Tag Archives: work instructions

Will You Survive the Imminent Demise of Paper-Based Manufacturing?

Still reluctant to explore paperless manufacturing on your shop floor?  Change is happening, and the decisions you make now will shape your future.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Sometimes you can see global change happening from miles away.  The first time I logged onto the Internet I knew there was so much more to this new world than text-based games and discussion forums.

tombstone-black-whiteAnd sometimes global change can surprise you.  I’ll admit, the tablet-craze was a shock.  It couldn’t fit in my pocket, and it didn’t have nearly the functionality of a laptop, yet it’s a craze that doesn’t seem to be fading.  Reality TV was another surprise.  Honestly, how can we explain the Kardashians?

That said, are you ready for the demise of paper-based manufacturing?  Are you surprised that paper travelers and paper build books are gasping for breath and struggling to survive?  How will you respond when the market demands you move to paperless manufacturing?

Still in denial (which, in this case, is not the river in Egypt), then consider this:

  • Customers are demanding more custom manufacturing and small runs.  Their business needs more control over the manufacturing you provide.  The market is moving away from traditional manufacturing.  It doesn’t provide the control and visibility custom manufacturing requires.  Sure, paper works, but it provides diminishing returns that cut into your bottom line.
  • Big data is here.  You’re going to see more tools to convert that data into responses that benefit your business.  Process improvement, for example.  You need data and process control to implement Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing.  Paper-based manufacturing is a glaring hole in big data.  It doesn’t provide adequate support for analytics.
  • Manufacturing needs stronger information tools than paper can provide.  For example, visual information and multi-lingual work instructions aren’t easily supported on paper.  Complex manufacturing drives paper toward bigger and bigger build books, creating more errors and more problems, while a paperless solution provides scalable tools for the work.
  • Quality is improved with paperless manufacturing, and quality was recently cited in studies as more important to profitability in manufacturing than productivity.  Paper is the source of many quality escapes in manufacturing (lost information, and lack of revision control, for example), while paperless manufacturing directly addresses many of these problems.
  • Technology has eliminated many of the concerns potential customers have with paperless manufacturing and MES.  For example, with Quantum, CIMx can install a paperless manufacturing system in a few weeks.  Training for the system can be completed days.  With a phased implementation, the customer is in complete control of the installation and gains production benefits quickly.
Prepare for the future and improve production with paperless manufacturing. Image by www.colourbox.com

Prepare for the future and improve production with paperless manufacturing. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

I will admit, even with the clear benefits of paperless manufacturing there will be shop floors that cling to paper, fearing change.  They may be profitable, in spite of themselves, but it is hard to deny the market is moving (rapidly) toward paperless manufacturing.  In 2013, manufacturers spent $5 billion on paperless manufacturing systems.  That’s a LOT of money to be spent without a clear ROI and benefit.

The world is changing, are you ready?  Will the market drive change on your shop floor, or will you control the change, ensuring maximum benefit for your business?  Or will you be stuck carrying a giant phone book tethered to the wall by a rotary phone while your competitors are using a smart phone?

Want to learn more, or are you ready to make a change.  Contact CIMx today to learn how we can help, or sign up for our free webinar.

How to Get the Paperless Manufacturing System You Want

There are numerous options for companies researching MES and paperless manufacturing, we take a close look and evaluate two of those options.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn't create them. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing solution solves problems, and doesn’t create them. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

It is much more difficult to build a car than buy one.  So, even though I’m annoyed by side view mirror controls that dig into my wrist, and I bang my head when I put my daughter in the car seat, I won’t re-engineer the work involved in current car designs to build my own (even though a robot vacuum to clean up after the kids is simply brilliant).

Build versus buy is not only a question in cars, but also MES and paperless manufacturing.  As businesses research the benefits to production, quality, and data collection found in paperless manufacturing, each must decide whether to build their own system, or buy from a vendor.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.  For this blog, we’ll look at points to consider as you make your own evaluation.


The ability to design a paperless manufacturing system and control the final product is often the primary reason a company will build rather than buy.  Every manufacturer is different, with different processes and unique needs.  Incorporating internal processes and needs at the beginning of development helps ensure a better product.

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn't one best left to the experts. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Ensure your paperless manufacturing project isn’t one best left to the experts. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

To successfully build your own system, you must understand those processes and needs before you begin.  Determining the system requirements can take 2 months or more, and requires significant input from the manufacturing team (pulling them from the shop floor), and management.  You should also assume some slippage in the project timeline.  No matter how much planning is done, you can’t plan for everything once the code begins flowing.

Any items not included from the initial system requirements will exponentially increase the cost in time and resources for the project.  You also need to consider that every requirement you identify for the system will add to the cost.  If you have the stomach for the time and money it will take to complete the system, you’ll have the system you want.

Making changes to a system you bought can also be costly.  A risk companies run into is creating a “custom” system that will be more difficult to support.  When purchasing, make sure to do your research and ask for demos using your current work instructions to see how the installed system will work on your shop floor.


Implementation involves taking the initial design and writing code for it, then installing it on the shop floor.

A system built internally begins with the 2+ months to determine the system requirements before programming and development begins.  In addition to programmers, the project requires an expert in User Interface to eliminate unnecessary complexity, and a Data Base Administrator (DBA).  Specifications will also affect the final cost of the system.  Consider the database and platform, and plan for a product that will work not only now, but in the future for your business.

There are ways to lower cost, such as removing functionality, minimizing testing, or utilizing internal resources, but there are costs associated with these measures, and could affect the long term viability of the system.  Evaluate the return and cost for each decision before making choices you may regret.

System integration is another point to consider.  Manufacturers and businesses use a number of different software systems and databases.  Ensuring those systems work together smoothly is often overlooked in planning. 

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

How much risk and cost can your business manage for a paperless manufacturing .

Purchased systems offer a much lower cost for implementation.  Today, there are paperless manufacturing systems that can be installed and integrated in less than two weeks with no disruption of shop floor processes.  However, you will not have the design control you have in a built system.

Configuring, adapting, and integrating the system can take longer.  Also, beware of systems that require that your shop floor processes adapt to the software, which can significantly increase implementation.  Look for MES or paperless manufacturing systems which can reuse your existing work instructions and processes to reduce implementation time and training.


A paperless manufacturing system is only useful if it is up, running, and secure.  The long-term reliability and maintainability of the system must be considered in planning.

Every system requires maintenance and upkeep, especially in an industry such as manufacturing where changes in technology and processes are common.

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by www.colourbox.com

Evaluate the ROI of a home built MES, then work with a software provider to go over the ROI for their system. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

With a system built internally, evaluate how much time and resources you will assign to the maintenance.  Will you have access to the team that originally built the software?  They are best positioned to maintain the system.  How will you handle bugs?  How much time in testing, both integration and regression testing, will you accept to repair bugs and flaws in the system.  If you see maintainability as a low priority, are you and your team willing to accept temporary patches, flaws, and workarounds in addition to a slow slide toward software obsolescence?  Is there a plan to upgrade the system? Considering these issues early in the planning process will help eliminate future surprises, and determine the lifetime cost of the system.  

The truth is, many businesses significantly underestimate the resources necessary to successfully maintain a system.  Most times they won’t intentionally underestimate to work required for maintenance, but once they better understand the requirements, they’ll be forced to make sacrifices and the solution will no longer be optimized.

Almost all home built software become “legacy” once the project is complete.  If the team that built the system isn’t on staff, the product cannot be tested and is therefore legacy software.  Future modifications will be exponentially more expensive.

Reliability and support for a purchased system will depend on the vendor supplying the software.  Many vendors offer an inexpensive system initially, and then charge higher fees for service and maintenance.  For example, a consultant will often install a base system very quickly, and then require further services to ensure the system works as promised. 

Look at the product support before making a purchase.  A system with a large support staff will expect customers to help pay for the staff through service charges.  Are there fees for upgrades or patches?  How is the product maintained? 

Many software systems require a license fee, which often includes product support.  Most purchased systems have been installed and used countless times, which can be seen as continual product testing, ensuring a more reliable and error free platform.  The total cost of the software and maintainability is shared by all the customers. 

Reliability in the system helps build the ROI, so take time to make an informed decision.


As you evaluate paperless manufacturing options, keep in mind a company specializing in manufacturing software systems rely on years of expertise in both manufacturing and software development. They will be marketing the product for years, and will continue maintenance and testing, to ensure the system works.

Choices and options.

Take a close look at the resource requirements necessary for maintainability. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

But, building a system internally allows a level of customization and control a purchased system can’t match.  Your evaluation comes down to a simple question – is the benefit of increased customization and control (or other motives driving you toward the solution) worth the increased cost in time, resources, and risk?  Look at not just the initial product, but the long-term investment.  Have a plan in place for continuing to maintain the system and ensuring the design of the system isn’t trapped in an information silo.

There is also risk and cost in purchasing a system.  Some vendors sell systems that aren’t well maintained or supported, or have hidden costs.  paperless manufacturing in the Cloud has associated risks.  You may not have all the functionality you wanted with the system, since it wasn’t designed internally, but you benefit from lower cost and lower risk for your shop floor.

There are advantages and disadvantages to building and purchasing an MES or paperless manufacturing system, and each company must evaluate the options with internal criteria before making a decision.  When building a system, you can get what you want if you are willing to spend the money and resources necessary, and you can mitigate the risk of potential failure.  You also need to be aware that a paperless manufacturing system is not a “one and done” project. It requires ongoing maintenance to continue to meet the needs of your business.

Success requires willingness to pay, a stomach for risk, and a devotion to maintainability. Which is why my brilliant robot vacuum is still a dream, and there are still crumbs in the backseat of my car.

What you can’t see on the shop floor may kill you

We often overlook the small benefits of paperless manufacturing and manufacturing software solutions, benefits that may have the greatest impact for your shop floor.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

I’m being provocative with the title of this blog, but sometimes we forget there are benefits to paperless manufacturing we may not see at first, even if we use bright, flashing colors.

I recently learned men have a 7% chance of being colorblind; for women, it’s less than .5%.  Many manufacturers use color to drive work and control processes on the shop floor.  For 7% of potential shop floor workers, this can be a real problem.

Choices and options.

When change hits your shop floor, will you be ready? Paperless manufacturing can help. Photo from http://www.colourbox.com.

I visited a manufacturing facility and observed how critical color was to their production process.  They didn’t make colorful parts or widgets (in fact, much of what they built was a boring monotone), but color was critical to the way they manufactured. Color is a fairly commonplace tool in our industry.

For manufacturers who still rely on paper or paper-on-glass document systems to run their shop floors (a group that includes a majority of manufacturers working today), color often drives production.  Suppose you are using a word processor, such as MS Word, to provide instructions to your shop floor.  An Excel spreadsheet keeps track of tools and inventory.  Some manufacturers may use intricate databases built from Microsoft Access to provide information to the shop floor.  In these situations, companies will use either Microsoft PowerPoint or PDF files to add graphics to the traveler (the packet of manufacturing directions that travels, often in a plastic sleeve, with the parts to be built).

Work instructions and travelers are critical tools for a successful shop floor.

To build their products, manufacturers rely on an engineer’s instructions placed in travelers.  The documents in the traveler are maintained by an engineer (many times the same one that writes the instructions) who is responsible for ensuring only approved documents are in the packets.  To draw attention to critical information, or quickly modify instructions when necessary, color is used.  Documents may be color-coded to signify their path in the shop, their urgency, or to signal when a change has been initiated.  Yes, a red pen can be a mission critical tool.

For example, color will be used to draw attention to an area of concern in the process.  This could be through a cover sheet printed on color paper or via changes marked in red.  Color-blind workers (remember that potentially 7% of the colorblind workforce) must rely on a careful review of each paper that comes across their station. An urgent message marked in red would not have the same impact on someone who can’t see red, and red-green colorblindness is most common.

Manufacturers pride themselves on efficiency, but for almost 1 in 10 stations in the shop, the travelers aren’t efficiently communicating to the workers.  Let’s face it, the entire situation fails in a number of places, and it’s no wonder mistakes and errors happen.

An electronic system not only ensures information arrives exactly where it needs to be on the shop floor, but provides the information in a format that practically eliminates miscommunication.  You aren’t relying on a roll of the genetic dice for color blindness or the strength of a red pen to get critical customer information to the shop floor.  This is what we mean by shop floor process control.

An engineer could poll the shop floor for color blind employees (which seem like a potential HR nightmare) or create a system that works as well in monotones as color, but this is not the most efficient solution and may cause as many problems as it solves.

Now is the time to investigate manufacturing software solutions for your shop floor.   Photo by www.colourbox.com

Now is the time to investigate manufacturing software solutions for your shop floor. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com

Paperless manufacturing has been designed to eliminate a multitude of errors in your production process, and it does so because it is adaptable.  Here is another way to think of it… paper or paper-on-glass work instructions are static, a fixed media, and are designed to deliver the SAME instruction to everyone.  But, it is foolish to believe everyone is the same or your shop floor processes will never need to incorporate change.  Fixed media causes many of the inefficiencies holding your shop floor back from success.

Paperless manufacturing is adaptable.  It’s possible to add visual media such as video and 3D images to the work instructions.  You can quickly and easily add any emphasis you need to the instruction, even to individual workers (eliminating the color-blindness quandary).  Paperless manufacturing gives you adaptability without adding to the complexity.  Sure, helping color blind workers might be a small benefit, but it touches on one of the strengths of paperless manufacturing- adaptability.

Contact us today to learn how CIMx Software can help deliver paperless manufacturing to your shop.

Putting secrets of baseball to work on your shop floor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

What opportunities for improvement are you letting slip by?

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

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

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How You Can Break the Manufacturing Rules and Win

The strategic decisions you make at the beginning of a process improvement project can position you for success, so make sure you are making the right decisions.

Written by Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Maker’s Mark, a company that distills Kentucky Bourbon, recently announced they were watering down their brand – literally.  They planned to lower the alcohol content in their whisky from 90 to 84 proof by adding water.  Maker’s Mark explained that as they moved into new markets, production couldn’t meet increased demand.

Whisky is not like a manufactured widget.  You can’t ramp up production as demand increases. Whisky is aged in barrels before it is bottled. In the past, whisky makers have added water to lower alcohol content, increasing production.  Rival Jack Daniels watered down its black label Tennessee whiskey (Maker’s Mark names their product minus the “e”) a few years ago.  So did Maker’s Mark fail to plan for current market needs?  Was it just a plot to cut costs, or, as some suggest, was it just a ploy to get good press?

Improving production doesn't have to mean changing your process.

Improving production doesn’t have to mean changing your process. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

After Maker’s Mark announced the change, customers’ blogged, tweeted, ranted and wrote.  Within a few days, Maker’s Mark reversed the decision. They credited their customer’s passion and reiterated their intent to serve their audience. It turned out to be a marketing and PR windfall for Marker’s Mark, as engaged and passionate customers flocked to the brand to applaud the decision. They broke a marketing rule (stick to your messaging and never admit a mistake) and ended up finding success.  If customers hadn’t complained, the company would have had more bourbon to sell, but since they did complain, they gain increased customer loyalty.

Noted Marketing Strategist, author, and social media speaker David Meerman Scott didn’t want to comment on the controversy, other than to say that Maker’s Mark customers’ opinions counted more than his.  Scott’s concept of using current events and social marketing to drive business is groundbreaking.  The truth is, Maker’s Mark creatively and proactively solved a production headache by strategically positioning a process change rather than forcing it.  As a result, they are positioned for future success.

So what does this mean for your shop floor? What can you do to increase production, position yourself for success and deliver positive results?

Right now, you are making something.  Materials are becoming assemblies and parts are shipping.  Unlike a distillery, watering down your production line is not an option. You can’t just substitute a cheap aluminum bolt for a titanium bolt and hope it holds.  Tolerances are tight and sacrificing safety is not an option.

So if you can’t add water, what process adjustments can you make?  One option is to shorten the process time – rather than removing steps, sacrificing safety, or creating a new process.  Retooling your operations to accommodate a new process is rarely worth the investment in time and effort.  It would be like Maker’s Mark announcing they were no longer using charred white oak barrels to slow age the whisky, but were implementing a new chemical process. They might get similar results, but imagine the retraining necessary for employees and the social media outrage!

A paperless (electronic) manufacturing system not only drives process improvements, but increases production by improving the flow of data on the shop floor. Visual work instructions, real time quality checks, and procedural enforcement are all benefits of paperless manufacturing that improve production without sacrificing quality or safety.  Paperless manufacturing is also a solution with numerous benefits (none of which involve watered down bourbon).

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by www.colourbox.com.

Involve your shop floor in process improvement planning, and respect the processes they have in place. Photo by http://www.colourbox.com.

Once you have a production solution, the next step is planning the rollout.  Any system you implement will need to be accepted on the shop floor. The only way an electronic paperless manufacturing system is going to find acceptance with minimal resistance is by respecting the current processes. Integrating current processes will also save on training time, and drastically reduce or eliminate downtime.  It makes sense not to “fix” what isn’t broken.

At CIMx, we’ve designed our paperless manufacturing system around these ideas. Strategically implement the changes that make sense, and don’t force new processes. Focus on improving your process with tools that help you work faster, easier, and result in fewer errors. This is the center of our guaranteed Process Retention Plan.

Maker’s Mark knew significantly changing their process wasn’t an option.  Some potential solutions wouldn’t be accepted by their customers.  Struck with a Public Relations nightmare, they proactively listened and turned a nightmare into a tool they could use.

If you want to improve production, consider using what you have currently, what builds your products today, and eliminate the wasted time around steps without adding more problems and complexity to the system.  Significant improvements don’t require significant investment, and process improvement doesn’t mean you need a new process.  Break the rules!  There is no need to redesign your floor or redo your process.  When there are challenges to overcome, don’t water down your manufacturing or force a new process, instead roll out a plan to engage your shop floor to solve those problems by offering them the tools that make business sense.

The Upper Hand: Combining Mobility and Flexibility

The Upper HandMany shop floor employees and supervisors are responsible for a broad work area. That means they need access to specifications and drawings at various sites around the plant, they need to move around with the work instructions and they need to be able to enter data wherever they happen to be. Any lost time can delay production and have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. A survey conducted by Motorola concluded that “manufacturers with mobile applications saved a daily average of 42 minutes per employee.” The study also found that “7 in 10 IT decision-makers in the manufacturing industry were looking to leverage mobile and wireless solutions to streamline operations.”

Although a tablet on the shop floor has much of the same functionality as a wired PC, there are a few distinct advantages.  First and foremost, it’s mobile. Employees and supervisors can view work instructions, collect data, and manage non-conformances, missing parts or incomplete information anywhere on the shop floor instantly. This eliminates non-value add walk-around time and possible delays in production. Second, the ease-of-use barrier is dramatically reduced. Touch screens make the software much more intuitive and approachable. Shop floor personnel can browse detailed multi-media work instructions and enter data with a finger touch rather than going to a keyboard.  Third, tablets reduce costs. Tablets require less hardware and infrastructure enhancements than traditional laptops or wired PCs, adding value to your bottom line. The future of paperless manufacturing might just be in the palm of your hand.

What is your company doing to gain the upper hand?