Employing manufacturing software can optimize and empower your employees to efficiently manage your business resources and processes.
In turn, this allows your company to focus on profit-making products and outsmarting the competition by eliminating slow production cycles, inefficient scheduling of resources, inventory excesses and shortages, and redundant data entry.
History of Manufacturing Software
Manufacturing control systems have been evolving from verbal instructions to paper based systems to electronically delivered information. The first computer based manufacturing systems were developed in the 1970’s, and started out as a few unrelated programs linked together to manage various parts of the manufacturing process.
Newer manufacturing software is an integrated suite of technology tools designed to optimize the end-to-end process of designing and building a product. Most manufacturing ERP applications include capabilities for production control, materials planning, capacity planning, costing, and quality control. Those capabilities are commonly integrated with customer order management, supply chain management and relationship management.
key Functions of a Manufacturing System
There are three functions at the core of any manufacturing system:
- Data Definitions (items, bill of materials, bill of labor/routing, plant organization, plant capacity, replenishment planning data),
- Manufacturing Planning (forecasting, demand management, material planning)
- Manufacturing Execution (order management, resource scheduling and dispatching, data collection, quality management, costing).
Some newer functions in manufacturing application include integration to finite capacity management, CAD applications, and machine tool controls. Some of these capabilities are built into the core application or provided through third party integrated solutions.
Evaluating if it is time to implement a manufacturing system
The first requirement when beginning a company’s manufacturing application is a self-examination. Manufacturers vary by industry, methods, markets, as well as size. The manufacturing management processes for a distillery or candle maker are different from those in an airplane manufacturer or a bicycle maker.
The size of the company affects the solution budget but has less impact on the solution requirements. For example, the needs are similar for discrete manufacturers regardless of size.
In your self-evaluation, think about these kinds of things:
- Manufacturers use make/assemble to order (MTO/ATO), contract/engineer to order (CTO/ETO), make to stock (MTS) strategies or a mix of all depending on customer expectations, competition, and product complexity. What is our company like?
- Decide on the amount of detail required to inform the manufacturing plant and the requisite feedback requirements against that information. Are we a repetitive operation with little need for individual production information?
- Process inefficiencies that need to be eliminated (e.g. we put the information in a spreadsheet first, then update the manufacturing system later. Or, I email Jessie when I need to know).
- Product life cycle. What products have a short life expectancy? What new products and manufacturing methods will be coming on line?
- The strategic direction of the company.
- Competitive advantages and pressures. What’s the value add proposition that’s unique to our company?
- Regulatory reporting requirements. Are there FDA, FAA, DOT requirements?
Defining your company’s needs and expectations in writing will make the solution evaluation much easier. Additional considerations to might include:
- a robust core capability that integrates all aspects of running your manufacturing business. Is the application complimentary to the business model?
- incorporates the latest in technology (though this is constantly changing).
- can be customized to incorporate your company’s unique value added processes.
- delivers maximum performance in your areas of greatest need.
- be user friendly with concise and uncluttered displays.
- provide actionable, timely information to the manufacturing team and other people in the organization.
You've decided to implement a manufacturing system... now what?
Once a user has decided to implement a manufacturing solution, there are several critical activities that must occur to ensure that they will be able to get the most out of their system. These activities include:
- Data set up. The initial setup can be determined by staff and done by lower level staff or consultants.
- User training for leaders and users. Typically, staff is first trained in the “out of the box” functionality of the solution. Exceptions should be noted here, though the resolution to those exceptions will be done through solution testing.
- Solution testing of functional areas. The solution testing is a collaborative effort of company and consulting resources. It’s necessary to confirm the set up and to model how the solution will work in practice. This provides an opportunity to discard some outdated, unnecessary practices or to modify the core solution to incorporate your unique, value added practices.
- Start up, on-going solution improvement. As users apply the solution, there will be opportunities for improvement and requirements for changes; e.g. new features will be added to the software, business requirements will change (products, customers), people will move in and out (promotions, retirements, new hires), knowledge transfers are incomplete, etc. Somewhere between three and seven years after the initial implementation, there’s often a need for retraining of staff and revisiting the implementation assumptions. Plan on doing that internally or with an applications trainer.
Depending on the size of the company, a manufacturing solution can be deployed in a few weeks or several months.
Please remember: The time investment required for a successful solution deployment is important and invaluable and conflicts with continuing to run the operation. As Richard Koch said, “Extraordinary results are possible with ordinary effort – if we really care about achieving those results.”