Tag Archives: ROI

Insider Tips on Calculating ROI for Your Shop Floor

CIMx Software offers simple tips that take the fear out of calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or shop floor software solution project.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or MES project is easy with our insider tips.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Calculating ROI for your next paperless manufacturing or MES project is easy with our insider tips. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Calculating ROI is a dreaded task for many shop floor solution and paperless manufacturing committees.  The final ROI estimate is an uncomfortable marriage of budget, estimate, faith, conjecture, arcane formula, and (sometimes) chicanery – among other things.

We all know it, which is why many committees are stymied when it comes time to create and present an ROI.  For most companies, there is no right or wrong answer, and most times there is no “auto-calculate.”  The final result comes down to a “reasonable” guess based on a mix of fact and estimate, which leads many to question how to even begin the process.   

Never fear, we’ve collected tips, thoughts and ideas on how to get started with a common-sense ROI that will win over the most critical judge.

Calculating the cost of a Paper-based Shop Floor

Start your calculation by looking at your present shop floor.  Consider it a baseline for your calculation.  In every paper-based production shop we’ve encountered, the following is true:

  1. There are employees involved in preparation, distribution and then collection work instructions, work orders, travelers and quality data collection forms.  Many times, these employees are better used in important production tasks;
  2. Change is a way of life on the shop floor. ECOs (Engineering Change Orders) happen, and are approved and distributed – sometimes long after production is complete.  ECO’s distributed after production often require rework or scrap;
  3. Poor instructions, missing information, and misunderstanding about work to be done result in costly errors;
  4. Audits by regulators or customers to certify quality processes in a paper environment takes (significant) time and resources away from production.   Missing information, misplaced records, and data collection errors results in inadequate and costly audit results;
  5. Record keeping – the shuffling, organization, and storage of paper records – is labor-intensive especially in a shop that is growing and expanding.
Where are you leading your shop floor?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Where are you leading your shop floor? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

All of these activities take time, resources and money.  Often, these costs increase in direct proportion to increased production.  None of them directly impact or improve production.  These activities, and many others like them, are costly.  For each issue you identify, calculate or estimate a cost.  Even if the actual cost is not known, you can begin with an estimation.  For example, if 5 employees were involved in collecting data for an audit, then determine the cost in manpower for the audit.  Look at the effort and cost of record keeping, and begin assigning costs (including paper storage, manpower, and mistakes).

 Estimate the Savings of the Solution

The items and issues above are directly addressed (in various ways) by a paperless manufacturing solution.  Most times, a company researching a paperless manufacturing solution will have one or two key issues as the focus of their search.  They seek a simple, low-cost, low-risk solution to eliminate a problem, save time and money, and gain better control and visibility of production.

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

When calculating an ROI for a potential paperless manufacturing solution, look at the issues the system solves.  For example, does the solution offer:

  • A technology proven to eliminate the need for paper work flow, and the cost and errors that occur using paper.

If the solution eliminates the need for paper, then add the savings you gain from eliminating paper distribution, and the errors you incur from using paper on the shop floor.

  • Creation of automatic as-built and a digital record of production.

A solution that offers automatic record-keeping will eliminate the cost, frustration and errors of record-keeping.  This should also eliminate the cost (in both time and work) and stress associated with audits and assembly of production records for customer services.  Add these savings to your ROI.

  • Improved digital work instructions, work orders, and shop floor data collection.

Digital work instructions and shop floor control and visibility are the heart of paperless manufacturing.  Look at the improvements the system will make to work orders, and determine the mistakes, error and quality escapes that will be eliminated.  Calculate the cost in scrap and rework to the ROI.  Also, digital work instructions should significantly improve production overall.  Add this savings to the ROI. 

  • Change management and shop floor visibility.

Look at the costs incurred by change management, including scrap and rework.  Look at the cost of job tracking.  A system that successfully manages change and offers real time visibility will save on these costs.

Once you’ve matched the solutions provided by the system to the expenses you’ve identified in the previous step, you’ve begun assembling your ROI.

Other Considerations
Take the confusion out of building an ROI estimate with these insider tips. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Take the confusion out of building an ROI estimate with these insider tips. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

There is more to be considered when calculating ROI.  Look at the costs and expenses that you may incur with the new system.  Beyond the base cost, maintenance and any license fees, consider other potential high cost features of the system, such as:

  • Can the solution be easily installed?  Look for systems that can be installed in phases.  This will minimize the installation time, risk, and the disruption and changes to production.
  • Does the solution offer simple options for integration into other systems to share data or files?
  • Does the solution use non-proprietary hardware and software?  This will allow self-support if desired, and minimize service charges.
  • What is the cost of upgrades to the software?  Free lifetime upgrades allow the shop floor to take advantage of new technology and avoid obsolescence.

Study the system for other potential costs, and consider these as you calculate the ROI.

Summary

With most paperless manufacturing research projects, as the solution is uncovered and the features and the functionality are revealed, there is a flush of excitement.  But, as the work of calculating and creating an ROI begins, the excitement fades.  But it shouldn’t be that way.

Creating an ROI should be a simple matter of identifying issues on the shop floor, calculating the cost of the issue, and assigning a savings to the solution.

Want to learn more, or see how we can help your shop floor create an ROI for a shop floor solution, let us know!  We’re happy to help.

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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.

______________________

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.

Is Paperless Manufacturing Right for You?

No matter your company size or industry, paperless manufacturing delivers shop floor benefits (if you have the right system).

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

A while back, I had a leak in my basement- water from the shower came pouring out of the ceiling in a torrent, splashing across boxes of Christmas decorations.  I called a plumber, who gave me an estimate that included major construction, a replacement pipe, and a team of plumbers.  The estimate made me dizzy, but what could I do- shower in the basement below the leak?

Choices and options.

You have a shop floor challenge and you’re not sure what to do. Have you considered all the solutions available? Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

I called another plumber who offered to take a look.  He studied the waterfall, and then cut a small hole in the closet outside the bathroom.  With a little wire and a wrench, he fixed the leak in 10 minutes.  “No worries,” he said. “The pipes are fine, but the fitting came loose.  I changed the seal, so it shouldn’t happen again.”  Total cost of the repair was less than $100.

The moral of the story… sometimes a solution is much easier, much cheaper and much closer than you might think.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen played out time and again in manufacturing.  A business will struggle with out of control shop floor processes, inefficient operations, significant loss from scrap and rework, or even failed audits because they believe a solution like paperless manufacturing or an MES is out of reach, too costly, and too complex.  They know the solution exists, but they think it won’t work for them.

Some try to build a software solution in-house, thinking this will get them a “personalized” solution under their control for less money, not realizing how much time and cost is involved in writing computer code from scratch.  An effective in-house solution can take YEARS of effort, with no guarantee of success.

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Have you considered paperless manufacturing for your company?

Other companies limp along with patchwork solutions, legacy systems, or increasingly larger stacks of spreadsheets and documents traveling the highways and byways of their shop floor.  These companies believe software solutions are designed for multi-national companies with sales in the billions and the resources to pay for a team of programmers.  This belief leads many smaller companies to continue to use paper build books and excel spreadsheets.

You’ll be happy to know, the solution IS much closer than you imagine.  CIMx offers paperless manufacturing solutions for any size company, large or small, in any industry.  It is the right system for many manufacturers.  Here’s why:

  • CIMx offers scalable solutions.  CIMx designed a paperless manufacturing solution that scales to your operations.  You never have to take on more complexity or functionality than you want or need.  If all you need is improved quality, or as-built records, or a real-time view of production for improved customer service, paperless manufacturing offers a solution.  With CIMx, you can focus on the solution you need, then integrate additional capabilities when you are ready.  The solution scales to your needs, your operation doesn’t struggle to scale to the solution.
  • Phased implementation gives you control of the process.  The entire system can be completely installed in weeks.  At that point, you select the features and functions you want, turning them on in phases and using them when you are ready.  You and your team never take on more cost, risk, or change than you are prepared to manage.
  • Use your current processes and work instructions. With CIMx, there is no need to change your work instructions or adapt your current processes.  The system doesn’t require you to squish or adapt your current processes or instructions into new forms or tables.  The CIMx solution works as a tool for you.  This minimizes change and shop floor disruption, and ensures an even quicker ROI.
Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Paperless manufacturing is now a scalable solution, offering benefits to manufacturers in all industries and of all sizes. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

On top of that, CIMx offers one of the most effective support systems in the industry.  Rather than an impersonal help desk or support line, you have an applications engineer assigned to your account who is available for training, questions, and product support.  They know you, your business and your system.   They offer solutions instead of questions, and ensure the software is really benefitting your shop floor.  You never have to worry that once the system is installed, you are left on your own.

Ever since the waterfall in my basement, I’ve quit assuming the easiest, most practical solution isn’t for me.  I won’t take a reactive approach to problem solving, instead I try to use the BEST solution with the RIGHT answer (yeah, I’m looking at you broken air conditioner).  This approach has saved me money, minimized frustration and made me happier.

So what challenges does your shop floor face?  Have you thought about what paperless manufacturing can do for you?  Contact CIMx Software today to learn how we can help you overcome shop floor challenges with solutions that include workflow control, shop floor and production visibility, mobile manufacturing, and visual multi-media work instructions.  We have a number of solutions ready to tackle your biggest problems.

Shining the Truth on Mobile Manufacturing Myths

Mobile Manufacturing is a hot topic in the industry, but many manufacturers are clinging to myths holding their company back.

By David Oeters, CIMx Software Corporate Communications

Manufacturers see the advantages of mobile technology on the shop floor.  For example, how much more effective could your quality control be if they could implement a hold from the shop floor?  How much more effective would your organization be if customer service had access to real time data on production from anywhere?  Would leadership meetings benefit from real-time production reports and dashboards?

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Is there room on your shop floor for mobile manufacturing? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Mobile manufacturing obviously holds promise, including increased quality, better process control and productivity, but while companies search for information, little benefit has come from these investigations into mobile or collaborative manufacturing.  Perhaps it is the misguided belief mobile manufacturing is simply giving iPads to the shop floor employees, or that mobile manufacturing will lose production data, holding companies back.

We wanted to take a few minutes to shine the honest truth on the mobile manufacturing myths.  Here are our Top 5 mobile manufacturing myths, and the truth hiding behind the myths:

1)      Mobile Manufacturing means putting iPads on the shop floor.

Not necessarily true!  You implement as much, or as little, mobile manufacturing as you want.  With the right system, you select the devices with access to your data.  This could mean executives with mobile access to real-time, shop floor production dashboards, but an employee with a smart phone can’t make changes to work instructions, and your shop floor won’t have access to Facebook. A robust system supporting mobility will offer you more control of production, not less, and become an important tool for increasing efficiency.

2)      Mobility is another name for cloud computing, and I’m going to lose control of my data.

In one sense, this is true.  PCMag defines cloud computing, in the simplest terms, as accessing data and programs over the internet, usually with a web-based browser.  If so, mobile manufacturing is a form of cloud computing… and an excellent way to evaluate the Cloud risk-free!  Mobile manufacturing can set up a secure “cloud” inside your company, protecting your data from outside threats while allowing you the security of automated data backups and other cloud-based IT benefits.  Think of it as a low-risk first step into the cloud without depending on an outside organization.

3)      Mobile manufacturing will expose my data to outside security threats.

As with any new system that works with your data, there is a potential risk, but common-sense precautions will protect your enterprise from risk. Bill Connor, CEO of the security firm Entrust, has identified a few of the more common misconceptions and myths regarding mobile security.  For example, you can see who is connected to your system and what mobile device they are using, and with common-sense precautions, confidential data can be protected even if a device is stolen.

4)      Mobile Manufacturing will expose my business to change I can’t control.

One key to success is controlling risk and capitalizing on change.  Consider a phased implementation for mobile manufacturing, which gives you complete control of change.  You select the change you want  and when you implement it, so you never take on more risk than you can handle, guaranteeing an ROI (return on investment) for the project.  For example, implement mobile manufacturing in one area, such as quality control.  Slowly roll it out to other areas of the enterprise when you have a better understanding of the process, a clear goal for the system, and have achieved an ROI.

5)      Mobile devices can’t be trusted.

More errors and inefficiencies are produced by a paper-based manufacturing system than a paperless one, which you will likely achieve with mobile manufacturing. Research has shown paper-driven processes increase costs, introduce errors, and create compliance issues.  In fact, 75.9% of companies reported significant business risks due to inefficient document-driven processes, including paper-based processes.  You may feel more comfortable in a paper-based system, but this is not necessarily what is best for you or your company.

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Mobile and collaborative manufacturing is coming, are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paperless and mobile manufacturing systems hold a lot of promise for manufacturing, and can make your shop floor more productive.  But few manufacturers have taken action on the research.  Myths and misinformation are clouding the topic.  Visit our website to learn the latest CIMx initiatives in mobile manufacturing, and see what other advantages you might be missing.  As you consider possible process improvements for your shop floor, find the truth – don’t let myths get in the way of game-changing ideas.

Putting secrets of baseball to work on your shop floor!

There are baseball lessons that will improve manufacturing production, increase efficiency, and deliver real-time shop floor visibility and control.

Baseball is a tradition in Cincinnati (the home of CIMx).  Every spring, little league baseball teams appear in every open field, and residents sport at least one (and probably more) piece of Cincinnati Reds apparel.  The city is awash in a sea of red and white for every home game. Excitement for the game is infectious.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

What can baseball teach you about your shop floor? Or mobile manufacturing? Or quality? The answer will surprise you.

So I leapt at a recent invitation to a game.  A few friends offered me an extra ticket.  It was a great game!  The home team won, I got beer and a hot dog.  But, I didn’t know it was a “working” game.  It turns out one of my friends was a baseball statistician, and we were there to help with a project.

While I watched the game for a wicked curveball, a nice defensive play, or a massive home run, my friend was thinking about probability, applied statistical methods, quantitative analysis and variance theory.  During the game, each of us had a notebook filled with lines and data collection notes.  My job was to collect data on each pitch.  It was hard work!  I had scribbled notes in the margins, question marks all over the page.  Ever try to see the difference between a slider or a split finger fastball from the second tier of a stadium?

And when we were done, sitting at the bar over wings, collating the data was a huge headache.  A key data point was lost under mustard.  Another page of data was missing, likely victim of an overzealous stadium attendant.  My statistician friend was not amused at my unscientific “guess-timates.” After 3 hours of collating, we left without a clear mathematical picture of the game.  All we had was a messy collection of data points that inspired little confidence.

Which, unfortunately, reminds me of shop floor data collection and as-built records for many manufacturers.

I’ll admit my friend set-up what seemed like a “can’t-miss, error-free” system for collecting data.  I just had to mark the sheet for each pitch, log the number for each batter and pitcher, and keep track of when and where in the game we were.  Sounds simple, right?  It was, until reality hit.  We had pitching changes and substitute batters (change orders), bathroom breaks (user-errors), missing and torn notebooks (paper-errors), unreadable data (shop-errors), unreadable notes (input-errors).  All five of us at the game are college-graduates with successful careers, but I was amazed at the number of errors we ran into during the course of a single game.  It was the perfect example of the challenges facing shop floor data collection.

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

The cost in effort, manpower, and money to create an accurate as-built with paper records is a losing proposition.  Quality?  Unless you have a strong data collection system, then quality production analysis is going to be a “guess-stimate.” Want to use real-time data to track orders or improve production? Can’t do it when your data sits getting dusty in the margins of your as-built book or work order traveler until someone types it into your database. Can you really say your data is secure cruising around the shop floor?  Looking at Lean Manufacturing or Six-Sigma production improvement?  Paper data collection will not get your team where it needs to be. How long does it take you to answer a production question when a customer calls?  Is that acceptable?

So how does baseball keep such accurate records and data?  They have a team of statisticians collecting data throughout the game and a digital system collecting data and identifying errors, which are quickly corrected when needed. Data is kept in a secure location (so stadium attendants can’t clean it away).  The system is designed to automatically create usable records (real-time reporting) from the data so baseball junkies can get their fill of real time baseball stats at the click of a button.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

We have accurate baseball records going back decades.  This is data we can trust (as long as you ignore potential “juicing” in your analysis).  Want to know how the Cincinnati Reds did in 1982? The data is there, accessible at a push of a button, and it is trustworthy.  Not that you would want that data, because it happens to be one of the worst seasons for the Reds (first time they finished in last place since 1937).

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

How far can you go with the right tools and processes in place? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Your shop floor can and should work like that.  Data collection should be a seamless part of the process for real time data collection, just like the team of data junkies that pore over and analyze every baseball game. Ensure accurate data with built-in safeguards.  Improve quality with a system that compares work plans with current data, flagging non-conformances. Production improvement is possible only with accurate and efficient data collection.  What could you do with anywhere, anytime access to real production data?  If the baseball brainiacs can access the pitch count from a random game five years ago, why can’t your shop floor produce accurate as-builts when it comes time for an audit?

The truth is, they can.  It is not difficult to implement shop floor data collection.  A controlled, phased implementation is a low-risk process that ensures an ROI for each phase, and will improve production, reduce errors, ensure quality, and create accurate real-time records that for an easy, timely, and efficient audit.

So, my first effort at baseball stadium data collection was a failure (but did get me a free baseball game, beer, a hot dog, and wings… so it wasn’t THAT much of a failure).  But, we learned a lesson.  Next time, we’re going with tablets and an app (our own version of mobile manufacturing). A laptop is collecting data and correlating it for real time accuracy. We set up a process one evening, tested it during a game on TV, and it’s ready to be implemented at the next game.

What kind of shop floor data collection system do you have?  How do you use and control your production data?  How quickly can you prepare for an audit?  If you’d like to know more about how you can improve your manufacturing process and shop floor data collection, contact us today. We’re happy to help.

Deciphering the Future of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is changing. Can you make change work for you and your shop floor?

A recent (May, 2013) issue of Scientific America magazine featured two articles that got me thinking about the future of manufacturing.  The first, written by David Bourne, discussed robots on the shop floor, and how science is working to integrate the capabilities of humans and robots to increase production and lower costs.

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit www.colourbox.com

What will manufacturing in the future look like? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

Another article by Larry Greenemeier took a close look at 3D, or additive, printing.  Titled “Will 3D Printing Transform Conventional Manufacturing,” the article focused on the strengths and weaknesses of 3D Printing, and how it could be used by manufacturers in the future.

There was enough insight and information in these articles for a years worth of material!  But before I could craft an opinion on robotics, I noticed my notes were filled with the word, “change.” 

It’s no surprise that articles on the future of manufacturing would discuss change.  But the variety of changes caught my attention.  David Bourne discussed, “… the rise of custom manufacturing,” and, “… Need to modify a popular product? Human-robot teams can create custom versions of anything… without the need for expensive retooling.”  The article advocates change to accommodate more change.

Greenemeier also mentions the advantages of change in manufacturing as he discusses 3D printing, “… few doubt that for customizable, small-volume applications, additive manufacturing has tremendous power,” and, “… in the case of short production runs or manufacturers aiming for more customized products.”  Again and again, I saw “change” words such as customization, custom, and modify described in the glowing, utopian-like terms.  It felt like a call to action.

I also found warnings and caveats in the article.  Phrases such as, “… -manufacturers are often slow to adopt new technologies,“ were scattered in both articles.  The authors were previewing an exciting new world for manufacturing… if only manufacturers could get out of their own way.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

What will the shop floor of the future look like. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

The article was from Scientific America, with a focus on the latest technology.  The authors are an editor and a professor – advocates for technology, not manufacturing.  Manufacturers are wary when it comes to new technology.  New technology can be costly, with an uncertain ROI and the potential for disastrous disruption of shop floor operation.  New technology carries a risk on the shop floor.  For example, if humans start working more closely with machines, how many other humans will lose their job?  Manufacturing industry leaders need to consider these questions before jumping on the bandwagon.  An author doesn’t have that responsibility.

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing.  Are you ready? Photo by www.colourbox.com

Technology is shaping the future of manufacturing. Are you ready? Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

We all know manufacturing is changing – and changing much faster now than ever before.  Custom manufacturing, with individualized mass production and smaller runs, are commonplace.  Mobile manufacturing, work plans on tablets, collaborative manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, MES and the cloud are all making their mark on the shop floor.  There are shorter innovation cycles, more change orders and greater customer input on production.  New technology always precedes shop floor changes.  3D printing is coming.  Robotics is moving to the shop floor, and humans and robots will work together to deliver greater shop floor efficiency.

Reading these articles, I’m excited by the cool new technology, even a little scared and protective of the shop floor.  I’m indignant at the criticism leveled at manufacturing by the authors, but I can’t help but wonder if the criticism is true.  There are questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • Is manufacturing really afraid of change?  If so, what does it mean for our industry?  I don’t know of any business eagerly seeking out change, but is it fair to single out manufacturing?  Is this a fair assessment of our industry?
  • If your shop floor had to change, could it?  How much resistance would you face?  I know I’ve been on my fair share of “process improvement committees,” and even gone through corporate buy-outs.  Change is never easy, but can we do it?
  • What is your shop floor doing to improve efficiency?  Are you happy with the status quo?  If not, what are you willing to do to improve or change?  How much change are you willing to accept?
  • Have you looked at the latest technology?  Do you see a place for 3D printing or smart division of labor between robots and humans? At what point do you accept new technology and adopt it for your own?

I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions.  In fact, after reading these articles in Scientific America, I don’t even know if they are questions we can answer yet, but they need to be asked.  Maybe we write the questions on a sticky note on the bottom of our computer screen as a reminder the future is coming, and it will look different than the world we live in today.

As you begin contemplating change in your shop, think about how you can make change work for you and your business.  Change is coming, the question is- can you make it work for you?

Manufacturing Risk or Manufacturing Success: It All Depends on How You Invest

Investment is the smartest way to grow your manufacturing business, and not investing is the biggest risk in today’s fast-paced manufacturing world. 

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I recently testified for the State of Ohio House Ways and Means committee on behalf of Governor Kasich’s 2013-14 budget.  The governor has proposed a variety of measures to help small businesses to grow their business by investing.  While some won’t be happy with his budget, I appreciate his focus on growing business in our state, which has not always been business-friendly.  I was excited to see so much interest in investing, and enjoyed meeting like-minded people working toward a better future.

Which made me think about our industry – manufacturing. I want to talk about investment in manufacturing, and why the biggest risk we can take is not investing in our future.

Investing is risk, but a bigger risk is not investing for the future.

Investing is risk, but a bigger risk is not investing for the future.

Investment is risky.  On a good day, it’s an adventure in uncertainty.  There are no guarantees.  Investing well takes foresight, research, and a willingness to accept risk. Investing means taking a big bet and hoping everything will line up just right and lead you to a future that might be better.  It’s based more on speculation than certainty, filled with “ifs” and “maybes,” and not enough “definitelies.”

Investment can be scary, but the outcome for businesses that don’t invest is even scarier.  It’s a mirror-view of what you have today, but with more problems, stagnation and eventual decline. As manufacturing processes and machines age, productivity and profits drops. New technology, new products and systems, and constantly changing customer and marketplace demands place pressure on manufacturers to adapt.  Manufacturers that can’t or won’t adapt or invest will quickly find themselves out of work and irrelevant.

Here’s another way to think about it – take a dollar out of your pocket and put it on the table.  Do nothing with it.  Next year, it will be worth far less.  It will buy less and you lose the opportunity for it to grow at all.  But, as long as your desk isn’t like mine on a Friday, you could be sure your dollar wouldn’t be lost.  If you don’t invest, in the end that’s all you have a – a single, lonely, dollar that is NOT growing your business.

It’s understandable why many are so reluctant to invest. No matter how well-organized your shop floor is, there are unseen issues every day that affect productivity, quality and profit.  Sure, the unforeseen happens even in a structured office environment, but with manufacturing failure become even more obvious. There is no hiding when parts don’t ship on time and customers are left waiting, or quality control problems show the deficiencies on your shop floor.

Maximize your return by investing early. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Maximize your return by investing early. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Investing is adding more variables to the shop floor equation. There is more change to manage, and more risk to mitigate.  Manufacturing is never a sure thing, and there are advantages to being risk averse.  Prospects we talk to are always worried about the risk of changing their shop floor, implementing paperless, and changing the way their operators view work instructions.  Will this change improve operations or add complexity?  I understand their worries, and I know responsible leaders will ask tough questions and consider the ROI.  I know I would.  But it is equally important to consider the reward, and the risk of doing nothing.

Manufacturers come to us with challenges and problems.  They seek manufacturing solutions.  Without investment, productivity and profitability stagnate or decline.  How much money is lost if you don’t address problems as soon as possible. How much improvement will make an investment worthwhile. Consider that hypothetical dollar on your desk – what will your business do if you don’t invest or grow.   How much money are you throwing away to quality control problems, out-of-control documentation, or process inefficiencies?  How can you mitigate the risk of a new system with the risks of your current processes?

Our goal with any project is to mitigate risk.  CIMx provides tools to our customers enabling them to limit risk when they decide to move forward in a project.  For example, our customers select, pay for and implement only the features and functionality they want.  Customers take on only the risk, cost and change they are prepared to accept.  This is why CIMx designs software that can easily be upgraded.  As technology and production change, our customers can easily adapt with free software upgrades that can be completed in as little as 30 minutes.

We walk hand-in-hand with our customers, sharing both the risks and the gains.  Our goal is to ensure we all win, and investment builds the manufacturing business.

And it is working.  One of our clients calculated cost savings when they implemented a paperless manufacturing system of over 7 ½ weeks of labor for each work order produced for the shop floor.  Considering the average salary of an engineer, that’s more than $12,000 in savings for each work order.  On an average week or month, that’s additional profit, and doesn’t even consider other benefits to paperless manufacturing.  This is savings and benefit gained after investment.

It’s time to stop thinking of investment as not only “problem-solving,” but also “business growth.” Our reluctance to move forward and embrace opportunity to meet the future is holding business back.  If you’re not willing to invest, can you expect your business to grow?