Tag Archives: Phased implementation

Technology Breakthroughs That Will Deliver Manufacturing Success in 2015

Many manufacturers struggle to capitalize on the latest technology, instead using outdated processes and tools. Embrace the digital shop floor in 2015 with breakthrough technology.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A Growing Divide around the Digital Shop Floor

As 2014 winds to a close and companies prepare for 2015, analysts and prognosticators peer into their crystal ball to analyze the future. This year in manufacturing, they predict Big Data and analytics, 3D Printing, robotics, and enhanced connectivity (via the Internet of Things and mobility) shaping our industry.

Are you prepared for the future of manufacturing? A digital shop floor is an easy first step.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Are you prepared for the future of manufacturing? A digital shop floor is an easy first step. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Its human nature to wonder at the future, and marvel at shiny new technology, but the truth is many manufacturers struggle to implement basic shop floor technology such as an MES or paperless manufacturing, much less capitalize on cutting-edge technology. These companies are faced with a massive Technology Debt – the total cost of replacing outdated technologies or systems as they begin to degrade the overall functionality of the company. This debt negatively impacts production throughout the supply chain, as companies struggle to meet market demands.

Consider this – Software Advice, a company that helps match buyers with software solutions, recently released a survey of manufacturers with annual revenues of $100 million or less on their reasons for purchasing new software. The survey found forty-five percent of prospective buyers managed manufacturing operations manually. They used paper, spreadsheets or accounting software to manage shop floor operations. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed sought a software solution simply to help plan and manage day-to-day manufacturing operation.

The Manufacturing Software Small Business BuyerView 2014 survey from Software Advice reveals our industry is at a critical junction. Some companies have embraced technology, while others struggle with outdated processes and tools. Unless addressed, this dichotomy will only grow, creating an almost insurmountable gap between manufacturers operating in similar industries and creating bottlenecks in the supply chain.

Paying Off the Manufacturing Technology Debt

Before we start looking to the future, it’s time to pay our technology debt. Fortunately, there are solutions.  Consider this:

  • The availability of lower-cost technology.

In the past, many companies, especially small- and mid-sized businesses, were reluctant to embrace high-cost solutions. With no guarantee of success, a failed project could mean ruin. Today, many companies are still reluctant to embrace technology, despite the availability of lower cost solutions. Browser-based software, low-cost software platforms, and integrated circuit manufacturing technology have made viable software solutions more affordable than ever.

  • The improvements in configurable software solutions.
Build your business by paying your technology debt now, when you can receive an ROI in less than one year.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Build your business by paying your technology debt now, when you can receive an ROI in less than one year. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the past, for specialized industries the only available and viable software solution involved custom software. Custom solutions cost millions with development scheduled over several years. Supporting the software was equally expensive. Custom solutions lose efficiency over time, eventually becoming outdated legacy code. Today, with improved technology, configurable, out-of-the-box solutions can be found to meet the requirements of every industry, in addition to delivering operational improvements.

  • The efficiency in modern implementations.

According to the Software Advice survey, most companies prefer solutions that can be implemented in 1 to 3 months. While there are still solutions in the market requiring years to develop and implement, some solutions are designed to be implemented in a few months or less using modern project management techniques such as Agile. Improvements to the UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) have removed the unnecessary complexity of past solutions, minimizing the training time and improving the adoption rate of the technology on the shop floor. With modern software, companies are only as reliant on their internal IT resources as they want to be.

  • Low-risk installation options.

In the past, custom shop floor software was a high-risk for purchase. A project required several years and millions of dollars to design, develop and implement with no guarantee of success. Today, lower-priced, out-of-the-box configurable solutions help mitigate the risk. Options such as pilot programs and phased implementations help ensure success by managing risk and the pace of change for your company. Look for vendors you can trust to partner with you during the project, instead of simply supplying software before moving on to another project or service charge.

Safely Embracing the Future of Manufacturing

As 2015 begins, it is important to look to the future, but it is equally important to consider the technology debt your company may have accrued. How much debt do you have? Growth and profitability plummet when debt accrues, and can negatively impact all facets of your operation. New software tools and platforms, phased implementations, browser-based technology, configurable solutions and more can now deliver practical, high technology solutions to all manufacturers, no matter the company-size or capabilities of the IT department.

With current technology, there's no reason not to embrace low-risk paperless manufacturing.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

With current technology, there’s no reason not to embrace low-risk paperless manufacturing. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

In the past, many companies delayed paying their technology debt, but that is no longer a viable option.  Customer and regulatory demands, new technology and processes, and changes to the workforce are driving manufacturers to adapt and improve. Without addressing the technology needs of the shop floor, companies risk losing their competitive edge and customers.

Companies recognize this fact.  “As we move into 2015, I believe we will see more and more small manufacturing companies start to adopt software solutions that help better plan and manage day-to-day manufacturing operations,” explains Victoria Adesoba, manufacturing small business researcher at Software Advice.

As one year ends and a new one begins, we will see companies adopt 3D Printing, Big Data analytics, and robotics. For many more companies, 2015 will be about paying a rapidly growing technology debt – utilizing tools that have finally made it possible for small- and mid-size manufacturers to (safely and efficiently) embrace the digital shop floor.

Want to see how you can start paying down your technology debt and improve your operations with a low-cost software solution that offers an ROI in less than a year?  Contact CIMx today to schedule a free evaluation of your shop floor.

You Can Build a Business Case for an MES

Many manufacturers understand the benefit of an MES for their shop floor operations, but struggle to build a case for implementation.  We offer three tips for building a convincing case for MES.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever try to convince a 3 year-old to eat vegetables?


What can a savvy 3 year-old teach you as you build a case for paperless manufacturing?

Most times, you explore tactics looking for one that works.  You start with logic (“It’s good for you!”).  Then you try threats (“Eat those peas, now!”) before moving on to bartering (“We’ll eat dessert if you try the peas.)  Finally, other strategies are considered, like reverse psychology (“I figured you wouldn’t eat the good peas,”) identification, (“Dora likes to eat peas,”) to pure insanity (“Tater tots are SO lonely in your belly, can they play with peas?”).  The negotiation continues until you find the strategy that works… and many times it never does.

Unfortunately, for many shop floors, building a case study for MES resembles convincing a 3-year old to eat peas.  The MES team knows there is a problem (more than likely, many problems).  They need to present a convincing case study, but aren’t sure how to start.  The team will try everything to build a case, creating a mess that does more to confuse than convince.

Building a Case for Paperless Manufacturing

Here are three expert tips for building a case study that works:

  1. Focus

Most MES or paperless manufacturing projects begin with a single problem – such as quality escapes, paper-based errors, poor data collection, or no shop floor control.

Unfortunately, once a potential solution is identified, companies begin to add functionality.  The solution grows (and adds cost and complexity) as people add their requirements to the project.  The scope balloons as everyone wants to make it “their” project.  The project quickly explodes with requirements and additional functionality.  The original problem is lost in the chaos.

When building a case for MES, more is not better.  Adding functionality and requirements will not make it easier to prove an ROI, it will just increase cost (dramatically) and delay implementation – which isn’t a good thing when building a case for MES.

Focus on solving the initial problem.  The benefits and ROI delivered with the initial solution will help justify later requirements, and keep the project focused, manageable, and cost effective.  One costly problem solved with a positive ROI is better than 10 problems partially addressed.

  1. Plan in phases

It is much easier to build support for a project that makes incremental changes through smaller phases than tackling a massive project that with a very high cost and significant risk for production disruption.  We call this incremental process a “phased implementation.”  A phased implementation allows greater project control with more immediate benefits, helping you build your case for MES.

Think of it like this – the bigger the project, the more variables you’ll need to address.  A 2-year project will have 2 years of costs, potential disruptions and project unknowns to punch holes in your business case.  A single 2 month phase of a (potentially) larger project is much easier to predict.  The costs can be managed, and shop floor disruption (if any)  controlled.  The ROI is often easier to calculate, and with lower costs you can more easily build a case.  In some cases the most important benefit of short measurable phases is a tangible demonstration to management of increased efficiency or quality.

There is a reason why the savvy 3 year-old will first ask for an elephant before requesting a new puppy.  A single puppy is easier to justify than the massive, elephant-like MES project.

  1. Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    Follow a few simple tips to build an air-tight case for shop floor innovation and production improvement. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Assign a cost

Once you’ve identified a problem or challenge, determine the cost.  If troublesome as-built records are the challenge, then calculate employee time currently spent searching and assembling as-built records.  Identify how much other work is delayed assembling the records.   Calculate production delays or business lost because you don’t have readily accessible as-built records.

Spend a little time putting the numbers together.  Most of the time, companies are shocked to learn how much they spend struggling to overcome (avoidable) shop floor problems.  Compare that number to the cost to purchase and implement a solution, and you’ll have the core of your ROI.  A true business case is more than just a retelling of the requirement list.  It should look at the costs to determine whether the solution offers an ROI.  It may not, but working with a focused solution over a single phase will help minimize costs and simplify the ROI calculation.  Most company executives welcome the shorter phases, smaller costs, and frequent examples of positive impact on the business.

 Building For the Future

Building a business case for an MES or paperless manufacturing is not only possible, but likely much easier than you might think.  It’s definitely easier than convincing a 3 year-old of the importance of peas and spinach when they know candy is SO tasty.

Want to know more?  Check out our blog on Insider Tips on Calculating ROI for your Shop Floor System, or a recent article we wrote on Uncovering the Real Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing.  No other purchase has the potential to significantly improve shop floor production like paperless manufacturing.  Still worried?  Give us a call and let us answer your questions.

Are You Killing Shop Floor Innovation?

We take a look at the warning signs of a shop floor stifling innovation, and see what you can do to find success through innovation.

 By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I love ideas.  Ideas and opinions, even ones I don’t agree with, provide the spark and fuel for innovation and growth.  That’s what makes ideas so powerful (even bad ideas…)

Are you killing innovation on your shop floor?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you killing innovation on your shop floor? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In an article posted on The Build Network, Ilan Mochari explored new technology and the market.  Originally, I wanted to write a defense of technology, especially from companies reluctant (even fearful) of new technology.  As Mochari explains, many businesses fear change, even change for the better.  This isn’t prudence, reluctance or worry, many businesses, even manufacturers, praise innovation and growth, then build a culture that stifles new ideas and change.  It’s a powerful idea… we are all sharing a grand delusion (hurray for innovation!), then collectively ignore the hypocrisy (hurray for innovation, just not here!)

In his article, Mochari cites a blog by Ben Horowitz discussing the ways in which many companies stifle innovation and growth.  He calls it the, “Can-Do vs. Can’t-Do Culture” and discusses, “… a movement to replace today’s startup culture of hope and curiosity with one of smug superiority,” (ouch).  Horowitz reflects on how many businesses approach technology.  As I (and Horowitz) see it, technology should be used to find a “better way to do things,” but in many companies (especially big companies) there is such a rigorous vetting of ideas (even good ones) innovation is stifled.

Killing Innovation In Your Business

Horowitz makes a number of good points – points we run into every day, with customers, competitors, prospects, and even ourselves.  Consider this:

  •  It is extremely difficult to find a better way to do things, but it can and has been done.

Horowitz is right.  Many companies fail to fully embrace the potential offered by technology and innovation because they are missing the opportunity – the “better” offered by a solution.  They install technology for technology’s sake, never really embracing innovation.

Take some Manufacturing Execution System (MES) projects we’ve encountered.  Many MES providers or consultants sell their technology by imitating your current operations on a computer screen – giving you a “pretty” solution that doesn’t offer a better way to do things.  It makes the customer “feel” happy because it mixes the familiar with JUST enough of the new.  Solutions like this won’t work for long.  Here’s why –

You have an issue on the shop floor.  A work station operator needs a quality inspector to approve a change in the operation.  Without a shop floor system, employees call, email or wander around till they find a Quality Engineer (QE).  An MES might automatically notify the QE of a problem, or provide an entirely new system of notification and approval (with a number of forms and steps in the system) but this isn’t embracing innovation.  A more efficient process is to provide the QE with real-time build information so they can proactively eliminate problems before they happen, and provide the ability to remotely approve change when possible.

Technology, including an MES (or any other electronic solution), should provide a better way to do things, not offer an entirely new process that simply mirrors the current process.  Your MES should help you do your work better, faster and with fewer errors, and not replace one piece of work with another.

  • Big companies have trouble innovating.

From our experience, in a big company it seems like everyone either needs their hands in an idea or they want the chance to destroy it.  Some want to ensure the project makes their career, and others are naysayers who make themselves important by focusing on the flaws in every idea.

Make an effort to promote a culture of innovation and build a competitive advantage for your company. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Make an effort to promote a culture of innovation and build a competitive advantage for your company. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Most times, innovation doesn’t look promising at first.  There are growing pains, and phases of development.  An MES purchase for most manufacturing companies starts as a daunting list of 400 requirements, each line item categorized, prioritized and meticulously measured.  The project started with great ideas built on potential, solutions and dreams, but as more voices and opinions get piled on top, the potential gets narrowed and innovation is stifled.

A committee is formed or a consultant brought in, and the list (that massive, all-inclusive master list) begins to look more like a doctoral dissertation than your production floor.  By the time the call goes out to vendors to make the dream a reality – it has become an arduous task nearly devoid of innovation.  You end up with a project not looking for innovation, just mapped to a spreadsheet with requirements you can check off.

Consider this, if you need 4 hours to demo an MES and see all your requirements, you are asking for so much that you will never be able to see a return on that system, and you’ve just ripped the potential “better” from the project.

Why do we innovate a shop floor like that?  This process just feeds the troll-like naysayers and dream-killers.  When buying a car, you will need the 15,000 to 20,000 parts in the engine, but you don’t bring a checklist of those items to the car dealer.  Auto makers build cars to perform and last using all those parts.  You check the handling, the comfort and the feel of the car, make sure it has your key requirements (perhaps a moon roof), and perhaps verify a few items on the list against the industry standard.  The massive “List” is a weapon for the naysayers… keep it simple and focus on key requirements.  Let innovation thrive before you drown it!

Find an MES vendor you can trust to help you navigate the process.  The system that provides the most return for you is the one that best fits the innovative idea you had when you started.  Ensure the system meets the standard MES requirements, and let the vendor concentrate on your use of the end product rather than a checklist.  As Horowitz says, “We hurt innovation by focusing on what it can’t do, rather than what it does or could do.”

 Build your shop floor through innovation

Businesses grow and thrive through innovation and new ideas, but those that rely on a “Can’t-do culture” stifle innovation, promote cynical sarcasm and focus on limits.  The truth is, the most successful companies promote innovation, and find a way to nurture it without sacrificing the core business.

Even bad ideas have potential, and hiding inside what seems like a completely ludicrous piece of business insanity may be a concept that takes your company to the next level.  Early in a project, especially an MES project, let innovation shine and see where it takes you.  Look for the opportunity to improve, and make sure you aren’t embracing change simply because it’s change.

Find a way to do more than just admire innovation from a distance, but embrace it.  Listen to innovation and ideas (even ones that seem bad) with an open mind.  Nurture ideas, don’t stifle them.  Are you curious to know more, or see how you can embrace innovation without hurting the bottom line or sacrificing production?  Ask us how we can help through our phased implementation process or innovative Quantum paperless manufacturing system.

When Is the Right Time to Install Paperless Manufacturing?

Too often, the benefits and ROI of shop floor improvement projects are lost as projects are delayed or postponed.  Learn how to maximize your benefit and discover the best time to install your system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't wait to install.  Maximize the benefit from your shop floor system.   Photo by www.colourbox.com

Don’t wait to install. Maximize the benefit from your shop floor system. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers see the advantages of MES and paperless manufacturing, but struggle with the final decision to implement the system.  The process becomes a waiting game, where the implementation team knows something needs to be done, but they delay waiting for the “right” time or some confirmation or signal (a planetary or astrology alignment, perhaps?).  Sometimes it’s a budget or resource concern (when will IT have time to help, or when will Procurement be ready to release the purchase order), but other times, it’s indecision or doubt that the operation is really ready… or maybe it is some mysterious omen everyone is waiting for?

This sounds silly, but the truth is while you wait, shop floor problems continue.  Profit is lost, quality is sacrificed and production struggles during this period.

Overcoming Indecision

The truth is, there is no “right” time (other than now) to begin a paperless manufacturing or MES project, but there are a few simple questions that will help determine if your shop is ready:

  • How much are the challenges facing your shop floor costing you?

It’s important to determine your potential ROI before installing a shop floor solution.  This helps focus your system on your greatest challenges.  Once you have an ROI, it is a simple matter to see how much money a delay in the project is costing you.  Consider this, the solution may be an investment, but the delay is an expense with absolutely no return.

  • What benefit will your customers get from your shop floor solution?

Rolling out a new shop floor system, with features such as real-time WIP (Work In Progress) dashboard and ECO management is added value and benefit to your customers.  No other shop floor solution delivers as much benefit to production as MES or Paperless manufacturing.  Take the opportunity to reconnect with your customers and introduce them to the shop floor and production improvements you’ve made.  Often the additional benefit will be the “sign” you’re looking for to initiate the project.

  • Can you maximize your benefit by understanding your business cycle?

According to the concept of cyclical investment in a business from International Trend Research Group (ITR), the right time to invest is during the down cycle in your business in order to maximize your capacity as business picks up.   This may seem counter-intuitive, but investment during the down cycle ensures your shop floor is positioned to maximize production during a business boom.

  • Can you use a phased implementation during installation?

A phased implementation allows you to select the features and capabilities the project focuses on, minimizing shop floor disruption and maximizing the ROI.  If you have a system that allows a phased implementation, there is little reason (other than budgetary and IT support) to delay the project.  Determine where you can achieve the biggest benefit and dive in.  Roll out new features when you are ready.

The Next Step

In a perfect world, once a manufacturer has made the decision to upgrade their production to a Paperless manufacturing system, the hard work is finished and the implementation will be a breeze.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but you can maximize your shop floor benefit by taking control of the implementation and working strategically to ensure a smooth transition from a paper-based to a paperless operation.

Want to know more, or learn how paperless manufacturing can benefit your shop floor?  Leave us a message or give us a call, we’re happy to help.

What to Do When Fear is Holding Your Shop Floor Hostage?

This time of year, when ghost and ghouls are top of mind, it’s a good time to look at the fears that hold so many manufacturers back from taking the next step to improve their operations with paperless manufacturing.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Don't let fear hold your shop floor back.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

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

We all have fears.  Mine is mice and rats.  I saw a mouse once run across my kitchen floor once and almost run into my foot.  After that, I refused to go back in the kitchen for a week or more.  It sounds silly, I know.  But fear makes us do crazy things and ends up holding us back.  It’s like this weight we can’t drop, even when we know it is completely unreasonable.

Many times, fear holds a shop floor back from embracing a solution they know will fix the problems facing them.   Businesses sacrifice success because they embrace fear.  Maximizing production, improving operations, innovation, increased quality, reduced scrap, and schedule reliability all sound good, but there are times it’s simply not enough to overcome fear.

We’re going to help you conquer those paperless manufacturing fears with 5 simple, common-sense ideas that will help you embrace innovation (safely) and (reliably) improve your shop floor operations.  Let’s start with….

1)      Trust

Many times we end up not trusting our instincts and second-guessing ourselves when it comes to selecting a software provider.  We’ve seen this many times when companies decide to build a solution themselves (almost never a good idea) or select the largest company with the biggest name instead of picking the best solution.  Don’t let fear keep you from selecting the best solution.

2)      Pilot Program

Are you really scared the program won’t work for you?  Why not test it through a smaller pilot program?  Select a single line to install the program and judge the results.  You’ll get the assurance you need and the data to support a decision before rolling the solution out to your whole operation.  Not only that, if the vendor balks at letting you install a pilot program, you can be sure there is a higher-level of customization to the solution, or a hefty amount of service charges waiting for you on the final bill.

3)      Upgrade costs

I hate to tell you, but there is NO final shop floor control solution.  Ten years ago, the Cloud, 3D printing, and mobile manufacturing sounded more like science fiction than modern manufacturing.  Imagine what manufacturing will be like ten years from now.  Take a look at the costs to upgrade your potential system.  Having a clear plan to upgrade the system will take the fear of obsolescence out of the equation.

Overcome fear and find solutions for your shop floor.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Overcome fear and find solutions for your shop floor. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

4)      Guaranteed price

Did your vendor offer you a guaranteed, not-to-exceed price for the project?  Do you know what service costs you will incur?  Many software vendors offer a lower initial cost, and then end up charging significantly higher service fees for basic features or necessary functions.  Others require “upcharges” for basic installation services.  Knowing the price before the project starts will eliminate these fears.

5)      Who is in control?

Ask yourself, who is controlling the project?  Is the installation plan focused on your priorities, or do you see a lot of work being done with fees and charges growing with little focus on your priorities?  The primary goal of any manufacturing solution is to deliver results for your shop floor and eliminate the challenges holding you back.  If you feel like the project has grown out of your control, you’re probably right.  Make sure you are in charge of the project.

There are risks in manufacturing and manufacturing software solutions, but there are ways to mitigate risk and ensure the system is truly focused on meeting your business needs.  Years ago, CIMx recognized a number of “industry standards” we felt weren’t customer-focused.  Many companies were justifying their practices as the cost of doing business.

We’ve worked hard to eliminate the risks that cause fear and make sure the project is focused on you.  That’s why we offer a guaranteed maximum price.  We use a Phased Implementation to give you control of the project and eliminate unnecessary cost and risk.  We offer free upgrades with our licensing agreement, and assign an Application Engineer as a partner to you, instead of a help desk.

Want to learn more?  Give us a call, we’re happy to talk.