Tag Archives: manufacturing

Bridging the Gap between Your PLM and Manufacturing

Manufacturing and engineering are both symbiotic and disjointed. While manufacturing relies on engineering to do their work, engineers are not trained to provide manufacturing exactly what they need at the design phase; that’s further downstream.

These key differences require a bridge between the PLM tools in engineering and production operations on the shop floor.

It All Starts in Design

Engineers create a long list of documents during product design to ensure a product meets the customer’s needs and can be manufactured with the available materials, tools, machinery and people. Different products require different levels of complexity, including drawings, specifications, designs, materials, measurements and other detailed lists of requirements. A Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system keeps all the information organized for the engineer.

This diversity, however, makes it more difficult for manufacturing, where work moves quickly and there’s not a lot of time to read. The PLM that was so useful during design cannot break down the work into operator-sized information packets for the shop floor.

Manufacturing Pushes the Pace

Manufacturing operates at a much faster pace than engineering. The shop floor doesn’t have time to digest complex information before beginning production. Even in the most labor-intensive, discrete production environments, operators work at the fastest possible pace.

Operators don’t have time to search for information on a drawing or spec sheet. If it’s not on the screen when operators need it, productivity and profitability fall drastically. Even a few minutes spent searching can make the difference between a profitable production run and a project overrun.

Manufacturers need to manage the production process with speed and precision; design engineers need details that inherently slow that production down.

Where is the Bridge?

The bridge lies between design and manufacturing. Design and manufacturing get the specific tools they need to do their jobs – tools that are significantly different.

  • PLM design is absolutely required in most modern, complex manufacturing settings. Complete control of engineering design increases competitiveness of the resulting product.
  • Engineering design for complex manufacturing can’t be done by the transactional ERP.
  • Current PLM product offerings meant to work in manufacturing require far too many interactions by the operators to be effective.
  • Companies need bi-directional data transfer between design and manufacturing. Production should provide valuable feedback to design.
  • Traditional MES systems (used on manufacturing shop floors) struggle to get information back to the PLM.

A Solution for Both Manufacturing and Design

Without the proper design, production can’t build correctly and without the detailed instructions, production can’t do its work. There is no sacrifice here that will work. As engineering information flows to the shop floor already, this part of the equation is complete. What’s missing is the critical link for manufacturing back to design and manufacturing engineering (there are holes in both areas traditionally).

What Can Help?

ERP systems can’t. These are transactional systems that will force the design and manufacturing engineers to separate every production step or list them as a single step without the associated, “nested” details that are so critical to the operators.

PLM systems can’t. We’ve already seen how these systems manage documents, but not the associated instructions. Operators can’t build from the documents, as they don’t have the time or experience, typically, to differentiate what specific work needs to be done at each step.

This leaves just the MES and even at that, most MES systems won’t touch the PLM without extensive programming and customization. Manufacturers also need process enforcement, work center or operator-based work instructions, quality control and access to all the PLM documentation that’s required to do the job.

Recently, we introduced a product platform that makes live communication between the PLM and the MES a reality, without the requirement for customization. While we understand many of the problems facing manufacturers, digging into this problem, we’ve found that we have only scratched the surface. Plenty of additional problems exist in connecting systems in the manufacturing environment. What other issues do you have? We’re interested to know.

Our goal is to break down the walls between engineering, design and the shop floor. That is where we see the real power of the Smart Factory or Manufacturing 2.0. Visit us online at www.CIMx.com and let us know what your biggest challenges are.

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.

How You Can Get Real Value for Your MES

Time and technology have changed, but many software companies are still selling dated manufacturing solutions. Get more value from your MES with a few simple tips.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

More money doesn't always mean a better solution. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

More money doesn’t always mean a better solution. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve gotten a lot of comments on our Two-Comma MES blog. Some agree the benefit of some MES may never justify an (extreme) two-comma cost. Others are quick to defend the high-cost, arguing a world-class manufacturing software system will have a world-class price. If you cut corners on your MES, and install a “cheap” software solution, you cut corners on productivity – the profit-driver for manufacturers.

There’s truth in both positions, and there isn’t an “optimal” price for manufacturing software. That said, times have changed, and the MES of the past no longer offer the value (even if slick marketing is hiding the creaking old code of some systems) they once did. We need to change how we approach the MES purchasing process.

Breaking Down the MES Budget

Assessing value starts with your budget. How much benefit can you buy for your budget? The IT budget is normally 1% to 3% of a company’s annual revenue.  For a $50,000,000 company, that would leave a budget of $500,000 to $1,500,000. From that budget, you need to pay for support, licenses, hardware, software, license fees and infrastructure costs. How much of that will be left for an MES? With the budget left, is there any way to financially justify the extreme cost some companies demand for their software?

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven marketplace, it just doesn’t make sense to install a high-cost, system if you’re not getting flexibility. Systems like that are normally difficult to upgrade or adapt. Overly complex and over-engineered systems can’t handle the demands of modern manufacturing, even if the system looks modern, is it flexible and can it manage change? Will the effort and cost to maintain system efficiency represent a sunk cost that will quickly bury any initial benefit?

Tips for Finding Paperless Manufacturing Value

A powerful, effective and incredibly efficient MES doesn’t have to cost two-commas. It can be easy-to-use, easy-to-install, adaptable and flexible without a high cost. Here are a few tips for finding value in your search for an MES:

  • Don't get buried by the cost of your two comma MES. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

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

    Avoid the modules: Modules sound like a great option. Presented like a giant MES vending machine, you pick your feature, nothing more and nothing less, then it comes together magically. It doesn’t work that way. A “module” is often a separate app built by an entirely different company, which means configuration and integration costs. The more modules you add, the higher the cost. Companies offer a lower base cost, then drive profit on the “modules.” An integrated MES platform, with all features and functions built natively for the system, will deliver more functionality for a much LOWER cost.

  • Beware of forms-based systems: Companies that promise to “configure” a system for you specifically are likely using forms. They “make” it for you by mirroring your current processes through a form in their MES. They add to the initial cost of the MES a configuration “charge,” and know that any time you want to change the form, due to a process change or manufacturing need, you’ll go back to them. A forms-based system seems perfect at first, and then loses efficiency over time. A truly flexible, and lower-cost, option will use your current work instructions on a framework within the MES. Any work instruction or plan can be used in the software, delivering all the tools and functionality you want or need, in the format you want.
  • Flexible support options: Some companies, especially companies using an older software system, will hide the true cost with a confusing array of support options. There may be tiers of support, an entire configuration team you pay for, a base cost with an array of additional costs. It may seem like “comprehensive” support, but add it all up and the “support” will have destroyed your budget. Look for a solution provider who can offer a set cost for support expenses, or who is willing to offer a cost-not-to-exceed contract for work.
  • Utilize a phased implementation: With a phased implementation, you have greater control over the pace, focus and cost of a project. You select the features and functionality that offer the greatest return and put them in place first. Other systems, especially ones that require extensive configuration or messy integration of modules, will limit how you use and roll out the software. You’ll have a much higher initial cost, longer training, and often an open-ended implementation phase where expenses pile up. With a phased implementation and an integrated software system, the software is installed once and you turn on and use whatever you want whenever you are ready.

In the past, a 6 – 18 month installation and implementation period for an MES was standard. A multi-million, two-comma cost was to be expected. MES has grown up since then. The technology and market have changed, and manufacturers are benefiting with lower-cost systems that are adaptable, flexible, easy-to-use and –learn.

Don’t be suckered by flashy promises of a high-cost software company. Look for value in your manufacturing software solution, not two-commas.

Is Your MES Sunk Cost Software?

Want to improve production, increase profit and implement more efficient operations? We borrow tips from one of the top poker players in the world (and a cognitive psychologist) to show how you can deliver better business results quickly and easily.

 By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your old and dusty MES a disaster waiting to happen? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Is your old and dusty MES a disaster waiting to happen? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The other day we celebrated my brother’s birthday with a trip to his favorite restaurant.  The plan was a quick lunch, a trip to the movies, and then ice cream. Problem was, a horde of hungry people decided to get lunch at the same time. The lobby and waiting area was packed. “It can’t be that bad,” we told ourselves. “Let’s just wait it out. We have time before the movie.”

So we waited. And waited. And then waited some more. My brother and Dad spent time designing miniature houses with napkins and chopsticks. My Mom did a crossword, while my wife and I tried to keep two kids under the age of 6 amused. We waited almost three hours before we got a table, and ended up missing the movie. We were even too tired to get ice cream.

Why did we wait? It was completely irrational to sit in the lobby on an uncomfortable bench for 3 hours when we could have found another restaurant with good food in less than 15 minutes! We could have saved three hours of our day, gone to the movies and enjoyed ice cream, but we didn’t. We waited….

How Sunk Costs Can Sink You

Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and current Decision Coach, calls this irrational behavior a Sunk Cost. “We have a strong bias to take into account resources already invested in our decisions about whether to move forward,” she explains. By making the decision to go to the restaurant, and investing time (even a little time) in waiting, we are less likely to change our minds and go somewhere else. Even at the cost of missing the movie (we all wanted to see) and not getting ice cream (which was absolutely crushing for the kids).

Resources (like time, money, effort, etc.) already spent are a sunk cost, because you can never get them back. It’s a decision-making error when you consider sunk costs in making present and future decisions. Past investment is resources gone, and they won’t magically come back if you keep investing more. Rationally, you must consider ONLY the future return in the decision-making process.

Consider this… if someone had told me we were going to wait THREE hours for a table before I got to the restaurant, I would have gone somewhere else. I would have gone somewhere else if you had told me I was going to wait 15 minutes! But, because I invested time (which is a Sunk Cost , because I can never get that time back), I kept waiting.

Manufacturing Software and Sunk Costs

Clinging to past decisions can hurt your business and siphon profit. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Clinging to past decisions can hurt your business and siphon profit. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It was a completely irrational decision to wait that long, because the cost of lunch went from $20, to $20 plus a missed movie, no ice cream, boredom and pain sitting on the bench, frustration keeping hyper kids amused, and three hours of my precious time I will NEVER get back. In my effort NOT to waste 15 minutes, I wasted three hours.

Unfortunately, we are all guilty of faulty, sunk cost decision-making. How many times do we stay in a long line, reluctant to move even though there is a shorter line nearby? As Duke explains, how many poker players keep pushing a poor hand (bluffing) because they already have money in the pot?

What about your MES? How many companies keep struggling with old, inefficient and costly manufacturing software because of a past investment in the system? If the MES isn’t (or can’t) adequately support current manufacturing processes, and the only viable solution is expensive customization and upgrades, then keeping your current system because it offers limited useful functionality is irrational.

Today, there are low-cost, modern manufacturing software systems that can be installed in less than a week. You can easily import your current work plans and have digital work instructions on your shop floor a few weeks later. These agile and flexible systems are intuitive, with on-site training completed in less than a day. With inexpensive infrastructure costs and minimal maintenance, they are clearly superior to the aging two comma systems some manufacturers struggle with. Sure, some may be more comfortable with the older system, but “comfort” shouldn’t be a critical factor in a business decision.

Minimizing MES Risk

I can understand the fear and risk that has long been associated with implementing a new manufacturing system. Many cling to old software because they know the limitations. Installing a new MES exposes them to unknown risks and potentially crippling costs.

In the past, those were legitimate fears. Today you can mitigate risk with a low-cost, no-risk pilot program in a single area. You can quickly see if the software will work and determine any potential weaknesses while forecasting the Total Cost of Ownership. With a scalable and flexible solution, you can quickly roll it out everywhere when you’re ready.

Put simply – moving on from an inadequate MES to one that meets your needs and actually supports your operation is significantly less risky than waiting and continuing to throw money away.

Add Discipline and Logic to Decisions

When you are faced with a computer system or manufacturing system that isn’t meeting your needs, don’t let sunk costs influence your decisions. Decide on the path forward based solely on present and future returns, and consider the cost of adapting the faulty current system you have against the cost of installing a new, modern and flexible system.

Want to know more, or see how much you can save with a new system? Contact CIMx today, we’re happy to help.

The Curious Connection between Manufacturing and the 2015 Women’s World Cup

Just like the World Cup, competition is fierce between manufacturers, but with paperless manufacturing you’ll discover the competitive edge that will make you a winner in 2015. 

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

What manufacturing lessons can be learned from the World Cup? Image by www.colourbox.com

What manufacturing lessons can be learned from the World Cup? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Even with all the scandal surrounding the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup, people are still excited for some amazing games. Who wouldn’t be? With 24 teams representing their countries in Canada, the roar of the crowds, the skills of the players, and of course the ultimate thrill of winning the coveted 2015 World Cup, this year looks to be a classic.

What a lot of fanatic soccer fans don’t realize is the amount of complex manufacturing that goes into the World Cup Tournament. From the $160 balls used every game, to the shoes, the uniforms, the goalie gloves, the shin guards, coaching gear, and all other equipment and accessories. Yep, all manufactured. Consider the complex electronics used to broadcast and record the games, to the cars, trucks, buses, boats and planes used to ship the teams and crowds to each venue. It’s a veritable case study of the importance of manufacturing.

Being a supplier of the World Cup requires world class manufacturing.  Does your shop floor have what it takes to produce world class products?   Not a soccer ball manufacturer?  Not a problem.  Just like other manufacturing companies, soccer balls go through many of the same processes on the shop floor, cutting, stitching, heating, molding, final assembly, and quality checks.

The first step in achieving world class manufacturing is controlling the flow of manufacturing information. Succeed there, and you’ll decrease errors and increase production and profits. World class manufacturers also control shop floor processes, otherwise you’ll never have the rigor and discipline necessary to compete. An MES provides this rigor, and becomes the platform on which your manufacturing is based. In addition to virtually eliminating paper on the shop floor, a good system will keep comprehensive records of all operations performed, giving you the data for analytics used for process improvement.

No matter what you manufacture, a successful MES should guarantee several things:

  • Adaptability – Easy to add, change or enhance functionality to meet changing needs.
  • System Connectivity – The seamless flow of information from MES to your current enterprise systems; including the ERP, PLM, Quality Management, and more.
  • Elimination of Errors – A checks and balance system ensuring all operators are using current work instructions, as well as built-in and automated tolerance checking to ensure product quality.
  • Real Time Production View – Tracking each order as it moves along your shop floor, allowing you to report to customers and quickly resolve issues.
  • Dynamic Work Instructions – Electronic work instructions offering strict revision control that can be migrated over from current systems or built directly in the MES system.
  • Procedural Enforcement – Ensures data collections, safety reviews, quality checks and more are completed prior to moving work forward, safeguarding against errors.

The right MES system will offer you the tools and platform for world class manufacturing for the right price.  It should automate many of the processes and tasks that hold your shop floor back, so you can manufacture the world class products your customers expect.

If you are losing valuable time and money, take a look at how your shop floor operates.  Chances are you need a game changer – a change that could make you the goal scoring winner.  If you are interested in learning more about MES and how it can benefit your shop floor contact us today.  We are happy to help and look forward to speaking with you.

Deciphering the Role of MES

Understanding the difference between MES and ERP isn’t difficult once you understand the Human Element of manufacturing operations.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Defining MES is much easier when you understand the human element on the shop floor. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Defining MES is much easier when you understand the human element on the shop floor. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

Trying to answer, “What is MES?” is not easy, and it’s a question I get a lot.  A good MES delivers smooth operations.  The information and process management available in true MES increases quality, eliminates scrap, and build products efficiently.  For each part of your operation, MES has a different meaning.  For the shop floor, it’s where they get work instructions and collect data.  For engineering, it’s how instructions are built and a tool for ECO (Engineering Change Orders).  For finance, it might be a line item, for sales and customer service it’s a way to track orders, and so on…

This is why I’ve begun connecting the role of MES to the human element in manufacturing.  Confused?  Here’s what I mean…

Most customers we talk to are confused about the boundaries between MES, ERP, scheduling and a host of other products driving the engine of their business.  In digital business tools, an ERP or MRP is focused on the business and finance of your business, while the MES focuses on people – helping them work better, smarter and faster. 

Your workplace is teeming with the human element right now.  Employees are designing, planning, building, testing and shipping your products every day.  If you’re in the services industry, your product is your people. 

The human element can be amazingly powerful and scary all at the same time.  Machines aren’t as creative as humans, but a machine can reliably repeat the exact same motion long after a human arm has tired.  Humans aren’t as durable as a shop floor machine, but when disaster strikes, I trust a human to think through the next steps.

Make your operation more efficient with MES and Paperless Manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Make your operation more efficient with MES and Paperless Manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Take a closer look at a manufacturing business.  Inside the business, you have HR, finance, customer support and other operational areas.  The central tool to manage these aspects of your business is the ERP software.  The ERP connects these areas, manages the information and provides a communication flow.  It is a big task, which is why ERP installations are typically long and complex, but should result in a well-running support system.   It is a transaction-based system. 

Let’s examine this further.  An order from the Acme Co. comes in for 10 green widgets due a week from Tuesday. The order is entered into the ERP which stores the information and notifies engineering and the shop floor of the order.  The ERP is very good at managing a transaction-based operation such as this.

In engineering another set of tools come into play.  Engineering uses CAD systems, drawing and specification tools, and spreadsheets to produce the documentation necessary for green widgets.  This includes detailed instructions for how to build the widget, any relevant measurements to be made during production to ensure the widget meets specifications, drawings, blueprints, photographs, safety sheets and all other files related to the part.  One useful tool you often find here is a PDM (product data management) system to organize engineering documents and ensure only the latest version of a document is available.   

An ERP manages transactions, and a PDM organizes documents, but neither creates the process-focused operation necessary to create a work package for the shop floor.  This is the human element we mentioned at the beginning that is the focus of an MES, helping manage human and operational elements on the shop floor to ensure you have the most efficient-built green widgets for the Acme Co., and Acme has the quality assurance and as-built records they need for their completed order.

Choices and options.

Deciphering MES isn’t about using acronyms, it’s about understanding the human element on the shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com.

Production control receives the order from the ERP and needs to match it with the documentation from engineering.  The MES completes this function, where the ERP cannot.  With just a PDM or an ERP, you end up contorting a transaction tool or document management system to twist a myriad of MS Word and Excel documents into a process, which leads to the poor humans on the shop floor reading and re-reading documents, trouble-shooting, searching for answers when they should be building.  Data collection gets lost in the ERP transactions or the PDM, if it is collected at all. 

MES adds the human element to your digital manufacturing tools.  You have widgets you need to build.  You have machines to do it.  MES tells the people what to do at each machine in order to build the widgets correctly.  Without it, the people on the shop floor have to make independent decisions based on disparate knowledge about production, or they rely on tribal knowledge that is never adequately collected.  Sometimes this works, but since there is no process control, you can’t guarantee it will work every time.  It’s an unreliable and very expensive way to manufacture. 

MES provides a toolkit connecting other business systems to manufacturing, ensuring your team produces to the highest quality tolerances and with the highest productivity.  Ultimately, it has the biggest direct impact of any system on the profit for the business.  In manufacturing, an MES is the basic building block upon which profit is built because it is focused on process-based manufacturing operations that drive the business.

When someone asks me what an MES is, I could recite a litany of acronyms, starting with ANSI/ISA-95 standards, toss in a PRM note and sprinkle in OEE or LEAN with a healthy dose of tech speak… or I could talk about the human element that is so critical for manufacturing success.  You don’t purchase an ERP to build a car, and you don’t hire machines to fix a problem.  You hire the best people for your shop floor and give them to the tools they need to succeed, and that’s where an MES comes in.