Tag Archives: sustainable software

3D Printing Could Kill You (Or Your Business), Here’s Why…

3D Printing is going to have a dramatic affect on manufacturing, but we can learn from other industries how to succeed when change comes.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications for CIMx Software

Choices and options.

3D printing will change manufacturing. How will you handle the change? Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com.

I came across an article on a Yahoo News about a University of Texas law student who is posting online a blueprint for a 3D printed handgun called “The Liberator.”  Download the blueprint/design, load it into your 3D printer- yes, you can purchase a home 3D printer, such as the Replicator 2 or the Cube– and you’re moments from producing your own plastic handgun; weaponry in no time at all!

Reading the article was scary and exciting, because I love technology!  The future is exciting, and I believe technology represents the best of humanity- using our ingenuity to solve problems together.  Others argue it is dangerous technology- not only physically harmful, this is….

… scary.  Worried about gun control laws?  Why worry, when you can print your own gun.  A world where a gun for a terrorist is only a website and 3D printer away is scary. But, it’s also…

.. exciting. Someday you will log onto a website, select a design, and print it on your desktop.  It sounds like pure science fiction, a scene from Star Trek, pulled straight out of Neal Stephenson’s book Diamond Age. Maybe, but soon the Defense Distributed website will offer the handgun design. Once the first design comes out, designs for more products will follow.  Household custom manufacturing is science fiction no longer, and that is…

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

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

… scary, especially for manufacturers.  The University of Texas law student behind the handgun design describes himself as a “free-market anarchist,” and 3D Printing is a “free-market anarchist’s” dream. The entire manufacturing dynamic is changing. Consumers no longer rely on manufacturers, they have their own manufacturing control. Which means manufacturers need to offer more than a product, but also a service or a value-add to convince consumers to purchase, and I don’t think manufacturing is ready to make that transition.  It’s a radical change, and change can be…

… exciting, because for a long time, our industry (manufacturing) has been reluctant to embrace change.  Other industries have adjusted to the modern market.  Newspapers and magazines have moved to meet the consumer online and in social media.  Restaurants are providing an “experience,” and grocery stores are utilizing technology to connect to shoppers.  But manufacturers are reluctant to tackle custom orders, still embrace paper-bound build books, and rely on outdated Legacy systems.  We might know how to improve efficiency, but fear and risk hold us back. Change is coming, and that’s…

… scary, because for many in our industry, there seems to be little plan to adjust to a world where the consumer has access to a relatively inexpensive  manufacturing technology.  What will 3D printing mean for you?  What will desktop manufacturing mean to your shop floor?  Can we embrace the changes other industries have made; this includes a focus on customer service? Can we continue to ignore the need for change?

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit www.colourbox.com

Take action now that will pay dividends in the future! Photo credit http://www.colourbox.com

This article on an idealistic law student brings up a number of questions.  There will be questions about gun control, regulation, empowering criminals versus free market enterprise, but we also need to think about what 3D printing and open information mean for manufacturing.  Sure, 3D printing can be an exceptional new tool for manufacturing, but we need to step back and look at how else it will affect the industry. Other changes are coming- including cloud computing, mobile manufacturing, paperless manufacturing, robotics, MES, agile processes, and more. Change is already here, and more is coming.

I’m not arguing that 3D printing is going to completely replace manufacturing.  The technology isn’t there yet.  It’s slow.  Products made with 3D printing aren’t high quality and are prone to defects, and 3D printers aren’t capable of discrete manufacturing, but it’s only a matter of time.  We continually refine and perfect technology.  At one time, televisions were large and heavy, with only black and white pictures.  Now, we can wear a television like a watch- so imagine what 3D printing will be like in 20 years. Or 10 years. Or even next year.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your business from the 3D printing revolution?  What manufacturing solutions are available? How can you increase quality, increase production, and offer customers a better manufacturing experience? How agile is your operation? Now is the time to take action. When change comes for your business, make sure it’s exciting, not scary.

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.

– Albert Einstein

It’s better to plan and prepare for success in the future, than close your eyes and hope for the best!  Photo: colourbox.com

The truth is, you can’t stop the future, and no one has mastered the fine art of predicting it.  But, you can  put yourself in position to capitalize on change, even without a crystal ball.

“Agile” manufacturing and the increasing role of information technology are two trends shaping manufacturing and the shop floor.  Understanding these trends, and the changes they are making, can shape our decisions as we plan for 2013 and beyond.

Agile Manufacturing

Agile manufacturing is a response to customer demand for customized high-quality, low-cost, make-to-order or configure-to-order products.  Manufacturers are becoming more flexible and responsive to customer needs, helping the industry survive and prosper with continuous and unpredictable change.

There are several factors motivating the move toward agile manufacturing.  As globalization increases, manufacturers must manage worldwide supply chain and customer needs with agile manufacturing.  Rapid changes to technology lead to shortened product and technology life cycles.  Fickle customer demands and market dynamics are other factors motivating agile manufacturing.

To succeed with agile manufacturing, businesses must have faster, better, shop floor communication.  Customer requests need to rapidly reach designers, who make changes to production plans and send the revised plans to operations, who need assurance production is building the correct products.  Management needs to see at a glance the status of the shop floor so they can quickly make strategic and tactical decisions.  The entire process requires streamlined, efficient communication.

For an organization to succeed in agile manufacturing, products and information must move quickly and efficiently throughout production.  Knowledge must be available when and where it is needed.  Mobile manufacturing, or using mobile technology such as tablets, and mobile computers in manufacturing, are important tools in agile manufacturing.

Information Technology

In the past, traditional manufacturing was a labor-intensive mechanical process.  Today, more sophisticated advanced manufacturing is based on information technology.  Success is determined by an organization efficiently moving, producing, and using information both on the shop floor and in the marketplace.

Efficient communication and information technology speeds up productivity, which is the basis of agile manufacturing.  Continuous improvement of process control is enabled when you have real-time visibility of production, increasing and maintaining quality.  “Smart manufacturing” seamlessly links all departments in a production plant, delivering products faster and with a higher quality.  “Smart supply chains” link suppliers to the shop floor, ensuring on-time delivery and enabling lean manufacturing.  All of this is based on communication and information being delivered to the right person at the right time.

Looking at emerging trends can be both exhilarating and scary.  It’s an exercise I like to do every few months as I work on goal-setting.  You don’t need a crystal ball to see manufacturing has changed and is continuing to change.  Technology is driving this change, and technology is changing faster and faster.  The truth is, the old models where manufacturing employees spent up to 60% of their time collecting and processing information inefficiently will no longer work.  The key to success is efficiently using information to guide manufacturing, and businesses better able to meet this goal are poised for success in the future.

What has your business done to meet the growing trend of agile manufacturing?  Have you implemented any manufacturing intelligence projects in your plant?  If so, let us know how it is helping.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next time, we’ll take a look at what you can do when you’re tasked with process improvements in manufacturing.  Membership on a continuous improvement committee can mean more than an occasional lunchtime meeting!

4 Reasons Why You Should Look at Paperless Manufacturing

4 Reasons Why You Should Look at Paperless Manufacturing

Ask any child what pet they want, and you are bound to get a plethora of answers straight from Animal Planet.  My nephew recently asked for an elephant, and ended up with a puppy.  This was a simpler, more manageable first step for a junior elephant-tamer.

There are good lessons to be found in parenting, including the benefits of simpler, more manageable first steps.

What would you gain if your manufacturing operations went paperless?

There is a lot of risk involved in implementing a full shop-floor MES solution.  It is a major investment, and IT, Operations, Engineering and Executives all play a role in the project.  New functionality must be integrated with existing work flow.  Is the existing ERP going to play nicely with the new software?  If custom code is needed, then you have more concerns.  Will the shop floor accept change, or have you bought shiny shelfware, with employees continuing to work from paper?

Paperless Manufacturing – the simple step of moving work orders from a paper-based distribution system to a fully-functional system that creates electronic work orders, is a low-risk first step that offers immediate improvements.  With paperless manufacturing, you control the pace, rate and cost of change focusing on improvement, not managing risk.  Here’s why:

  1. Low Risk

Moving work orders and instructions to a paperless system is low risk.  Cost is minimal, in fact, you gain the direct cost savings once printing and delivery costs are eliminated.  There is no need to replace existing work orders, you are simply managing them in a new format – electronic work instructions.  Many of the risks involved in using paper work orders or MS Office work instructions, such as revision control and miscommunication, are removed when you move to paperless manufacturing.

  1. Easy Transition

Small changes are much easier for a team to make than global changes.  A web-based browser system requires little work from IT.  There is no reason to make significant changes to your communications.  You use the same work instructions found on the paper documents, which greatly minimizes the training time and transition period for your shop floor.  In fact, it is simple to incorporate other improvements like workstation training videos and visual work instruction once you have paperless manufacturing in place.  When ready, you can add more powerful capabilities to improve shop floor communications.

  1. Guaranteed ROI

Many MES projects fail when unnecessary additional functionality is added to the project.  Companies pile functionality and features on the MES, but the added costs make achieving ROI more difficult.  In a phased project focused solely on achieving paperless manufacturing, it is simple to calculate ROI.  Once you’ve transitioned to paperless manufacturing, you can better evaluate the additional functions to find the greatest ROI.

  1. Ensure functionality

Often, MES projects turn out to be a Leap of Faith.  You go from nothing, to a full-fledged software solution for manufacturing with mountains of functionality and steep learning curves.  Many manufacturers end up using only what they have to, barely scratching the functionality surface.  Paperless manufacturing allows a slow rollout of functionality, ensuring your team is optimizing their usage before moving on to the next step.

There has never been a better time to free yourself from paper!

Done right, true paperless manufacturing implementation is a simple, quick process requiring very little training for the shop floor.  It delivers tremendous benefits over manufacturing using distributed paper or simply viewing a MS Office document or pdf on the shop floor.  Paperless manufacturing offers added security, revision control, linkage of images or graphics to text or video, accurate archiving, in addition to cost savings, increased quality, and improved productivity with streamlined changed management and work order distribution.  You’ll see an almost immediate ROI, with no need for production downtime.

How many manufacturers are using a paperless manufacturing system now, or have begun to incorporate the functionality of an MES into your operations?  What success have you had introducing new functionality into your operations?  Share with us!  And join us next time as we look at what the future holds for manufacturers, and how we can be prepared to seize success when it comes.

Are You Putting “Best” Into Manufacturing Best Practices?

Are You Putting “Best” Into Manufacturing Best Practices?

“Best Practices” has become an industry buzzword so overused it is more “buzz” than word.  In fact, a recent study discovered the phrase “Best-Practices” was used more than 4,600 times in industry press releases.

Reliable metrics and data collection is an integral part of any best practice initiatives.

That’s too bad, because a best practice program offers tremendous benefits to manufacturers through increased quality, and reduced errors, non-productive work and variation.  But, like the latest fad diet, concepts this “buzzy” often lead to short term improvements and not real sustainable change.

There are three key components in best practice campaigns: people, process and technology.  First, you need to have buy-in from people on the shop floor to implement process improvements.  Empower and prepare people to make changes, otherwise production might suffer as you struggle to micro-manage process changes for your team.

Also consider your process as you plan a best practice campaign.  You need to have a process for not only identifying a best practice, but implementing the process change.  If the processes you are using require significant production downtime to make a change, the net result of the best practice exercise won’t benefit the business.

Finally, many best practice campaigns are only made possible by technology and tools which can evaluate a production process and help sustain the improvements with procedural enforcement, creating a culture of accountability. Software tools like MES which offer real-time visibility of the shop floor and accurate production process control are invaluable for sustainable best practice improvements and operational excellence.

Do you have the tools to capture real-time production data?

Before you begin any Best Practice initiative, study these three components in your own business to evaluate your potential success.  If your technology component doesn’t offer real-time visibility of production processes, then you won’t be able to measure or maximize your best practice benefits.  Similarly, without buy-in from the shop floor team success will be difficult to achieve.

A careful balance between people, process and technology are essential for success.  There may be costs associated with attaining this balance, but the benefits of the change will not only give your company a competitive edge, but also support sustainable best practice process improvements far into the future.

A successful process improvement campaign can be a game-changer for manufacturers.  Implementing best practices, Six Sigma improvements or Lean Manufacturing is a step toward achieving operational excellence, but sustainable change can only be attained once the proper tools are in place.  The right technology that enhances processes and empowers people is the BEST “Best Practice” in today’s competitive environment.

Have you had any success implementing best practices in your company culture?  What steps have you taken to empower employees to enact best practices, and what tools have you found to help sustain change?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you!  Join us next time as we take a closer look at paperless manufacturing, and how it can help you find manufacturing success today.

Calculating ROI for an MES can be a MESS

Calculating ROI for an MES can be a MESS

But it doesn’t have to be.  Avoid the mess with a few simple tips!

The other day I was playing Go-Fish with my son.  The entire game, he seemed more interesting in Going Fish than finding pairs.  Finally, I dropped my last card, while he held an entire stack of cards clutched in his hand.  “Ha!” he laughed. “I win, Daddy!”  Arguments about rules didn’t matter, because we weren’t playing the same game.

Calculating ROI for an MES has the potential to be a lot like playing cards with my son.

Calculating an ROI is an important step in justifying a capital expenditure.

ROI is an important step in planning a capital investment like an MES solution.  Businesses go to great lengths to draft criteria and benchmarks for their ROI, which becomes a key piece of evidence in justifying project expense.  MES vendors make claims about their customers achieving ROI.  But, like playing cards with my son, trying to compare ROI can be frustrating when everyone uses different rules.  Different manufacturers and different industries use different criteria for their ROI analysis, making claims appear untrustworthy.

But calculating ROI is not a meaningless exercise.  Start the process by looking at why you are implementing a new MES.  For most manufacturers, there is some business “pain” motivating the project.  Study the value or savings achieved if the MES is implemented successfully and the pain removed.  Use this as you calculate ROI.

Many times there will be “soft” savings which are hard to quantify but have a significant impact on business, such as increased productivity.  They may require estimates.  Market data can help create a more accurate estimate.

During the planning stage, you will find many internal users see the MES as an opportunity to make their job easier.  This leads to calls for “additional” functionality in the MES beyond the original scope.  Added functionality often has a negative impact on ROI.  One solution would be to implement the MES in phases, with the original pain becoming the first phase.  Additional phases address other pains.  Before you implement each phase, calculate the cost and adjust your expected ROI to justify the new functionality.  This will give you a more accurate view of ROI.

Plan your project in phases to ensure you meet your ROI expectations.

The secret to accurately calculating ROI for an MES isn’t a magic algorithm or formula, it’s being aware of the challenges facing your plant, assigning a value to the solution, and being disciplined in your approach.  How many times have you been involved in a project in which the final ROI was never achieved or even measured?  How many companies use ROI to justify the project, but never expect it to be achieved, and what does this say about the business?   Use your ROI calculation and be disciplined to avoid  lower profits or cost overruns.  Share any best practices or experience you have in the comments below.  We’re happy to answer questions.

Next time, we’re going to look at Manufacturing Best Practices and consider if it’s time to re-evaluate what makes a practice “best.”  See you then!

Mobile Technology for Manufacturing – Anytime, Anywhere, Any-maybe…

With proper planning, mobile manufacturing will increase efficiency.

Mobile manufacturing has the ability to revolutionize manufacturing, when it’s implemented well.

Many have predicted mobile technology will revolutionize the shop floor, and the technology does hold promise.  In fact, IDC Manufacturing Insights reports that 75% of all manufacturers currently use or plan to implement mobile technology in their business, and market research has noted MES providers are working to provide mobility.  But, is there a point when a tool for operational efficiency becomes a doorway to information overload?  This is especially dangerous for a generation constantly plugged-in to a steady diet of Twitter feeds and Facebook updates.  In fact, plugging an “information-hungry” generation in may have an adverse effect on productivity.

One foundation of operational excellence is getting critical information to the right person at the right time.  With the advent of Wi-Fi, tablets, smart phones, mobile apps, and secure connected technology; mobile technology has made this an attainable goal.    Imagine, a shop floor worker receiving notification of a change order on a tablet, and then taking the tablet with the revised and approved plans directly to the workstation.  The manager and engineer receive notification of the change order receipt, and the as-built data is instantly updated.  The entire process is the model of efficiency.

The strength of mobile devices is their ability to quickly and easily send and receive data.  Information overload happens when the information delivered doesn’t add value to the production process.  As others have noted, the mobile technology system needs to sensibly deliver right information.  There’s no need to plug a shop worker into an ERP or have them simply log into the company intranet.  That’s not the information they need, and it won’t increase process efficiency.  For this reason, the end users and shop managers need to have input on how a mobile system is implemented.

Have you looked at optimizing your shop floor for mobility?

Right now, mobile technology is still growing, defined more by product diversity than as a commodity.  Any system implemented to utilize mobile technology needs to be agile and have the capability to adapt to meet future business needs.  If not, the system you implement risks early obsolescence when the newest phone, tablet or OS hits the market.  Mobile technology has tremendous promise for manufacturing.  It is changing the way we do business, but it needs to be implemented with forethought and care.  Plugging an app into your work process or opening a shop floor tablet into an ERP may not be the solution you want.

What experience have you had with mobile technology on the shop floor?    How are you approaching the issue?  We’d love to hear from you.

Join us next time as we look at calculating ROI for your MES system.

4 Reasons Why Manufacturing Excellence Is Within Reach…

4 Reasons Why Manufacturing Excellence Is Within Reach…

Finding opportunities for improvement is easy, but taking the steps necessary to improve is much more challenging.  The unfortunate mess in my basement is proof of that.  I wrote a list of “basement improvements,” but boxes sit against the wall and shelves still aren’t hung.

Too often, process improvement faces a similar challenge in manufacturing.  We recognize steps for improvement, but taking them is more difficult.  But I believe now, more than ever, manufacturing excellence is within reach.  Here are a few simple reasons why:

Moving toward Operational Excellence.

  1. Seamless, integrated communication is possible (and affordable).  To manage change and ensure quality, shop floor workers need access to up-to-the-minute information and the latest plans.  Managers need access to quality control and other data instantly so they can rapidly respond and make informed decisions.  With improvements to data collection, integrated MES software systems, wireless networks, and secure mobile technology, seamless communication is not only feasible, but easy to implement using the right tools.
  2. Lean and Six Sigma processes are sustainable.  There is no doubt Lean and Six Sigma processes improve efficiency, work flow, and inventory control, leading to improved shop floor processes and company profit.  According to the Manufacturing Advisory Service in the UK, implementing Lean manufacturing principles will, on average, improve productivity 25%, reduce scrap levels 26%, and improve delivery performance by 26%.  The challenge has been sustaining improvements.  MES systems implement and maintain a production system that takes advantage of improvements through procedural enforcement and controlled processes.
  3. Shop floor workers are becoming more proficient with technology.  Mobile technology is revolutionizing manufacturing, and is now as commonplace as the smart phone. In fact, according to AdAge, 4.8 billion (out of 6 billion) people on the planet have a mobile phone (and only 4.2 billion own a toothbrush)! In an age where everyone has multiple home computers and many of us spend more time browsing the web than watching TV, we all find it much easier to accept new technology, even on the shop floor.
  4. Quick implementation of new technology is possible.  Implementing an MES project doesn’t necessarily mean taking production offline for an extended period of time.  There are currently OOTB (Out Of The Box) projects that deliver the functionality manufacturers need, and can be implemented and go live in production in 90 days or less (sometimes, much less).  Creating an implementation plan with short, focused phases can show an almost immediate ROI.

The truth is, production shops are dynamic environments where change, both planned and unplanned, is the norm.  Technology has improved and processes developed to give us the capability to manage change and risk, and deliver quality results in less time and money.

The goal of this blog, Paperless Manufacturing, is to focus on manufacturing excellence and what steps we can take to get there.  Manufacturing excellence is a lofty goal, but it’s not one we can ignore.  According to the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. manufacturing produces $1.7 trillion dollars of value each year.  For every $1 spent in manufacturing, $1.35 is added to the economy.  We have too much riding on manufacturing not to strive for excellence.

Delivering manufacturing excellence.

If you have an idea for a blog topic, a question you want to ask, or an issue you want to discuss, let us know.  If you have something you want to add to the conversation (and who doesn’t want to be heard), leave a comment.  We’re listening.  You can email us here.  Improvement should be the goal for all of us.  Next week we’ll talk about mobile technology, manufacturing, and what you should look for as you plan for the future.