Tag Archives: Real-Time Information

A Look Back at Paperless Manufacturing in 2013

At the beginning of 2013, we made a few predictions.  Looking back, the results were surprising, and enlightening.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Each year there is an inevitable flurry of predictions and lists – speculation on the New Year and analysis of the old.  I’ll admit, it’s fun – the predictions and lists have become an annual tradition much like holiday cards and champagne toasts.

But this year, we decided to break the tradition, step back and take a look at our predictions for the previous year before offering our predictions for 2014.

What can you learn about the future of paperless manufacturing by looking at the past year?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can you learn about the future of paperless manufacturing by looking at the past year? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing Growth and Capital Expenditures?

We predicted moderate growth in 2013, and we’re seeing proof of that growth even now.  In August, the manufacturing sector grew at its fastest pace in more than two years, with continued growth throughout Q4.

Capital expenditures are always a little trickier to predict and track.  But, a number of businesses are already predicting increased capital expenditures for 2014 – including Apple, who increased their spending from $7 billion to $11 billion.

Overall, the global economy benefitted from increased corporate spending and manufacturing growth in 2013.

American Manufacturing in Transition?

In 2012, we predicted a number of factors would pressure American Manufacturing, and we certainly saw that.  We mentioned the need for a skilled labor force, increased productivity and improved quality – but other factors added to the pressure in surprising ways, such as a surge in shale gas drilling that is helping fuel a resurgence in American industry, and an increase in automation driving the need for a skilled labor force.

We also saw a trend in “reshoring” (or bringing their manufacturing to America) from companies such as Ford Motor, GE and NCR.  In a recent survey of manufacturers, 54% said they were planning to or considering a move to reshore, up nearly 20% from a survey earlier in 2013.  American manufacturing is certainly still in a transition, but the future is looking much brighter.

Quality Growing in Importance?

We saw the growing importance of quality as a trend for paperless manufacturing in 2013.  In fact, quality is a driving reason companies are turning back to America for manufacturing.  Companies such as Procter & Gamble use innovations in the manufacturing process to not only improve quality, but drive business growth.

This year, CIMx saw a number of companies turn to MES and paperless manufacturing to not only improve production, but improve quality.  Companies have seen that process improvement programs such as Lean and Six Sigma are not enough.  Sustainable improvement can only be achieved with the real-time data collection and process control made possible with paperless manufacturing.

What will 2014 hold for your business? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will 2014 hold for your business? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Is Manufacturing Going Mobile?

We predicted increased interest in mobile manufacturing in 2013.  This year, a number of companies began marketing mobile “apps” for manufacturing.  Manufacturers have a wealth of mobile manufacturing apps options, including role-based apps shown to improve production by 5% to 10% and process improvement apps on the Google Play store.

Manufacturers are still tentatively approaching mobile applications on the shop floor.  More and more, the benefits of mobile manufacturing are making an impact on the manufacturing community, but companies recognize it’s not enough to give a worker a tablet and expect production to improve.  Detailed production plans won’t fit on a smart phone screen, no matter how good the app is.  Companies are discovering the key to benefitting from mobile manufacturing is finding the right app, the right tool, and rolling it out to the shop floor appropriately.

Are there New Solutions?

We also made a (very) safe prediction that new solutions and new options would roll out the industry in 2013, and even we were surprised in how this prediction played out.

Who would have thought GE would turn to 3D Printers for jet engines?  Or that NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne would successfully test fire a rocket engine partially built from 3D Printer technology?  Or that we are no longer looking at robots to replace humans on the shop floor, but to enhance them.

In paperless manufacturing, more and more companies are rejecting the old way of implementing a system (long development, expensive service costs and disruptive implementation) for new, lower-cost solution focused methods such as phased implementation and off-the-shelf Web 2.0 solutions.  The industry and technology is evolving too quickly to expect a 2-3 year development project to deliver an acceptable ROI.  Solutions should begin delivering an ROI a few months after implementation.

This time of year, prognosticators are common, but I would guess most are looking ahead, not behind.  Once you’ve put away the bottle of champagne and the New Year’s parties are over, take a moment to reflect on where you’ve been and where you and your manufacturing business are going.  Many times, you’ll be surprised at what you discover.  Our predictions in 2013 weren’t meant to shock the industry, but it’s interesting and enlightening to see how they played out during the year.

Next week, we’ll look ahead to 2014 and offer our predictions for the New Year.  And, as always, if you have a question let us know… we’re always happy to help.

How We Can Make the Internet of Things Work for Manufacturing

The future is coming and carrying a wealth of production data, are you ready to capitalize on it?  Is your competition?

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the term, Internet of Things (or, if I was a Cisco Champion, The Internet of Everything), but I quickly filed the term away for future consideration.  Yet, we are quickly coming to the point where we may soon be a cog in the grand Internet of Things machine whether we want to or not, and it’s going to have a tremendous impact on manufacturing.

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Our world is rapidly becoming an Internet of Things, and it will have a profound impact on manufacturing. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

The Internet of Things is a conceptual world in which every object (a Thing) is given a Unique Identifier (UID) and the ability to automatically collect data and transfer it over a network without human or computer interface.  Currently, a Thing can be anything, from a sensor on your cell phone, to an RFID chip in a package, to a health monitor (such as the FitBit Flex) worn to track footsteps and your health.  In this way, everything operates in a giant system, continually collecting data to give a real-time assessment of a moment.  Still confused?  Consider it the first step toward living in the Matrix, or the tool the NSA is using to keep tabs on us.

According to Techtarget.com and modern computer theory, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a reality due to the, “… convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the Internet.”  With the recent increase in length of IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits with Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), we have a system in place to create the IoT.  According to Steve Leibson and TechTarget, with IPv6 “we could ‘assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.’” This means, we’ve built a system that can assign a UID to everything on our planet.  It’s not a question of can we build the IoT, but when – if we’re not already living there.

The result of the Internet of Things is more data, and more accurate data.  Previously, nearly all data was captured by humans punching buttons, typing or measuring – which lead to gaps in data, or data that was just plain wrong.  But, in the future, more (vastly more) accurate data will be collected with minimal effort – and it is up to us to make the most of it.

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What will you do with accurate, complete, real-time shop floor data? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Do you think your business will dodge this incoming deluge of actionable data?  Don’t bet on it.  Manufacturing is at the forefront of the IoT.  According to McKinsey & Co, “… 40% of the connected devices will be related to real time analytics of supply chains and equipment,” such as those used in manufacturing.

When I saw that statistic, and began considering what the Internet of Things will mean for the shop floor, I’ll admit – I was intimidated at first.  Many of us have enough trouble getting product out the door, let alone pouring over data gathered by the boxes in shipping, metal press machines, and the assembly line.  But that’s not thinking ahead, and it’s letting a potential advantage slip through our fingers. 

Now, more than ever, manufacturing needs to start looking at process control.  It’s time to see the shop floor not as a tool of the ERP or CRM (you know… a machine you crank-up so you can fill orders) but an integrated piece of a cohesive enterprise.

Choices and options.

The shop floor control provided by paperless manufacturing will ensure you capitalize on the data provided by the Internet of Things. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com.

Ask yourself, do you have process visibility and control?  Do you know where an order is before the RFID on your packaging does?  Do you have true shop floor control?  If the Internet of Things reveals a potential problem, are you confident in your ability to fix it before your business starts losing money?  How are you going to capitalize on real-time, actionable data your IoT-enabled enterprise will begin delivering?  Once your customers are plugged into the data the system is generating, are they going to like what they see?

Face it, the future is coming and paper-based work instructions won’t give you the control and visibility you need, so what are you going to do about it?  Give CIMx a call and let us show you how process control, visibility, and the Internet of Things can work for your business.

How You Can Make Manufacturing Collaboration Work for your Shop Floor

Knowledge-driven enterprises are using collaboration to successfully solve problems, but manufacturing struggles to use collaboration in the modern production environment.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes, you come across articles on the Internet you just have to investigate.

Here’s one.  It involves robots, stolen gold, missing treasure, NASA engineers, world-renowned oceanographers, and manufacturing.  A man named David Lang wanted to investigate the legend of missing gold deep underwater at the bottom of a well.  He recruited Eric Stackpole, a NASA Engineer, to create a sea exploration robot, known as OpenROV, to search for the treasure.  They offered free step-by-step instructions on building the robot on their website, and used crowdsourced modifications to improve the robot.

Don't waste your most valuable resource - your employees.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t waste your most valuable resource – your employees. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Crowdsourcing and manufacturing collaboration have vastly improved the original robot, and lowered the cost.  “That’s what actually makes the project so successful: rapid iteration,” one of the inventors said. “We can build one for the same price as a 1,000 (robots) and change on a dime.”

Think about that… two treasure-hunters have tapped into a problem-solving resource and found benefits that would be the envy of discrete manufacturing shop floors across the world.  Customer modifications and change orders are simplified without raising costs.  Quality and production improves.  Best practices are collected, and overall cost drops.

Yet, manufacturers struggle to create a collaborative work environment.  In fact, according to the latest estimates, manufacturing is growing less collaborative, as knowledge silos build and employees and their best practices retire and are lost.  Customers are demanding custom orders that manufacturers can’t meet.  Rapid iteration is difficult, if not impossible.  How can a shop floor work collaboratively when they can’t even be sure if the paper-based work instructions are correct?

I read the story of Lang, Stackpole and their hunt for missing gold and recognized a few lessons manufacturing should consider in the future:

  • Shop floor and process visibility is critical.  The free (and very visible) step-by-step instructions offered by Lang and Stackpole inspired crowdsourcing.  Real-time data collection and visibility, and integrated computer systems and shop floor assets, should be your goal.
  • Data collection is the key.  Process improvement and increased quality are important benefits of crowdsourcing and collaboration, and you can’t measure or compare improvements without rigorous data collection.
  • Shop floor process control ensures sustainable collaboration.  Paper-based work instructions are too rigid to be sustainable.  Look at paperless manufacturing to improve collaboration.
  • Improved communication builds collaboration.  The OpenROV website and forum allows users to easily share ideas.  Real-time data collection and visual work instructions is a good beginning to improving collaboration.
  • A complete communication network using flexible computing platforms builds collaboration and eliminates knowledge silos.  Custom-built programs and legacy systems are the foundation for tribal knowledge in many companies.
The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

The key to successful manufacturing collaboration if putting the right pieces in place. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

So, if two guys looking for gold at the bottom of the well can do it – improve production through collaboration – why do we manufacturers with all our innovation, resources and know-how struggle to make it work?

Admittedly, Lang and Stackpole don’t have much regulation to worry about and amazingly low overhead, but there is a benefit to collaboration the industry is recognizing.  The ideas presented here shouldn’t be seen as a checklist for collaborative success, but goals that will help foster a more collaborative manufacturing enterprise.

Have you considered collaborative manufacturing before?  If so, what steps have you taken to create a shop floor that works collaboratively or uses crowdsourcing?  Let us know!

A Simple Solution to Shop Floor Struggles

For anyone who wonders if paperless manufacturing is a viable solution to their shop floor troubles, a lesson in social history provides the answer.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few months ago, I spent some time at a bed and breakfast deep in the Appalachian Mountains – far from the urban sprawl.  There was one power line; phone access consisted of a satellite phone and a single cliff that had decent cell reception.

The first night was nice.  The scenery was gorgeous and the quiet serenity absolutely relaxing.  The next day was… disconcerting.  With only one TV, most of the news came via a morning paper.  It felt old and outdated.  There was no internet access, no cell reception, and no way to touch the world or even reliably communicate.

What can the power of the Internet do for your shop floor? Image  by www.colourbox.com

What can the power of the Internet do for your shop floor? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Without the Internet, I had no visibility.  I felt like I had no control.  To get any real time facts, reliable information, or make a phone call, I had to drive 30+ minutes.  It reminded me of the world before the Internet, or life on a shop floor without paperless manufacturing.

Did I get your attention?  Consider this – many production environments have disconnected islands of automation, with information scattered across several media.  Real-time information requires you to be there.  Accessing information, collating data, and even communicating within your organization is a struggle.  Many companies have limited ability to analyze and improve the work flow process – sounds a lot like life before the Internet.

Everyone has their own unique view and definition of the Internet (including the late Senator Ted Stevens who was sure it wasn’t a big truck, but a series of tubes).  If you look beyond the conveniences at the true value of the Internet, it has become a vehicle to collect, consolidate and communicate information between people anytime and anywhere.  The Internet has removed geographic distance as a limitation on human endeavor.  It gives everyone access to a single, convenient source of information.  The Internet gives us visibility and control, which many shop floors are still struggling to find.

With paperless manufacturing, remove the silos of information holding your company back. Image by www.colourbox.com

With paperless manufacturing, remove the silos of information holding your company back. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

The goal of paperless manufacturing is to bring the power and convenience of the Internet to manufacturing.  Paperless manufacturing collects, consolidates, sorts and communicates information between people in the company anytime and anywhere.  It collects and preserves production data while providing instant access to each element of the work flow.  Paperless manufacturing saves historical data to help shape the future of the company.  It eliminates the “silos” of knowledge.  No more disconnected reports with information 2+ weeks old, missing data, unreliable analytics, reactive quality control, or bits of information hiding in multiple formats.

No more disconnected (but stunningly beautiful) information-vacuum-like bed and breakfast sitting inside your company and holding you back.

This does not mean you are opening your company up to the horrors of the Internet (and I will admit, there are horrors out there).  Paperless manufacturing uses the concept of the Internet to provide you with the tools and power connectedness – a rich reservoir of information at your fingertips all the time and instantly available.  It gives your team a location to store all the data they accumulate, and an easy way to access it when you need to.   You have the security of firewalls and encryption, but the convenience of an enterprise Internet you control.

The Internet has made a dramatic difference in our lives, and paperless manufacturing can potentially make an equally dramatic difference for your shop floor.  I can remember many arguments against the Internet (including a neighbor who swore robots were spying on her through the Internet), but the power of technology has shaped our world, ultimately for the better.  Paperless Manufacturing is here – what are you waiting for?

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.

Fix Your Shop Floor Processes Now

Don’t fall into the “If it ain’t broke…” trap.  Sometimes your biggest mistake is in not doing anything.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

I don’t know where I first heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” but it’s become the rallying cry of procrastinators everywhere.  Unfortunately, it’s a rallying cry that ends up a funeral dirge or death knell…

Case in point… my neighbor had a rattle in the car engine.  It sounded like an engine wheeze – metal on metal.  “No big deal,” my neighbor said. “It’s just something loose and the car’s working fine.  I’ll get to it before vacation.”

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

Does your shop floor run like a well-oiled machine, or a wheezing engine? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Vacation passed and the rattle continued.  Other priorities and expenses came up, so why bother with a rattle that wasn’t hurting anything?  That is, until he destroyed the engine on his way to a business meeting.   The car overheated, the head gasket blew and it completely ruined the engine.  My neighbor missed his meeting, spent more than $4,000 fixing his car, enjoyed a night on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck, and was forced to coordinate rides to work and trips to the grocery store while the car was fixed.

Lesson of the story… a simple belt replacement ended up costing him thousands in repairs, plus lost time, missed meetings, and endless aggravation.

Choices and options.

How will you handle broken and inefficient processes on your shop floor? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

It’s a lesson not all manufacturers understand.  Software Advice recently released a survey (found here) detailing manufacturing software buyer trends. The report, by Software Advice’s analyst Derek Singleton, identifies paper and spreadsheets as the primary method of tracking manufacturing processes for many of the manufacturers taking the survey.  Research by Oracle has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, add complexity and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  So why do so many companies continue to use paper-driven processes to control the shop floor (the heart of manufacturing)?

Because if it ain’t broke, why fix it?  If all your shop floor knows is inefficiency and is comfortable with it, then why change?

More than increasing risk, paper-driven processes significantly increase costs for businesses.  As reported by Oracle, a study by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found businesses, “spend $20 in labor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document,” (www.aiim.org).  The money has to come from somewhere, so these costs are either eaten by the manufacturer or passed along to the customers.  So why are companies throwing away money on paper?

I go back to my neighbor and the months he spent with a rattle in his engine.  He knew he should do something, but other priorities came up and the engine never seemed that bad.  “It’s more work to fix than deal with it”, he told me once.

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency?  What steps are your competition taking?  Photo by www.colourbox.com

What steps can you take to increase shop floor efficiency? What steps are your competition taking? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

For manufacturers operating in a paper-driven environment, going paperless would mean buying and installing a new system (which takes valuable IT resources), integrating a new process, and training the shop floor.  It feels like a lot of work for some nebulous, paperless return.  If the decision-maker isn’t a shop floor employee, it is even more difficult to justify the cost since you don’t feel the paper-based shop floor pain on a daily basis… and so, life under, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” goes on.

But there is a danger to the, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” mentality, and the grinding noise in my neighbor’s engine perfectly illustrates it…  We recently worked with a manufacturer that repeatedly failed audits due to paper-based record-keeping.  In less than a month, we were able to install a system on the shop floor and begin collecting audit-worthy as-built records.  Another manufacturer lost a major client because they couldn’t guarantee timely change orders – a simple function in paperless manufacturing and MES.  Waiting to fix shop floor challenges isn’t a solution, it means disaster hasn’t struck yet.  Worse yet is failing to recognize there is a problem and it needs fixing.

So what does this mean for you and your shop floor?

Another section of the Software Advice study identifies improving or automating processes as the top reason manufacturers purchase new manufacturing software.  Other reasons include updating or modernizing their software, additional features and functionality, and company growth.  Another part of the study identified improving efficiency as the primary reason companies seek to replace existing manufacturing software.  We are seeing a consistent drive to improve the shop floor, and the beginning of a movement away from the “If it ain’t broke…” mentality because people are starting to realize “It is broke”.

Companies are beginning to take control of their own destiny and take action proactively, rather than reactively.  The manufacturing marketplace is tightening, and proactive process and efficiency improvements are a competitive advantage for many companies.   More and more companies are turning every day to paperless manufacturing and manufacturing software for an advantage.

“If it ain’t broke…” isn’t a recipe for success in modern manufacturing.  Take a lesson from my neighbor – if you hear a grinding engine wheeze in your shop floor, get it fixed or you might be stuck waiting while your competition moves ahead.  Are there problems you are waiting to solve on your shop floor?  Are there problems you don’t even recognize on your shop floor?  Are your work processes a victim of the, “it ain’t broke…” mentality?  If so, let us know.  The solution may be much closer, easier to solve, and less expensive, than you might think.

How to Get the Paperless Manufacturing System You Want

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

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

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

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implementation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choices and options.

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

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

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

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

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