Tag Archives: manufacturing technology

How to Manage the Smart Manufacturing Revolution

For companies still reluctant to change in the face of the next industrial revolution, there are simple strategies you can take to position your company for success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

There’s a famous quote by Albert Einstein that has particular relevance to modern manufacturing – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) is having a profound effect on manufacturing. The days when IT resources could get by without ever having stepped on a shop floor are gone. Operations can no longer refuse to put another “damn computer” on a work center.

In fact, more and more companies are actively pursuing IT/OT integration.

The motive for this convergence is simple – if the end goal for a manufacturing organization is improved production and profit, there are a wealth of solutions and benefits to be found in IT.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many manufacturers are beginning to see themselves software firms, hiring software and computer experts rather than mechanical engineers. “… the transformation of the nation’s factories by digital technology is not only remaking the sector’s hiring needs, but altering how it needs to operate.”

IT is shaping how the supply chain operates, how products are designed and produced, and influencing how manufacturers add value in the marketplace. According to ARC, an analyst firm, “…IT-OT integration is a necessary step, and one that will pay dividends. The results… will, ‘increase the value of existing infrastructure, provide both new opportunities and risks for manufacturing, and allow the reinvention of the relationship with the customer.’”

Process Improvement graph.

Managing change is the difference between success and failure. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Managing a Smart Manufacturing Strategy

Unfortunately, many manufacturers decide to manage change by doing the same thing, over and over again. Instead of addressing the root cause of production struggles with a Smart manufacturing solution, they contort existing processes to get by. Their strategy comes down to doing nothing.

The market is moving past paper-based manufacturing and ineffective Legacy MES. Software companies and industries that serve manufacturing no longer offer the inefficient tools these companies are clinging to. Over time, the divergence between companies that embrace change and those waiting will become so profound as to be unsustainable.

For companies still waiting, there are simple steps to managing the Smart Manufacturing revolution:

  • Foster collaboration between IT and OT. Adding an IT resource to your OT team will not only provide an important resource for the shop floor, but also train your IT team in how the shop floor operates. Over time, this collaboration will begin paying dividends as the company better synchronizes internal projects.
  • Remove paper and paper-based processes from production. Paper causes errors, is difficult to manage, and cannot support modern Smart manufacturing. With a phased implementation, you can begin eliminating paper with a flexible MES in as little as 3 months. Start by digitizing your travelers, a simple task for modern MES, and you’ll also increase production visibility.
  • Consolidate your production information. Many companies struggle with production data kept in multiple locations. Engineering will have a database. Operations will keep their data on paper travelers, while Quality stores their own records. With Smart manufacturing, you need to consolidate data in a secure, accessible location – most often a comprehensive production database. A single source of production truth eliminates much inefficiency companies often struggle to contain.

Doing nothing is not a viable strategy for managing change.  Even for manufacturers unsure or reluctant to take action, there are simple steps you can take that will position the company for success in the future.

Want to learn more, or see how an MES, the foundation for a Smart manufacturing, can help you? Contact CIMx for a free shop floor analysis and receive a personalized report that will become the core of your own improvement strategy.

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The Critical Role of IT and Operations in Digital Manufacturing

Implementing digital manufacturing requires both IT and operations resources.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Disruptive technology is having an impact on manufacturing as companies grapple with implementing and using new tools without hurting their core business. The struggle leads many companies to wait and do nothing, while opportunities for improvement pass them by.

3d small people - rolls gear

New technology holds tremendous promise for the shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises to integrate the manufacturing value chain to eliminate errors and problems before they happen. Smart Factories and Smart MES utilize integration and connectivity to automate the transfer of information, improving processes through the use of data and business intelligence. Companies that embrace technology have a competitive advantage, and those that don’t, or delay improvement projects, will slowly lose money and market share to better prepared competition.

Digital manufacturing, the smart combination of data and technology with operation processes, is the foundation of these disruptive technologies. Data and technology sitting on the shop floor does little unless it’s integrated with workflow processes. Likewise, an operations team will struggle to optimize operations unless the right technology and data tools are in place to support improvements. Operations and IT working together is the foundation of digital manufacturing.

Without operations and IT synchronized, companies will struggle to implement the technology and processes necessar will wait on improvement projects, continuing to use error-prone paper-based processes and old technology and falling further behind their competition.

Aligning IT and Operations for Digital Manufacturing

The solution is to clearly map out the roles for IT and Operations before the project starts. The key is logically defining the roles and building collaboration focused on corporate goals, rather than individual organizations within the company.  Organizations that approach decisions seeking collaboration will find success, while those that see the process as a battle will struggle. Consider these roles:

  • Operations should be focused on the functionality of the software system. They will use the system every day, and their work will deliver the ROI. Any system that doesn’t directly benefit shop floor operations will struggle to even be adopted by users.
  • IT should focus on the technology, installation, security and management of the system. They will support the system and work with the production process and databases. More than just the day to day maintenance of the software, they ensure the solution remains relevant over time, either through standard updates, continuing to work with the vendor and collaborating with operations to adjust to changes as needed.

You may utilize a different approach, which is fine. Mapping out the roles for an improvement project will not only help build collaboration, it will eliminate the confusion that can lead a company to delay an investment in new technology. Building a joint requirement list between operations and IT is easier, and you’ll have more confidence in the final software selection.

There has never been a better time to invest in digital manufacturing and a Smart manufacturing system. Contact CIMx today to see how quickly and easily you can improve production with a software solution.

What Our Software Does

Sometimes, the simplest questions can be the most difficult to answer.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Not long ago, a prospect asked what we do.

He was looking for a standard MES and paperless manufacturing system. He had been to the website, and read over the material posted there. As he explained, it seemed to be what he was looking for, but he wanted a simple list that spelled out what, exactly, the software was going to do for him.

There is No Easy Answer for MES or MOM Functionality

Answering that question isn’t as easy as you might think. We have customers all over the world, and our software is used by thousands (many thousands) of users each day, and each one needs the software to do something different.

question.

What can MES and Paperless Manufacturing do for you? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider this – for a normal implementation of our software in a single factory, one person might use Quantum to pull up visual work instructions. The plant manager might use it to track production and identify potential bottlenecks. A sales rep uses it to answer questions for a customer and prepare orders. Quality is tracking non-conformances. Engineering is streamlining production on a new product line and working with the shop floor on engineering changes. In another office, an analyst is running reports on past production cycle working on ways to reduce costs and improve cycle time.

Our standard software, a Smart MES or MOM system, will do all that. It provides a digital foundation for manufacturing processes, which means for Medical device manufacturers it might manage labels, electronic validation and compliance with FDA 21 CFR Part 11, and automatically generate Batch Processing Records (BPR) – for a start. Carbon composite manufacturers need to control and synchronize specifications, recipes and process documentation. For an MRO it will coordinate all activities in the maintenance and repair process, while optimizing scheduling and improving communication and collaboration with the customer.

Every industry has slightly different needs, which is why we designed our software to configure so easily between industries. The open, flexible software design makes it easy for manufacturers to implement and use the features they need.

The shop floor technician knows it is where he gets his work instructions and tracks his work for the day. The crib manager uses it for asset management, and IT sees it as an app for operations. Each one answers the question of what the software does slightly different.

What is Paperless Manufacturing?

To be honest, no one is wrong. All see the system as a tool for them to do their job better, faster and with fewer errors. There is nothing wrong with that, but we still want to answer the question. We’re not hiding anything, so here is our answer to that (not so simple) question: Our software will:

  • Author and manage process plans for product models and quantities to meet customer orders.
  • Automatically, or manually through a production control person, attach correct product plans to orders. An ERP integration is used for automatic work flow.
  • Distribute all order work to the correct work center with priority, estimated times, and all specific information such as specifications, measures, tooling, materials and special instructions.
  • Review and manage shop floor order schedules and routings.
  • Collect data on work processes (how the work was done and by whom).
  • Collect data on labor (how long it took to do the work).
  • Collect all quality data on the order (how accurate was the work done).
  • Collect data on scrap and rework. (what problems occurred).
  • Observe trending reports on selected data.
  • Observe Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on selected data.
  • Track all orders on the shop floor on a dashboard showing progress to the minute.
  • Create automatic reports of product events and order data.
  • Create real time report of all quality issues (a real time dashboard).
  • Create automatic report of the complete, accurate as-built record for all orders.
  • Create report of all serialized parts for accurate traceability in the future.
  • Manage and oversee shop floor machine maintenance schedules and processes.
  • Manage inventory of tooling, materials and parts.
  • Manage a secure data warehouse of all historical, orders, plans and data.
Efficient Manufacturing

Paperless Manufacturing and MES provide digital support to your manufacturing operations. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

So, this is our answer, bereft of the marketing and sales copy.

You can go to MESA for their model of MES. In a few years, I’m sure the model will change yet again, and with good reason. Other software vendors can pick at this list and find holes they can fill with their own glorious functionality. We aren’t trying to challenge the industry with this list, just answer the question of what we do. The needs of manufacturing are constantly changing. New tools, technologies, and market demands are a disruptive influence on our industry, and we need to adjust with them or we fall behind.

In a few months we can go back to our list and see if it has changed, because we are a dynamic company. Our customers need and expect us to continue to innovate. That’s the value we bring to them.

Have a question, or want to see how we can benefit your operation, then contact us today. We’re always happy to help.

Reasons to be Thankful for a Smart MES

Ever consider why you should be thankful for a modern, smart manufacturing system?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

In the USA, we’re preparing for the holiday season, and pondering the multitude of reasons we should be thankful.

This got me thinking about Smart MES. Recently, we looked at Smart MES, and discussed data-driven manufacturing. In doing so, we studied the benefits of both. While capabilities and benefits of software are important, neither highlights the true value of the system.

So, in honor of the season of thankfulness, we take a closer look one very important reason why you’ll be thankful you invested in new Smart MES and digital manufacturing.

Integrated Operations with the Smart Factory

A major goal of the Smart factory and digital shop floor is eliminating the silos of information that develop in a manufacturing company (or any organization). Consider this – engineering designs a product, but operations may build from entirely different plans (if they don’t ignore the instructions and just build from memory and experience). It’s a familiar problem for many companies. How can you optimize production if you can’t even get employees working from the same page?

Efficient Manufacturing

Are you creating more work and inefficiency by not embracing Smart Manufacturing? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

All this data is being produced, but not connected. There are opportunities for errors, and no comprehensive method of managing data.

The Smart factory and data-driven manufacturing puts data to use, driving efficiency and improving results. By giving the organization a single resource for managing production information, you eliminate silos. You automate many of the tasks associated with creating, storing and reporting information. A necessary component of this goal is integrating your data and people so everyone works from a single source of (correct) information, and has access to data when and where they need it.

An integrated team, streamlined to operate efficiently, is a key benefit of Smart Manufacturing. According to the Manufacturing Innovation Blog produced by NISTMEP (National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership), Dan Green, Director of Joint Advanced Manufacturing Region (JAMR) within the Navy, identified Smart Manufacturing as, “… the convergence of operating technologies (OT) and Information Technologies (IT) working together in a real time integrated fashion.”

Currently, many companies report a disconnect between IT and operations. Rather than collaborating, organizations within a company will defend their priorities. Without cohesion, any proposed solutions to operational inefficiencies will favor one segment of the company over another, delivering a less than optimal result.

The Smart Factory changes this dynamic. Most companies who have embraced Smart Manufacturing report decreased stress and workload for both IT and Operations. For operations, a solid digital foundation for manufacturing eliminates many of the inefficiencies (including paper-based ones) that hinder production, and directly address the source of problems and errors in manufacturing, reducing scrap and improving production. For IT, with Smart Manufacturing it is easier to write reports and data mine the raw data accessible in a single location to produce critical production analytics. With the system automating many time-consuming tasks, IT can focus on higher priority items.

By integrating data and eliminating silos, you can bridge the gap between IT and Operations, helping everyone in the organization work as a cohesive team. The result is more focus and effort toward goals that deliver real benefit.

This, if you open your mind, is really what Thanksgiving is all about – a cohesive team delivering tremendous results in a time of need.

Enjoy the holiday! Want to learn more, or see how a Smart MES or MOM system can make your company work more efficiently, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis.

Calculate the Benefit of Innovation in your Manufacturing Software

Optimize your investment with a disciplined approach to judging innovation in MOM, MES and paperless manufacturing systems using a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

The other day I bought a new cheese slicer. Of the 4 or 5 different models, I choose one with an “innovative” design. I like innovation (who doesn’t?) and figured it HAD to be better.

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How can you be sure you are optimizing the benefits of innovation in your manufacturing software? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The first “innovation” was an ergonomic handle with an odd swirl of rubber and ridges for my palm, and I hated it. It was designed for a much smaller chef, because the swirl put my fingers in a vise and the ridges dug into my palm. The other innovation turned out to be an adjustable cutting guide that actually worked, letting me control the width of the slice – opening up a whole new vista of cheese slicing delight!

I know the term “innovation” has become white noise in the manufacturing tech industry. Everyone uses it, and all sales copy includes (what does this mean) variants of the term (innovation, innovative, revolutionary, advanced… blah, blah blah…). There is a real need for innovation in manufacturing software, especially MES and MOM systems. Our industry is grappling with accelerating change – new technologies, customer expectations, market shifts, new regulations, and more. Innovation is a strategic advantage, and can be the difference between barely surviving and thriving. To manage change, manufacturers need suppliers who innovate.

Ignoring the marketing to discover true production benefit in innovation can be an almost impossible task. Companies duped by innovation promises may end up with a system that never works as promised, or with a system that can’t adapt as your manufacturing needs change.

Here are five questions to help you determine the benefit in manufacturing software systems:

  • Does the innovation add real benefit?

Innovation is about recognizing a need and applying a solution. A key element of that simple equation is NEED. Adding complexity, cost, or processes to a system isn’t innovation if it’s not addressing a need. In fact, increasing complexity is counter-intuitive to innovation.

  • Is the innovation built on a solid foundation?

An adjustable cutting guide on a cheese slicer that doesn’t slice cheese isn’t really a benefit. Likewise, an innovative reporting system on an MES that doesn’t offer shop floor control isn’t useful. Don’t get distracted by marketing. Make sure the system is built on a solid foundation and effective solutions.

  • Is the supplier “buying” innovation?

As a company grows, it becomes more difficult to innovate. Innovation requires agility you don’t find in massive corporations. This leads some big companies to buy smaller companies and products for their innovation. They package the systems together and call it “revolutionary” and innovative. Don’t be fooled. Real innovation doesn’t come from throwing software products together. It requires organic growth and development after the “Eureka” moment.

  • Where will the innovation go from here?

It’s important to see an innovative new feature or function as part of a cohesive product. Many failed innovations never find a fit in the processes offered by the overall product, especially in a software ecosystem. Consider the struggles Apple is currently having with the Apple Watch. It is an innovative product, but many consumers struggle to see how it fits in the overall Apple ecosystem. You shouldn’t have to wonder how to use a feature.


As manufacturers grapple with change, innovation from software suppliers will be of strategic importance. You need a MOM or MES system that is agile, flexible, adaptable, and easy-to-use. Software companies can’t just “promise” innovation, they need to show it. Hopefully, the questions above will help you evaluate suppliers who promise innovation.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can add immediate production benefits and revolutionize your shop floor. Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation.

Simple Tips for Selecting the Right Manufacturing Software

Don’t get stuck with a software solution that causes more problems than it solves. Learn what you can do to deliver a project that makes a positive impact.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Ever wonder why some companies struggle to move forward with a project, including an MES or paperless manufacturing system, even when there are obvious benefits?

It may not make sense, but it’s (literally) human nature.

 

Select the right MES for you and your shop floor by following a few simple tips. Image by www.colourbox.com

Select the right MES for you and your shop floor by following a few simple tips. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Confirmation Bias is the tendency of people to selectively remember, interpret and analyze information to confirm existing beliefs. We selectively process information to confirm what we think is true, while ignoring or misinterpreting anything counter to those beliefs. Confirmation Bias is a cognitive issue, an error in inductive reasoning, and a failure in logic and information processing. It could also be what is holding your company back, and keeping you from finding manufacturing success.

Companies come to us with production problems – a failed audit for example, or a critical quality escape. We’ll help them identify the issues behind the problem, then find the solution. Along the way, we’ll discover other shop floor solutions to problems like out-of-control paper records or missed data collections. Despite the benefits, companies are still reluctant to take the next step and make a change. They will twist their processes and operations to cover-up the flaws, throw away money and never really solve the problem.

Often, that’s confirmation bias costing them money. IT wants an easy option that won’t add to their work. In their mind every new system means new work, so they can only see the current system as the best solution. Similarly, many current shop floor users are more than happy with their current processes, so they will only see flaws in other solutions. Management, Quality Control, and others will have a stake in the project, and evaluate each option with their own cognitive bias and flawed inductive reasoning.

Is it any wonder building consensus around a new shop floor system, no matter how effective it might be, requires a herculean effort of titanic proportions?

From our experience, the companies that overcome confirmation bias and find the best solution for their operations will first build internal consensus on potential solutions early in the process. Start out by including all the stakeholders. While the project should focus on the key priorities, also be aware of the priorities for each stakeholder. Many times, a project fails when one group makes a selection based on a single set of priorities, never understanding how it will impact the other stakeholders. Building consensus early will help ensure the project has the greatest positive impact.

Next, develop a focused and manageable set of priorities based on expected ROI. A project will often be derailed by a massive list of requirements. Requirements shouldn’t be a wish list. Identify the 3-5 key items that must be addressed in the system. Other items can then be added in later phases once the system has been installed and the company begins collecting an ROI.

Finally, be prepared to evaluate alternative solutions before making a selection. One easy method for overcoming confirmation bias is to force yourself to consider alternatives before evaluating your preferred solution. Looking at alternatives first will help you objectively evaluate data. Many times, the preferred solution ends up being the best, but by looking at alternatives first you can better evaluate all the options.

Once a solution is chosen, develop benchmarks and a schedule for evaluating the solution. Use the requirement list to determine the benchmarks. Determine if the solution is solving your problem and meeting your needs. If it’s not, make sure you’ve written into the contract how to proceed. Don’t get stuck with software that requires endless service calls or causes more problems than it solves. Find a supplier you can trust to work with you and deliver solutions.

Are you curious to learn more, or see how a simple software solution can significantly improve your bottom line? Then contact us today for a free evaluation of your shop floor.

4 Reasons Manufacturers Are Investing in Technology

With manufacturing on the rise in North America, and investment up, many companies are turning to new software and computer systems.

By Anthony Cuilwik, CEO of CIMx Software

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on recent trends in small business spending, the author wrote, “There is a point in every recovery when small businesses move from slashing costs to spending more on new plants and industrial machinery, trucks, computers, office equipment and furniture.”  According to the authors, we are just entering that period, when business owners start believing that purchases and expansions will be rewarded with new business and expanded profits.

We’re seeing evidence of this investment – 51% of all companies surveyed plan to increase capital spending in the next 12 months.   In another survey, 55% of the companies reported capital investment in the previous six months.  It’s exciting news, and another sign the economy has improved.

But, I couldn’t help but wonder what those companies were investing in…

Benefits of Software Technology to Manufacturing

The article mentioned new plants, industrial machinery, trucks, and furniture and office equipment.  These are all, potentially, good manufacturing investments, but none have the immediate impact a software investment such as paperless manufacturing has.  Consider this:

  1. Paperless manufacturing supports improved production.

Adding another machine or even another plant won’t deliver maximum benefit if you haven’t optimized your current production.  Paperless manufacturing improves production by removing errors and offering increased shop floor visibility and control, adding to the benefit of other manufacturing investments.

  1. Software provides a foundation for future improvements and growth.

Look to the future when investing.  As new processes, new technology, and new tools hit the market, paperless manufacturing provides a solid foundation for a digital factory that integrates new products into your workflow.  When change comes, will your shop floor be ready?

  1. Paperless manufacturing provides a rapid ROI that is easy to track.

Most companies identify an ROI before making a capital investment.  With paperless manufacturing you can directly benefit a number of areas in the plant, helping to increase the ROI.  A software system   offers not only a solution to production challenges, but an ROI that can be invested in other areas.

  1. The right software solution accumulates value.

Unlike an investment in a truck or machine, behavior-based, rather than template-based, paperless manufacturing software will become more valuable over time, rather than depreciating.  To further add value to your investment, look at software that offers free upgrades and easy-configuration.

Putting It All Together

Process Improvement graph.

The right investment can position you for success. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The truth is, many manufacturing companies are investing in software and technology, and for more reasons than the ones listed above.  Technology, including paperless manufacturing, has never been as affordable as it is right now.  Customers are demanding service and shorter production runs that cannot be supported by an inefficient paper-based system.  Regulations are driving other companies to seek paperless manufacturing solutions.

As demand for manufacturing continues to increase and the economy picks up even more, those companies that have invested in a solid Information Technology foundation such as paperless manufacturing will find themselves with an advantage over competitors still struggling with error-prone, costly and inefficient paper-based processes.

Want to learn more, or discover how quickly and easily you can benefit from paperless manufacturing?  We’re happy to work with you to identify the areas on your shop floor and production that will benefit the most with a new system, and then select the system that will deliver the greatest benefit (even if it isn’t ours).  Using a phased implementation, we can generate a rapid ROI that will help pay for future phases, ensuring maximum benefit for you.  Give us a call and leave a message.  We’re happy to help.