Tag Archives: customization

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!

How to Get the Paperless Manufacturing System You Want

There are numerous options for companies researching MES and paperless manufacturing, we take a close look and evaluate two of those options.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn't create them. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn’t create them. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

It is much more difficult to build a car than buy one.  So, even though I’m annoyed by side view mirror controls that dig into my wrist, and I bang my head when I put my daughter in the car seat, I won’t re-engineer the work involved in current car designs to build my own (even though a robot vacuum to clean up after the kids is simply brilliant).

Build versus buy is not only a question in cars, but also MES and paperless manufacturing.  As businesses research the benefits to production, quality, and data collection found in paperless manufacturing, each must decide whether to build their own system, or buy from a vendor.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.  For this blog, we’ll look at points to consider as you make your own evaluation.


The ability to design a paperless manufacturing system and control the final product is often the primary reason a company will build rather than buy.  Every manufacturer is different, with different processes and unique needs.  Incorporating internal processes and needs at the beginning of development helps ensure a better product.

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn't one best left to the experts. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn’t one best left to the experts. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

To successfully build your own system, you must understand those processes and needs before you begin.  Determining the system requirements can take 2 months or more, and requires significant input from the manufacturing team (pulling them from the shop floor), and management.  You should also assume some slippage in the project timeline.  No matter how much planning is done, you can’t plan for everything once the code begins flowing.

Any items not included from the initial system requirements will exponentially increase the cost in time and resources for the project.  You also need to consider that every requirement you identify for the system will add to the cost.  If you have the stomach for the time and money it will take to complete the system, you’ll have the system you want.

Making changes to a system you bought can also be costly.  A risk companies run into is creating a “custom” system that will be more difficult to support.  When purchasing, make sure to do your research and ask for demos using your current work instructions to see how the installed system will work on your shop floor.


Implementation involves taking the initial design and writing code for it, then installing it on the shop floor.

A system built internally begins with the 2+ months to determine the system requirements before programming and development begins.  In addition to programmers, the project requires an expert in User Interface to eliminate unnecessary complexity, and a Data Base Administrator (DBA).  Specifications will also affect the final cost of the system.  Consider the database and platform, and plan for a product that will work not only now, but in the future for your business.

There are ways to lower cost, such as removing functionality, minimizing testing, or utilizing internal resources, but there are costs associated with these measures, and could affect the long term viability of the system.  Evaluate the return and cost for each decision before making choices you may regret.

System integration is another point to consider.  Manufacturers and businesses use a number of different software systems and databases.  Ensuring those systems work together smoothly is often overlooked in planning. 

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

Purchased systems offer a much lower cost for implementation.  Today, there are paperless manufacturing systems that can be installed and integrated in less than two weeks with no disruption of shop floor processes.  However, you will not have the design control you have in a built system.

Configuring, adapting, and integrating the system can take longer.  Also, beware of systems that require that your shop floor processes adapt to the software, which can significantly increase implementation.  Look for MES or paperless manufacturing systems which can reuse your existing work instructions and processes to reduce implementation time and training.


A paperless manufacturing system is only useful if it is up, running, and secure.  The long-term reliability and maintainability of the system must be considered in planning.

Every system requires maintenance and upkeep, especially in an industry such as manufacturing where changes in technology and processes are common.

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

With a system built internally, evaluate how much time and resources you will assign to the maintenance.  Will you have access to the team that originally built the software?  They are best positioned to maintain the system.  How will you handle bugs?  How much time in testing, both integration and regression testing, will you accept to repair bugs and flaws in the system.  If you see maintainability as a low priority, are you and your team willing to accept temporary patches, flaws, and workarounds in addition to a slow slide toward software obsolescence?  Is there a plan to upgrade the system? Considering these issues early in the planning process will help eliminate future surprises, and determine the lifetime cost of the system.  

The truth is, many businesses significantly underestimate the resources necessary to successfully maintain a system.  Most times they won’t intentionally underestimate to work required for maintenance, but once they better understand the requirements, they’ll be forced to make sacrifices and the solution will no longer be optimized.

Almost all home built software become “legacy” once the project is complete.  If the team that built the system isn’t on staff, the product cannot be tested and is therefore legacy software.  Future modifications will be exponentially more expensive.

Reliability and support for a purchased system will depend on the vendor supplying the software.  Many vendors offer an inexpensive system initially, and then charge higher fees for service and maintenance.  For example, a consultant will often install a base system very quickly, and then require further services to ensure the system works as promised. 

Look at the product support before making a purchase.  A system with a large support staff will expect customers to help pay for the staff through service charges.  Are there fees for upgrades or patches?  How is the product maintained? 

Many software systems require a license fee, which often includes product support.  Most purchased systems have been installed and used countless times, which can be seen as continual product testing, ensuring a more reliable and error free platform.  The total cost of the software and maintainability is shared by all the customers. 

Reliability in the system helps build the ROI, so take time to make an informed decision.


As you evaluate paperless manufacturing options, keep in mind a company specializing in manufacturing software systems rely on years of expertise in both manufacturing and software development. They will be marketing the product for years, and will continue maintenance and testing, to ensure the system works.

Choices and options.

Take a close look at the resource requirements necessary for maintainability. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

But, building a system internally allows a level of customization and control a purchased system can’t match.  Your evaluation comes down to a simple question – is the benefit of increased customization and control (or other motives driving you toward the solution) worth the increased cost in time, resources, and risk?  Look at not just the initial product, but the long-term investment.  Have a plan in place for continuing to maintain the system and ensuring the design of the system isn’t trapped in an information silo.

There is also risk and cost in purchasing a system.  Some vendors sell systems that aren’t well maintained or supported, or have hidden costs.  paperless manufacturing in the Cloud has associated risks.  You may not have all the functionality you wanted with the system, since it wasn’t designed internally, but you benefit from lower cost and lower risk for your shop floor.

There are advantages and disadvantages to building and purchasing an MES or paperless manufacturing system, and each company must evaluate the options with internal criteria before making a decision.  When building a system, you can get what you want if you are willing to spend the money and resources necessary, and you can mitigate the risk of potential failure.  You also need to be aware that a paperless manufacturing system is not a “one and done” project. It requires ongoing maintenance to continue to meet the needs of your business.

Success requires willingness to pay, a stomach for risk, and a devotion to maintainability. Which is why my brilliant robot vacuum is still a dream, and there are still crumbs in the backseat of my car.

What Does the Future of Manufacturing Software Look Like Now?

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Dassault Systemes recently announced the purchase of Apriso, apparently to acquire the manufacturing market in India… so what does that mean for manufacturers around the world?

In a press release that went out May 29, 2013, Dassault Systemes, a company based in Velizy-Villacoublay, France, announced the intent to purchase Apriso, a Long Beach, California, based manufacturing software solution provider.

DMO-Question-Mark-121012CIMx Software has been supplying manufacturing software solutions for more than 17 years.  We know the industry, and have seen multiple consolidations of vendors.  Any time there is an acquisition, you can’t help but take a moment and consider what it means for the customer.  The world, and our industry, is changing (which isn’t a surprise… change happens, and change seems to be the only constant in manufacturing) and now is a good time to think about where we are going.

As corporations slowly acquire manufacturing software companies, there are fewer choices for customers.  One result we’ve seen time and again is the acquisition increases costs and reduces the ability of customers to get support.  This happens often… remember the telecom industry when Ma Bell, or the Bell Operating Companies, was split into separate companies to break up the monopoly on telephone service.  And now the companies are slowly reacquiring each other and building the mega-corporation again… so what has this done for phone service?  How difficult is it to compare prices or services from each company?  What will this do for service costs, or product upgrades (because, as we know, manufacturing is always changing and upgrades are necessary).

How will this affect current Apriso customers, or customers looking for an MES?  Articles have said the acquisition will help Dassault in India, but what does it mean for current Apriso customers?  Both companies have done a good job explaining how the services of each company will be integrated, but it does little to address the current base who, honestly, are most affected by this acquisition.  At one time, Dassault and Apriso were partners, and apparently offered a, “… best-in-class, pre-configured solution,” and maybe pre-configuration will help as they integrate of services and products.  But, it is difficult to imagine the Dassault 3DExperience integrating seamlessly with Apriso’s Flexnet.  Only time will tell if acquisitions are truly good for industry.  Perhaps they are different enough products ensuring a smooth integration, but manufacturers don’t care about that… they want to know what it means for them and their current business.

What does it mean for the future of our industry?

Manufacturing has always thrived on innovation, minimizing risk and cost. Innovation is not acquisition, and increasing a service footprint doesn’t seem like a path to minimizing risk and cost.  I don’t have all the answers, but now is a good time to ask questions.  We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds, and keep asking ourselves what does it mean for the future of our industry?

This is an important topic, and one that deserves a longer look.  Leave a comment, ask a question, and let us know what you are thinking.  Stop back here for the next few days as we take a look at this issue and what it means for our business.

Configurable is to Sheep as Services are to Wolf- Tips to get the Software you really want

Making sense of the configurable and custom software market requires a keen intellect and analysis skills worthy of the SAT.

Do you remember taking SATs?  One of the most dreaded sections of the SAT (at least at my school) was the analytical association.  Cat : paw (which we read as “cat is to paw as”) would equate to three choices, from which you might select horse : hoof (“as horse is to hoof”).

Is the software vendor you're working with a wolf in sheep's clothing? Read on to learn how you can tell.

Is the software vendor you’re working with a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Read on to learn how you can tell.

There were so many of these on the SAT, and the associations were sometimes loose- sometimes stretching logic almost to the breaking point.  But, I love analysis.  Finding connections isn’t difficult for me, and I did pretty well on those sections.

So why can’t I find the logic in my industry?

I’ve been in the shop floor software or high tech solutions business for nearly 25 years and I still can’t figure out how a “configurable” software product can require more services, and cost more money, yet be offered to customers as a benefit?  But I’ve spoken with manufacturers who have told tales of configurable software that required a number of “services” to make it work as promised.  How can it be that as your use of consultants rise, so does your risk of obsolescence?  I have seen it happen- companies will use a consultant, who makes software so “unique,” any change will require more consulting work.  The analyst in me sees it like this:

Configurable: services

Consultant : obsolescence

As one goes up, the other goes up. The more configurable to software, the more services are required.  As your use of a consultant rises, so does the risk of obsolescence.  Pretty good deal for the software vendor. As obsolescence rises, you will pay for more services and more consultants to maintain the system.

With some software vendors, this leads to a vicious little buying that cuts into the benefit you gain from the software, and the ease of upgrade.  Suddenly, the more you invest in the system, the less benefit you have.  Every additional, unforeseen project cost cuts into your benefit.  Every service charge and consultant fee will make an upgrade more difficult and chip away at the savings you might accrue with the new system, therefore:

Project cost : benefit

Upgrade ease : savings

Choices and options.

These tips will help you make sense of your software options. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

So what’s the problem?  This is all backwards!  Configurable software should require fewer services and fewer consultants with NO risk of obsolescence.  You pay fees for more benefit, not less.

Configurable is becoming one of those boardroom bingo words.  It’s overused and meaningless to many customers because some vendors are offering software that isn’t really “configurable.” They are a wolf in sheep’s (configurable) clothing.  Their version of configurable software is just a way of padding the bill with more consultants and service fees. It pains me.

Truly configurable software packages are a real benefit to the customer.  By our standards, there are two critical items in configurable software:

  1. A configurable system must provide a path forward for a future product upgrade without having to redo the services work.
  2. Within 2 days of having the system, a configurable system should look and act the way the customer wants, without the hassle or cost of paying a service fee or consultant.
Don't let fear hold your shop floor back from increased productivity. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Don’t let fear hold your shop floor back from increased productivity. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

If a software system can’t offer these two items, you’re dealing with a custom system.  Vendors don’t want to use this dreaded word – it was hated long before “configurable” software came along.  Custom meant high costs and a long implementation.  The cost (in time and money) was justified because, in the end, the product was exactly what you required, nothing more and nothing less. It was designed just for you, which is also custom software’s biggest problem.  The system is nothing more than what you specifically committed to writing at the time that you scoped the project – before your largest customer required a change and now your project requirements are completely different (and I have heard that tale before).

So why do software companies (wolves) portray themselves as having a simple system?  Would you buy it if they told you upfront that it would be difficult and expensive?  We do a fair amount of industry research and I can no longer count the number of stories that I’ve heard of competitors in the market coming back with services bills 3 to 4 times the cost of the licenses.  It’s maddening.

What can you do to hang with the sheep and dodge the wolves? Ask the following questions of your potential vendor:

  • On your last product implementation at a new site, what was the length of time between your first trip to the site and the last trip to the site?  Do you equate this to the number of weeks of implementation?  Why or why not?
  • On your last three product implementations, how many scope change documents did you produce on the project?  Is this typical?  How many should I expect?
  • What guarantees do you provide, in writing, for your services?  For your products?

Or, go for the jugular and ask them to define configurable for you.  See what clothing that wolf is really wearing… Baaaah.

Have a question or want to learn more?  Contact us below… we’re happy to help!

What Can Beer Teach Us About Manufacturing?

Beer can teach us about the shop floor in ways you might not realize, and gives us a peek at what the future holds for our industry. 

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

CIMx is located in Cincinnati. Before Prohibition, Cincinnati was a center of the American brewing industry, and in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, 30,000-40,000 people lived and were employed by breweries or other beer-related industries.

By the 1890’s, breweries in the city were producing more than a million barrels a year. Much of that beer never left the area. Cincinnatians drank 2 ½ times the national average. In fact, it is estimated Cincinnatians drank as much as 40 gallons a year for every person in the city, and were healthier for it! Incidences of water-borne diseases such as cholera and botulism were low in the city, and as result, people lived longer.

Beer matters in Cincinnati.

You can learn a lot about manufacturing by studying the history of brewing.

Cincinnati brewers dug catacombs under the city to make their business more profitable and Lean. Photo reprinted with permission of David Oeters.

Cincinnati brewers dug catacombs under the city to make their business more profitable and Lean. Photo reprinted with permission of David Oeters.

For example, in the intense competition between breweries, innovation was the key to success. Cincinnati is built on hills, making it easy to build deep basements with cool temperatures to aid in the lagering of the beer. Some breweries didn’t stop digging once they had space for the beer. Successful brewers built tunnels under the busy streets to the bottle makers, bottlers, and shipping, cutting down the time it took to transport beer. This led to a virtual underground city in Cincinnati, and was an early version of Lean Manufacturing.

Here’s another example – prohibition bankrupted many local breweries and they closed. When prohibition was over, the remaining breweries consolidated and created the American beer barons. These large companies brewed uniform beer – paler in color, less complex taste and lower in alcohol content. Since then, beer lovers turned to homebrewing for more complex and satisfying brews. Brewpubs started to pop up – the first in 1982 in Yakima, Washington.  Last year, there were more than 2,000 American craft breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs.  Even smaller nanobreweries are appearing.

Manufacturing has a similar history.  As the American economy transformed itself from agriculture to industry and production increased, scalability meant volume, and consolidation swept-up many of the smaller manufacturers.  By the 80’s, mergers and acquisitions was a big business for many companies.

As software became a viable solution for many challenges in manufacturing, some software and ERP vendors advertised they could do anything, which led to solutions that took years to implement, couldn’t be upgraded, and weren’t optimized for the shop floor. Internal technology teams didn’t want to pay these costs, so they built their own system, leading to custom solutions that work when finished, but slowly degrade to obsolescence over time.

Think of custom legacy software as the tasty, but non-viable, local breweries before Prohibition.

So what lessons can we learn from the history of breweries? Innovation is the key to success is a lesson not only for a brewmaster in Cincinnati, but also today’s discrete manufacturer.

Many manufacturers are realizing their home-grown software systems aren’t supportable, much like hometown breweries before Prohibition. The systems are specifically built to their needs, but now they need something for the future, something to scale for the demands of today’s fluctuating manufacturing environments. When change, like Prohibition or a new technology, happens, the companies unable to adapt won’t survive.

Take a lesson from Master Beer brewers and find solutions that will last you far into the future. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Take a lesson from Master Beer brewers and find solutions that will last you far into the future. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Looking ahead, the future isn’t with pale, less flavorful software built by massive business-eating conglomerates. The days of long, expensive implementations are over. Today, do your homework and look at smaller companies (think microbreweries) with an innovative software offering giving you the optimization of a custom system without trapping you into custom software obsolescence. Look at Paperless Manufacturing for an integrated shop floor solution with a quicker ROI. How is mobile and collaborative manufacturing handled in each system?

Need more proof? Anheuser Busch is owned by Belgian-Brazilian InBev and is reducing the number of big beer brands they distribute in favor of their craft lines – Stella, Beck’s, Bass. People want flexibility, optimization, and microbrewery-like service!

There are more lessons to be learned from Cincinnati’s rich brewing history, especially as we look more closely at how we can find success in the future. After all, beer production has returned to Cincinnati with breweries that have found a way to not just survive in the modern market, but thrive.  We’ll take a closer look at how you can capitalize like brewers today in a future blog. Keep an eye here for more!

4 Keys to Achieving Your Return On Investment

Improvement projects, such as paperless manufacturing, are necessary for growth and send a clear message of success. What message is your company sending?

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

A church I pass daily has an LCD display along the highway’s edge. This week, it read, “We are debt free!”

Why advertise the lack of debt?  They are in the business of saving souls and changing lives, not financial planning.  The truth is, you can tell a lot about the strength and foresight of an organization by how it handles debt.

What is your strategy for building a successful team?

What messages are you sending about your business?

An organization uses debt to support growth. In the case of that church, it was a new assembly hall for a growing member base. An organization averse to taking on risk is afraid to grow.  But debt and risk must be managed.  It’s important to measure the amount of risk against the projected growth and expected return.  Organizations need to find a balance between risk and return. How much money will support the measurable return?

Our customers implement electronic systems for a number of reasons.  Each business must address how much money will support the measurable return.  Most businesses do this by calculating how long it will take to achieve an ROI (Return On Investment).

Unfortunately, many businesses miss the mark, when planning a project and calculating ROI, with easily avoided mistakes, such as:

  • Lost time.

Businesses that spend months, even years, researching before purchasing a system are wasting potential ROI before the project has really started. Your time investment must be factored into the cost.  The key to achieving ROI is a rapid return.  We target no more than 9 months for ROI, allowing customers to quickly justify the investment.

  • Functionality inflation.

Many businesses begin researching software with a specific challenge to be solved. During the process, the functionality list inevitably grows.  An ROI will be calculated with one set of functionality, and additional “nice to have” functionality requirements may make achieving the ROI almost impossible.

  • Unnecessary complexity.

Many software companies offer “modules” of software that must be integrated, or an off-the-shelf system that doesn’t integrate with current production processes. A product that adds complexity will be resisted on the shop floor when the old system is more comforting and easier to use.

  • Poor implementation.

When calculating ROI, look at how long it will take to implement the new software.  Get an accurate estimate and find a software vendor you can trust.  A project that takes several years to implement, or that never really integrates with existing systems, adds to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and inhibits the ROI.

Building the right team can be the difference between success and failure.

The key to achieving ROI with an improvement project starts with focused planning. Photo: www.colourbox.com.

Think back to the church, and what was required of the building committee to make the claim, “we are debt free.”  They needed an accurate estimate of donations.  They needed a timely procurement process, a project focused on meeting church and growth needs that people would use (and not ignore), and a builder who could complete the project on time and on budget.  Failing to meet any of those requirements would have a significant impact on the ROI, and make the goal of “debt free” difficult.

A successful improvement project starts in the planning and research phase. An improvement process is a sign of growth, and sends a clear message (like an LCD sign on the side of the highway) that your business is a success.  Success doesn’t have to be difficult to achieve. Contact us today to learn more, we’re happy to help!

4 Tips to Kick Your MES Project Off Right

4 Tips to Kick Your MES Project off Right

Urban Myths abound with stories of improvement projects gone horribly wrong, such as a bathroom remodel leading to a flooded basement, or plastic surgery with Frankenstein-like results.

Heed the warning signs and don’t get trapped by unintended consequences of your improvement project.

MES improvement projects are notorious for unintended consequences.  Many MES projects have excellent results, leading to production improvements and a speedy ROI, but others deserve the notoriety.  Improvement projects gone wrong are usually the result of mistakes made early in the project.  Let’s take a look at a few tips as you plan a manufacturing improvement project:

1)      Plan a project that focuses on need and ROI.  Many times, MES project brainstorming leads to a MASSIVE list of business needs and potential functionality.  Everyone sees an MES as a solution to their workplace pet peeve, and with an MES provider eager for the work and willing to promise anything, a bloated list of “priorities” is the result.  Added functionality requires expensive extra programming code, and additional risk, project overruns and unnecessary complexity are what many companies are left with.

There are focused steps to producing a list of MES requirements.  First, identify core needs, and then calculate the ROI for each need.  An ROI and a clear goal should be attached to each element of functionality.  Once you have a strong system in place and are realizing an ROI, you can include additional functionality.  Initial brainstorming sessions that result in lists with everything but the kitchen sink fool many manufacturer’s into believing their only option for improving their business is to develop a one-of-a-kind, do-everything solution, which leads us to our next tip…

2)      Beware of the custom code pitfalls!  There is a reassuring element to a customized MES solution, because it is developed just for your business, but you need to BEWARE the warm, fuzzy feeling a singular, one-of-a-kind custom solution might give you.  No one can argue in a perfect world custom MES MIGHT be the best solution at a moment in time, but designing a one-of-a-kind solution requires an entire team of expensive software developers to create.  It is a lengthy, expensive, and risky process.

A few simple tips help ensure all the pieces fit with your manufacturing solution.

Upgrading an MES built on custom code is a costly project requiring another team of programmers.  This is an additional expense many companies don’t consider.  Since technology and processes are changing so rapidly, upgrades are necessary and frequent.  Problems with custom code are only getting worse.  Many manufacturers with one-of-a-kind systems are burdened with outdated solutions because the cost of upgrading is so high.  Don’t focus your attention on a solution based on custom code. Look at solutions which allow configuration and customized options that work for your existing processes without burdening you with custom code. There are much better options than a custom solution available for manufacturers, including…

3)      Paperless Manufacturing is a low-cost, low-risk option you should look at.  Paperless Manufacturing is not just another way of saying MES.  The differences can benefit the success of your improvement project.  Paperless Manufacturing, or the simple step of digitizing your existing work orders with a system of delivering and viewing those work orders on the shop floor, can deliver more than 80% of the benefits of a full MES with less risk and much less cost.  In addition, you have revision control to ensure the shop is working on only the latest version of the work order.  Procedural enforcement is encoded in the work orders to ensure tasks are performed in the proper order, and data can be collected as part of the work instruction and validated by the system to minimize errors.  These are a few of the benefits you can realize with Paperless Manufacturing.

Initially a Paperless Manufacturing system won’t deliver all the special reports found in a full MES, and there may be fewer data collection points, but this functionality can be added later, making Paperless Manufacturing an excellent first step toward a full MES solution.  And with no need for data migration, or extensive custom code, a Paperless Manufacturing system can be implemented in less than 30 days.  In addition, Paperless Manufacturing allows you the luxury of selecting the functionality and features you want to implement, giving you full control of the project including elimination of production errors and procedural enforcement, which is important when you want to…

4)      Ensure a “fit” to your processes and sustainable improvements. There are many times MES projects implement unnecessary complexities to a process, or the MES providers force their own processes on the shop floor.  Often this is the result of rushed projects or overly complex systems that don’t fit current shop floor processes.  Sometimes this leads to shelfware, or workers “backsliding” and using the old methods because they are easier or simply work better.

If the focus is only functionality, and not the human element of the manufacturing process, sustainability is sacrificed.  Look for MES or Paperless Manufacturing systems that accommodate your processes and use your existing work orders.  This will give you a good idea of how easy or “painful” implementation might be on the shop floor, and how quickly you can realize the ROI.

Face it, an MES can be a risky improvement project, but it offers rewards that dramatically improve a manufacturing business.  The benefits of an MES can’t be found in an ERP or other software, and competitive companies need to start embracing the technology if they want to stay competitive.  Make improvement work for you, dramatically reduce the risks and take control of the project by following these simple tips, especially find a solution that “fits” and not one you need to change processes to “fit to it”.

Have you considered implementing an MES on your shop floor recently, or did you lead a process improvement project?  If so, what did you learn?  How did you manage risk?  Let us know!

Next week, we’re going to take a close look at the stakeholders in a production improvement project, and how you can set yourself up for success by inviting the right people to the planning table.  See you then!