It seems a bit incongruent to me that in today’s world, with the level of computerization we generally exhibit in our businesses from the shop to the front office, so little of it is linked to a common platform to support that business.
We have CAD systems that may or may not be directly linked to CNC machines in the shop in some form of CAD/CAM application. We might use desk top PCs to do scheduling, inventory tracking, issue purchase orders, and process accounting functions, but they are all little islands of disconnected information, much of which is manually entered, often multiple times, mostly stored in passive memory with little to no integration into the actual operations and decision-making functions of the business.
The net result is that we develop and collect all this information, which has a significant cost associated with it, and we extract very little value from it. Your warehouse people might know that you have 10 widgets in stock (or at least they think you do) but that isn’t apparent to the salesman who is trying to sign an order for 15 widgets to ship in 2 weeks. Beyond that, neither the salesman or the warehouse people know that manufacturing has 10 more widgets on the floor which will be complete next week.
Imagine the value of information to that salesman (and the entire organization) if he could remotely “see” on a mobile device that there were 10 widgets in stock (and be confident of that), know that 10 more will be available to ship next week and he could confidently close the deal right then. Add to that, when he does entry that order, it automatically reserves the 10 widgets in inventory, and 5 on the floor and shows 5 remaining to be available next week, triggers a new production order, issues purchase orders for additional materials to build those new widgets, and generates the shipping documents and billing for the order when required.
Wishful thinking? Not at all, this integrated process happens every day with countless companies. Easily done? No, but then how many things worthwhile are? Scalable for your operation? Yes. Doable one step at a time? Yes. Applicable to your business model? Most likely. These systems are equally applicable to make-to-stock, make-to-order, assemble-to-order, assemble-to-stock, or engineer-to-order. They are applicable to both custom product and standard product.
Where to Start?
There is a broad range of products available, many of which are customizable to your particular operation. They include manufacturing resource planning (MRP), enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and inventory management systems.
Most companies today have some form of computerized accounting systems and many prefer to retain their current software. Many of the available ERP and MRP systems interface with the more popular accounting programs—but don’t select an ERP/MRP system based solely on that criteria.
Educate yourself in the offerings available and the functionality they provide. A good place to start would be at: http://www.softwareadvice.com/manufacturing/mrp-software-comparison. Read that entirely and visit the embedded links to begin a good general understanding of options.
Once you have a general understanding of the options available sit down with your team and define what you would like to do—in order of importance (and value), then begin to look more deeply into individual products that fit those needs.
There is a very valuable old saying about how to eat an elephant—one bite at a time—keep that in mind. There are three primary areas of cost with any software implementation: software, hardware, and implementation costs which are commonly the highest of the three. Implementation costs tend often to be poorly planned or anticipated.
Keep everyone of your key people who will be touched by an implementation involved and listen to them. If you are looking at an ERP system, that means every facet of your operation needs to be represented at the table.
Do not build a system solution with disconnected islands—it will fail—but do implement by steps in a way that does not overwhelm your organization and demonstrates value to your organization as you go. A sense of progressive successes will be invaluable in keeping people positively engaged.