How to Implement Automated Software Solutions for Manufacturers

By Ahvi Spindell

One of the big incentives to use automated software solutions for manufacturers is the desire to expand capacity and serve more customers, which translates into increased sales. But finding the right software and implementing it can be a challenge.  

Software can help manufacturers improve collaboration in business operations -- including production and product development. Most companies have an automated accounting system, but when it comes to manufacturing, a lot of them still rely on paperwork.

“They [manufacturers] might even create an order through the accounting system, but then it goes out to the manufacturing floor and they still do things virtually by passing a piece of paper around the floor,” Laura Kasman, president of KasTech Consulting Inc., told Tech Trends Journal. “They write on it, and then somebody takes that scribbled information and puts it into a spreadsheet.”

Kasman points out even manufacturers that are using computers tend to use basic spreadsheet programs. “They are copying and manipulating data, so the numbers they’re getting are not necessarily as accurate as they might be if they were in a database and were pulling the report from the actual data,” she explained.

The integration of development, production, and actually selling the finished goods is a big issue. Something as simple as customer information and vendor information is being duplicated across different systems. “People don’t want somebody changing an address in one place and not getting updated in another. They don’t want to be making a product and then have to go and physically enter the product into a different system when it’s done,” Kasman said.

Derek Singleton, manufacturing analyst at Software Advice, told Tech Trends Journal that he finds that a majority of buyers are looking for MES (manufacturing execution software), which is designed to control shop floor operations. They want software that monitors machines, monitors output, work-in-progress tickets, or other processes that help manage efficiency.

Software Advice acts as an intermediary during the research phase to help small to medium manufacturers find a short list of solutions.

A lot of the core functionality of material planning is at the front end of the process, Singleton said. So the other type of request he receives is for material requirements planning (MRP) software. This software helps manufacturers understand what raw materials are needed from suppliers for making products, as well as when and how they are required.

Singleton said most people research software on the Internet and that his company provides its service for free. Software Advice earns fees from vendors. The company can help with producing a software research report, but a consultant would assist with implementation.

“The key thing to look for in a consultant is experience in your area,” said Dan Abernathy, managing director at Manufacturing Resource Partners LLC, a small niche manufacturing consulting company and Microsoft partner, that implements the software giant's enterprise resource planning system, Dynamics GP.

Abernathy told Tech Trends Journal a manufacturing company wants a consultant who has the combination of manufacturing experience and software implementation experience. Knowing the intended use is critical.

“The value in the software is not the software itself,” said Kasman. “It is how it’s configured for a particular business. That’s where consultants can advise clients about the best ways to use software.”

Kasman’s focus is on finding the right fit for a company. Everybody has different needs, she explained. A company that makes all its products from stock is different from one that has a custom job shop and manufactures everything uniquely.

Kasman said businesses need to be able to communicate what it is they’re actually doing so that the consultant can determine what is the best solution.

Many clients start with base manufacturing and will add shop floor controls at a later date, followed by production planning. To do that all at one time can be difficult for employees to handle. As companies come up with a beginning list of software, they should consider both what it has to do today and what they would like it to do as they grow into the future.

While many solutions offer to host data in the cloud, Abernathy’s experience is that manufacturers are not as receptive to those offerings as much as professional services companies, finance, and lawyers. “Manufacturers loath to have their data outside their control,” he said.

Kasman said most of her clients are not storing data in the cloud because most of those systems are not easy to integrate with other customized software.

The biggest challenge Kasman finds is the learning curve. “In the beginning, for any software implementation people have to do more,” she said. “They have to learn more, they have to spend more time doing things, and they can get frustrated.”

Companies should remember that this is a process. The implementation is going to span a great deal of time. But once a business gets past that point, the process will become much quicker and the results will be well worth it. 

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