Tag Archives: manufacturing transformation

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.

Making Christmas in July Work for your Shop Floor

The strategic decisions you make in the summer downtime help maximize profits when business picks up later in the year – here’s how to make Christmas in July work for you.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Have you noticed organizations advertising Christmas in July?  It’s hard to think snowmen and caroling in the summer heat, but my church is bringing the Holiday Spirit to the sweltering heat of summer with a Christmas in July campaign.

This Christmas in July push isn’t celebrating the shopping crush, holiday family stress, or the joys of eating too much and passing out on the couch.  It’s about giving to organizations that normally see donations only at the end of the year.  This is the time of year (summer) many non-profits see their resources dwindle and stores deplete.

The strategic decisions you make now will deliver benefits to your manufacturing come winter and beyond.

The strategic decisions you make now will deliver benefits to your manufacturing come winter and beyond.

Christmas in July recognizes a need out of context.  The world shines a light on giving to others and being thankful at the end of year.  Everyone feels generous and donates when community messaging is praising donations and pushing us to think generously.  But, donations in July, when many non-profits have spent their holiday bounty and the need is still great in the community, often have the greatest effect. 

There is a lesson we can learn from Christmas in July.  Cyclically, many businesses see a lull in the middle of the summer.  Many even close for a week in the heat of the summer.  Summer is a great time for retooling, reordering, even installing new machines. It may also be a down time for revenues. 

For manufacturing, the lower summer revenue is similar to the challenges facing non-profits.  Although many of us may not equate the two, businesses and manufacturers are seeing the stores depleting, their core capital wane.  Many businesses enter a new strategic planning cycle, and face budget reviews in the fall.  New project work may be slowing down in the late summer, driving revenue down as well.  A lesson for savvy businesses can be learned from this… there’s opportunity in the slow summer months.

A few months ago, I introduced the concept of cyclical investment in a business from International Trend Research Group (ITR).  ITR follows the mantra that you need to invest in the down cycle in order to maximize your capacity as business picks up.  It may be the only way to launch into a higher curve once business picks up. 

This is the key lesson I see in the push to introduce Christmas in July – restock the assets of service organizations so that, when the need is greatest, they can outperform.  Likewise, prepare your business with manufacturing investments, solutions and upgrades in the downtime, or summer slowdown, so you can meet increased demand when business picks up.  Don’t leave money on the table or let profit slip through your fingers because you wasted the opportunity offered by the July slowdown!

Act now – seize opportunity for investment in July to help make December a little sweeter. 

How to Get the Paperless Manufacturing System You Want

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

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Choices and options.

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Beer Teach Us About Manufacturing?

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

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

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

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

Beer matters in Cincinnati.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Take the Scary Out Of Continuous Process Improvement

5 Ways to Take the Scary Out Of Continuous Process Improvement

With Halloween here, we thought we’d take a look at something which inspires fear and dread in many manufacturing employees… the Continuous Improvement Committee.

In theory, “Continuous Process Improvement” offers a near Utopian vision of how business should work.  Rather than management dictating how business will improve, continuous process improvement utilizes the expertise, interest and strengths of employees to think about improvement, and then empowers the employees to make the improvements a reality.

The suggestion box has become the “go-to” tool for Continuous Improvement Committees.

But, all too often, reality is nowhere near the vision.  “Continuous Improvement Committees” may occasionally meet for lunch.  There might be a suggestion box in the lunchroom, and campaigns may lead to a lot of work and temporary improvements before, inevitably, slipping back to the status quo.  And, it has been shown “continuous improvement” may stifle innovation or worse.

Rather than give up and scrap all hope of “continuous improvement,” simply evaluating the process and making a few small changes could lead to the positive results many companies expect from the committees.  Here are a few common sense ideas for taking the pain out of continuous improvement so you can focus on the improvement:

1)      Create a steering committee that includes all branches of the company, including an advocate in management or the executive team.  You’ll need a voice with management to coordinate your improvement activities.

2)      Determine the ROI as you are planning improvements.  It’s not enough to ask people to “improve” for the sake of improvement.  There should be a clear benefit. Identifying the ROI will also help as you evaluate results and provide measurable benchmarks in the process.

3)      Structure the plan around phases.  Many times, continuous improvement projects fall victim to lofty goals that introduce more change and complexity than necessary.  Making small improvements in controlled phases with a measured result and ROI will build support for future improvements.  Historical evidence has shown smaller phases allow the opportunity to make adjustments, leading to greater project success.

4)      Keep in mind the idea of “controlled” phases as you plan.  Look at the project and identify who or what is driving the changes.  Maintaining control during each phase helps ensure the ROI continues to be the focus of the project.

5)      As you plan improvements, think about sustainability.  Implementing an improvement is only half the project.  The other half is ensuring the improvement is one that will last after the campaign is over.  Many times it is necessary to implement “process enforcement” to ensure sustainability.

Take the fear out of continuous improvement and make a positive change today.

Honestly, the suggestions here aren’t groundbreaking, but they’re not meant to be. Our goal is to take the fear out of continuous improvement. These concepts can be applied to any improvement project, including the move to paperless manufacturing on the shop floor.  We designed our paperless manufacturing around simple, controlled phases that ensure an ROI for each phase and gives control of the project to our customers.  Our software has been designed to minimize training and ensure sustainable process improvements for manufacturing.  It’s how we can promise paper off the shop floor in less than 30 days.

So what success (or failure) have you had with Continuous Process Improvement?  How can you ensure improvements are sustainable?  The truth is, continuous improvement isn’t scary, but not doing anything to improve your business might be.  Send us a message if you’d like to learn more.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next week, we’re going to take a look at that moment when you realize something isn’t working and it’s time for change.  See you then!

Are You Putting “Best” Into Manufacturing Best Practices?

Are You Putting “Best” Into Manufacturing Best Practices?

“Best Practices” has become an industry buzzword so overused it is more “buzz” than word.  In fact, a recent study discovered the phrase “Best-Practices” was used more than 4,600 times in industry press releases.

Reliable metrics and data collection is an integral part of any best practice initiatives.

That’s too bad, because a best practice program offers tremendous benefits to manufacturers through increased quality, and reduced errors, non-productive work and variation.  But, like the latest fad diet, concepts this “buzzy” often lead to short term improvements and not real sustainable change.

There are three key components in best practice campaigns: people, process and technology.  First, you need to have buy-in from people on the shop floor to implement process improvements.  Empower and prepare people to make changes, otherwise production might suffer as you struggle to micro-manage process changes for your team.

Also consider your process as you plan a best practice campaign.  You need to have a process for not only identifying a best practice, but implementing the process change.  If the processes you are using require significant production downtime to make a change, the net result of the best practice exercise won’t benefit the business.

Finally, many best practice campaigns are only made possible by technology and tools which can evaluate a production process and help sustain the improvements with procedural enforcement, creating a culture of accountability. Software tools like MES which offer real-time visibility of the shop floor and accurate production process control are invaluable for sustainable best practice improvements and operational excellence.

Do you have the tools to capture real-time production data?

Before you begin any Best Practice initiative, study these three components in your own business to evaluate your potential success.  If your technology component doesn’t offer real-time visibility of production processes, then you won’t be able to measure or maximize your best practice benefits.  Similarly, without buy-in from the shop floor team success will be difficult to achieve.

A careful balance between people, process and technology are essential for success.  There may be costs associated with attaining this balance, but the benefits of the change will not only give your company a competitive edge, but also support sustainable best practice process improvements far into the future.

A successful process improvement campaign can be a game-changer for manufacturers.  Implementing best practices, Six Sigma improvements or Lean Manufacturing is a step toward achieving operational excellence, but sustainable change can only be attained once the proper tools are in place.  The right technology that enhances processes and empowers people is the BEST “Best Practice” in today’s competitive environment.

Have you had any success implementing best practices in your company culture?  What steps have you taken to empower employees to enact best practices, and what tools have you found to help sustain change?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!  Join us next time as we take a closer look at paperless manufacturing, and how it can help you find manufacturing success today.

Calculating ROI for an MES can be a MESS

Calculating ROI for an MES can be a MESS

But it doesn’t have to be.  Avoid the mess with a few simple tips!

The other day I was playing Go-Fish with my son.  The entire game, he seemed more interesting in Going Fish than finding pairs.  Finally, I dropped my last card, while he held an entire stack of cards clutched in his hand.  “Ha!” he laughed. “I win, Daddy!”  Arguments about rules didn’t matter, because we weren’t playing the same game.

Calculating ROI for an MES has the potential to be a lot like playing cards with my son.

Calculating an ROI is an important step in justifying a capital expenditure.

ROI is an important step in planning a capital investment like an MES solution.  Businesses go to great lengths to draft criteria and benchmarks for their ROI, which becomes a key piece of evidence in justifying project expense.  MES vendors make claims about their customers achieving ROI.  But, like playing cards with my son, trying to compare ROI can be frustrating when everyone uses different rules.  Different manufacturers and different industries use different criteria for their ROI analysis, making claims appear untrustworthy.

But calculating ROI is not a meaningless exercise.  Start the process by looking at why you are implementing a new MES.  For most manufacturers, there is some business “pain” motivating the project.  Study the value or savings achieved if the MES is implemented successfully and the pain removed.  Use this as you calculate ROI.

Many times there will be “soft” savings which are hard to quantify but have a significant impact on business, such as increased productivity.  They may require estimates.  Market data can help create a more accurate estimate.

During the planning stage, you will find many internal users see the MES as an opportunity to make their job easier.  This leads to calls for “additional” functionality in the MES beyond the original scope.  Added functionality often has a negative impact on ROI.  One solution would be to implement the MES in phases, with the original pain becoming the first phase.  Additional phases address other pains.  Before you implement each phase, calculate the cost and adjust your expected ROI to justify the new functionality.  This will give you a more accurate view of ROI.

Plan your project in phases to ensure you meet your ROI expectations.

The secret to accurately calculating ROI for an MES isn’t a magic algorithm or formula, it’s being aware of the challenges facing your plant, assigning a value to the solution, and being disciplined in your approach.  How many times have you been involved in a project in which the final ROI was never achieved or even measured?  How many companies use ROI to justify the project, but never expect it to be achieved, and what does this say about the business?   Use your ROI calculation and be disciplined to avoid  lower profits or cost overruns.  Share any best practices or experience you have in the comments below.  We’re happy to answer questions.

Next time, we’re going to look at Manufacturing Best Practices and consider if it’s time to re-evaluate what makes a practice “best.”  See you then!