Tag Archives: Implementation

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.

Why Do MES Implementations Fail, and What You Can Do

An MES Implementation can be a high-risk project, but there are steps you can take to minimize risk and improve success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Companies may not talk about it, but there are MES and manufacturing software implementations that fail. There is risk with any major software implementation. ERP and PLM implementations will sometimes fail (even more than MES), and while there is no magic formula for implementation success, you’re not helpless against trouble.  There’s no magic 12-step process for every project, but there are warning signs savvy manufacturers can use to avoid trouble, and steps you can take to help protect your company.

5 Reasons MES Implementations Fail

Implementation projects fail for a number of reasons, including:

  • Culture: An MES implementation is as much a cultural project as a technological one. If the software wasn’t selected with the shop floor’s needs in mind, or the project goal isn’t clear from the beginning, failure is likely. Operators need to use the software for the project to be a success. A smart platform can be introduced in stages that operators readily accept, eliminating the resistance and culture shock common in “Big Bang” implementations that try to implement every piece of functionality at once.
  • man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

    Don’t get buried by the cost of your overly complex MES. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Expense: As project complexity increases, costs skyrocket. Changing requirements also lead to massive cost overruns. Annoying and unforeseen delays and service charges from the software supplier can also derail a project. At some point, most companies will cancel the implementation rather than continuing to bleed expenses.

  • Out-of-Scope System Work: Many companies try to sell “master” systems fulfilling a number of functions. An ERP is not an MES or PLM. Inevitably an integrated, single source solution causes more problems than it solves since it results in a lowest common denominator solution, as the supplier tries to cram functionality into their system. Many times, it leads to a system that is difficult to use.
  • Customization: Many companies initially believe custom software is the only solution for their shop floor. The truth is few companies have the resources for the initial development, or the capability necessary to maintain the system as production needs change.  Building that perfect system will take a long time, and you need to accept high risk and frustration. It’s better to use a supplier that offers custom features on a smart platform that can be implemented at a low cost and ensure a sustainable system.
  • Supplier Promises: Some suppliers make exorbitant promises during the sales process promises that are extremely difficult to fulfill. As the list of broken promises and scope modifications grow, some companies decide to cancel the project out of frustration. There are ways to limit scope creep, limit cost add-ons and manage in-house modification flow.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does touch on many of the core reasons a manufacturer will choose to cancel a project.  Canceling a project is a passive, but final, failure, and is many times the best decision for the long-term growth of the business.

A worse failure is an “active failure” where the project is implemented and does not achieve the improvements expected nor provides a positive ROI.  Companies with an active failure continue to lose money year after year, clinging to a software system that bleeds profit and productivity with minimal, if any, benefit.

Protecting Yourself from Implementation Failure

Never fear, there are steps you can take to position your company for success when implementing a new MES or digital manufacturing system. Consider this:

  • 3d render of time concept roadsign board isolated on white background

    Don’t let fear stop you from improving production. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Phased Implementation: Rather than trying to install and implement everything at once ( “Big Bang” style), a phased implementation gives the manufacturer more control over the project. Risk can be minimized by selecting and using the features and functionality the company wants, dictating the pace of change and complexity.

  • Aligning IT and OT: An MES is as much an OT (Operations Technology) project as IT (Information Technology). A project has a much greater chance of success if IT and OT are aligned from the beginning, selecting a project that meets the needs of both core users.
  • Trust: Many times an MES buyer will make a software decision based on grandiose promises from a supplier, rather than embracing their intuition and finding a partner company they trust.
  • Focus on Core Requirements: Many MES projects start with an initial need, and then additional requirements are added to the project. Each addition increases the schedule, cost and risk. Focus on solving the real problems in Phase 1, and the savings can pay for additional items in phase 2. A supplier that cannot provide a phased implementation has a solution without the necessary flexibility to be sustainable in your environment.

Managing Software Projects

For most failed software projects, it’s impossible to identify a single reason for the failure. It’s a combination that leads to the painful decision to accept failure rather than continuing to work with an active failure that will limit your profitability far into the future. Most times, this is the right decision to make. Trying to twist and contort the shop floor or the software just to make it work isn’t a good way to optimize production.

No one likes to admit or accept failure. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and can be devastating to a business. By following a few simple tips and staying on top of your project, you can avoid the problems that lead to failure.

Want to learn more, or see why and how CIMx guarantees major project milestones? Contact us today for a shop floor analysis or project estimate to see how we can best help you.

You Can Build a Business Case for an MES

Many manufacturers understand the benefit of an MES for their shop floor operations, but struggle to build a case for implementation.  We offer three tips for building a convincing case for MES.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever try to convince a 3 year-old to eat vegetables?


What can a savvy 3 year-old teach you as you build a case for paperless manufacturing?

Most times, you explore tactics looking for one that works.  You start with logic (“It’s good for you!”).  Then you try threats (“Eat those peas, now!”) before moving on to bartering (“We’ll eat dessert if you try the peas.)  Finally, other strategies are considered, like reverse psychology (“I figured you wouldn’t eat the good peas,”) identification, (“Dora likes to eat peas,”) to pure insanity (“Tater tots are SO lonely in your belly, can they play with peas?”).  The negotiation continues until you find the strategy that works… and many times it never does.

Unfortunately, for many shop floors, building a case study for MES resembles convincing a 3-year old to eat peas.  The MES team knows there is a problem (more than likely, many problems).  They need to present a convincing case study, but aren’t sure how to start.  The team will try everything to build a case, creating a mess that does more to confuse than convince.

Building a Case for Paperless Manufacturing

Here are three expert tips for building a case study that works:

  1. Focus

Most MES or paperless manufacturing projects begin with a single problem – such as quality escapes, paper-based errors, poor data collection, or no shop floor control.

Unfortunately, once a potential solution is identified, companies begin to add functionality.  The solution grows (and adds cost and complexity) as people add their requirements to the project.  The scope balloons as everyone wants to make it “their” project.  The project quickly explodes with requirements and additional functionality.  The original problem is lost in the chaos.

When building a case for MES, more is not better.  Adding functionality and requirements will not make it easier to prove an ROI, it will just increase cost (dramatically) and delay implementation – which isn’t a good thing when building a case for MES.

Focus on solving the initial problem.  The benefits and ROI delivered with the initial solution will help justify later requirements, and keep the project focused, manageable, and cost effective.  One costly problem solved with a positive ROI is better than 10 problems partially addressed.

  1. Plan in phases

It is much easier to build support for a project that makes incremental changes through smaller phases than tackling a massive project that with a very high cost and significant risk for production disruption.  We call this incremental process a “phased implementation.”  A phased implementation allows greater project control with more immediate benefits, helping you build your case for MES.

Think of it like this – the bigger the project, the more variables you’ll need to address.  A 2-year project will have 2 years of costs, potential disruptions and project unknowns to punch holes in your business case.  A single 2 month phase of a (potentially) larger project is much easier to predict.  The costs can be managed, and shop floor disruption (if any)  controlled.  The ROI is often easier to calculate, and with lower costs you can more easily build a case.  In some cases the most important benefit of short measurable phases is a tangible demonstration to management of increased efficiency or quality.

There is a reason why the savvy 3 year-old will first ask for an elephant before requesting a new puppy.  A single puppy is easier to justify than the massive, elephant-like MES project.

  1. Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Assign a cost

Once you’ve identified a problem or challenge, determine the cost.  If troublesome as-built records are the challenge, then calculate employee time currently spent searching and assembling as-built records.  Identify how much other work is delayed assembling the records.   Calculate production delays or business lost because you don’t have readily accessible as-built records.

Spend a little time putting the numbers together.  Most of the time, companies are shocked to learn how much they spend struggling to overcome (avoidable) shop floor problems.  Compare that number to the cost to purchase and implement a solution, and you’ll have the core of your ROI.  A true business case is more than just a retelling of the requirement list.  It should look at the costs to determine whether the solution offers an ROI.  It may not, but working with a focused solution over a single phase will help minimize costs and simplify the ROI calculation.  Most company executives welcome the shorter phases, smaller costs, and frequent examples of positive impact on the business.

 Building For the Future

Building a business case for an MES or paperless manufacturing is not only possible, but likely much easier than you might think.  It’s definitely easier than convincing a 3 year-old of the importance of peas and spinach when they know candy is SO tasty.

Want to know more?  Check out our blog on Insider Tips on Calculating ROI for your Shop Floor System, or a recent article we wrote on Uncovering the Real Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing.  No other purchase has the potential to significantly improve shop floor production like paperless manufacturing.  Still worried?  Give us a call and let us answer your questions.