Tag Archives: Process control

Paperless Manufacturing and the Skilled Worker Crunch: What You Need to Know

American Manufacturing is facing a skilled worker shortage.  Find out here what you can do to overcome the challenges and find success and profit as the industry rebounds.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Okay… some good news… Manufacturing in America is coming back.


How can MES help you overcome the Skilled Worker gap?  Image by www.colourbox.com

How can MES help you overcome the Skilled Worker gap? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Reshoring has become an industry buzzword as overseas costs rise and companies see opportunity in America.  At the beginning of 2014, more than 200 companies had already returned to America.  They’ve found advantages to working in America, including lower energy and shipping costs, greater innovation, and protecting intellectual property.

The forecast is looking even brighter – With manufacturing production growth forecast at 3.2% in 2014 and 4% in 2015, and not all of this growth is due to Reshoring.  Currently, manufacturing output is on pace for an increase of 4.9% year over year.

Here’s the bad news… the problem is many companies are struggling to meet the market demand or capitalize on the opportunities.

Recent surveys report nine out of 10 manufacturers struggle to find skilled workers.   In a survey by the ManPowerGroup, 64% of respondents said a lack of skilled labor resulted in productivity losses, directly impacting the bottom line and profitability. In addition, the survey reported skilled labor was the hardest job to fill, with nearly 60% of the respondents reporting a lack of skilled labor impacted company growth.

While a lack of skilled labor is having a negative impact now, the impact will be worse in the future. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reports a potential shortfall of 875,000 skilled workers in less than a decade.

Paperless Manufacturing: A Solution to the Skilled Worker Crunch

The remedy to the skilled labor gap, according to the BCG, is aggressive recruitment and in-house training.  As older workers retire, companies must find a way to both capture their knowledge and efficiently pass it on to a new generation of workers who can assume previous responsibilities and pick up new ones as technology changes.

The key is to take action now, before the skilled worker gap grows worse.  That means reaching out to colleges and trade schools to ensure students have the experience manufacturing needs.  Industry leaders and the government need to develop programs that synchronize the future industry requirements with the classes being taught now.  Furthermore, manufacturers needs to develop in-house training programs and tools, including paperless manufacturing.  Here’s a few of the ways MES and paperless manufacturing can help overcome the skilled labor crunch:

  • By integrating competency models into the company culture. Implemented effectively, competency models will “…  help organizations: 1) find and keep the best people, 2) enable better employee performance, and 3) improve business results,” according to the St. Charles Consulting Group.  Competency models capture what people must do to effectively complete their work.  A paperless manufacturing system is an important tool in manufacturing competency models, providing a foundation for capturing knowledge and skills through a library of approved planning incorporating existing best practices.
  • Improve existing worker skills through verification and validation of all operations. Using the process enforcement features of a full-featured MES or paperless system, you can ensure employees have the correct certification before they begin work, or ensure work is completed as planned through automatic tolerance checks, validation and data collection.
  • Develop new worker training through online video training, available with all work instructions, developing skills using an effective and cost-efficient method that minimizes shop floor disruption. According to a study by the US Department of Labor, 83% of all learning is done visually, and incorporating visual work instructions and on-demand training in the shop will not only improve skill retention and worker skills, but increase productivity and quality as well.

The Benefits of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

Process Improvement graph.

Paperless Manufacturing offers benefits throughout your business. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The benefits of MES and paperless manufacturing systems are clear – including automated information flows, process control and visibility, greater efficiency, consistency and precision to manufacturing, and more.  Companies that embrace MES now gain those benefits, in addition to the tools necessary to overcoming the skilled labor gap – an increasingly important benefit to manufacturers as they consider the future.

While many companies readily invest in machines and tools, few realize the importance and benefit of investing in their employees and their skills.  Manufacturing, and American manufacturing in particular, is at a point of opportunity.  Now is not the time to wait, but to invest for the future.

Want to learn more, or see how paperless manufacturing can help you?  Contact CIMx Software today to discover what we can do for you.

What Can You Learn About Your MES and Paperless Manufacturing Vendor?

With 5 simple tips, you can learn a lot about a manufacturing software solution before you ever sign a contract.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

With the wrong MES or paperless manufacturing vendor, your project could resemble a giant pile of dirt hindering production efficiency.

With the wrong MES or paperless manufacturing vendor, your project could resemble a giant pile of dirt hindering production efficiency.

I have called a dozen landscapers to move a large pile of dirt in my backyard.  I still can’t get a return call or sales appointment.  I don’t have the tools or the expertise to move the dirt.  I’m at the mercy of the vendors.  How is it that I can’t find a single company to call me back?  I’m realistic – I know there are times you can’t take on new work, but a simple phone call is all I want.

What message are these companies sending to potential customers?  I don’t want to sign a contract without knowing they will deliver on their promise.  What confidence do I have in their work if they can’t even be bothered to give me a call?

I’m constantly amazed at this same lack of follow-through in the software industry.  Too many prospects tell us we were one of the few (or the only) vendors to call them back.  How is that possible?  We’re never too busy to help, and we’d love to grow our business while helping you grow yours.  It’s not that we don’t have a full calendar – we are blessed with a full pipeline of work and high standards for our product.  We want to build the system features that continue to make our products more robust, user-friendly and dynamic, and that takes time and effort.

But, we also know how frustrating a problem you can’t solve alone can be.  When you’re talking manufacturing software like MES or paperless manufacturing, build-it-yourself solutions often become disasters that spiral out-of-control, consume resources and build frustration.  So if you know that you can’t, won’t or shouldn’t DIY, then you rely on the vendors (just like me).   This can lead to frustration.  You have a problem, but the potential solution-providers ignore you.  What can you do?  Here are a few pointers I’ve learned in software and manufacturing solution industry (and I’m considering for the mud dump in my backyard):

  • It’s safe to assume if sales won’t return your calls, delivery won’t be any more reliable. 
Look for a vendor that's responsive to your needs and works with you as a partner. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Look for a vendor that’s responsive to your needs and works with you as a partner. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

True, there are times when a single company resource (who should call you back) is giving the whole organization a bad name, but company culture is either built for exceptional service or not.  Sloppy calling habits will mean sloppy delivery habits.  Don’t expect a company that can’t call you back to deliver exceptional service.

  •  Ask the vendor about their guarantees (if they even HAVE any). 

Just like everyone else, we make mistakes.  I know no one is perfect, but when mistakes happen, we admit our error and make it right.  You have my personal guarantee for any work we do, and we put it in writing.  Problems will happen during any software project, so it pays to ask about a guarantee.

  • Question the vendor on promise-based language on the website.

Do you see paragraphs of “we are the world’s leading…,”  “fastest to…” or “guaranteed to…” on the vendor website?  What makes someone a global leader?  Who is handing out “global leadership badges” and how is that going to help your shop floor?  What benefit are you going to get from the accolades they heap on themselves?  Is that global leader also a company that outsources their help desk so you never get service when you need it?  I even came across a company that calls themselves a, “cool vendor.”  Really?  How will that help you?

  • Focus on what you need.

As a subject matter expert in manufacturing systems and workflows, CIMx consults with its customers throughout the sales process.  We often see customer teams get hungry, and create a laundry list of requirements so long the project loses steam and profitability before you ever get to production.  Determine the “top” challenges and focus on the solution to those problems to ensure project success.

I’ll be honest, the dirt is STILL sitting in my backyard as I write this blog, and I’m getting ready to call a few more companies today.  I know I need to find someone to move the dirt (or build a mud pit or hilltop fort in my backyard), but I also know that choosing the wrong solution will lead to more frustration.

Take a few moments before you call a software vendor.  Ask the right questions, and have a focused plan of action, will help ensure you’ve found the right solution, and not created an even bigger pile of problems leaving a muddy mess on your shop floor.

What Can We Learn About Paperless Manufacturing from a Cup of Coffee?

The best software tools work seamlessly with your existing process, making the experience better, much like the ubiquitous coffee cup we use every morning

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Every morning, I have a cup of coffee on my desk.  It’s the darkest roast possible and I sip it throughout the entire morning.  When I pick it up at the coffee shop, I put a coffee sleeve on it to hold the cup comfortably without burning my hands.  The sleeve is a common tool for coffee drinkers, an improvement over the days of annoying Styrofoam cups.

There are MES Lessons to be learned from a simple cup of coffee.  Photo by www.colourbox.com

There are MES Lessons to be learned from a simple cup of coffee. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Cup sleeves make it easier to enjoy the coffee, keep your fingers from being burned, and are useful no matter the size of your cup.  They slide up only as far as necessary – simple, flexible and incredibly useful.  You don’t spend a second thinking about selecting one or how improved the coffee experience is with one.  You use it because it’s easy-to-use and it works.  Now, you’ve trained yourself to pick one up because a cup of coffee is too hot and the sleeve is the solution.

In the world of software packages for your business processes, a tool like a coffee sleeve is very useful.  If that tool could manage your shop floor, improve quality and increase production, it would dramatically increase your profits.  Many tools on the MES market sell themselves this way.  If you Google “paperless manufacturing,” you will find close to a million records (at last count).  Some of these tools will run various parts of your shop floor.  Some will improve quality.  Some will increase production.  A few manage the shop floor.  But the thing about the simple cup sleeve that works so well is that it dramatically improves the coffee experience, it works so well with the cup, and it’s so simple to use it doesn’t require a change in behavior.

Your paperless manufacturing system should work seamlessly with your existing processes, not dictate unnecessary change. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Your paperless manufacturing system should work seamlessly with your existing processes, not dictate unnecessary change. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

That is the flaw in most shop floor tools.  When you explore the universe of paperless shop floor software packages, it’s difficult to discern the difference between the highly effective “sleeves” versus the complex software packages that demand you purchase and consume coffee in an entirely different way (or even make you drink tea or water down the coffee – the villains).  These systems halt shop floor progress as your team works to integrate an invasive tool.  You struggle with a solution that is too costly or too time-consuming, and as you struggle, all progress you might make from the solution is swallowed in the process.

As you research paperless manufacturing solutions, don’t forget the long-term costs such systems might require.  Consider our cup sleeve analogy.  It’s as if you found a tool that protected your hand from the heat, but only if you get a new size cup.  If the market begins offering new cups, you’ll find that sleeve no longer works.  This happens all the time in software – we call it obsolescence.

CIMx Software guarantees customers will never struggle with a solution that is obsolete.  Our carefully architected system protects your investment.  The CIMx system provides a continuous upgrade path without the expensive services bills other software vendors charge.  It’s a benefit we’ve designed and built into our system.

People go for coffee every day because coffee offers them a benefit that makes their day better.  For some, it’s the heat of freshly brewed java.  For others, it’s the flavorful aroma, or the caffeine pick-me-up.  Maybe a cup of coffee is just a habit or instinct.  In manufacturing, you have the problems to solve.  For example, your production might be slowing or your quality decreasing.  Perhaps you’ve not been able to increase throughput as the economy turns.  As you search for a solution, consider the cup of coffee for your desk – discover a manufacturing program that injects heat and caffeine into your organization with a tool that won’t require a new cup size or a change in your drinking habits.  Look for a solution that’s ready to help you right away.

Overcoming Invisible Stop Signs Holding Your Shop Floor Back

An MES and an ERP are very different systems, and if you don’t understand the role each play, you may be hurting your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback recently on our discussion of the differences between MES and ERP.  Obviously there is a real need for information out there, and some confusion on the topic.

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back.  Image by www.colourbox.com

You may not know it, but if you use the wrong shop floor solution, you may be holding your production back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The confusion is understandable.  A quick search online reveals little information on why it is important for manufacturers to have both systems.  ERP vendors focus on why an ERP is important, and MES vendors focus on their shop floor capability.  Many ERP vendors even market MES offerings or modules.  It is easy to believe an ERP can do it all, leading many manufacturers to struggle with a less than optimal system.

But, as we have said, the ERP and MES play different roles and use different structures.  The ERP is a transactional system.  It logs transactions, one at a time, and creates an ordered system for filing and retrieving the information.  An ERP will use the information to analyze patterns and trends – data tools focused on historical information.

Since the ERP is focused on collecting and analyzing historical data, it’s not designed to process a flow of information.  It sees data points, not operations.  Data points work great in finance, and are necessary for invoices, bills, payments, customers, and other transaction-driven business functions typically handled by the ERP.

The shop floor isn’t transaction-driven, it’s process-driven with a focus on completion of work, not just collecting and organizing information.  Information on the shop floor could include formulas, engineering drawings, safety precautions, quality metrics –process-driven information.  Many of these are inherently if/then processes, which cannot be handled effectively by a transactional system.

For example, think of a non-conformance on the shop floor.  In a transactional system, data would be logged and organized.  In a process-driven system, the information would be logged, and a next step in the process would be activated (if X happens, then Y).  It is an important difference.  An MES offers a clear advantage over an ERP in this case.

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control?  Image by www.colourbox.com

Is your ERP designed as a transaction-based system, or for workflow control? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  The ERP works like a stop sign on the road.  When a transaction happens, data is entered into the system.  No further action can occur until the data is in the system.  As data is entered, the next car (data) waits until the preceding one is complete.  Think of an invoice.  It enters the system, and until it is entered no payment can go out or funds be collected.  This is an efficient system for invoicing, but the stop sign, starting and stopping will slow shop floor work, and become detrimental to productivity.

An MES and paperless manufacturing work more like a traffic circle or roundabout.  Shop floor work should move at a steady, continuous pace.  The roundabout will manage traffic and movement.    Progress is managed, visible, continual and controlled.

Don't sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Don’t sacrifice productivity and quality with the wrong workflow control system in place.

Shop floor processes operate the same way.  Work progresses evenly throughout the day and across the floor, with the MES not only collecting data and marking progress, but driving and controlling it.  Different groups or individuals may need to come together to work on a specific process.  Work will speed up or slow down naturally as the work orders come in and are filled.  The MES will manage the process.  It continually provides directions for each step, one at a time and as a whole.

Stop signs are a detriment to progress, and are the least efficient way of moving processes and work.  They may keep things from running into each other, but they aren’t going to increase productivity.  An ERP is designed to manage, record and analyze business processes, while an MES is designed to boost productivity, deliver shop floor visibility and manage shop floor processes.

Any ERP that promises to do both is either fooling you, selling you two individual systems, or not fulfilling either role effectively.

How Do You Steer the Shop Floor? The Difference Between MES and ERP

Struggling to understand how an MES and Paperless Manufacturing will help your shop floor?  Look no further than a parking lot for an easy-to-understand answer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

We often turn to the familiar for help explaining the unfamiliar.  This is why we often use the line, “It tastes like chicken,” when struggling to describe a new food.  We know chicken, and it creates a comfortable, easily relatable connection.

Who is driving your shop floor?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Who is driving your shop floor? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

This may be why so many of us see an ERP and MES system as interchangeable, never seeing the critical difference between the two.  An ERP is familiar.  We understand ERP – accounting, payroll, billing and records.  MES is the shop floor, the heart of manufacturing that can be a confusing hurricane of machines, tools, processes and materials.  We turn to the familiar and make a connection (maybe even sub-consciously) between ERP and MES.  The roles and systems become mixed in our mind.

But it doesn’t work that way, and trying to force an ERP to do the work of an MES usually has a negative impact on your business.  I’m going to take a different approach this time, and turn to the familiar to explain the difference…

Think of your manufacturing business as a car.

An ERP works like the windows and mirrors on your car.  It offers a convenient way to view, track and plan your business.  With an ERP (or a rear view mirror) you can track where you have been.  You use the windshield to see where you are going.  Look out another window to see where you are.  Orders come in, money goes out, old employees retire and new ones arrive as you track customer data, create invoices, look at expenses and more.

But a car, and your business, isn’t just windows and mirrors.  You need an engine to move the car, and a way to guide and control the engine.  An MES is the dashboard and GPS of your organization, giving visibility and control of the engine, the shop floor and manufacturing, to you.

With a good dashboard and GPS, you have the directions and maps (visuals) to where you need to go.  You have a wheel, gas pedal, brake and more to give you control over the engine.  You can track progress and receive warnings when something goes wrong.  By organizing and transmitting work instructions digitally, collecting shop floor data, tracking quality, and controlling production, you control the heart of your operation.

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES - You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Pushing a car is like running a shop floor without MES – You could do it, but there is a much better way. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Sure, you might be able to find the local mall without a map, and if you point the car VERY carefully, you may never need to turn the wheel, but life is much easier with a good dashboard, GPS, and a car you can steer.  An MES delivers the drawings, blueprints, details, inspections, directions and other information you need to build your product.  It doesn’t just hand it to you in a heap.  It organizes it, just like a GPS or dashboard.  It provides turn-by-turn assistance, then tracks real-time data during production and gives you control of the process.

When you run into an issue (and who doesn’t on the shop floor), an MES can help.  A GPS offers advice on avoiding construction and adjusts the arrival time based on your current speed.  An MES provides workarounds for production problems, re-routes work around machines not functioning, and gives you real-time access to product ship times.  To put it simply… windows don’t give you that level of control.

And just like a car, I wouldn’t want to drive (or ride in) a car with no windows.  It’s not pleasant to travel with no idea of where you are going or where you’ve been.  I’m also much happier driving with my GPS and a reliable dashboard giving me visibility and control over the engine, direction and speed of the car.

Make sense?

When asked, “What is MES?” I’ve heard people start quoting ANSI/ISA-95 standards, or listing system functions and features, but it’s not until I imagined riding in a runaway shop floor (or a fast-moving car) with no brake or steering wheel did I realize how critical MES was for a manufacturing operation.

Process Control Isn’t a Myth… Here’s What You Need to Know

The Cincinnati Reds Opening Day Parade offered the perfect opportunity to see a manufacturing truth in action.

By David Oeters, CIMx Software Corporate Communications

I recently had the opportunity to walk in the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day Parade.  It was an experience (to say the least!)

The Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade. Photo with permission of David Oeters.

The Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade. Photo with permission of David Oeters.

If you haven’t been in Cincinnati for the Opening Day of the baseball season, it is simply astounding.  Cincinnati is the home of the first professional baseball team, with their first game being played in 1869.  Since then, Opening Day has become a city holiday, with work cancelled (and when it’s not cancelled, Spring illnesses abound), streets closed, events planned and festivities scheduled.

But the highlight has to be the parade.  There are thousands (and thousands…) of guests lining the streets.  More than 250 organizations and more than 180 floats.  It is a riot of color, sound, motion, emotion and festivity.

Despite the chaos, the incredible number of moving parts and pieces that need to be in place at a certain place and a certain time, the parade runs smoothly.  It starts at a certain time, the floats and people walk a certain route, and it ends.  Watching it from inside, it is barely contained chaos suddenly taking shape and finding direction, and then it is over.  If you see the parade as a process – from preparation, to set-up, to the parade, and finishing with tear-down – it is a much like the manufacturing process.  And this parade/process was well controlled and ran smooth


Preparations for the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade. Photo with permission of David Oeters

Needless to say I was amazed.  I spoke to one of the organizers as I waited for the parade to start, and asked him how he keeps everything on track and under control.  His answer didn’t surprise me… “It’s all about making sure everyone has the right information at the right time, and people can get answers when they need them.”

Process control isn’t a mystery to the parade organizers.  They know what they are doing.  They all work from a shared database with revision controlled master documents (no one is going to change their line number so they can be closer to the front of the parade).  The master database is the one, central location where all information and updates are funneled, ensuring consistent answers and available information.  The parade marshals all carry cell phones, tablets, and a packet of information to answer questions quickly and efficiently, ensuring everyone knows where they have to be and what they need to do.  Parade organizers are posted around the staging area and parade route, so they can quickly respond the problems and have the information at hand to make informed decisions.


Preparations for the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade. Photo with permission of David Oeters.

Here is the truth… we often talk about “information” as the key to process control in manufacturing.  It is easy to say, and it sounds right, but until you stand in the middle of controlled chaos and see how getting the right information to the right people when and where they need it, it can be hard to believe.  But seeing how efficiently the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade was managed really drove the point home to me.  You might not make the connection between a parade and your production line, but it is all about getting a number of moving parts to efficiently connect to create an end product.  Information and communication is the key.

Parades, and process control, can be exhausting if you're not working efficiently! Photo by David Oeters.

Parades, and process control, can be exhausting if you’re not working efficiently! Photo by David Oeters.

Process control, the key to manufacturing efficiency and collaborative manufacturing, is all about information management.  So how are you managing information on your shop floor?  Are you working with real-time information?  Do you have efficient shop floor data collection?  Do you have revision control?  How does your shop floor get the information they need?  What do you currently have in place to manage information?