Tag Archives: shop floor solution

6 Reasons to Invest in Paperless Manufacturing in 2016

For companies waiting to invest in manufacturing software, now is the perfect time to stop waiting and start benefiting in a shop floor system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

In more than 20 years of providing manufacturing software solutions, we have heard plenty of excuses why companies hold off on an improvement project.

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Never before has MES and paperless manufacturing been so accessible. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Some companies would rather focus on another project, or IT wants to look at a few more options, or management wants to see if the market will turn before adding another capital project. In the meantime, they throw money away and hope to get by rather than address the root cause of their production problems.

I can respect their decision, but I don’t understand it. Companies are reacting to an outdated vision of manufacturing software. “MES” is no longer the scary monster it once was. Data collection won’t destroy production. Successful MES project no longer require millions of dollars and years of work.

In fact, today may be the best time to invest in a shop floor system. Consider this:

  • Lower Cost. In the past, only the largest and most profitable companies could afford a shop floor system. Today, technology has eliminated many factors that increased cost in the past. Granted, there are companies still offering expensive systems, and there are factors that will increase price, but it is much easier to manage costs for a system that will dramatically improve production.
  • Ease of Implementation. Companies fear purchasing software requiring a significant investment in time and resources. Today, with modern, web-based software and behavior-based systems, you can literally install the software in a day, train in a few hours, and begin using it the next day. Systems are much easier to install and use, ensuring a greater return on required resources.
  • Increased Functionality. At one time, there was a wide gap between what a software system promised and what it actually delivered. Today, MES and paperless manufacturing are mature systems. The product delivered by established vendors with a history in the market delivers the capability the modern shop floor needs.
  • Customer Demand. Customer expectations have changed, and manufacturers must embrace technology. Old excuses about missed deadlines and shifting schedules are no longer accepted. Customers expect manufacturers to be agile, with visibility and control of production.
  • Workforce Expectations. There is a skills gap in manufacturing. Many shop floor positions aren’t being filled, and new workers aren’t embracing manufacturing as a profession. A shop floor system helps mitigate these challenges. New workers are more comfortable working with a modern software system, rather than a massive build book. In addition, the system increases collaboration passing critical knowledge from experienced workers to new employees.
  • Foundational Technology. Manufacturing is changing. New disruptive technology like Additive Manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are influencing manufacturing. MES provides a foundation for these disruptive technologies, helping ensure they benefit, rather than disrupt, business operations.

With every year, the capability and power of software increases, while, overall, the costs will decrease. It’s not surprising. Paperless manufacturing has become a cost-effective solution available to most, if not all, manufacturers. The problem is the perception of the software hasn’t caught up to the current functionality or price. Many are still dismissing the effectiveness of the solution.

If you haven’t taken a look at a modern MES or manufacturing system, then contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis and see what the software can do for you.

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Successfully Navigating MES Growing Pains

The MES continues to come of age as technology and shop floor needs change. We take a look at where the industry has been, and where your shop floor wants to be in the future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Is your new shop floor system going to lead you to the future, or continue the mistakes of the past? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

When I first started working in manufacturing software, the perception of an MES was a massive, monolithic SYSTEM that covered the shop floor in digital web. Users fed the machine, or were crushed by it. Development and implementation was a multi-year (and multi-million dollar) campaign suitable only for the most hale (and solvent) adventurers. The SYSTEM was designed by a software company using a comprehensive list of exacting requirements. Once in place, users were coerced into utilizing it, crammed and jammed into digital processes dictated by the software SYSTEM through forms, endless menus and new procedures, thus submitting to the will of the machine.

No thought was ever given to upgrades, future uses, or any changes. It was all about getting something – anything – in place.

That was the past, but today the world is different. Technology has changed, grown, and the shop floor needs and expectations are different. We’ll take a look at where MES is today, and where we might (or should) be going in the future, and what that means for companies looking at an MES.

The MES Ecosystem today

Today, technology has moved away from the older paradigm of enterprise software systems (even though you can still find SYSTEMs lingering on the market). Browse through the market and you can find several different types of paperless manufacturing and MES systems. Cloud-based systems, for example, offer SAAS (Software As A Service) pricing and benefits, quick installation and scalability, but many companies are reluctant to use the cloud for production, since it can be susceptible to connectivity and security issues. Selecting a cloud-based system increases risk (data, compromised security, and service loss) in addition to reduced flexibility.

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What does a modern MES look like, and how will it benefit you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Other companies offer a Utopian Vision of an integrated software system, encompassing MES, ERP, PLM, QMS and more. They talk about collaboration and shared infrastructure, enterprise accessibility and global networks as key benefits, but also present challenges. These all-encompassing systems have become a new iteration of the old, monolithic MES SYSTEM. Many times, they are built on the same platform as those old systems, using the same code and same processes as past SYSTEMs. Implementation and development is, once again, a slow, laborious endeavor – high risk and expensive.

Projects and systems like this will solve problems and provide benefits, just like they did in the past, but at a cost. The restrictive processes enforced by the system will limit flexibility and cause problems at individual sites struggling to adhere to the system requirements – resulting in a loss of overall efficiency. Many times, a flaw in the workflow or system will be “managed” rather than eliminated because the cost of the fix is difficult in the strict confines of what the SYSTEM can handle.

Modular, or module-based systems have similar benefits and flaws. These systems will offer a higher initial flexibility, allowing users to initially select the functionality (or modules) they want to “build” their own system. The problem is, many times these modules are cobbled together older systems given a new name and a new UI, offering disparate functionality, requiring multiple integrations, and resulting in uneven support. Sometimes, the initial software was even built on an entirely different platform. Companies with these systems will have increased upgrade costs and, depending on the configuration of modules, limited flexibility.

Discover the Modern MES

Modern MES, built using the latest technology and platforms, are much more agile – operating less an all-encompassing SYSTEM and more as a foundation for improved production, with tools that increase efficiency and solutions to eliminate problems that hinder manufacturing. Rather than plugging a module or adding a new system, users turn on and use functionality as they need. Process changes don’t often require redevelopment of the programming, or even reconfiguration. More likely a simple change in how the software tools are used will more than satisfy shop floor needs.

Maximize your MES by ensuring you have a modern MES. Modern Systems can be installed quickly and easily, often in as little as a few weeks depending on the hardware and infrastructure in the facility. Most times a modern system will utilize your existing work plans. Another characteristic of a modern MES will be a lower cost of updates and upgrades. Adding functionality is significantly easier with modern software tools. This will lower the overall cost of updates, making them smaller part of the TCO Total Cost of Ownership). Support costs should also be lower, with most (if not all) of the standard maintenance being automated or requiring little IT support.

At their core, agile modern MES are less complex than the highly customized MES of the past, and more focused on the basic functionality necessary for modern manufacturing and the tools your shop floor needs to work better, faster and with fewer errors.

Putting the Paperless Manufacturing Puzzle Together

Companies need to realize the manufacturing environment is changing faster now than it ever has before, and the rate of change continues to accelerate. New tools and technology such as 3D Printing, Big Data, IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, and even customer expectations are forcing manufacturers to adapt like never before. To compete, companies need a paperless manufacturing or MES system that will adapt and grow with them.

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to MES and manufacturing system. Look for an agile, adaptable software that will support your shop floor even as change happens. Want to know more, or see what paperless manufacturing can do for you? Then contact us today for a free shop floor evaluation. We’re happy to help.

Newton’s Laws and MES: What the Laws of Motion Tell You about Your Shop Floor?

Isaac Newton’s physical laws have become the basis of modern manufacturing. They also help explain why many manufacturer’s struggle to improve, and point to a solution.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

What direction is your shop floor heading? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What direction is your shop floor heading? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

We use Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion every day. They may not be as popular among scientists as more revolutionary theories – like General Relativity, Supersymmetry and Quantum Mechanics. Though we may never think about it, the shop floor operates efficiently using Newton’s Laws of Motion.

It may also help explain why so many manufacturers struggle to improve, grappling with the same tired issues year after year. Consider this:

  • Newton’s First Law (Improvement starts with change!)

Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.

Also known as the Law of Inertia, Newton’s First Law states that unless there is no net force acting on an object (or a shop floor), then the object will maintain a constant velocity.

For a shop floor, this means that unless someone (or something) pushes, then the shop floor will continue to operate as it has in the past. Errors will continue to be made, paper and misplaced records will continue to pile up, and problems will continue. Even worse, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, over time energy loss and inefficiency will increase in the system (your shop floor). According to physics, doing nothing is not an option if you want to stay competitive.

Let’s be honest – there will be some who are happy with good enough, and they see the problem they know (errors and inefficiency) as preferable to the problems they don’t know (what will life be like with a system managing operations and eliminating problems?) That’s fine – if you are  struggling to improve and fear change even if you are wasting money – then go for it.

But, as Newton’s First Law says, if you want to change or improve, you’re going to need net force acting on your current operations.

  • Newton’s Second Law (You control the rate of change and improvement!)

Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object). Or, Force = Mass times Acceleration (F=MA).

Use a phased implementation to improve your shop floor in manageable steps. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Use a phased implementation to improve your shop floor in manageable steps. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Newton’s Second law explains the relationship between mass, force, and acceleration. If you know the weight of an object and how fast you want it to move, you can figure out how much force you will need to apply.

I don’t think anyone expects to throw their shop floor, but we are (or at least should be) in control of the pace of change in operations. Does the shop floor manager worry about incorporating too much change at once? Then start with a pilot program on one line to test the capabilities of the new system. Slower acceleration (A) in a smaller area (M) will require less work (F). Then, when you are ready, apply a little more force and move it to another area.

Start with a single function of an MES or shop floor paperless manufacturing system, such as Quality, and then roll out new functionality. Focus first on the most important features to help build an ROI. Eventually, you can completely upgrade operations without the growing pains that plague many implementations. We call this a “phased implementation,” and it works well.

  • Newton’s Third Law (It’s human nature to embrace improvement and reject inefficiency.)

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Accord to the Third Law of Motion, in every interaction between objects there is an equal and opposite force that acts on both objects. Another description of this Law is the “action-reaction force pairs.”

At first glance, you might think this is good reason to do NOTHING. After all, if you are upgrading your shop floor, then there must be a disastrous downgrade approaching.  Maybe you see a full-scale revolt of the workers who don’t want you to take away their beloved paper build-books.

But the truth is, the world thrives on the action-reaction pairs. It is what allows a bird to fly and fish to swim. The wings of a bird push the air downwards, and the air pushes the bird up. The bird instinctively knows how to adjust. Measured and deliberate change on the shop floor will inspire production to improve. By working to improve you create the force to enact improvements.

Without directly confronting the source of problems, you’ll never make a sustainable improvement in your operations. It is human nature to adapt and adjust to change to action and reaction force pairs. Once you determine a path forward for your shop floor, trust they will adapt and embrace the benefits.


 

If you see a need for improvement in your operations, and you know the status-quo won’t be good enough in the future, then now is the time to act. Seize the moment and give us a call for a free review of your shop floor operations. Starting a project that brings positive change and benefits to your operation is easier than you might thank.

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.

5 Ways Market Acquisitions May Hurt Your Manufacturing Business

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Market acquisition is changing the manufacturing software solutions market, but not always for the better.  We take a closer look at its cost to innovation and service to manufacturers.

Market consolidation – big companies purchasing smaller companies in order to make even bigger companies – has become a way of business.

Consider this, Google has purchased more than 160 companies since the company was founded.  In less than one year, they purchased 21 companies.  In 2010, Google bought a company, on average, every two weeks!  According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple averages an acquisition every other month.  Acquisitions are rampant, widespread, and especially common in the high-tech and software industries.

Market Acquisitions and Manufacturing

What can you do when your software vendor is sold to another company? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can you do when your software vendor is sold to another company? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing software solutions aren’t immune to the epidemic of strategic acquisitions (or, as we call it, “purchase, use, abuse, consolidate, wash and repeat”) trend.  Just this year, Dassault Systemes has purchased companies such as Quintiq, which offers supply chain optimization software, Accelrys, which manages research data, and Apriso, an MES.  Other manufacturing software companies are being gobbled up at a rate rarely seen outside a holiday meal.  Visiprise was purchased by SAP.  Dassault purchased Intercim (let’s be honest… not sure why you need two MES – perhaps one was lonely?)  Most recently, Siemens has signed an agreement to purchase Camstar, another MES.

The marketing spin factories are hard at work turning these purchases into stories of customer benefit.  They tell us about “expanded offerings” (i.e. more stuff you can buy), with “market synergies,” (i.e. more places to sell our stuff) “value delivery focus” (i.e. more ways you can buy our stuff) and even, “innovation accelerant” (i.e. more ways we can make you buy our stuff).

Big companies have a goal in mind with each purchase, and it’s not focused on the customer’s needs.  In fact, there’s a “I just bought a company” expense passed on to customers when an acquisition occurs.  We call it (mockingly) the “Purchase Pain Payment Plan.”  It’s this unspoken sacrifice all customers pay when a vendor decides it’s time to acquire or be acquired.

Customer Payment Plan for MES Market Consolidation

Let’s take a look at a few of the items you might come across in the payment plan:

  • The Service gaps and delays.

Face it, every software system is different.  As a company begins to integrate their internal service organizations with those of the newly purchased company, there will be service gaps.  The service plan you previously purchased slowly morphs into a new plan that better serves the vendor.  You may discover new service charges on your billing, or a flood of “Service Update” notices on legal letterhead.  Once the vendor adjusts their workforce (i.e. layoffs) the service gaps will widen, and you may see delays in service or changes in how the company responds to your needs.  Eventually, the problems and service questions will be worked out, but not before the company has you and the other customers where they want you.

  • How can you protect yourself when a new company is servicing your business? Image by www.colourbox.com

    How can you protect yourself when a new company is servicing your business? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

    Upcharges and the push for new functionality.

Many companies buy a smaller company to acquire their smartest employees or access their IP (intellectual property).  It is one way to fill out a product offering, eliminate a perceived weakness, or make up for a lack of innovation.  For example, Google purchased Emu to add context and an interactive element to text messages.  Many manufacturing software companies, such as Siemens, will purchase MES to complement their PLM or other software.  Vendors seek upcharges and sales of the new functionality, pushing customers to purchase and spend more with promises of amazing new software synergies that may (or may not) be of benefit to you.  These vendors will also exploit their new customer base for new sales, offering them their existing products or packaging them with the product they know the customer needs.

  • Adjustments to the upgrade path.

Software ages, and one way to ensure your software stays relevant is an upgrade.  Most companies offer an upgrade path, or a plan for upgrading your system.  This plan is thrown out the window once a company is purchased, as the teams that were working on your upgrade are now moved to integrating the new software or to other projects.  In fact, many times the vendor will push you to purchase a new system in order to move customers to the systems they are actively supporting, leaving customers that were happy with the software and system before wondering how they can work with the system being pushed on them now.

  • What will a change in vendor mean for you and your business? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

    What will a change in vendor mean for you and your business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Scalability issues.

There is a fine balance between getting the service you and your company needs, and being overcharged for services you don’t want.  As a vendor grows through acquisitions (or being acquired) changes will be made in how the business is handled, your software is serviced, and in the relationship between customer and vendor.  Many times, this will lead to scalability problems, as customers begin paying for services, functionality, tools or features they don’t want.  Your use of the software system may be consistent, but as they vendor begins incorporating new products and employees, they adapt their billing change – which will be reflected in the cost of the software.

  • New features that aren’t focused on your needs.

Many times, an acquisition will herald a strategic change for a company.  They will not only purchase a company to fill a void, but bring innovation back into their processes with a solution that has been perfected and scaled for the market.  Problem is, the new direction may not be the one you need, and it may not even be the solution you originally thought you were purchasing.  As the vendor resources pivot to capitalize on the recently purchased innovation, previous customers are left wanting.

Minimize the Impact of Market Consolidation

The truth is, not all acquisitions are bad.  There are benefits, such as rapid growth, additional market penetration, economy of scale and service synergies.  Large companies, hindered by infrastructure and layers of management, rely on acquisitions to fuel innovation and growth.  Acquisitions can be catalysts for positive change, helping both companies find success.  A successful acquisition can propel an excellent idea and successful product to a much wider market.

Process Improvement graph.

The right strategy will help you navigate unforeseen market consolidation. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

But not all acquisitions are successful, either for the companies involved or their customers.  Even with a solid integration plan, there will be challenges that customers need to recognize and plan for, either with an alternate service or internal adjustments.  In the painful process of integrating companies, customers can easily become forgotten in the shuffle.  The key is to ignore the hype and marketing surrounding an acquisition and take a critical look at what it means for your business, your shop floor, and your team.  Plan accordingly and make sure your business needs are met.

In addition to the inconvenience an acquisition can cause customers and manufacturers, there is also a real danger to innovation.  As companies purchase smaller businesses to fuel growth and product line, innovation is lost to integration.  Energy is poured into making systems work together as a (somewhat) cohesive whole, rather than solving problems better and faster or creating new solutions.  Integrated systems often produce increasingly complex systems that create more problems than they solve.

Innovation has always been the fuel that drives manufacturing growth, and acquisition will never be a suitable replacement to innovation.

Do you have questions about your manufacturing software solution, or want to see how software innovation can benefit you?  Give us a call or leave a message.  We’re happy to help.

Are You Getting the Whole Story from Your MES Vendor?

The decisions a vendor makes while building their system can have an impact on the viability and cost of your solution.  Learn how you can protect yourself from hidden costs and frustration.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Make versus Buy?  It is a question that has vexed many a manufacturer looking for the shop floor control and visibility an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) or paperless manufacturing system will provide.

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Did you know the decisions a software vendor makes with their product can have a major impact on the cost and long-term viability of your purchase? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Building your own software system, the “make” in this equation, has its advantages.  You can design the system you want, and if you have the patience, resources, and money to make it happen, that’s the system you will get.  But, it will be significantly more expensive and risky than other options, and you will need to invest time and resources to secure the long-term reliability and maintainability of the software.

Buying a software system means reaching out to vendors, researching options and how they will work with your workflow and shop floor, and purchasing the solution you need.  It is less expensive, and you have software support (at least, with reliable vendors you do), but it does require initial work, and training and preparation on the shop floor.

There is no right or wrong answer to the make versus buy question for you.  That said, MES and paperless manufacturing vendors also face the option to make versus buy, and their answer can have a major impact on the product they offer you.

The Genealogy of MES Functionality

Today, with the rapid rate of change in technology and manufacturing processes, MES and paperless manufacturing systems will need new functionality to maintain their competitive edge.  The vendor needs to decide how they will fill the hole in their product.

Some vendors “make” the functionality by writing new code and continuing to develop their product.  There are benefits to “make” for customers.  By developing the functionality in-house, vendors ensure the addition is tightly integrated with the core product, and it works seamlessly with the other product capability.  The functionality should be thoroughly tested before it is released to the public, giving you confidence in the results.  In addition, any installation, implementation, and training will be done by the people who wrote the software, which is always a benefit.

Other companies elect to “buy” the functionality.  They see a hole in their offering, and do exactly what a potential customer does – market research, find a company or product that fills the hole, and then purchase the solution.  The vendor adds necessary functionality in their product, but it is a budget-based, not an innovation-based solution.

The Benefits of an Innovation-based Solution

There are problems with “buy” based solutions in MES and paperless manufacturing software.  First off, any purchased solution must be, somehow, integrated with the main product.  This is not always an easy process, especially when solutions use different system architecture.  Many products, filled with pre-purchased functionality (they sometimes call them “modules”) end up with a maze of integration points that lead to additional complexity and risk when it is integrated.

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by www.colourbox.com

Position yourself for success by making the right software purchase. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It can lead to other problems as well.   In an MES system, every interaction has offsetting interactions throughout your production.  A non-conformance in one area has repercussions in notification, messaging, resolution, archiving, reporting, and more.  Without the right architectural approach, the loosely linked functionality is adjusted and readjusted each time you have a new requirement or you need to update the system.  Over time, the need to adjust the system to account for the genealogy of the individual systems that make up your software significantly increases the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of your system.  It becomes a confusing software mess that hinders production and adds cost.

Sure, the vendor may have found a quick and easy solution to their missing functionality, but you’ll be paying for that solution over the life of the software.  Have fun with that…

Behavior versus Transaction-based Software

This is a common problem for manufacturers that turn to their ERP vendor for an MES solution.

When we started in MES eighteen years ago, there were just half a dozen vendors on the market.  ERP systems were just being implemented in manufacturing, and MES focused on connecting the shop floor.

Over the next 10 years, ERP vendors searched for ways to expand their customer offerings and gain a critical edge on competition.  At the very heart of an ERP (any ERP) is the transaction.  The ERP focuses on documenting and managing the transactions that make up your business.  Because the ERP was a transaction-based system, it was far too complex for these vendors to integrate a simultaneous workflow-based system that is the foundation of an MES.  Vendors who tried to build their own MES usually delivered a template-based system (which uses transaction architecture) that requires significant training and will never mirror your existing workflow without customization.  Other vendors started buying MES and offering them as “add-ons” to their primary offering, the ERP.

All too often, a “buy” MES purchased by an ERP vendor is not likely to be integrated with the main platform.  Sure, they may have developed a plan for integration, but it isn’t going to be any better than another MES integrated to the ERP.  Since the vendor didn’t build the MES, they are going to have difficulty supporting it, and any additional functionality you’d like to add to the MES, or upgrades or updates, will be another purchase or a development struggle since MES is not their primary expertise.

This is why many companies don’t offer free product upgrades with new releases.

Consider where and how the system and functionality came from before making a purchase.  Are you talking to an ERP vendor about MES?  If your ERP vendor has an MES, chances are it’s a “buy” and not a “make.”  The vendor who built and developed the software will ensure better support, lower risk, lower project complexity, more software updates and upgrades, and a much lower overall TCO.

Be sure your vendor “makes,” and not “buys” the functionality you need for the shop floor.

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

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

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Focus on what you need.

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


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

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