May 21 2015

The Evolution of the Supply Chain [INFOGRAPHIC]

Thanks to the team at the University of San Francisco for preparing this Infographic. Below are highlights that mark the transformation of  the Supply Chain over the past 125 years. Some notable milestones:

  1. The first UPC barcode was used in 1974, which revolutionized inventory and retail operations
  2. In 1999 MIT launched Auto ID Labs to develop low cost RFID tags and applications; concept eventually became the Electronic Product Code (EPC)
  3. In 2011, Maersk Lines places order for 20 new Triple-E container ships, capable of holding a TEU record of 18,000+

One thing is for certain … more transformation is in the future! Increasingly sophisticated tracking systems, data gathering and manufacturing intelligence solutions are sure to impact the supply chain of the future.
The Evolution of Supply Chain
Infographic by the University of San Francisco, earn your Supply Chain Certificate.

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May 20 2015

Manufacturing Execution Systems – the Investment That Keeps on Giving

MES-investment-keeps-givingHow much Return on Investment (ROI) should you expect from implementing a Manufacturing Execution System? 3x? 5x investment? It’s something that is often debated in the boardroom. The target itself can often be the key determining factor in business transformation.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are a prime example of an investment that can truly transform a business for the better. However, the degree of potential business change can vary. How brave, committed and visionary are you? In the battle for competitive advantage, the manufacturers that come out on top see macro opportunities for transformation over and above micro successes from a single plant.

Increasingly, manufacturing enterprises around the globe are looking for ways to streamline, increase responsiveness and become more data “smart.” With an investment on this scale comes an expectation of ROI. MES offers a wide range of cascading hard and soft benefits that accrue over time. However, businesses tend to be pre-occupied with traditional targets revolving around short-term cost cutting on a local scale.

The temptation to rush development to meet an average ROI target of three times investment is significant. A quick and easy return may be politically alluring, but is ultimately short sighted. Businesses like the reassurance of seeing a dollar saved, but those that stop here might risk missing out on the larger savings that could impact strategic business outcomes in the future.

Expand Your Time Horizon

It is often easier to work in the short term. “What IT project can I get approved and implemented this year?” might be a consideration that is top of mind for those tasked with an IT systems update. Similarly, those responsible for approving such expenditures are equally risk-averse to embark on a multi-year deployment. Projects get derailed, budgets cut and new priorities set, which can each have an adverse effect on a multi-year deployment.

It is for these and other reasons that initial ROI to justify an MES implementation are often evaluated within the four walls of a single plant. Estimated benefits from cost savings, greater efficiency and expanded throughput can then be applied to the cost of an MES project. But why stop there? Success shouldn’t be derailed by a short-term business strategy or an impatience to see immediate ROI.

The first phase of MES lays the foundation for even more cost reductions and performance benefits over time. If an MES is rolled out over multiple plants and embraced as a companywide initiative, an ROI way beyond the average three times is possible. The cumulative effects of near-real-time visibility of production processes, as well as an understanding of them, will surface the less easily quantified, but equally significant benefits.


Recent industry analyst research by Gartner suggests the following list of potential benefits await those ready to embrace a longer timeframe horizon (read the full report here):


Potential benefits in first 3-12 months:

Potential benefits 12-36 months from implementation:

Potential benefits 3+ years from implementation:


A specific manufacturer’s future success could come down to their team’s ability to see the bigger picture, maximize MES across multiple plants and learn from the data generated. Making the right decision at critical times can have a significant on future profitability – or even viability. Yet these benefits are seldom incorporated in an MES purchase decision. It is ironic that one of the biggest benefits is rarely incorporated as part of the ROI process. Data analysis and decision support is the catalyst a business needs to leapfrog its competition to start performing in a different league.

In the battle for competitive advantage, MES is the investment that keeps on giving to manufacturers on a mission to achieve and sustain operational excellence. Businesses that fail to use the new information generated are debilitating the long-term benefits or potential gains. One manufacturer, for example, created a new metric for factory idle time after it discovered that 40% of its WIPs sat idle for two weeks without being touched. The MES gave the manufacturer data it didn’t have before to drive change in its supply chain.

Manufacturers are increasingly operating in an information-driven environment. Increased visibility of processes across multiple sites offer manufacturers the tools needed to recognize and seize new opportunities that might not have been previously even considered. Don’t let your business invest in MES, and then fail to look beyond the first phase of benefits. Be patient, learn from the information generated, act upon the insights and reap ROI in the long-term. MES is truly the hidden weapon of manufacturing. It is up to you to enable it to transform your business for the better in a continuous improvement philosophy!


If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:

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May 19 2015

A Constant in Manufacturing – Improving Safety [INFOGRAPHIC]

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Alphonse Karr


Despite all the transformation currently underway with the digital and global revolution impacting manufacturing, some things do remain the same. People are still a central point to getting the work done, driving innovation, and bringing the next level of productivity to the shop floor. In that theme, we thought it would be a good idea to present some interesting safety statistics, with the goal of making the shop floor a safer, and more productive place.

Special thanks to the team at Magnatag, who provided us with this wonderful Infographic on what you can do to help improve the safety across your global manufacturing operations!

safety in manufacturing



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May 14 2015

5 Ways the Cloud Can Impact Manufacturing

5-ways-cloud-impacting-manufacturingAccording to a survey by NSK Inc., 82 percent of companies surveyed saved money by moving various parts of their business to the cloud. Interestingly, however, according to another  survey by a renown analyst firm, only 3 percent of manufacturers have a cloud-based Manufacturing Execution System installed. Clearly, we have a world where cloud adoption is not ubiquitous!

Meanwhile, 14 percent of those that have embraced cloud-based IT systems later downsized their IT needs after cloud adoption, representing an opportunity for cost savings. Although cloud computing can positively impact your bottom line and improve the overall quality of your operations, there are other factors at work – at least for manufacturers. Most likely, concerns over production disruptions top the list of why cloud-adoption has not been as wide scale compared to other areas of operations.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are five ways the cloud can revolutionize your business:

1. Better Forecasting

It’s difficult to create accurate forecasts without your real-time supply chain information at hand. If you only use a piece of the data available, you may run into issues when trying to make business decisions. Solutions that can present real-time information to you quickly are obviously better. For example, some cloud-based offerings can be used in the warehouse to keep tabs on real-time inventory, and to communicate that information with your supply chain partners. This way the need to gain approval to access data behind firewalls might be more easily obtained. In the end, if you can increase your forecasting accuracy, you can also help develop algorithms for your product categories to help meet the demands of your growing business.

2. Improved Inventory Management

Inventory shortages can make or break your business and bring your manufacturing operations to a halt. Cloud software can help you share data with partners or suppliers, to help work together to better keep track of your inventory levels – in real-time – to avoid a loss in sales and customer base. Leveraging the cloud can also free up access to inventory data by visiting partners or suppliers, as they make field calls or move around your warehouse as needed. These folks can simply log in to tablets and mobile devices to check on inventory or to send out a client report without needing to gain access to files located behind a firewall, where security protocols or IT access might be restricted. Of course, cloud-based data is still protected, but granting access might (or might not) be more readily available, and not involve IT administration.

3. Automated Backups and Updates

There’s no need to waste valuable resources to back up your manufacturing system or to launch your software updates. Cloud-based providers can do it all for you without needing to involve your IT team or other employees. Cloud backups keep your business running with few to no glitches involved. Even if every computer in your warehouse goes down, you can still power up your tablet and log into your cloud-based inventory and other systems to get the information you need. And, most importantly, a cloud-based backup means that your data is being stored offsite. So, if a disaster of any kind impacts your facility, you don’t have to worry about data being lost forever.

4. Refine Customer Service

Streamline your customer support with the cloud. There are services that can handle questions, status inquiries and other functions without sucking away valuable time from your day-to-day operations. Upgrading to cloud-based customer service can be as simple as allowing your customers to log in and see their order status or as complex as using a remote virtual team to answer phone calls and track down information. This team doesn’t need to be onsite because the employees have your business information in the cloud.

Cloud storage also can refine your customer service efforts. You can store client files and information so you can access it from anywhere. If you aren’t sure what type of storage options your business needs, visit a review site like Top10CloudStorage to research the different features and options.

5. Streamline Your Marketing Collaboration

Get help executing your marketing strategy without the need for extensive meetings and in-person collaboration. Once you decide on your marketing campaign, use cloud software like Marketo to manage the process, exchange notes, get status updates and get real-time statistics and feedback. Some cloud software can also help schedule social media posts, tell you when to follow up with a lead and when to deploy your next email marketing campaign.


Tell me what you think? Are you “on” the cloud? Are there other benefits you have achieved?

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May 12 2015

Conveyor Belt Innovations [INFOGRAPHIC]

As the manufacturing shop floor continues to be impacted from today’s digital transformation, every system, process or equipment must ultimately be evaluated for continuous process improvement. As conveyor belts are an integrated part of the manufacturing process, they too should be considered when seeking opportunities to improve operational excellence (see this related Manufacturing Transformation blog post on the history of the conveyor belt).

Special thanks to the folks at Dorner Conveyors for creating the below Infographic that highlights some of the optimization strategies that can be applied to conveyor belts, as part of your journey towards achieving and sustaining operational excellence.

Here are some interesting points featured in the graphic below:

  • Sorting technologies increase packaging productivity by over 90% when used in tandem with conveyor solutions
  • Only 2% of belt conveyors have unplanned outages due to mechanical or electrical issues
  • Germany has the fastest conveyor belt system, which is used in the lignite mines and has a speed of 15 m/second
  • Backlit conveyors lower the rate of error by 66%
  • Scheduled maintenance is important to keep conveyor systems running at their full potential, and can decrease the chance of equipment failure, health and safety violations, and accidents



Source: Dorner Conveyors

Optimization For Todays Conveyors

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