Tag Archives: mes

How Your Choice in Manufacturing Software Might be Holding You Back

Manufacturing software companies, like MES, shouldn’t put limits on how you use their product, but many companies do and it’s hurting your productivity and profit.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Is your manufacturing software holding back production?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Is your manufacturing software holding back production? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

I love coffee.

I’m not a fancy coffee drinker. I don’t need flavorings, whip or soy – just give me a simple dark roast or latte. I used to go to Starbucks (the gold standard in coffee) and pick up 3 or 4 drinks for the office. When I used their rewards program, I once got one “star” for each drink. The stars quickly added up. It made picking up coffee in the afternoon worthwhile.

Then Starbucks changed the program. No longer would I get a star for each drink, but for each transaction. So, to get 3 or 4 stars, I would need to pay for each drink separately. On top of that, the rewards program required I use and “load-up” a gift card to be in the program. I was being rewarded for standing in line, and not for what I purchased or my loyalty to Starbucks.

Today, they’ve limited the “reward” program even more. I earn no more than 2 stars a day, no matter how much coffee I purchase. They are no longer rewarding loyalty, but limiting options and forcing conformity.

Limiting the Options in Shop Floor Software

Software companies, especially manufacturing software suppliers, often impose limits on their product. Just like Starbucks, they present the system as “configurable” and comprehensive, with a wealth of functionality and options. As users dig deeper into the software they slam into arbitrary limits. The vendor isn’t putting the user’s needs first by imposing limits. They are squeezing more profit or future work from the people who use their product.

Here are a few ways suppliers limit your options with their software:

  • Modules: Modules often increase the overall cost of a product and, once installed, limit how you use the software. Consider this – some companies sell data collection as a separate module. How can the company say they sell an MES and NOT offer data collection in the base package? Many of the benefits of MES are dependent on data collection.
  • Form and Templates: Some MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) use elaborate forms and templates to organize production data. Once a form is built (which is easy) users plug in the data. But, any change to your processes will require a change to the forms, which can be costly, if not impossible, making it difficult to adapt to change on the shop floor.
  • High Cost of Installation: Some systems will require millions to design and years to install. By the time the software is in place, the user’s needs and requirements have changed. Rather than call the project a failure, or sign up for another long development period, the users “make it work” by adapting to the software, rather than having a solution that adapts to them.
  • Complexity: The more functionality you cram into a software system, the more complexity you’ll have to navigate to make it work. Adding PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or an ERP (Enterprise Resource Management) to an MES will make the overall system more difficult to operate, and limit how it can be used in your processes. New MES solutions use a built-in integration tool to connect with an ERP or PLM without adding complexity.
  • Upgrades and Services: Some companies sell software for a lower initial price, planning to make up the difference in upgrades and services. In this model, users will need to balance the high cost of services with limited functionality. In the end, many companies struggle with less-than-optimal software to save money.

The Coffee and MES Connection

Don't let limits in your software hold you back from optimizing the shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t let limits in your software hold you back from optimizing the shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Like the Starbucks Rewards program, some MES and manufacturing software vendors place limits on how their product is used. In software, these limits may make it impossible to optimize usage, and hinder productivity and limit profit. If you can’t upgrade the solution because the cost is prohibitive, the system is too complex, or you can’t access necessary functionality because it’s in a different module, you’ll never have a solution that operates at maximum efficiency.

Software should support your processes, and it shouldn’t dictate how the shop floor operates. You should have access to the latest software and tools with a clear upgrade path. Training shouldn’t pull users from the shop floor for more than an hour or two.

Just like you should be able to purchase a PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) for friends and know you are being rewarded for your loyalty, you should have a manufacturing software system that works for you.

Want to learn more, or see how an adaptable, scalable solution might work with your shop floor processes? Leave a message or give us a call for a free shop floor analysis. We’re always happy to help.

5 Ways You Find Real Value with a Smart MES

Not all manufacturing software is the same. Critically evaluate your current software or a new solution to understand its potential value. 

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Critically look at the value a system will add before installing manufacturing software. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Critically look at the value a system will add before installing manufacturing software. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There are a lot of MES and manufacturing software systems out there for companies to choose from, but not all are created equal. They all offer similar functionality. They manage manufacturing information, sending work instructions to the shop floor and collecting data on production.

While some MES offer just the standard core functionality, other systems, especially older software, struggle with functionality-creep, attempting to handle everything from your product lifecycle to financials. We believe ERP (Enterprise Resource Management) and MES are different. Tools that pile functionality in the system force users to work the software rather than manufacturing.

Smart MES are different. An MES that focuses on delivering value to the manufacturing process is a Smart MES. It enables users (and the business) to work better, faster and with fewer errors. Forward-thinking, modern Smart MES become the foundation of the Smart Factory and a critical tool for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT).

Characteristics of a Smart MES

Don’t get fooled by empty MES promises. Here are 5 critical characteristics of a Smart MES you can use to evaluate software systems:

  • It’s more than work instructions on glass. Some systems offer bare minimum functionality – work instructions are emailed to the floor where data is collected on a spreadsheet. A Smart MES provides dynamic, visual work instructions, system connectivity, asset management, and more. You need a system that supports modern manufacturing. Older, less dynamic systems can’t do that.
  • The software adapts to changing conditions on the shop floor. With enough money, you can build your own MES that meets every need you have right now. Whether you build it yourself or implement a module-based MES system, delivery of today’s requirements in a few years’ time is not good enough. By the time the system is delivered, your needs have changed. With a change in regulations or a new piece of technology, the system you designed will be outdated. A Smart MES adapts and grows with you, allowing you to work in the system to meet the changing needs of your shop floor.
  • The system allows users to focus on manufacturing, and not on using the software system. Some MES are so complex users spend more time navigating screens and pull-down menus than actually doing their job. Smart MES eliminate unnecessary complexity and directly support production improvements. Necessary training for the software should be measured in hours, not days. Complexity never increases benefit in manufacturing software.
  • Smart MES use shop floor data to improve production. Using a modern, data-driven manufacturing software system with real-time production data, you should see potential problems. The Smart MES will have integrated tools like scheduling, change orders, and procedural enforcement to implement a solution for any potential issues.
  • The software minimizes disruption and cost. Some MES require you convert your processes and work instructions to a new format. The result of this conversion is costly shop floor disruption and a struggle to adopt the software. Other systems offer a plethora of modules and add-ons, delivering a complete solution only to users willing to pay for it. With a Smart MES, it should be easy to adopt the tools to your current processes, and the functionality you need should come fully-loaded out of the box.

An MES is more than Functionality

Benefit is found beyond the functionality list. Look at the value a system will add to your shop floor. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Benefit is found beyond the functionality list. Look at the value a system will add to your shop floor. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Modern manufacturing software shouldn’t be measured by functionality. Most systems can deliver the minimally viable prouct (MVP) that you require; look past that for a few big wins that help your production, like scheduling or asset management.  True benefit is found in the value it adds to your production and manufacturing environment. This is the difference between a basic MES and a Smart MES. A Smart MES enables data-driven, digital manufacturing and becomes the core of the Smart Factory.

Contact CIMx today to learn more about the Smart MES and what it can do for you.

A Simple Measure of Partnerships and Software Systems

Like your software systems, the success of a partnership is measured by the overall benefit to everyone involved.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

When partnerships, and software systems work in sync, everyone benefits. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

When partnerships, and software systems work in sync, everyone benefits. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

On Monday we announced a partnership with ITS (Information Technology Services), a high-end IT software and consulting company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

We’re excited about this partnership. ITS is a great company with a knowledgeable staff.  Their customer-focus and reputation as a provider of industry-leading software solutions align with our business strategy at CIMx. This is all true, and provides a solid basis for our partnership, but that’s not the real reason for our excitement.

Partnerships remind me of software systems.  The key to a successful partnership, or software connectivity, is allowing each partner, or system, to do what they do best while ensuring those efforts works in synch. Success is measured by the benefits of the combined efforts. If one partner is forced to adapt to compensate for the deficiencies of the other partner, or if the combined efforts of all partners yield less than the efforts of the individual, you have a problem…

ITS knows their market. They are respected and have a tremendous rapport with their customers. CIMx understands manufacturing, technology and software. Our product, Quantum, applies software and technology tools to meet the critical needs of manufacturing. ITS provides a level of service and connection with customers in their market that CIMx can’t match since we are based in the United States. We work with ITS to deliver Quantum, an industry-leading MES (Manufacturing Execution System) and paperless manufacturing system. Quantum is a behavior-based, rather than a forms-based, software system minimizing the cost of implementation and service for ITS customers. ITS then provides the services and training their customers have come to expect

By letting each company focus on what they do best, the combined efforts of ITS and CIMx will produce greater returns for both businesses and their customers…

MES, ERP, and Partnerships

Business software systems should work together like a partnership, each part in sync delivering greater returns for your business. That said, don’t expect your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to deliver the functionality and benefits of a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or MES. The strength of the ERP is managing business data and automating back office functions of the business. The design of the ERP isn’t suited to collecting data on production, managing engineering design or supervising work and work instructions. Twisting your manufacturing processes or forcing one system to fulfill the functionality of another system is crippling your productivity with no real benefit.

It’s forcing one partner to adapt to compensate for the deficiencies of another partner. No one benefits, and ultimately you hurt the entire organization. When you have systems working with their strengths, everyone works better and more efficiently.

In the end, that’s what we all want with our partnerships (and our computer systems). It’s why we are so excited to be working with ITS.

An Easy First Step toward MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Companies struggle with the decision to implement MES. We remove the fear with a simple first step any manufacturer can take, offering both an ROI and real benefit.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few steps with a new MES will yield amazing returns. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

A few steps with a new MES will yield amazing returns. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

With the advent of data-driven manufacturing and Industry 4.0, many manufacturers are looking at MES and paperless manufacturing. The problem is some are just looking. They see the benefits, but they worry about the risk or the cost, or they fear the new technology will hinder productive work for an unknown benefit. For these companies, it’s better to deal with the problems they know than take a risk on paperless manufacturing and MES.

In my mind, companies don’t see the project through small, manageable steps. They can only imagine the massive effort required to finish the project. The good news is you don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you shouldn’t, and anyone telling you that’s how it is done is setting you up for headache and failure (and probably selling you an overly complex and over-engineered system). It is much easier to implement the system in smaller phases, applying a single function to a product line. Roll out the project at a comfortable pace you control to minimize risk and cost.

The Secret to Quick MES Benefits and Success

Here is our suggestion for a very manageable first step in an MES implementation using our software system, Quantum. Start by taking your approved work plans and moving them into the digital system. At this point, don’t worry if the plans are perfect, they just need to be approved and correct. Often your application engineer can migrate the files for you during installation. All you need to do is review the digital planning, ensuring it is the same as your existing approved plans, before rolling into production.

At this point, you can start sending the digital work instructions and planning directly to the shop floor. If each operation is assigned to a work center, Quantum can auto-route the plans.  Workers can access the planning and begin work just like they did with paper-based operations. But, using Quantum, there are immediate benefits for the company, including:

  1. Routing your operations through Quantum will immediately populate the WIP dashboard. This allows you to track projects, and you can see where any project is at anytime and anywhere.
  2. Quantum will begin generating an as-built report for all work, which can be immediately accessed by a single button.
  3. Your planning is now under revision control and stored in a library of approved planning. You can access, copy and route any plan within Quantum.
  4. In addition, by using your existing work plans, there is minimal (if any) training for the shop floor to begin using Quantum.
  5. Finally, you can get rid of much of the annoying paper that creates errors and adds costs.

Stop for a moment and consider the savings and shop floor improvement from these benefits. Once you migrate the planning to Quantum and have digital access on the shop floor, you begin benefitting without even trying.

After the first step, there are a number of additional phases for you to consider. Some suggestions we offer our customers include:

  • Improve your existing planning with visual work instructions. Use a smartphone to take photos of work to include as an attachment to operations.
  • Add data collection to planning. It’s a simple process that will add depth to the as-built report and become the foundation for automatic tolerance checks and Quality Control.
  • Include operations for shipping to eliminate errors after production.
  • Utilize other functions in the system like machine maintenance plans, labor estimates and scheduling.
  • Add tooling, materials and supplies to enable traceability and increase supply chain monitoring.

… and more. With the flexibility of a behavior-based system like Quantum, you aren’t trapped in a schedule, or required to implement any of the functionality until you are ready. Move the project at your pace, focusing on items that offer the greatest return and benefit.

Don't let fear hold your shop floor and business back.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Don’t let fear hold your shop floor and business back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Using a phased implementation and a smart MES and MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management) platform like Quantum, you can minimize the risk and complexity of the implementation to focus on your key priorities. Don’t let yourself be handicapped by fear. If you haven’t already, take another look at MES and manufacturing software and consider how a controlled, phased implementation can benefit you.

Want to learn more, or see how much more you can do with paperless manufacturing? Then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.

Paperless Manufacturing and Procrastination

You may not realize it, but many companies procrastinate away profit and production. We offer easy-to-use tips for eliminating tech-procrastination.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

Are you procrastinating away profit and productivity as you wait for a new software system? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you procrastinating away profit and productivity as you wait for a new software system? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, Tierney and Baumeister discuss how to set realistic goals, monitor progress, pick your battles, and look beyond immediate challenges.  Studies show, by doing these things you will decrease stress and increase your personal energy and health.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to my job and how paperless manufacturing helps companies increase their own productivity. Of course, there is a whole chapter on procrastination and how it affects willpower. I have found procrastination to be a huge factor for companies considering, but not moving forward with a paperless manufacturing project. Companies know they need to do something, but discover it is much easier to do nothing, even as profit, success and productivity drain away.

Many procrastinators (including corporate and business procrastinators) overestimate the size of a task which can cause anxiety before the project even starts.  Therefore, potential solutions are put aside and expensive production errors continue as they have for years past. Companies ignore an easy solution out of ignorance, not because there is any real problem.

There are some simple tips you can use to avoid procrastination and move forward with a beneficial paperless project:

  • Focus on starting, not finishing – by doing this, you avoid getting overwhelmed. Decide what can be done right now, the finish line will come, but no one gets there in one stride.
  • Break things down into short tasks – implementing an MES system is a large investment, so it won’t happen overnight. There are several steps in the process, take them one step at a time. This is an advantage of a phased implementation.
  • Celebrate small advances – by doing this you avoid getting discouraged during the process. Each task completed is a step closer to shop floor success and more productive manufacturing.
  • Find others who support your cause – by doing this, you are creating a circle of support to help push the project forward, even on days when you may feel overwhelmed, your MES team can trudge on.
  • Don’t let budget hold you back – there may not be an active budget for a paperless initiative, but if you don’t get started on building your case there never will be. Gather the information you need, you may find budget once you show the powerful benefits MES can provide.
  • Create a benefit list – develop a list of MES functionality and how each feature will solve your shop floor problems. This will help you stay focused on the project and will be a huge selling point for your business case down the road.
  • Don’t give up – there are always setbacks during a big project. Don’t get discouraged.  If you need to, find a way to rework your goals in order to keep advancing. 

Getting started

Creating a list of questions regarding your shop floor inefficiencies is the first hurdle to overcoming procrastination.  What could we be doing better?  What are we going to do about it?  What challenges do we face?  How can we overcome them?  What can MES do for us?

After you answer these questions, research MES systems and see which systems can solve the problems you’ve identified in your manufacturing processes.   Bring your questions to us, we would love to help.  Our team can identify what you need, how to solve your critical production problems, and work out a rapid ROI. We’ll take you through each step in the process. Contact CIMx today for more information.

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.

Making Sense of the ROI for an MES

Many shop floors struggle to justify the cost of an MES, even as errors and inefficiencies that would be eliminated with a shop floor system drain profit and production from the company.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Here’s the problem for shop floor and operations managers looking to implement an MES or paperless manufacturing solution – many of the greatest benefits of a shop floor system offer soft savings, but management approves investment with an analysis of the hard savings from a capitol project.

The ROI Conundrum for MES

Many companies struggle to justify the expense of shop floor software, even as problems drain profit and production from the bottom line. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Many companies struggle to justify the expense of shop floor software, even as problems drain profit and production from the bottom line. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Consider this – you put in a modern MES, and you’ll have real-time production data that provides the foundation for continuous improvement. Shop floor production and control improve, errors and quality escapes are eliminated, and planners benefit from revision control and a library of approved work plans. Many Shop Floor Managers and Quality Engineers drool at the prospect of any ONE item in that list.

But, a business case isn’t built on “better,” but on hard numbers. Procurement and the CFO don’t care about, and may not even understand, revision control. How can the shop floor measure the benefit of real-time data and continuous improvement? How do you articulate the savings from fewer errors, when you struggle to consistently capture any data at all from your shop floor processes? For the CFO, “more data” is nice, but it doesn’t translate to a line item in the finances.

Truth is, there is a disconnect between the accepted way we measure ROI, and the needs of production operations and modern manufacturing. Typically, ROI requires a measurement of hard savings and direct benefit from a capital investment. Modern manufacturing seeks continuous improvement, agility and flexibility from an MES – all characteristics that are difficult to measure with hard data, and aren’t easily quantified with numbers.

The Problem for Manufacturing

In a way, accepted accounting techniques don’t adequately represent the true value of an MES – at least, not without a leap in logic or an adjustment in the techniques used. This doesn’t mean there is a problem with MES or standard accounting practices; it just means you are using the wrong tool to take the measurement. A good example might be using a ruler to measure temperature. The ruler offers hard data, just not the right data to measure a summer day.

This disconnect, while unfortunate, is often compounded by the reluctance of some companies to quantify and value the perceived benefit of the shop floor system. Rather than finding a way to communicate the need for better production control, and connect a shop floor tool like paperless manufacturing to company goals, they decide it is easier to make what they have work and ignore a potential long-term solution.

In the end, this problem costs manufacturers revenue and production every year. Scrap and waste accumulate for no reason other than the operations team hasn’t found a way to collaborate and communicate with the financial team.

Breaking Out of the Cycle

I’m not suggesting operations get a free pass when they seek money for a shop floor system. I suggest we need to adjust how we determine ROI when discussing MES. The shop floor needs to assign value to their investments early in the process, and collaborate early-on with internal partners as they select a software solution.

Building a business case and determining ROI shouldn’t cause a shop floor improvement project to crash and burn. Done right, it should help a company determine if the selected system is the right one, helping create an even better solution for the company.

Want to learn more, or see how you can better collaborate on an MES solution? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor solution analysis. We’re always happy to help.