mobile manufacturing myths.  Here are our Top 5 mobile manufacturing myths, and the truth hiding behind the myths:

1)      Mobile Manufacturing means putting iPads on the shop floor.

Not necessarily true!  You implement as much, or as little, mobile manufacturing as you want.  With the right system, you select the devices with access to your data.  This could mean executives with mobile access to real-time, shop floor production dashboards, but an employee with a smart phone can’t make changes to work instructions, and your shop floor won’t have access to Facebook. A robust system supporting mobility will offer you more control of production, not less, and become an important tool for increasing efficiency.

2)      Mobility is another name for cloud computing, and I’m going to lose control of my data.

In one sense, this is true.  PCMag defines cloud computing, in the simplest terms, as accessing data and programs over the internet, usually with a web-based browser.  If so, mobile manufacturing is a form of cloud computing… and an excellent way to evaluate the Cloud risk-free!  Mobile manufacturing can set up a secure “cloud” inside your company, protecting your data from outside threats while allowing you the security of automated data backups and other cloud-based IT benefits.  Think of it as a low-risk first step into the cloud without depending on an outside organization.

3)      Mobile manufacturing will expose my data to outside security threats.

As with any new system that works with your data, there is a potential risk, but common-sense precautions will protect your enterprise from risk. Bill Connor, CEO of the security firm Entrust, has identified a few of the more common misconceptions and myths regarding mobile security.  For example, you can see who is connected to your system and what mobile device they are using, and with common-sense precautions, confidential data can be protected even if a device is stolen.

4)      Mobile Manufacturing will expose my business to change I can’t control.

One key to success is controlling risk and capitalizing on change.  Consider a phased implementation for mobile manufacturing, which gives you complete control of change.  You select the change you want  and when you implement it, so you never take on more risk than you can handle, guaranteeing an ROI (return on investment) for the project.  For example, implement mobile manufacturing in one area, such as quality control.  Slowly roll it out to other areas of the enterprise when you have a better understanding of the process, a clear goal for the system, and have achieved an ROI.

5)      Mobile devices can’t be trusted.

More errors and inefficiencies are produced by a paper-based manufacturing system than a paperless one, which you will likely achieve with mobile manufacturing. Research has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  You may feel more comfortable in a paper-based system, but this is not necessarily what is best for you or your company.

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paperless and mobile manufacturing systems hold a lot of promise for manufacturing, and can make your shop floor more productive.  But few manufacturers have taken action on the research.  Myths and misinformation are clouding the topic.  Visit our website to learn the latest CIMx initiatives in mobile manufacturing, and see what other advantages you might be missing.  As you consider possible process improvements for your shop floor, find the truth – don’t let myths get in the way of game-changing ideas.

Deciphering the Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is changing. Can you make change work for you and your shop floor?

A recent (May, 2013) issue of Scientific America magazine featured two articles that got me thinking about the future of manufacturing.  The first, written by David Bourne, discussed robots on the shop floor, and how science is working to integrate the capabilities of humans and robots to increase production and lower costs.

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Another article by Larry Greenemeier took a close look at 3D, or additive, printing.  Titled “Will 3D Printing Transform Conventional Manufacturing,” the article focused on the strengths and weaknesses of 3D Printing, and how it could be used by manufacturers in the future.

There was enough insight and information in these articles for a years worth of material!  But before I could craft an opinion on robotics, I noticed my notes were filled with the word, “change.” 

It’s no surprise that articles on the future of manufacturing would discuss change.  But the variety of changes caught my attention.  David Bourne discussed, “… the rise of custom manufacturing,” and, “… Need to modify a popular product? Human-robot teams can create custom versions of anything… without the need for expensive retooling.”  The article advocates change to accommodate more change.

Greenemeier also mentions the advantages of change in manufacturing as he discusses 3D printing, “… few doubt that for customizable, small-volume applications, additive manufacturing has tremendous power,” and, “… in the case of short production runs or manufacturers aiming for more customized products.”  Again and again, I saw “change” words such as customization, custom, and modify described in the glowing, utopian-like terms.  It felt like a call to action.

I also found warnings and caveats in the article.  Phrases such as, “… -manufacturers are often slow to adopt new technologies,“ were scattered in both articles.  The authors were previewing an exciting new world for manufacturing… if only manufacturers could get out of their own way.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

The article was from Scientific America, with a focus on the latest technology.  The authors are an editor and a professor – advocates for technology, not manufacturing.  Manufacturers are wary when it comes to new technology.  New technology can be costly, with an uncertain ROI and the potential for disastrous disruption of shop floor operation.  New technology carries a risk on the shop floor.  For example, if humans start working more closely with machines, how many other humans will lose their job?  Manufacturing industry leaders need to consider these questions before jumping on the bandwagon.  An author doesn’t have that responsibility.

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing.  Are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing. Are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

We all know manufacturing is changing – and changing much faster now than ever before.  Custom manufacturing, with individualized mass production and smaller runs, are commonplace.  Mobile manufacturing, work plans on tablets, collaborative manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, MES and the cloud are all making their mark on the shop floor.  There are shorter innovation cycles, more change orders and greater customer input on production.  New technology always precedes shop floor changes.  3D printing is coming.  Robotics is moving to the shop floor, and humans and robots will work together to deliver greater shop floor efficiency.

Reading these articles, I’m excited by the cool new technology, even a little scared and protective of the shop floor.  I’m indignant at the criticism leveled at manufacturing by the authors, but I can’t help but wonder if the criticism is true.  There are questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • Is manufacturing really afraid of change?  If so, what does it mean for our industry?  I don’t know of any business eagerly seeking out change, but is it fair to single out manufacturing?  Is this a fair assessment of our industry?
  • If your shop floor had to change, could it?  How much resistance would you face?  I know I’ve been on my fair share of “process improvement committees,” and even gone through corporate buy-outs.  Change is never easy, but can we do it?
  • What is your shop floor doing to improve efficiency?  Are you happy with the status quo?  If not, what are you willing to do to improve or change?  How much change are you willing to accept?
  • Have you looked at the latest technology?  Do you see a place for 3D printing or smart division of labor between robots and humans? At what point do you accept new technology and adopt it for your own?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions.  In fact, after reading these articles in Scientific America, I don’t even know if they are questions we can answer yet, but they need to be asked.  Maybe we write the questions on a sticky note on the bottom of our computer screen as a reminder the future is coming, and it will look different than the world we live in today.

As you begin contemplating change in your shop, think about how you can make change work for you and your business.  Change is coming, the question is- can you make it work for you?