Jul 09 2015

The Smarter Way to Build Smart Products

With the rapid growth of smart products containing embedded software, manufacturers are quickly becoming de facto software companies.

This convergence between the hardware and software industries brings advantages, but also creates a key problem given that certain relationships are not unified during the design process. For instance, without an intelligent solution to unify PLM and ALM, time and money can be wasted throughout the manufacturing process.

“Engineered products are less ‘hardware’ and more ‘software’ and, as a result, require an evolution in engineering and manufacturing processes and approaches,” according to IDC. “Because of the potential impact of faulty software on product safety and quality, manufacturers will need to rapidly acquire the capability to manage the software life cycle and supply releases along with their production processes.”[1]

Manufacturers today are facing an all-out, rapid-fire change from their hardware roots to their software present, and it’s a dangerous present. IDC warns of the “potential impact”—meaning, lawsuits and warranty issues—of releasing poor software, but there’s another cost too, and it’s unavoidable for manufacturers today: a slowdown in innovation caused by the need to divert resources to fixing and resolving software issues. In fact, engineers and developers lose about 50 percent of development time to issue resolution while resolving issues takes an average of 6.9 days.

If most companies want to stay competitive, they cannot afford to spend time and resources on resolving issues, as product release schedules are tighter than ever. For example, cars contain between 10 million and 100 million lines of code to support features including navigation, assisted braking, multimedia applications, and so forth. Yet, new car models go from concept to production in as little as 18 months[2]. It’s hard to pack innovation, quality, and safety into such a tight time frame.

In order to overcome these complex challenges, manufacturers today need to take a “smart” approach to managing both the hardware and software lifecycle of new product introduction. This type of approach to the development process can enable manufacturers to:


  1. Unify disconnected enterprise-system data sources such as PLM, ALM, testing, and CRM, to get a single view into the development process.
  2. Identify similar issues, duplicates, and shared root causes of issues. An estimated 40 percent of issues/bugs are duplicates in kind or occurrence, so identifying—and even automatically resolving—these increases developer productivity by approximately 25 percent.
  3. Classify business risk of issues and defects such as safety, customer experience, reliability, performance, and more so that you can prioritize resources appropriately.
  4. Identify and bring together experts who work on similar issues and have similar skill sets for collaboration.
  5. Unify internal enterprise data with issues expertise gathered from external sources such as Stack Overflow and other data sources selected by the end user.


A smarter way to develop and manage smart products through the use of advanced, dynamic business analytics, which can then result in bringing them to market faster with higher quality and customer satisfaction. This way profit margins can be protected from warranty demands, capturing competitive advantage by focusing resources on innovation while having more resources to devote to software management, given its increasingly important role in new product launches.

Notes / Sources:

[1] Business Strategy: Integrating Mechanical, Electrical/Electronic, and Software Development in an Era of Smart Products, IDC Manufacturing Insights, 2013

[2] Business Strategy: Integrating Mechanical, Electrical/Electronic, and Software Development in an Era of Smart Products, IDC Manufacturing Insights, 2013



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Jul 07 2015

The 5 E’s Great, Lean Visuals Have In Common

Communication is at the heart of any continuous improvement program. If intent can’t be clearly communicated, then it is unlikely any process improvement initiative can gain traction.

In today’s world where manufacturing has transformed into a global industry with multiple languages, time zones and cultures, language can often be a stumbling block to effective, clear communication. The expression that “one picture is worth 1,000 words” has much truth to it. Good visuals that can help you to better plan, schedule, organize and communicate information can quickly become an essential part of any Lean manufacturing environment.

Those manufacturers considering how to increase the use of visuals across plant floor operations might consider the use of specialized whiteboards. Based on my conversations with leading providers in the field, I have found there are several common characteristics that make a difference between good and bad visuals, which for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll call the 5 E’s:

  1. Easy to Setup: Especially in a lean environment when your main goal is to eliminate waste and get products out to consumers as soon as you can (i.e. accelerate new product introduction), employees and managers don’t have a lot of time to put into setting up a visual system. The best visual systems are ones that are simple by nature and do not require a lot of time and energy to setup. The Key Performance Indicator (KPI) whiteboard example is a perfect use of a whiteboard that is easy to setup and maintain, yet can convey important metrics quickly and easily.lean_visual_1
  2. Easy to See: Whiteboards that use color, shape and size, and are located in the “right place” where people who need the information can easily see them will be far more effective. For example, a whiteboard conveying safety metrics and performance that is placed in a high traffic area where everyone on the factory floor can readily see it will help better raise awareness of what it takes to operate in a more safe environment. Metrics displayed might include the number of accident free days.
  3. Easy to maintain: Posting information to a white board must be easy to do, or else information will soon become out-of-date. Information must be constantly updated, with new data being virtually instantaneous. This way it’s easy to keep your employees informed with what is going on (use of pens and magnets can help here). A whiteboard displaying production rates that is easy to maintain allows managers to keep track of actual and accumulated yields against goals, and then also lets workers post production problem notes right as they occur.lean_visual_3
  4. Easy to use: Unlike a computer, whiteboards are always on and are always available to share information with everyone 24/7.  Even in a power outage, assuming some light exists, information on a whiteboard remains visible. And, most likely, employees have had experience working with a whiteboard, so new training is not needed. Using a focused and universally recognized visual image for everyone to use and understand goes a long way to improving how your metrics are communicated.lean_visual_4
  5. Easy to understand: Visual systems can be used to communicate universal symbols, images, color, size and position to create emphasis in a Lean manufacturing environment. The most important words on a visual system are big and in bright colors, while the less important words are smaller and require some study. Examples include those with a central image and highlighted details on either side, which provides a self-explanatory whiteboard system, can be a great communication tool.

We live in a digitized, highly automated world today. As such, manufacturers have invested millions of dollars into IT systems, enterprise software solution and the hardware necessary to run these solutions. Yet, at the same time, it can be beneficial and a welcome change to have a “non-digital” tool that is used, to help better communicate manufacturing objectives, goal performance to plan as well as other safety related metrics. Something as “non-technical” as a whiteboard can offer a different communication tool that can readily display a message visually, while at the same time, can be almost a novelty in not being digital, that it is actually observed on the shop floor. After all, that is what great communications is all about!


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Jul 02 2015

The Cloud, MES and Centers of Excellence

Center-of-Excellence-globalCloud computing has become ubiquitous over the past number of years within a wide variety of industries. Yet, adoption within manufacturing operations remains at about 3 percent, based on a recent Gartner report. How can this be?

At its core, cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, instead of the more traditional method of storing and executing these processes locally on a personal computer or server.

Though its popularity within the enterprise has certainly gained momentum and awareness in recent years, the concept behind the Cloud has been with us for quite some time. Third party email services such as those offered by Yahoo! and Hotmail are cloud-based services that have been with us for well over a decade.

Those that have been in the industry for more than a decade will remember Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which existed back in the 1990s. SaaS looked a lot like the same concept as the Cloud, just by another name. It just lacked ubiquitous access to store data on remote storage devices, primarily due to cost constraints.

According to a recent Gartner Hype Cycle, Cloud computing is currently passing through what the research firm calls the ‘Trough of Disillusionment.” This is the period that follows the initial wave of excitement after a new technology emerges, when expectations are recalibrated in line with the realities of what is achievable, rather than what vendors (or science fiction fans) might have us believe. While the Trough of Disillusionment may sound like a bad place for the Cloud to be, in reality it simply demonstrates that the technology is approaching maturity and is ready to become a part of the everyday enterprise.

The Cloud by Another Name?

Given the importance of maintaining uptime and production performance, it should come as no surprise that the manufacturing operations management industry doesn’t have a history of being the first to try new technologies. It is simply too risky, given the extreme cost of a production going down because of a software glitch or other technological issue.

Could it be possible a pattern can be identified to reveal when Cloud computing will go “mainstream” within manufacturing operations? If so, that would indicate that the Cloud might start making a broader appearance at plants by the end of this decade.

One such example might be the growing usage of a Center of Excellence (COE). Follow this line of thinking … what is a COE? It can be defined as follows:

  1. A “sandbox” or testing environment where new manufacturing operations processes can be tested and evaluated
  2. A mechanism to then distribute best practices to all locations, across the enterprise
  3. A “single source of the truth” where processes can be standardized to help maintain and govern process improvement
  4. A place where process improvement suggestions can be collected from the field for evaluation at a centralized location as a possible future improvement
  5. A remove location managed by a team comprising subject matter experts; data is stored, managed and distributed by this team


When looked at in this way, the IT architecture of a COE and the Cloud start looking structurally similar. In fact, if you were to put diagrams of the two systems side by side, the two networks would look remarkably alike. Some would argue that the difference lies in who is managing the systems, claiming that if it is a third party vendor, it must be a cloud system rather than a COE. But, this is further complicated by the fact that third party vendors also mange COEs. In the end, it could be claimed that the two concepts are in fact practically identical, with the difference lying only in semantics.

Regardless what you call it, Gartner sees the Cloud as being a key driver of MES deployment over the coming years. Their latest survey anticipates a five-fold increase in cloud-based MES from 2014-2017. Some of the factors contributing to this forecast are accelerated deployment and quick value creation that improve flexibility and reduce costs. Furthermore, migration toward the cloud could help alleviate some of the reported talent and skills obstacles to MES. In the meantime, the majority of revenue captured by vendors in this market looks set to be dominated by on-premise, as cloud continues on its journey to maturity.


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Jun 30 2015

5 Manufacturing Practices that will be Outdated within the Decade


Do your manufacturing processes still rely on analog or paper-based components? Perhaps now is the time to embrace digitization as a strategy?

As you read this article, the manufacturing industry is moving towards a fourth massive revolution.

The first came in the 18th century in Britain, when machines started arriving in textile mills across the continent and the second came when Henry Ford introduced the world to the powers of mass production.

Since then manufacturing practices remained pretty static until the advent of the computer, which set in motion a series of technology advances that are now gaining momentum. The addition of the Internet to devices promises to further accelerate the innovation that is to come.

We live in a time when a number of very useful technologies are only just beginning to converge. With new materials, innovative software, more capable machines and better processes, we are in the midst of a perfect storm for evolution in the manufacturing industry.

And it won’t be long before many of today’s practices become obsolete, or even illegal.

Here I take a look at 5 common manufacturing practices I believe won’t survive the next decade.

Reliance on Human Labor

At the start of the first industrial revolution, factories had to be run around the clock in order to be profitable, so workers often toiled away for up to 16 hours a day. Although conditions have changed dramatically in the developed world, you still can’t go more than a few weeks without reading about a sweatshop in Bangladesh, forced labor in Qatar or child labor in India.

This may be on the cusp of change though. Factories have been using automated robots in some form since the 1960’s. Now these bots have evolved enough to take over many of the repetitive tasks humans used to do in factories.

This is one of the reasons companies like Apple and GM have been shifting jobs back to the US for the first time in many decades. Robots can work day and night, be more precise and don’t need to be paid. Advanced robotics will most likely make many repetitive, assembly jobs obsolete in the coming years, both in developed and developing nations. Our human resources will then need to be applied to the programming of processes and optimization of production throughput instead.

Analog to Digital Management

Digital technologies have transformed many industries in the past decade alone. In the coming decade they are expected to dramatically change the way manufacturing operates. For example, the convergence of virtual and real worlds in manufacturing is now in full swing. Digitization has also enabled the introduction of mobile apps across the shop floor, which can help assure quality, maintain labor records, track vehicles and shipments, and provide high-quality data all in real time. Legacy paper-based, analog systems will soon be virtually non-existent as the digital revolution continues its transformation.


If you’d mentioned printing to anyone prior to a few years ago, nearly everyone would have talked to you about home computers and paper. If you’d mentioned machines that could print real 3D objects like toys and bricks and even cars, they would have assumed you were talking about the latest sci-fi blockbuster.

But 3D printing is very much a reality now and is become a bigger part of practical engineering every day. After years of research and development, we’re finally able to produce objects by creating designs on a computer and having a printer lay it down, layer after layer, till we’ve made something from the inside-out.

Also known as Additive manufacturing, this process will undoubtedly change the way we produce objects. There are already ideas for creating lighter airplane wings and complex prosthetics with the technology.  While the next decade may not see us depending entirely on 3D printing, you can be sure that a great many will incorporate the printers for some components of their production.

Wasting Water

It’s not often given much thought, but a staggering amount of water is used for cleaning at different stages of the manufacturing process. The traditional processes result in a great deal of waste water, hazardous materials and messy residues.

Using water in this way is not only inefficient but also an environmental hazard, especially considering the fact that many places in the world are starting to experience more and more water shortage crises.  It’s clear that the use of water in manufacturing has to be seriously rethought in order for manufacturing to be at all sustainable for the planet and human survival.

But how do you replace water? On example being used at innovative companies is the use of carbon dioxide (CO₂), which can be stored in liquid or gaseous form. The gas is recycled from other industrial processes and is, thus, very eco-friendly. And, CO₂ can be used to clean anything from clothes to complex medical equipment. It’s easy to obtain, cheap to use, very effective and leaves no residue.

Traditional Hierarchies

With the rapid rate at which new technologies are developing, it is starting to make less and less sense to have distinct separations between the production and engineering teams. Given the fact that participating in the line at almost any level will soon involve some expertise in engineering and robotics, more and more companies are moving towards vertical relationships between employees at every level.

Furthermore, the level of education and knowledge necessary to work at the operating level will be higher than it’s ever been before.  Companies that want to retain their experienced and loyal operations teams will now have to begin training them for a different kind of work requiring more advanced skill sets.

Technology is developing at an exponential rate that will only become more rapid in the years to come. Simultaneously, environmental concerns are becoming such that the government is intervening in order to force corporations to change the way they do things.

These and other factors are combining to make dramatic change imminent in the manufacturing industry.  As has always been true on the eve of massive shifts, those who want to stay relevant and successful will innovate. Those who don’t will soon find their skills in less demand.


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Jun 25 2015

Fixing Manufacturing IT Project Failures

IT-project-managementWhen rolling out a new technology deployment in the enterprise or on the factory floor, the last words a project manager wants to hear from the CIO are, “Let’s deliver this on time and within budget, failure is not an option.” That’s because in all likelihood, failure is the biggest option.

Many—if not most—IT projects fail. A 2012 McKinsey Market Study of 54,000 IT projects by McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the BT Centre for Major Programme Management at the University of Oxford, found that half of all large IT projects—defined as those with initial price tags exceeding $15 million—massively blow their budgets. On average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over schedule, while delivering 56% less value than predicted.  What’s scary is that 17% of IT projects go so bad that they can threaten the very existence of the company, the McKinsey report said.

Smaller IT projects may run a greater risk, as noted by a IAG Consulting 2009 report from IAG Consulting that looked at 100 companies with an average project size of $3 million. The report found that 68% of companies are set up for improbable success (they might succeed, but not by design). On the flip side, 32% of companies are “probable” when it comes to project success due to the investments they’ve made in the business requirements process.

The findings show that companies with poorly planned project practices will be on budget less than 20% of the time. And, 50% of the time the overrun on the budget and timeline will be massive, resulting in a higher final cost of $5.87 million per projects.

What Can be Done?

So, who—or what—is to blame? There are many reasons ranging from a lack of skills and an ineffective team, to a focus on budget and scheduling rather than on strategy and stakeholders. Just as important is the execution of the project. Companies that don’t fully understand the requirements of the project are also in jeopardy, as it is not always what is presented in the initial requirements document that is important, but how flexible the process of discovery is and the ability to implement new requirements along the way.

Quite often, the impact of big IT projects is not understood. For example, a new Manufacturing Execution System (MES) deployment is not only about installing and integrating technology in order to help with production management. Rather, it is about rethinking how business processes are managed and executed and the cultural challenges that may come from new technology forcing new business practices on a global scale.

Flexibility is a “Must” in Implementation

Agile development must be built-in to accommodate obstacles along the way—be it systems or people. To do that, all stakeholders need to be part of the deployment from the beginning to be sure the technology supports the business strategy. Project leaders must continually engage with all department heads to ensure alignment between IT and business needs.

Also, think about the future, specifically, how the proliferation of smart devices, known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will impact manufacturing and enterprise systems. Given the increasing complexity of the network infrastructure, it’s important to bring in outside experts along the way to help with business analysis and technology deployment, if necessary.

Back to an earlier point, flexibility must be built-in to the process, be it to accommodate new business needs, emerging technology, or to rethink the overall rollout. To that end, consider how rigid the plan is. The pressure to get it right up in the beginning can create delays and cost overruns during deployment, contributing to project failure. And, consider how rigid the technology solution is – does it require the business to change to the software, or can the software change to the business?

It should be the latter, and, therefore using software in a private cloud should be an option. Cloud technology could also ease budget and deployment issues, provided a way to allow flexibility and process improvements are part of the initiative.

Of course, project management skills are not to be overlooked, including having rigorous processes for managing engineering requirements and change requests. In addition, maintain transparency of the project so that the CIO does not have to ask how the project is going—as he or she will have visibility into the entire process.

Most importantly, set the expectation. Even the most prepared project manager will run into budget and scheduling issues—the goal is to keep them at a minimum and be in that 32% of successful projects!


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