Tag Archives: Shop Floor Software

Simple versus Simplicity: The MES App Conundrum

Some manufacturers latch onto solutions that never really address the core problems facing production.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

A few weeks ago I sat through a demo of a new shop floor manufacturing app.

The marketing pitch seemed promising. Rather than charging for hardware and functionality you don’t really need, the app offered access to a cloud manufacturing solution built for production. For a single low cost, you could, “harness the power of the cloud.”

You paid a few dollars, gave them a credit card, and the app was downloaded on a phone or tablet.  From the app, you could load up work instructions and additional documentation, fill in order and operation information, and create a routing.  From the shop floor, you access the instructions, click a button to leave a note or collect data, and press “NEXT” to close one operation and open another.

There was a dashboard with icons and additional information. A planning screen let me click and drag work around, and for a few dollars more I could get reports.

The smooth-voiced “hostess” of the demo promised the app, “…had all the functionality you need, without gimmicks.” The questions and comments after the demo were so full of praise for the “simple” power of the app, you’d have thought it revolutionized computer technology rather than put a shiny veneer on a document viewer.

The pitch was clear. According to the demo, software companies swore you needed a big manufacturing solution, when all you really needed was an app.

The Difference between Simplicity and Simple

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

If you aren’t solving a problem or improving production, any money spent on a “simple” solution is wasted. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know software, manufacturing software specifically, and I know apps and computer technology. The solution I saw at the demo could be built and finished relatively quickly – perhaps 6 to 10 months with good developers and a clear plan.

The solution was also simple – get your planning to the shop floor with minimal routing. Get rid of paper and paper build books and access everything you need from your phone.  You can eliminate the need for expensive implementation teams and a bunch of annoying service charges. Forget requirement lists, integrations and implementations; you can now buy a manufacturing solution in an afternoon browsing the iPhone App store. It was simple.

But it never really addressed the core needs we see from the manufacturers we work with. Companies today need to improve production and work smarter. They need to do more with less, improve margins and cut costs. They need better control and visibility of the manufacturing value chain. Emailing work instructions to the shop floor won’t do that.

In my mind, this app was like a piece of tape stuck to a dam. Sure the app (or tape) did its job, but it never addressed the overall problem. It sold “simple” to an audience that really needed a solution.

I’m not arguing for complexity. A Paperless Manufacturing solution that adds real value doesn’t need to be complex or mind-bogglingly expensive.

There is a difference between simple and simplicity.  A solution needs to directly address the core needs of manufacturers to improve production outcomes, improve profit and deliver real value to the business.  It needs to be an integrated solution, because value isn’t made at just one point in the production cycle. An app on your phone may be simple, but it’s not a manufacturing solution.  It’s an app on your phone.

What the app was missing was a cohesive digital link between production activities – the value of a true Paperless Manufacturing solution. It felt like the app developer never really asked a manufacturer what they needed or did. They took a guess that manufacturing needed simple and the cloud and ignored everything else. The company wrote an app, and then kept telling everyone it was “simple.”

Simplicity helps manage complexity, rather than ignoring it. Simplicity contextualizes information so you can focus on what’s important. Everything else involved in production is still there and still being managed, but it’s been prioritized.

This is the difference between simple and simplicity. Simple is what you get when you want to throw an app on the web to make a quick profit. Simplicity is built into a tool to help you work better, faster and with fewer errors – letting you focus on work, rather than the tool.

It’s a subtle, but critical, difference I believe the app developers never really understood.

Do You Need a Two Comma MES?

Some companies throw money away for software that will never do what they need, not knowing a better solution is available without gutting your profits.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Are you looking for an MES that will deliver and ROI and improve manufacturing outcomes? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are you looking for an MES that will deliver and ROI and improve manufacturing outcomes? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

I love the show Silicon Valley on HBO. It’s raw, open and makes fun of the software industry. Even with the absurd situations and characters, I recognize a grain of truth. There are times I cringe – some humor is misplaced, the language can be foul, and there are inappropriate things happening all the time. Yet, even when the show seems to make no sense at all, (like, why you would be obsessed with sesame seeds on burgers from “The Bur-gur King”?) I recognize… something true. It’s this recognition of reality in absurdity that makes Silicon Valley so entertaining.

Take, for instance, the latest investor in Pied Piper. Russ Hanneman (some say he’s a take-off on Mark Cuban) is wealthy beyond measure for bringing “Radio to the Internet,” but is self-obsessed and has no concept of real life. There is a painting that hangs in his house – modern, Jackson Pollock-style work dominated by three large commas. Russ considers himself a three comma – the three commas found in a billion ($1,000,000,000). The third comma is the differentiator, separating the elite such as Russ from everyone else. At one point, he loses money on an investment and ends up with only $960 or $970 million. He becomes a mere two comma and is distraught beyond belief, thinking the world has ended.

The Two Comma MES

Don't get buried by the cost of your two comma MES. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Don’t get buried by the cost of your two comma MES. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It seems absurd to focus so heavily on the difference between a two comma and a three comma, but  many perceive manufacturing software solutions the same way. Some believe the only “viable” MES solution MUST cost two commas, and anything less won’t work. They believe their company needs a complex, wildly over-priced and over-developed piece of manufacturing software. It must be crafted specifically for their shop floor in incredibly specific and costly configurations yielding the “best” solution. Any software meeting these criteria must cost (at least) two commas or it’s just not good enough.

I know why they think that way. For many years, the industry built this vision of MES with complex integrations and layers and layers of modules, functions and intricate software widgets with multifarious forms and menus. It’s a vision partially based in reality. Fact is, not all MES vendors actually provide a MESA-style, comprehensive and complete system. Vendors that do subscribe to this comprehensive and complex model provide systems that take years to install and configure (which they call an “off-the-shelf” solution), and cost more than two commas ($1,000,000+) when they’re done.

Two commas?!? Think about the percentage of your overall revenue represented by those two commas. Can you throw away two commas without a clear vision of the return? If your total spend on infrastructure and software is going to be more than US$25M+ this year, then you may have the resources for a two comma MES. Otherwise, you may be spending too much. Consider what you actually need.

The Paperless Manufacturing Solution

More money doesn't always mean a better solution. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

More money doesn’t always mean a better solution. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

As the manufacturing software industry began embracing the two comma vision of MES, we introduced “paperless manufacturing.” Paperless manufacturing provides all the functionality and production control of MES, without the unnecessary complexity and “service”-driven escalation of price. If you want a digital shop floor with paperless operations, and need the ability to know what’s going on real-time in your operations with total connectivity to your internal business systems and processes, then paperless operations will deliver without the pain some MES software demands.

Paperless manufacturing focuses on supporting manufacturing operations with software tools – eliminating errors as operators access the information they need at their workstation, using the instructions, photos, drawings, videos and attachments you provide. The software gives you tools to create better instructions and deliver them efficiently, without having to create them in a costly and inefficient desktop template. Paperless operations increase efficiency, as the correct work instructions are prioritized and delivered directly to the operator. When problems come up, you can quickly make corrections before production issues cause scrap. Paperless manufacturing gives you manufacturing control, without forcing you to adjust your processes or creating other problems.

Sure, a two comma MES MIGHT be able to do all this, but justifying the cost with unnecessary complexity, a massive project team and software developed decades ago doesn’t make any sense to me. The focus of the project should be improving production, solving problems, and ensuring an ROI. When you buy an operations efficiency engine like an MES, you are investing in your business and should know what the return is. A two comma MES doesn’t provide a suitable return because the cost for functionality is so high. Unnecessary complexity not focused on productivity is a sunk cost for manufacturing.

A Manufacturing Solution that Makes Sense

We encourage customers to develop a strong ROI with an efficient path to their organizational goals. If the project doesn’t provide an adequate ROI, we suggest the prospect look for a different solution. Also, keep in mind the more complex the software, the heavier the burden on the organization to implement the system. The subsequent cost savings must make up for all the overhead carried by the additional complexity.

Improve your shop floor with a true MES, not a mess of modular functionality. Illustration from www.colourbox.com

Improve your shop floor with a true MES, not a mess of modular functionality. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

What’s worthwhile about two comma MES? Why do people buy it? Many times, I think companies fall into a Russ Hanneman mindset, and believe ONLY a two comma solution could possibly meet their needs. They never bother to investigate anything else, or they assume two comma solutions are more robust or sustainable (this is blatantly untrue). Corporately, they’ve settled on the solution, even if it doesn’t work perfectly. They’ve made their decision and expect everyone else to make it work.

Russ might claim that if you have two commas to spend, you shouldn’t have to ask the true cost (I’d argue Mark Cuban wouldn’t say the same). But in our experience, total cost of ownership is one of the predetermined deciding factors in MES selection, and traditional two comma MES vendors just can’t size projects accurately. To quote a customer, these systems are “painfully configurable,” and focused on increasing service costs.

And finally, back to Mark Cuban…even he doesn’t believe in perfection, he said in a recent interview, “Some people work so hard to get it absolutely right that they don’t have the bandwidth to do all the other things that go into making a business successful.” Does this same concept apply to your selection of an MES vendor?  Have you gotten so focused on building the perfect requirement list that you lose sight of the usability of the final product, and the cost and time you need to make it work?

The Shop Floor Culture Wars and Paperless Manufacturing

Conflict and mis-communication between IT and Operations may be hurting your company more than you think.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software
How smoothly does your shop floor operate? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

How smoothly does your shop floor operate? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

We work with manufacturing companies around the world. We’re a software company so we have developers, software engineers and IT experts on staff. We also love manufacturing – the hum of machines on the shop floor and the smooth efficiency of processes and schedules.  These (seemingly) dichotomous interests give us a unique perspective on the manufacturing industry… we know the software and technology and love the science and culture of manufacturing, which may be why we are so dismayed at the silent Culture War we see being waged at many companies.

IT versus Operations… we’ve come to expect the unspoken conflict between these departments every time we work with a new company. In one organization, we were shocked to learn many in IT had never visited a shop floor or even knew what, exactly, the company made. In another company the Director of Operations told us he wasn’t sure what the IT department had to do other than fix computers. The organizational separation between IT and Operations causes serious harm to a business, limits the organizations ability to collaborate or communicate, and stifles creativity and efficiency. Vital information gets buried inside the organizational silos built between the departments.   These cultural differences within an organization lead to non-productive work and wasted resources.

The problem (I hope) isn’t open conflict or true warfare, but that decisions are made by both groups independently. Often, a company will assign responsibility to one group or another, and rather than working collaboratively one department will vigorously defend their power. Collaboration is seen as a loss of power.

From our perspective, there is absolutely no reason for this separation – no benefit. And yet, because implementing paperless manufacturing is as much a cultural project as a technical one, these silos that fuel the organizational culture wars are magnified during the implementation. Consider this:

  • How much is shop floor dysfunction costing you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    How much is shop floor dysfunction costing you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Implementing a software solution like paperless manufacturing or an MES without feedback and consultation with operations can lead to a system that causes more problems than it is worth, and ends up being unused. Operations is process-based, and any tool must be integrated with the processes as much as the business infrastructure.

  • Without IT expertise, the software system may never be fully integrated into other systems, and may not ever have the support necessary to optimize production. Trying to cram more software tools onto servers haphazardly is a task doomed to failure.
  • Miscommunication and misinformation during the selection and implementation can lead to gaps in coverage or service, leading to frustration and operational inefficiencies, and a solution that never delivers the full ROI.

When positioning yourself for success in a system implementation, the core problem is simple – both operations and IT play a critical role in a software system implementation for manufacturing, and any time you have these two organizations operating at cross-purposes, the project has little chance of success.

Solving Shop Floor Dysfunction

Any solution to this problem starts with bridging the gap between IT and Operations, and eliminating or minimizing the barriers and silos that develop between departments. There are several simple steps that can be taken by organizations plagued by internal culture wars:

  • Foster a culture that looks to the future.
Improving shop floor efficiency is easier than you might think. Image by www.colourbox.com

Improving shop floor efficiency is easier than you might think. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Silos develop when employees cling to the, “way things have always been done.” Internal departments look inward when they want to protect their way of doing things, which eliminates the opportunity for improvement and promotes organizational silos. Elect representatives from both IT and Operations to develop and manage process improvement programs, helping employees to embrace a culture of change. Focus on innovation and improvement, rather than maintaining the status quo.

  • Help IT understand operations.

While it may not seem like a productive use of employee time, you can gain a lot by helping your IT department learn about production. Get them on the shop floor, and let them see how manufacturing struggles without digital tools. Give them an understanding of the shop floor processes and how operations works, and they will be in a better position to support production initiatives.

  • Get IT involved in the project early.

If Operations sees IT as only, “the people who work on the computer,” then you aren’t adequately engaging one of your best internal resources. Don’t wait to get IT involved in a project till you need them, get them involved early and let them help build the requirements. Their involvement will help ensure you have a system optimized for your production environment.

  • Share ownership of the system.

Many companies feel the project is over once the system is installed, but today, in a world where change is the only constant in manufacturing, maintaining the viability of the system is a critical competitive advantage. This can best be done, without putting an undue burden on either department, by electing a “system-leader” from both Operations and IT. Operations can focus on the functionality of the system, while IT can focus on other aspects of the software.

Shop Floor Efficiency the Easy Way

Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

This may seem like an overly simple solution to a complex problem, but many employees and organizations fail to see the “big picture” connection between IT and Operations. Operations drive profit and generate money, while IT gives Operations the tools and support they need to succeed. There really is no difference – both work to serve the customer and the business.

Without collaboration and communication between IT and Operations during the selection and implementation of a new manufacturing software system, companies are often left with a software system that never meets expectations or operates efficiently. Requirements may be met, but the overall benefit to the organization is lacking. Opportunity is lost.

Want to know more, or see how CIMx can help you bridge the gap between IT and Operations? Give us a call or let us know how we can help.

3 Keys to Effective Software Customer Service

Don’t be fooled by marketing smoke and mirrors, effective customer service can be defined by a few key elements.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Are you getting the support you need from your manufacturing software provider, or are you getting the run around? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are you getting the support you need from your manufacturing software provider, or are you getting the run around? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

A few weeks ago, I took my car to a dealership for some work. “Don’t worry,” the service rep said as he took my keys. “I’m going to have my team get right to work.”

I should have run away the minute he said, “team.”

It took the team more than 3 days to get the work done – work that another mechanic said should take a few hours. I called to ask for an update every day, and every day the front desk transferred me to the Service Rep.  The Rep sent my call to the Lead Mechanic, who consulted with and transferred me to my Project Lead. The Project Lead then spoke with my Mechanic Coordinator who finally told me the work was almost done. Not to worry, he explained, they offer rental cars. The Coordinator sent me back to the front desk, who transferred me to the rental department where I gave them my order before they sent me to the rental garage so I could give them the same order again.

I ended up paying an extra $80 for a rental because my “project team” couldn’t finish the job. There were at least 5 people of various specialties working on my car, and the only benefit to the massive team is no one person ever accepted blame for delays or mistakes.

Manufacturing Product Support You Can Trust

Let’s be honest, you don’t NEED a team to manage your project.  You want ONE person you can count on to ensure all your project goals are met efficiently and cost effectively. You want that person to answer your questions, act as your advocate, respond to your needs and be responsible for solutions when something unexpected happens.

While sitting in the lobby of the car dealership while my “project team” came up with excuses, I came up with 3 keys to effective customer service for manufacturing software:

  • Accountability and Honesty.

You want someone who is going to be accountable not only for project success, but for the problems as well. Accountability means doing what it takes to meet the project goals, and having information necessary to give an honest answer. Don’t give me a repeat of the sales pitch – give me an honest assessment I can use. Project and budget overruns are not acceptable. Give me solutions, not change orders.

  • Management and Prioritization.

Many times, a “team” throws resources at a problem. Fancy titles don’t deliver solutions (I’m looking at you, Architecture Developer/ GUI Designer/ Team Lead/ Project Manager/ Programmer/ Engineer/ etc.) only higher service charges. Management means getting the appropriate resources engaged with the project at the right time, focusing on the highest priority items.

  • Partnership

Finally, we all want someone working on a project we can trust. We want to know we aren’t being cheated, our time isn’t being wasted, and we are getting the best service possible. Partners take a proactive role in achieving superior results – offering suggestions and taking initiative.

Shop Floor Software That Works As Promised

As an industry, manufacturing software suppliers often struggle with customer service. We offer highly technical software that companies need and rely on, which is good. Even so, some companies design the system to require expensive service charges just to keep it running (which is why these companies promise “implementation service teams” to their customers). Other companies hide behind service desks and help lines, knowing their systems are so complex and confusing they will be inundated with calls and questions. That service desk in a foreign country is a good investment!

Yeah, we know all the tricks used in this industry – which is why we do things a little differently at CIMx.

We offer all our customers a dedicated Application Engineer to handle their account. Customers with a problem or question can call on the Application Engineer, who manages all aspects of their account. They install and implement the system, train users, install updates, manage special projects, and answer user questions. If any project needs additional support, the Application Engineer will lead the Development team working on the project.

It works out very well for our customers. They have a single point of contact for everything they need. The Application Engineer becomes an expert in the implementation for their customers, and is best positioned to answer questions and solve problems. In every case, the Application Engineer becomes a partner with their customers, helping to optimize the system while working with users because they understand not just the software, but the shop floor processes.

Of course, it helps to offer software built on a solid, well-tested foundation. When the software works as promised, the Application Engineer can focus on improvements, not just problems.

Make sense? Let us know if you have questions or want to learn more about how an Application Engineer from CIMx Software can help you.