Tag Archives: Lean Manufacturing

Putting secrets of baseball to work on your shop floor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

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

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

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3D Printing Could Kill You (Or Your Business), Here’s Why…

3D Printing is going to have a dramatic affect on manufacturing, but we can learn from other industries how to succeed when change comes.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

Choices and options.

3D printing will change manufacturing. How will you handle the change? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com.

I came across an article on a Yahoo News about a University of Texas law student who is posting online a blueprint for a 3D printed handgun called “The Liberator.”  Download the blueprint/design, load it into your 3D printer- yes, you can purchase a home 3D printer, such as the Replicator 2 or the Cube– and you’re moments from producing your own plastic handgun; weaponry in no time at all!

Reading the article was scary and exciting, because I love technology!  The future is exciting, and I believe technology represents the best of humanity- using our ingenuity to solve problems together.  Others argue it is dangerous technology- not only physically harmful, this is….

… scary.  Worried about gun control laws?  Why worry, when you can print your own gun.  A world where a gun for a terrorist is only a website and 3D printer away is scary. But, it’s also…

.. exciting. Someday you will log onto a website, select a design, and print it on your desktop.  It sounds like pure science fiction, a scene from Star Trek, pulled straight out of Neal Stephenson’s book Diamond Age. Maybe, but soon the Defense Distributed website will offer the handgun design. Once the first design comes out, designs for more products will follow.  Household custom manufacturing is science fiction no longer, and that is…

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

… scary, especially for manufacturers.  The University of Texas law student behind the handgun design describes himself as a “free-market anarchist,” and 3D Printing is a “free-market anarchist’s” dream. The entire manufacturing dynamic is changing. Consumers no longer rely on manufacturers, they have their own manufacturing control. Which means manufacturers need to offer more than a product, but also a service or a value-add to convince consumers to purchase, and I don’t think manufacturing is ready to make that transition.  It’s a radical change, and change can be…

… exciting, because for a long time, our industry (manufacturing) has been reluctant to embrace change.  Other industries have adjusted to the modern market.  Newspapers and magazines have moved to meet the consumer online and in social media.  Restaurants are providing an “experience,” and grocery stores are utilizing technology to connect to shoppers.  But manufacturers are reluctant to tackle custom orders, still embrace paper-bound build books, and rely on outdated Legacy systems.  We might know how to improve efficiency, but fear and risk hold us back. Change is coming, and that’s…

… scary, because for many in our industry, there seems to be little plan to adjust to a world where the consumer has access to a relatively inexpensive  manufacturing technology.  What will 3D printing mean for you?  What will desktop manufacturing mean to your shop floor?  Can we embrace the changes other industries have made; this includes a focus on customer service? Can we continue to ignore the need for change?

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

This article on an idealistic law student brings up a number of questions.  There will be questions about gun control, regulation, empowering criminals versus free market enterprise, but we also need to think about what 3D printing and open information mean for manufacturing.  Sure, 3D printing can be an exceptional new tool for manufacturing, but we need to step back and look at how else it will affect the industry. Other changes are coming- including cloud computing, mobile manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, robotics, MES, agile processes, and more. Change is already here, and more is coming.

I’m not arguing that 3D printing is going to completely replace manufacturing.  The technology isn’t there yet.  It’s slow.  Products made with 3D printing aren’t high quality and are prone to defects, and 3D printers aren’t capable of discrete manufacturing, but it’s only a matter of time.  We continually refine and perfect technology.  At one time, televisions were large and heavy, with only black and white pictures.  Now, we can wear a television like a watch- so imagine what 3D printing will be like in 20 years. Or 10 years. Or even next year.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from the 3D printing revolution?  What manufacturing solutions are available? How can you increase quality, increase production, and offer customers a better manufacturing experience? How agile is your operation? Now is the time to take action. When change comes for your business, make sure it’s exciting, not scary.

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?

What do we know about the future of manufacturing?

There is one important factor you should consider when pondering the future of manufacturing, and it may not be what you think…

I once worked for a company that offered quarterly education classes for all employees to help “prepare for the future.”  It made for powerful marketing and employee recruitment pieces, but most classes were seen as a burden.  It was a wasted day of surveys, icebreakers, and guest speakers, with free pizza as a consolation prize.

Shop floor instruction is better than classroom, and paperless manufacturing offers seamless, integrated shop floor instruction. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Shop floor instruction is better than classroom, and paperless manufacturing offers seamless, integrated shop floor instruction. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

In retrospect, I see the advantages.  Process improvement initiatives found greater success, there was greater coordination between departments, and a company culture flourished (nothing builds rapport more than pizza and complaining).  The business was agile and adaptable, able to make enterprise level changes quickly through the training sessions and follow-up.   The point of the training sessions had less to do with classes and speakers, and more to do with preparing employees to think agile and learn new skills.

Manufacturing isn’t like other businesses.  It’s difficult to shut down operations every few months for pizza and classes.  But we can’t ignore the benefits of an agile, educated work force.

A recent survey highlights how important education has become to manufacturing.  An article from Manufacturing Business Technology and written by Prime Advantage states, “Nearly half of U.S. manufacturers (46 percent) have engaged with local educational providers in order to train workers (up from just 19 percent in 2012).”  The article goes on to cite difficulty finding skilled labor as a hurdle for continued growth. 63 percent of the CFO’s who responded are providing training for new employees, with 58 percent preparing re-training for existing employees.  As technology rapidly changes, manufacturers could be left with an inefficient work force that cannot handle the new technology and machines.

How can you prepare for the future?   Photo by www.colourbox.com

How can you prepare for the future? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Providing education for employees and preparing your business for the future may not be as difficult as you think.  Imagine training delivered daily without taking anyone from production work.  The technology driving change, such as paperless manufacturing, not only provides effective process control for shop floor operations, information management, and improved efficiency; it also provides an effective tool for employee training.  Here’s how:

  • A shop floor viewer will not only provide paperless work instructions, but best-in-class systems such as CIMx Software will seamlessly provide multi-media files, including training videos, machine set-up instructions, and safety information;
  • The system will connect the shop floor to the rest of your enterprise, promoting collaborative manufacturing. This could also include mobile manufacturing, ensuring everyone has the information they need, when and where they need it.
  • Recent studies have shown process improvement is most successful when Lean techniques work in conjunction with paperless manufacturing and MES.  The process control, data collection, and efficiency improvements make employee education initiatives and Lean programs even more effective.
  • You control the system, and select the information and media available to your shop floor.  They see and learn the skills you need them to have as a part of each job.
  • Practical in-system training and hands-on lessons make a shop floor viewer device a superior employee training option.

So what do we know about the future?  We know it will be different.  New skills will be necessary, and an educated, focused work force will be a key to success.  As new manufacturing methodologies are developed, and customer needs change, employee training is even more important.  Agile organizations find success, while organizations who struggle to adapt will bleed customers.  Employee education is a key factor to preparing for the future.

Manufacturers see employee education as a vital business resource.  The traditional methods of employee education won’t work for manufacturing.  Paperless manufacturing offers an integrated solution to the challenge of educating shop floor employees, while minimizing disruption to normal production flow.

So what employee education programs do you have in place? Are you confident you’ve built an agile organization?  How much is a well-educated work force worth to you?  Contact CIMx Software to learn more today.

Learn the Secrets to Achieving Paperless Manufacturing on your Shop Floor

New technology and new methodologies make it easier than ever to achieve paperless manufacturing.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

Face it, our world is going digital.  This is the electronic age.  Today, you could literally live your life on a cell phone.  There are apps for waking up, exercising, eating right, finding recipes, finding friends, finding dates, praying and more.  QR codes link reward programs and bank accounts in one simple step.  Don’t believe me?  YouTube has more than 4 billion videos viewed each day, and more than 60 hours of video are downloaded every minute.  In 2012, 87% of American adults owned a cell phone, 2.27 trillion text messages were sent worldwide.  With so many people and businesses being connected electronically, our infrastructure is adapting to serve a new world order.

The world is going digital, and this is the electronic age. Where does your business fit? Photo by www.colourbox.com

The world is going digital, and this is the electronic age. Where does your business fit? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

There are advantages to going digital and adopting paperless manufacturing for your shop floor.  According to a recent study of document-driven business owners by IDC (International Data Corporation), 75.9% of the respondents faced serious business risks and compliance issues due to ineffective document processes, including paper-based documents.  Another report by Oracle and the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found companies, “… spend $20 in labor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document,” (www.aiim.org).

For manufacturing, a paperless shop floor will improve speed (instantaneous communication and collaboration), provide revision control, deliver cost savings, and improve quality and accuracy.  Paperless manufacturing is the basis of mobile manufacturing, and delivers a higher degree of process control, which many manufacturers seek.

As appealing as the prospect of paperless manufacturing may be, many companies are reluctant to consider moving to a paperless shop floor.  They perceive the project as high-risk, high-cost, impacting production for a long time with very little benefit.  They may have other concerns, such as loss of production control, or putting critical data at risk.

Advances in technology have rendered many of these concerns obsolete.  Software tools are used to convert existing paper documents into a digital, object-oriented format very quickly and for a fraction of the cost it once took.   Documents converted to an object-oriented format, consisting of a collection of “objects” with individual characteristics rather than a simple pdf or text document, are searchable when archived and the data is compatible with simulations used in design and operational analysis.  Once, converting documents to this format was a challenge, but technology has grown to better meet this challenge.

In our experience, a simple algorithm for converting the documents can be written and installed in less than two days.  Once the process is finalized, each document can be completed in less than three minutes.  With the algorithm and the program running automatically, no labor is needed and the project can be complete in little time and with no interruption to manufacturing operations.

Paperless manufacturing will help you improve productivity and quality, remove errors, and save money. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Paperless manufacturing will help you improve productivity and quality, remove errors, and save money. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Another fear manufacturers have regarding the transition to paperless manufacturing is the cost and risk associated with the project.  A phased implementation of paperless operations will help minimize the risk and cost.  Focusing on a single stage of the transition at one time, rather than the whole project, allows a gradual, controlled transition.  This removes the trauma of eliminating existing processes and creating new ones, the disruption of production, and the expense of the initial investment.

The phased implementation process starts with reusing existing information.  By integrating existing information into the new digital system, a gradual transition can be made to the new processes.  After each phase is complete, the manufacturer can choose to implement the next phase when they are ready, never taking on more risk, cost and change than they are prepared to manage.  When the organization is ready, they can enhance their digital solution and add additional capabilities, benefiting from higher quality and efficiency.

It is easier now than ever before to remove paper-based documents and inefficient processes from your operations using the latest software tools and an innovative phased implementation plan.  Your shop floor will almost immediately begin saving money and improving operations. With you in control of the implementation plan, you never have to take on more risk, cost, or change than you or your shop floor can handle.

Chances are, you are one of the 2 billion cell phone user inhabiting planet Earth.  You probably received a few of the 2.27 trillion text messages last year, and you may have even watched a couple of the 28 billion videos on YouTube, so the relentless allure of the digital age isn’t a surprise to you.  If so, then you may understand why it is so important for your shop floor to put aside inefficient and outdated paper-based processes for the innovative and effective digital shop floor.

Interested in learning more?  Contact CIMx Software today.

5 Hazards of Paperless Manufacturing in the Cloud

The cloud is changing the way software and IT service is delivered, but is it ready for the shop floor? 

I have a friend who is the epitome of “early adopter.”  His home is filled with the coolest gadgets, including a robot vacuum cleaner and a 3D TV, purchased before the first review even hit the market.  However, his back bedroom hides evidence of the dangers of early adopting.  There’s a HD DVD sitting on one shelf.  A dusty Palm Pilot hides in a drawer on top of a Blackberry Playbook.  Sometimes the “coolest” gadgets hide fatal flaws, or just don’t work as promised.

Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t have the luxury of fatal flaws, and can’t hide mistakes in a back room.  No matter how tempting the latest innovation might be, it’s important to honestly assess the business impact before implementing, especially on the shop floor.

Accessing the cloud brings information to the people when and where they need it, but will it benefit manufacturing?

Will the cloud benefit your shop floor? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Cloud computing, computing services hosted over the Internet, offers a number of advantages.  For example, the service is often fully managed by the provider, eliminating many upkeep costs.  Users pay for only the services they use.  Updates and maintenance are handled remotely.  The service can be quickly scaled when need arises.  Changes and updates are made globally, not individually, ensuring speedy implementation.  But, there are hazards hiding in the promise of cloud computing.

Data Loss

A recent survey by Symantec found that 43% of the respondents using Cloud services admitted to data loss.  Some data loss could be attributed to user error, including misplaced or misfiled information.  For a shop floor, secure information and data management is necessary, especially in heavily regulated industries facing potential audits.  Effective paperless manufacturing relies on secure data management.

Data Security

Because so many users are accessing the cloud, a number that significantly increases with public cloud services, data security is a challenge.  More users increase the risk. Unauthorized users can (accidentally or otherwise) access data they shouldn’t.  Adding a cloud-based ERP system to shop floor systems magnifies the risk, because you have even more users potentially accessing the manufacturing system.  Potentially, secure data could be inadvertently moved to a less secure area of the cloud. The truth is, with any new technology it takes time to develop standards, and the operational standards for cloud computing are still a work in progress.

Is your shop floor ready for the cloud? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Is your shop floor ready for the cloud? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.


With cloud services, you are entrusting data to another company, opening yourself to risk.  Theft from your service provider is one potential risk.  Inadvertent mistakes by employees of the service provider, such as unsecured apps on a work device connected to your data, is another potential risk.  Consider the “neighborhood,” or server, where your data is stored.  In a recent example, an FBI raid on a server used by cybercriminals led to several businesses losing data.  They unknowingly shared a server with criminals, and during the investigation their data was lost.  Finally, there is the question of who, ultimately, owns the data – you or the company providing the server the data is stored on?  Assumptions over ownership and responsibility may not be clear at first, and can lead to significant problems in the future.

Service Failure

Growing cloud use leads to another problem – failure of service availability.  Recently, Gartner predicted that as more businesses move to the cloud, there will be an increased risk of “cascade” service failures.  Businesses are connected on shared servers, and problems can quickly spread, leading to widespread service outages that would have been contained if computer services were localized.  As more and more companies rely heavily on the cloud, this risk will grow, and since significant downtime is not an option for most shop floors, failure of service is a risk to operations you can’t control.

Mobile Manufacturing

A recent report from the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) cited a survey of more than 200 enterprise executives concerned with mobile device security and data in the cloud.  More and more industries are using mobile devices in business, including manufacturing.  Mobile manufacturing holds tremendous advantages for the shop floor.  But, as businesses adopt cloud services; unsecured mobile devices create unintentional “back doors” into secure data.  Potentially, any mobile device could access your cloud, including devices you can’t control.

Before implementing any change on your shop floor, assess the benefits and potentials dangers of the change. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Before implementing any change on your shop floor, assess the benefits and potential dangers. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Cloud computing hold tremendous promise for the future, and will continue to grow as businesses adopt the new technology.  It is a powerful tool.  Data protection and recovery is a strength of cloud computing, significantly decreasing the cost and time for disaster recovery, especially in automating backup and speeding up the restoration process.  Almost all data in the cloud is encrypted, which will significantly improve security.  There are cost savings in the cloud, and the ability to scale resources to meet current needs can significantly improve a businesses ability to overcome challenges

But there are currently hazards to moving your shop floor data management to the cloud.  Service providers and enterprise IT resources have not been able to provide the appropriate level of security, both in the cloud and among users.  The cloud is an emerging technology, still struggling with growing pains, which may impact the ability of a provider to deliver the level of service, speed and accuracy necessary to provide paperless manufacturing for the modern, dynamic and constantly changing shop floor.

But, cloud computing isn’t going the way of the HD DVD, and no one is predicting it will gather dust on a shelf any time soon.  As service providers find better solutions and tools for enterprise cloud services, it will become a viable option for the shop floor.

Have you ever considered preparing for the cloud with an internal cloud-based system to manage production data?  A web-based paperless manufacturing solution hosted on an internal server is a cloud-based process control solution that, when there is an appropriate level of security and reliability, can be uploaded and served on the cloud.  This is a step toward the future without experiencing any of the current risks in cloud computing.

What experience have you had with moving your MES, paperless manufacturing or ERP services to the cloud?  Are there benefits to adopting a “cloud” strategy for your shop floor we haven’t covered here?  Speed and the ability to quickly make global changes to a system is a significant benefit we haven’t touched on.  Are there challenges or hazards we missed?  Let us know what your experience has been with the cloud.

How You Can Break the Manufacturing Rules and Win

The strategic decisions you make at the beginning of a process improvement project can position you for success, so make sure you are making the right decisions.

Written by Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Maker’s Mark, a company that distills Kentucky Bourbon, recently announced they were watering down their brand – literally.  They planned to lower the alcohol content in their whisky from 90 to 84 proof by adding water.  Maker’s Mark explained that as they moved into new markets, production couldn’t meet increased demand.

Whisky is not like a manufactured widget.  You can’t ramp up production as demand increases. Whisky is aged in barrels before it is bottled. In the past, whisky makers have added water to lower alcohol content, increasing production.  Rival Jack Daniels watered down its black label Tennessee whiskey (Maker’s Mark names their product minus the “e”) a few years ago.  So did Maker’s Mark fail to plan for current market needs?  Was it just a plot to cut costs, or, as some suggest, was it just a ploy to get good press?

Improving production doesn't have to mean changing your process.

Improving production doesn’t have to mean changing your process. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

After Maker’s Mark announced the change, customers’ blogged, tweeted, ranted and wrote.  Within a few days, Maker’s Mark reversed the decision. They credited their customer’s passion and reiterated their intent to serve their audience. It turned out to be a marketing and PR windfall for Marker’s Mark, as engaged and passionate customers flocked to the brand to applaud the decision. They broke a marketing rule (stick to your messaging and never admit a mistake) and ended up finding success.  If customers hadn’t complained, the company would have had more bourbon to sell, but since they did complain, they gain increased customer loyalty.

Noted Marketing Strategist, author, and social media speaker David Meerman Scott didn’t want to comment on the controversy, other than to say that Maker’s Mark customers’ opinions counted more than his.  Scott’s concept of using current events and social marketing to drive business is groundbreaking.  The truth is, Maker’s Mark creatively and proactively solved a production headache by strategically positioning a process change rather than forcing it.  As a result, they are positioned for future success.

So what does this mean for your shop floor? What can you do to increase production, position yourself for success and deliver positive results?

Right now, you are making something.  Materials are becoming assemblies and parts are shipping.  Unlike a distillery, watering down your production line is not an option. You can’t just substitute a cheap aluminum bolt for a titanium bolt and hope it holds.  Tolerances are tight and sacrificing safety is not an option.

So if you can’t add water, what process adjustments can you make?  One option is to shorten the process time – rather than removing steps, sacrificing safety, or creating a new process.  Retooling your operations to accommodate a new process is rarely worth the investment in time and effort.  It would be like Maker’s Mark announcing they were no longer using charred white oak barrels to slow age the whisky, but were implementing a new chemical process. They might get similar results, but imagine the retraining necessary for employees and the social media outrage!

A paperless (electronic) manufacturing system not only drives process improvements, but increases production by improving the flow of data on the shop floor. Visual work instructions, real time quality checks, and procedural enforcement are all benefits of paperless manufacturing that improve production without sacrificing quality or safety.  Paperless manufacturing is also a solution with numerous benefits (none of which involve watered down bourbon).

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Once you have a production solution, the next step is planning the rollout.  Any system you implement will need to be accepted on the shop floor. The only way an electronic paperless manufacturing system is going to find acceptance with minimal resistance is by respecting the current processes. Integrating current processes will also save on training time, and drastically reduce or eliminate downtime.  It makes sense not to “fix” what isn’t broken.

At CIMx, we’ve designed our paperless manufacturing system around these ideas. Strategically implement the changes that make sense, and don’t force new processes. Focus on improving your process with tools that help you work faster, easier, and result in fewer errors. This is the center of our guaranteed Process Retention Plan.

Maker’s Mark knew significantly changing their process wasn’t an option.  Some potential solutions wouldn’t be accepted by their customers.  Struck with a Public Relations nightmare, they proactively listened and turned a nightmare into a tool they could use.

If you want to improve production, consider using what you have currently, what builds your products today, and eliminate the wasted time around steps without adding more problems and complexity to the system.  Significant improvements don’t require significant investment, and process improvement doesn’t mean you need a new process.  Break the rules!  There is no need to redesign your floor or redo your process.  When there are challenges to overcome, don’t water down your manufacturing or force a new process, instead roll out a plan to engage your shop floor to solve those problems by offering them the tools that make business sense.