Tag Archives: manufacturing best practices

How to Increase Efficiency with New Employees Using MES

An MES or Paperless Manufacturing system offers the most effective resource in onboarding new manufacturing production employees.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

We recently spoke to a manufacturer about implementing an MES. Business was booming, new orders were coming in and a system would solve many of their problems. They needed to increase production, decrease scrap, and track orders with better scheduling and production records.

Even so, they were reluctant to implement the software because they weren’t sure how to train their employees, new and old, on the system. “It’s going to be complex,” they told us. “I don’t know if we can manage everything.”

MES and Complexity

I won’t lie… some MES are complex.

There are systems with multiple pull down menus, floating windows, disconnected data, and a bazillion fields to fill out for the simplest function in the system.

But, if you have a modern system focused on supporting productivity and offering automated functions, you have an MES that reduces complexity in the manufacturing process.  In fact, with some systems (like Quantum) users can be trained in an afternoon.

There is no better way to onboard new employees than with an MES, especially one designed to minimize complexity like Quantum.  Consider this:

  • Improved planning.

With a strong MES, planning can be improved with additional, contextualized information such as visual work instructions, safety instructions, and best practices. You can ensure workers are using only the most relevant information. Rather than teaching new employees how to navigate paper packets that may (or may not) have all the information they need, they automatically receive the information they need, when they need it.

  • Procedural Enforcement.

With procedural enforcement, you can be sure the shop floor is doing the correct work at each step in the process.  Procedural enforcement creates a behavioral system that makes best practices second nature.  The system walks new workers through process steps accurately and correctly.

  • Automated tolerance checks.

Automated tolerance checks identify quality escapes immediately, mitigating quality problems with new employees and offering on-the-job quality training. New employees learn immediately what causes a quality problem and can adjust the behavior before it becomes a habit. Real-time analytics build collaboration and process improvement for new employees.

  • Contextualized data collection

Data collection is a critical step in production visibility and quality standards, but it’s often an afterthought. Notes are scribbled on the traveler after the work is done, and is more guesswork than precision. An MES makes it easy for employees to easily collect critical data at the precise moment in the production process, often automating data collection.  This eliminates the guesswork and lets new employees focus on their work.

  • System familiarity.

Today, many young people, the largest source of new employees, grew up using software systems like Quantum and MES.  They are comfortable accessing information in the software, completing work in conjunction with the system. The training with an MES, a modern MES, will be significantly less than trying to teach paper-based manufacturing that is more tribal knowledge than process.

Increasing Productivity with Paperless Manufacturing

Rather than fighting against technology, it’s time to embrace the advantages offered by manufacturing software and a modern, user-friendly MES.

You shouldn’t see new employees as a reason to avoid change, but a time to implement, especially as the younger generations have become more and more comfortable with using software and technology in their work. Not only is paper less efficient, but training is guesswork with no standard or platform to provide a foundation for production.

Want to learn more, or see how easily you can implement a paperless manufacturing system? Contact CIMx today for a personalized shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

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How You Can Make Manufacturing Collaboration Work for your Shop Floor

Knowledge-driven enterprises are using collaboration to successfully solve problems, but manufacturing struggles to use collaboration in the modern production environment.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes, you come across articles on the Internet you just have to investigate.

Here’s one.  It involves robots, stolen gold, missing treasure, NASA engineers, world-renowned oceanographers, and manufacturing.  A man named David Lang wanted to investigate the legend of missing gold deep underwater at the bottom of a well.  He recruited Eric Stackpole, a NASA Engineer, to create a sea exploration robot, known as OpenROV, to search for the treasure.  They offered free step-by-step instructions on building the robot on their website, and used crowdsourced modifications to improve the robot.

Don't waste your most valuable resource - your employees.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t waste your most valuable resource – your employees. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Crowdsourcing and manufacturing collaboration have vastly improved the original robot, and lowered the cost.  “That’s what actually makes the project so successful: rapid iteration,” one of the inventors said. “We can build one for the same price as a 1,000 (robots) and change on a dime.”

Think about that… two treasure-hunters have tapped into a problem-solving resource and found benefits that would be the envy of discrete manufacturing shop floors across the world.  Customer modifications and change orders are simplified without raising costs.  Quality and production improves.  Best practices are collected, and overall cost drops.

Yet, manufacturers struggle to create a collaborative work environment.  In fact, according to the latest estimates, manufacturing is growing less collaborative, as knowledge silos build and employees and their best practices retire and are lost.  Customers are demanding custom orders that manufacturers can’t meet.  Rapid iteration is difficult, if not impossible.  How can a shop floor work collaboratively when they can’t even be sure if the paper-based work instructions are correct?

I read the story of Lang, Stackpole and their hunt for missing gold and recognized a few lessons manufacturing should consider in the future:

  • Shop floor and process visibility is critical.  The free (and very visible) step-by-step instructions offered by Lang and Stackpole inspired crowdsourcing.  Real-time data collection and visibility, and integrated computer systems and shop floor assets, should be your goal.
  • Data collection is the key.  Process improvement and increased quality are important benefits of crowdsourcing and collaboration, and you can’t measure or compare improvements without rigorous data collection.
  • Shop floor process control ensures sustainable collaboration.  Paper-based work instructions are too rigid to be sustainable.  Look at paperless manufacturing to improve collaboration.
  • Improved communication builds collaboration.  The OpenROV website and forum allows users to easily share ideas.  Real-time data collection and visual work instructions is a good beginning to improving collaboration.
  • A complete communication network using flexible computing platforms builds collaboration and eliminates knowledge silos.  Custom-built programs and legacy systems are the foundation for tribal knowledge in many companies.
The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

So, if two guys looking for gold at the bottom of the well can do it – improve production through collaboration – why do we manufacturers with all our innovation, resources and know-how struggle to make it work?

Admittedly, Lang and Stackpole don’t have much regulation to worry about and amazingly low overhead, but there is a benefit to collaboration the industry is recognizing.  The ideas presented here shouldn’t be seen as a checklist for collaborative success, but goals that will help foster a more collaborative manufacturing enterprise.

Have you considered collaborative manufacturing before?  If so, what steps have you taken to create a shop floor that works collaboratively or uses crowdsourcing?  Let us know!

Simple Tips for Adding Shop Floor Visual Work Instruction

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Many times, a solution is much closer than you might think.

Are you stuck wondering what next step to take in implementing visual work instructions? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you stuck wondering what next step to take in implementing visual work instructions? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Face it, in an era when shop floors and manufacturers struggle to break information silos, ensure new employees are poised to find success and processes aren’t employee-dependent, and break down the information gap between engineering and operations – visual work instruction is an important piece of the solution.  For many, the thought of creating videos and pictures for the shop floor seems daunting.  I’ve listened to engineers complain about the cost of hiring a production company for machine set-up instructions.  They aren’t sure where to begin, so they don’t do anything.  They wait to implement the visual work instructions, and their shop floor problems grow.  But, the truth is, the solution is much closer than they think.  Here’s how:

Take a look at Paperless Manufacturing.  Did you know you can implement a simple, out-of-the-box paperless manufacturing solution for 1/10th of the cost of past manufacturing solutions?  License cost is often less than $1 a day per user.  With paperless manufacturing, you’ll be able to not only easily add visual work instructions, shop floor visibility and process control, but collect shop floor data and create as-built reports as well.

Use Readily Available Video Tools. Are you wondering how to make videos?  You don’t need a camera and Hollywood film crew, a smart phone is all you need.  Most phones can take videos with enough quality to teach a shop floor task.  A short 2 minute video in an easily shared format is all you need to accurately show someone how to do something they may not easily understand from word instructions.  Pull out your phone, take a video and attach it to the work instructions.

Recruit In-House Experts.  Many manufacturers struggle to pass along information and best practices from an older generation to new workers.  Why not recruit the older generation and in-house experts to star in the videos?  Have them work through an operation while someone films them.  10 minutes of filming is all you need to do to tear down an information silo and ensure best practices won’t be lost.  The small time away from the workbench will pay for itself many times over.

Position Visual Work Instruction as an Achievement.  You have options as you roll out visual work instructions.  Rather than simply filming and adding them to existing instructions, why not hold a contest with shop floor workers to select who films the work instruction.  The task becomes an achievement, and your team begins searching for new best practices.  Select top workers to direct and star in the video.  Give them recognition for their achievements and they’ll be more excited to help, and everyone will be more likely to use the videos (and learn from them).

Build a Library of Best Practices.  Don’t see the process of creating visual work instructions as a campaign, but a process.  Slowly build the library of best practices videos as the need and opportunity arises.  This will take the pressure off your team, and sooner than you realize, you’ll have a complete library of videos to choose from when you need it.  What’s it worth to have a visual library of best practices on-line and available to all your shop floor people whenever they need them?

Visual work instructions will improve shop floor productivity and benefit your entire team, not just the shop floor.  Manufacturing is the center of your business, and manufacturing depends on work instructions and processes that are easily lost in information silos.  Too often, those silos hinder productivity and drain creativity.  Take a simple step to ensure you have the best possible work instructions, and your shop floor best practices aren’t lost, by implementing with visual work instructions.

Is Your Shop Floor Hammering to Make It Fit?

Most manufacturers know quality and efficiency would suffer if they asked their shop floor to use the wrong tool, but all too often that’s what happens when a shop floor uses an ERP to do the work of an MES.

By Kristin McLane

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Hammer to fit.  It’s a term we use at CIMx to talk about the inevitable moment in manufacturing when you realize your sub-assemblies don’t fit properly, or a part is a little bit off.  Many times, the solution is to tap, bang, press, cajole or weasel the part back into place.  It’s not a best practice, and I’m sure no credible manufacturing expert ever proudly claimed to be the best at “hammering it in place.”  But, if you’ve ever been on a manufacturing shop floor, you know there’s not a lot of time to stand around (or at least there shouldn’t be).  Many times you do what you can to keep the process moving, but hammer to fit is NOT the optimal manufacturing process.

Here’s the point… in the low tolerance, highly-engineered world of discrete manufacturing… or, to be honest, all manufacturing today, I don’t think anyone ever wrote “hammer to fit” in the work instructions.  There is always a solution for making the parts fit and the customer wouldn’t accept something that was done any other way.

In fact, many times there isn’t even a hammer available on the shop floor.  A hammer is the least seen tool in the tool crib.  I’ve seen drills, saws, all kinds of tools that attach or separate objects, but rarely have I ever seen a hammer.  So if we don’t really hammer parts to fit them together (really – most times we take it apart and make it right), then why do many of us try to make our supporting tools – such as software, applications and processes – do things they weren’t built for?  Using the wrong tool for shop floor control and visibility is like writing “hammer to fit” in your work instruction and expecting efficient operation and quality results.

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve been banging on the topic of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) versus MES (Manufacturing Execution System) for a while now.  We started a dialogue on why you need both – and you do – and what each system does.  An ERP system, naturally or through the use of add-on functions, simply cannot do what an MES does. It’s not built to deliver the process control or visibility the shop floor needs.

If you need to track, bill, order, sell or report on something, use your ERP.  But if you need to build, use an MES.  Simply put, the MES builds things while the ERP tracks.  Trying to use one system to do the work of the other is using a tool to do a job it wasn’t meant to do.  You can make it look like it fits, but the solution isn’t efficient and it won’t last, won’t perform, it’s probably costing you money, and it most certainly isn’t supporting your shop floor the way you need it to.

If you need an ERP, there are lots of vendors out there that provide the window into your data an ERP gives you.  If you need shop floor and process control and information management, then use an MES.  Talk to us, we’re happy to help.  Visit us at www.cimx.com.

Overcoming Invisible Stop Signs Holding Your Shop Floor Back

An MES and an ERP are very different systems, and if you don’t understand the role each play, you may be hurting your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback recently on our discussion of the differences between MES and ERP.  Obviously there is a real need for information out there, and some confusion on the topic.

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back.  Image by www.colourbox.com

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The confusion is understandable.  A quick search online reveals little information on why it is important for manufacturers to have both systems.  ERP vendors focus on why an ERP is important, and MES vendors focus on their shop floor capability.  Many ERP vendors even market MES offerings or modules.  It is easy to believe an ERP can do it all, leading many manufacturers to struggle with a less than optimal system.

But, as we have said, the ERP and MES play different roles and use different structures.  The ERP is a transactional system.  It logs transactions, one at a time, and creates an ordered system for filing and retrieving the information.  An ERP will use the information to analyze patterns and trends – data tools focused on historical information.

Since the ERP is focused on collecting and analyzing historical data, it’s not designed to process a flow of information.  It sees data points, not operations.  Data points work great in finance, and are necessary for invoices, bills, payments, customers, and other transaction-driven business functions typically handled by the ERP.

The shop floor isn’t transaction-driven, it’s process-driven with a focus on completion of work, not just collecting and organizing information.  Information on the shop floor could include formulas, engineering drawings, safety precautions, quality metrics –process-driven information.  Many of these are inherently if/then processes, which cannot be handled effectively by a transactional system.

For example, think of a non-conformance on the shop floor.  In a transactional system, data would be logged and organized.  In a process-driven system, the information would be logged, and a next step in the process would be activated (if X happens, then Y).  It is an important difference.  An MES offers a clear advantage over an ERP in this case.

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control?  Image by www.colourbox.com

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  The ERP works like a stop sign on the road.  When a transaction happens, data is entered into the system.  No further action can occur until the data is in the system.  As data is entered, the next car (data) waits until the preceding one is complete.  Think of an invoice.  It enters the system, and until it is entered no payment can go out or funds be collected.  This is an efficient system for invoicing, but the stop sign, starting and stopping will slow shop floor work, and become detrimental to productivity.

An MES and paperless manufacturing work more like a traffic circle or roundabout.  Shop floor work should move at a steady, continuous pace.  The roundabout will manage traffic and movement.    Progress is managed, visible, continual and controlled.

Don't sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Don’t sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Shop floor processes operate the same way.  Work progresses evenly throughout the day and across the floor, with the MES not only collecting data and marking progress, but driving and controlling it.  Different groups or individuals may need to come together to work on a specific process.  Work will speed up or slow down naturally as the work orders come in and are filled.  The MES will manage the process.  It continually provides directions for each step, one at a time and as a whole.

Stop signs are a detriment to progress, and are the least efficient way of moving processes and work.  They may keep things from running into each other, but they aren’t going to increase productivity.  An ERP is designed to manage, record and analyze business processes, while an MES is designed to boost productivity, deliver shop floor visibility and manage shop floor processes.

Any ERP that promises to do both is either fooling you, selling you two individual systems, or not fulfilling either role effectively.

What Can Visual Information Do For Your Shop Floor?

The key to increasing productivity isn’t always a new machine or process, it can be as simple as an adjustment to your work instructions.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are shop floors still relying on paper build books and spreadsheets of work instructions to feed information to the shop floor.  The entire manufacturing operation relies on the smooth transmission of information from engineering, to the build book, to the worker who then acts on it.  Which leads to the question… is the information getting where it needs to be?  How much of the work instruction is the shop floor actually retaining?

Adding visual information to your work instructions can improve retention of information by as much as 83% more than text only work instructions. Image by www.colourbox.com

Adding visual information to your work instructions can improve retention of information by as much as 83% more than text only work instructions. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Would you believe only about 20%?   According to psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University, studies have shown people only remember or retain 20% of what they read.  That means, the shop floor is only working from every FIFTH word in that incredibly well-written and pointedly accurate operation.  Critical errors can happen in the missing words 1 -4.  Add in the speed of work and the confusion on the shop floor and that number goes down even further.

Written instruction in a build book is not an effective way to transmit information, leading to mistakes.  Quality is sacrificed, rework is increased, and you are left with a frustrated work force.  Productivity and efficiency goes down because you don’t have an effective way to communicate with your shop floor.

The solution is much easier than you might think.  According to a recent study by the US Department of Labor, 83% of all learning is done visually.  Another study by the Wharton School of Business compared visual and verbal presentations and found presentations with a visual element were 67% more persuasive than purely verbal ones.  According to Bruner, we retain 80% of information transmitted visually and verbally.

Visual information is the key to improving productivity and eliminating errors on the shop floor by engaging more of the brain, ensuring a higher percentage of retention, according to a study by UC Berkley.  Adding a few images and a short video to your instruction will significantly improve productivity over verbal or written communication.  The quicker your work force can pick up new information, and the more accurate the transmission of information, the more productive your shop floor will be.

Moving your work instructions from text or spreadsheet paper-based formats to a format that incorporates visual information is an easy process with an MES or paperless manufacturing system.  Simply adding photos of the steps toward the finished product to digital work instructions will significantly improve understanding and quality.  Use a smart phone to take a quick video of a machine set up with a little running dialogue, and you’ll benefit from less errors and quicker production.  Rather than simply list out the materials and tooling for a job, add a caption below a photo of each tool to ensure to improve production.

Even better, with a library of approved plans built within the MES, you can eliminate rework and focus on improvement with each operation.  Once you’ve created a visual work plan, you can reuse it again and again.

I hate to mention such an overused saying – a picture IS worth a thousand words, but it’s also worth improved quality and production on the shop floor when matched with a paperless manufacturing system.

Feeding the Upgrade Need for Your MES or Paperless Manufacturing Software

Do you have a plan in place to capitalize on the latest technological breakthroughs for your shop floor?  If not, does your competition?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

My brother has a new cell phone, and I have a case of tech-envy.

If you don't have a plan in place to upgrade your manufacturing software, how can you be sure your system isn't fading into obsolescence?  Image by www.colourbox.com

If you don’t have a plan in place to upgrade your manufacturing software, how can you be sure your system isn’t fading into obsolescence? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

With a faster processor, more memory and a better camera, he took the pictures everyone wanted at a birthday party this weekend.  He has access to more apps and new features he’s only now beginning to explore. My phone is 2+ years-old, and Evernote is just as likely to lock up as open, and for some reason I can’t get a signal in my kitchen, no matter what I do.

Unfortunately, tech-envy is fairly common today.  New technology comes out so quickly.  Innovation is a marketplace advantage.  Some will capitalize on the new innovations, and others (yeah, I’m looking at myself) struggle with legacy systems.

Manufacturers and the shop floor aren’t immune to tech-envy.  Many times, an older MES or process control system will constrain the work flow process, leaving manufacturers with a system costing more than the benefits accrued.  Because technology and processes advance so quickly, systems that aren’t upgraded sink into obsolescence.  The system you purchased to benefit production and save money is now stealing profit.

I’d love to upgrade my phone.  I recently came across a plan from T-Mobile that allows you to upgrade your phone after just six months.  With the “Jump” plan, when the latest technology comes out you can trade in the old phone for a new one.  I’m drooling at the thought of all that new, tasty technology goodness and the advantages it will give me over my brother. 

Technology is changing faster than ever before?  You can make technology a competitive advantage. Image  by www.colourbox.com

Technology is changing faster than ever before? You can make technology a competitive advantage. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Just like cell phone users, many manufacturers are seeing the value in an upgrade.  In today’s technology market, with buzzy buzzwords like, “mobility” or “cloud,” or “big data” upgrades, especially inexpensive upgrades that minimize operational resource drain, can be the difference between a successful MES installation and another legacy system slowly dragging your shop floor down.  As you consider shop floor software, look at not only current functionality, but how upgrades will be managed.

Here are a few questions to ask and secrets to successfully selecting an MES and paperless manufacturing systems that will ensure the latest technology is a shop floor advantage to you with a customer-friendly upgrade plan:

  • Does the system use open, adaptable work flow process control architecture? A form-based system will limit your upgrade opportunities, increase the cost and work necessary, and potentially impose a new process with each upgrade (which can happen with some cloud-based systems).
  • How long will it take, and will there be a service charge?   Is a large team and additional service charges necessary for initial implementation?  The cost for initial implementation will give you an idea of the requirements for an upgrade.
  • Is there a cost and charge for an upgrade? To stay current and maximize your benefit and ROI, you’ll want to upgrade at least once a year, and upgrade costs will increase your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  • How much “customization” does your system have?  Many times, custom software will increase the cost of an upgrade (every upgrade) and will limit your ability to benefit from new technology and processes.

The best software solutions maximize and manage production, and increase quality and profit not only now, but in the future.  Ensure a long-term solution for your shop floor by having an upgrade plan in place before installation.

Otherwise, you might be installing your next legacy software system, and in a few years you’ll be looking for a new solution or managing a shop floor that can’t find a signal in the kitchen.