Tag Archives: shop floor optimization

Efficient Manufacturing

5 Benefits of Simplicity for Paperless Manufacturing

Technology doesn’t have to be complex, no matter what some manufacturing software suppliers tell you.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There’s a conundrum in the perception of simplicity in manufacturing software.

Software that is too complex – the kind that requires 12 clicks to complete a simple function, and has a user interface that looks like a science fiction movie vomited on the screen, will not improve production. Most of us can agree on that. The complex system may offer some benefit, but system users spend more time serving the needs of the software than on production.

But many companies still cling to all that unnecessary, vomitus complexity.

Discrete manufacturing and manufacturing in general, is a complex process, and there is a nagging belief that complex manufacturing requires complex software. The belief compels companies to pay for complexity, thinking it is the only way software can support their processes.

Manufacturing Productivity Doesn’t Require Complexity

They feel safer with all those steps, and sub-menus, and screens within screens within system trees… it’s like a safety blanket – a big digital blanket of complexity… that is totally unnecessary, and likely hurting production profit and efficiency. Consider this:

  • Time spent working in a manufacturing software system is still non-value added time. Clicking buttons and navigating menus is not active production. If an engineer can complete a task in 3 minutes using one software system, and the same task takes 3 hours in another system, you need to carefully consider which system is truly enhancing productivity.
  • Automation requires precision to be successful. Automating tasks is great… when it works. If you automate a process that results in errors and problems, then the complex automation may be adding more problems than solutions.
  • Combining software systems isn’t necessary to improve productivity. Cramming your MES, ERP, PLM and more together isn’t going to make your life easier. The software tools an accountant needs are very different than the tools for a quality engineer. The goal isn’t a single log-in screen, but a single, shared source of data for the company – which can be done with savvy computer connections rather than unnatural interbreeding of functions.
  • The User Interface of the software is just as important as the technology backbone. Software systems built solely by developers may be a technological wonder, and still be almost unusable. Without input from users, a system could leave the shop floor struggling to integrate the needs of the software into their already complex manufacturing processes.
  • Complexity in software should happen behind the scenes, and not on the screen. The best software systems focus on usability, improving productivity not only with the software tools, but also the user interaction. This means the system eliminates unnecessary interaction, simply feeding data when and where the user needs it, and prompting the user for input only when necessary.

Better Results with Paperless Manufacturing

Before purchasing a system, make sure you get input from the users. Consider the tasks necessary to use the software. Is it asking more, or less, from your workers? How difficult will the training be? If it takes multiple training sessions just to add planning to the system, you may have software that will hurt, rather than help, your productivity.

Want to learn more, or get a demonstration of a CIMx Software solution to see how easy our system is to use, then contact us today. We’re always happy to help.

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How to Win With a Manufacturing Shop Floor Pilot Program

Conducting a Pilot Program for your MES or Paperless Manufacturing system won’t guarantee project success, but there are clear benefits for the savvy shop floor.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Ever talk to someone in the manufacturing industry about a software pilot program?  Unfortunately, I don’t know of a topic more likely to kill a conversation at a dinner party (… “So, how’s your pilot program going?  Pass the biscuits, please!)  If it does happen to come up, you will quickly discover something we’ve come to accept.

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project.  Image by www.colourbox.com

Understanding the reasons and potential benefits of your pilot program will help ensure a focused project. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

We call it the Shop Floor Pilot Program Conundrum – a strange place where multiple realities merge.

Here’s what I mean.  The vendor might see the pilot program as an extended demo, or as an easy way to get their foot on the shop floor and another step in the software sale.  The manufacturing executive sees it as an inexpensive vendor service and low risk way to confirm product selection.  The shop floor sees it as a pain-in-the-butt project from corporate.  Savvy shop floors, however, see it as a way to kick the wheels of a new toy and proof the sky is falling, and shop floor errors can be fixed with the right tools.  IT might be wondering how much work this will mean for them.

Benefits of the Pilot Program

The conundrum in all this… they may all be right.  In the end, there’s no “wrong” way to view the pilot program, but conflicting ideas can lead to missed opportunities that negatively impact the final project.  So, in our quest to de-mystify the conundrum, here are a few things a shop floor pilot program could (potentially) definitely do for you:

  • Define an achievable requirement list.  Many MES projects suffer from “requirement bloat” as everyone in the company offers their opinion on what the system should do.  A good pilot program will splash some needed reality on the requirement list.  It will focus the project on achievable requirements that make a positive impact on the business.
  • Build shop floor acceptance for the program.  Giving the shop floor team, who will be working with the new system the most, the chance to work with the software is a great idea.  Once they see the software won’t lead to robots replace people, but will help them do their job better, faster, and with fewer errors, they’ll work hard to make the project a success.
  • Low risk first step before a much larger investment.  Spending a little money to install the software on one line is much cheaper than buying all the equipment to install it everywhere before you know how it works.  This way, you can identify challenges early and will have a better idea of final cost of the total project.
  • Build a stronger case for an ROI.  Before you install the software, an estimated ROI will be mostly conjecture.  With a pilot program, you will have real shop floor data you can attach to the estimate to prove the ROI.  Plus, nothing can build an advocate for the project than an executive seeing firsthand the benefits of the investment and how it will work.

There are benefits to a pilot program.  They can help define a project, prove the ROI, and minimize risk.  But, if you begin your pilot project with false expectations, you end up with confusion.  The vendor isn’t sure what they’re offering, the shop floor isn’t sure what they’re getting and the executives aren’t sure what they’re buying.  No one is happy.

Eliminate confusion, and make sure you understand what the pilot program can do for you.  Have you been part of a successful pilot program in the past?  If so, what made it a success?  What did you do to eliminate confusion?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!

Unraveling the Mystery of Dynamic Scheduling in Manufacturing

For any company looking to improve manufacturing production through dynamic scheduling, the first step is making sure you have the right tools in place to make it work.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few years back, I bought a brand new Blu-Ray player.  When I opened up the package, I realized I needed a longer HDMI cable.  So, I bought one, then plugged in a movie… only to discover I needed an Internet connection.  The tiny instruction manual, filled with mysterious illustrations and illegible phrases, didn’t help.

I was annoyed enough to throw that Blu-Ray in the trash and pull out a Betamax tape (if I had one).  But, when I finally got the system working and watched the first movie… the work was worthwhile.

Unfortunately for many companies, implementing a dynamic scheduling system can be a lot like my experience with Blu-Ray.  Getting full benefit from the system will require having the right tools in place.

Understanding Dynamic Scheduling

With the right tools, dynamic scheduling will improve shop floor production.  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

With the right tools, dynamic scheduling will improve shop floor production. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Dynamic scheduling systems will account for machine workload and set-up times, the daily workload, resources, incoming orders and priorities to schedule daily work to ensure optimal production. 

Most scheduling is reactive, with work being done in response to production needs.  As work comes in, the shop floor adjusts to complete it.  Dynamic scheduling is proactive, with the schedule being adjusted to maximize production.  A dynamic scheduling system should adjust production to minimize resource (machine breakdown, tool failures, QC issues) or job-related (rush jobs, cancellations, or ECO’s) issues and ensure optimal use of shop floor resources. 

But, dynamic scheduling isn’t enough to optimize production.  The system requires two important components to work effectively: Real-time information and shop floor process control.

Real Time Process Visibility and Control

Real time information is a necessary component of any dynamic scheduling system.  In some systems, information might be obtained from shop floor machines or a reporting system, but data obtained from these sources may not be real time, or may offer an incomplete picture of production, and the dynamic schedule produced from these sources will be flawed.  Shop floors often struggle to adjust to the inaccuracies.

In addition, the pace of change on the shop floor requires production react quickly to schedule changes.  The more time it takes to move resources to meet changing schedule needs, the less effective the system.  For some shop floors that lack process control, a dynamic scheduling system will actually hinder production as resources struggle to meet the scheduling needs, rather than completing work.

The Advantage of MES and Paperless Manufacturing

An MES or paperless manufacturing system delivers the necessary process control and visibility for dynamic scheduling to have a positive impact on production.  The MES will collect real time shop floor data that can be used to create a truly effective production schedule.  In addition, the system will allow instantaneous communication between the production team, ensuring vital information is where it needs to be when it is needed.

The MES acts as a conduit for the dynamic scheduling system.  Real time data is fed from the shop floor through the MES to the scheduling system.  Schedules are created, and then the MES efficiently manages information on the shop floor to deliver process control necessary to maximize the benefit of dynamic scheduling.

It’s an efficient, closed loop information system that works and will benefit production in a nice, neat package… unlike the instruction manual that came with my Blu-Ray.

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!

Simple Tips for Adding Shop Floor Visual Work Instruction

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Many times, a solution is much closer than you might think.

Are you stuck wondering what next step to take in implementing visual work instructions? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Are you stuck wondering what next step to take in implementing visual work instructions? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Face it, in an era when shop floors and manufacturers struggle to break information silos, ensure new employees are poised to find success and processes aren’t employee-dependent, and break down the information gap between engineering and operations – visual work instruction is an important piece of the solution.  For many, the thought of creating videos and pictures for the shop floor seems daunting.  I’ve listened to engineers complain about the cost of hiring a production company for machine set-up instructions.  They aren’t sure where to begin, so they don’t do anything.  They wait to implement the visual work instructions, and their shop floor problems grow.  But, the truth is, the solution is much closer than they think.  Here’s how:

Take a look at Paperless Manufacturing.  Did you know you can implement a simple, out-of-the-box paperless manufacturing solution for 1/10th of the cost of past manufacturing solutions?  License cost is often less than $1 a day per user.  With paperless manufacturing, you’ll be able to not only easily add visual work instructions, shop floor visibility and process control, but collect shop floor data and create as-built reports as well.

Use Readily Available Video Tools. Are you wondering how to make videos?  You don’t need a camera and Hollywood film crew, a smart phone is all you need.  Most phones can take videos with enough quality to teach a shop floor task.  A short 2 minute video in an easily shared format is all you need to accurately show someone how to do something they may not easily understand from word instructions.  Pull out your phone, take a video and attach it to the work instructions.

Recruit In-House Experts.  Many manufacturers struggle to pass along information and best practices from an older generation to new workers.  Why not recruit the older generation and in-house experts to star in the videos?  Have them work through an operation while someone films them.  10 minutes of filming is all you need to do to tear down an information silo and ensure best practices won’t be lost.  The small time away from the workbench will pay for itself many times over.

Position Visual Work Instruction as an Achievement.  You have options as you roll out visual work instructions.  Rather than simply filming and adding them to existing instructions, why not hold a contest with shop floor workers to select who films the work instruction.  The task becomes an achievement, and your team begins searching for new best practices.  Select top workers to direct and star in the video.  Give them recognition for their achievements and they’ll be more excited to help, and everyone will be more likely to use the videos (and learn from them).

Build a Library of Best Practices.  Don’t see the process of creating visual work instructions as a campaign, but a process.  Slowly build the library of best practices videos as the need and opportunity arises.  This will take the pressure off your team, and sooner than you realize, you’ll have a complete library of videos to choose from when you need it.  What’s it worth to have a visual library of best practices on-line and available to all your shop floor people whenever they need them?

Visual work instructions will improve shop floor productivity and benefit your entire team, not just the shop floor.  Manufacturing is the center of your business, and manufacturing depends on work instructions and processes that are easily lost in information silos.  Too often, those silos hinder productivity and drain creativity.  Take a simple step to ensure you have the best possible work instructions, and your shop floor best practices aren’t lost, by implementing with visual work instructions.

Is Your Shop Floor Hammering to Make It Fit?

Most manufacturers know quality and efficiency would suffer if they asked their shop floor to use the wrong tool, but all too often that’s what happens when a shop floor uses an ERP to do the work of an MES.

By Kristin McLane

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Do you hammer to fit your shop floor operations? Clip art by Microsoft.

Hammer to fit.  It’s a term we use at CIMx to talk about the inevitable moment in manufacturing when you realize your sub-assemblies don’t fit properly, or a part is a little bit off.  Many times, the solution is to tap, bang, press, cajole or weasel the part back into place.  It’s not a best practice, and I’m sure no credible manufacturing expert ever proudly claimed to be the best at “hammering it in place.”  But, if you’ve ever been on a manufacturing shop floor, you know there’s not a lot of time to stand around (or at least there shouldn’t be).  Many times you do what you can to keep the process moving, but hammer to fit is NOT the optimal manufacturing process.

Here’s the point… in the low tolerance, highly-engineered world of discrete manufacturing… or, to be honest, all manufacturing today, I don’t think anyone ever wrote “hammer to fit” in the work instructions.  There is always a solution for making the parts fit and the customer wouldn’t accept something that was done any other way.

In fact, many times there isn’t even a hammer available on the shop floor.  A hammer is the least seen tool in the tool crib.  I’ve seen drills, saws, all kinds of tools that attach or separate objects, but rarely have I ever seen a hammer.  So if we don’t really hammer parts to fit them together (really – most times we take it apart and make it right), then why do many of us try to make our supporting tools – such as software, applications and processes – do things they weren’t built for?  Using the wrong tool for shop floor control and visibility is like writing “hammer to fit” in your work instruction and expecting efficient operation and quality results.

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Make sure your shop floor has the right tools for success. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

We’ve been banging on the topic of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) versus MES (Manufacturing Execution System) for a while now.  We started a dialogue on why you need both – and you do – and what each system does.  An ERP system, naturally or through the use of add-on functions, simply cannot do what an MES does. It’s not built to deliver the process control or visibility the shop floor needs.

If you need to track, bill, order, sell or report on something, use your ERP.  But if you need to build, use an MES.  Simply put, the MES builds things while the ERP tracks.  Trying to use one system to do the work of the other is using a tool to do a job it wasn’t meant to do.  You can make it look like it fits, but the solution isn’t efficient and it won’t last, won’t perform, it’s probably costing you money, and it most certainly isn’t supporting your shop floor the way you need it to.

If you need an ERP, there are lots of vendors out there that provide the window into your data an ERP gives you.  If you need shop floor and process control and information management, then use an MES.  Talk to us, we’re happy to help.  Visit us at www.cimx.com.

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.