Scale your technology to fit small manufacturing teams

It’s the 30% of nonstandard processes, unique to your company, that you need to manage more effectively. And this is where the difference between configuration and customization becomes glaringly apparent.

03/05/2015


Operations leaders at small and mid-sized manufacturing companies (SMBs) have no shortage of stress. Much of the burden of bringing in jobs on-time and on-budget falls on you, which explains the thirst for visibility and hawkish attention to detail regarding everything on the shop floor

Technology providers offer many solutions to remedy this stress. Technology can fix the problems that give you headaches, slow down your team, and endanger profitability. For example, many software solutions can unify all your systems and eliminate processes that require double entry, which duplicates effort and increases the risk of manual entry error. A single system for the entire operation means someone on the floor can flag a job as complete, signal the next team member to action, and automatically document the process.

With everybody on the team seeing the same version of events, planning becomes more accurate as time and materials are recorded into the core system and production leaders are alerted as they approach budget and material thresholds. The result? Fewer rush jobs, fewer unplanned gaps in production, and a more efficient operation overall—efficiency that is the key to profitability.

This is all good news for the operations chief. Many software solutions offer the end-to-end visibility and seamlessness that you need to contribute to efficiency and the bottom line. However, not all of them will get used as intended, even if their high-level functionality sounded like exactly what you needed.

But beware, as small/mid-sized manufacturing ERP software is almost always created with massive enterprises in mind. There are two dangers to this: One is that you’ll get a “feature overkill” system that is too hard to learn and is a pain to train your team on. Another is that the existing functionality may assume too much about the way your team members need to work, which straitjackets your process. In either case, it means under-adopted or underutilized software—which is a huge waste all its own.

One of the first questions you should ask as you evaluate software is, “How can the system respond to the unique way my team works?” After all, if nobody uses it, you’ve wasted time and money. If your team uses it but can’t configure it to work the way you need them to, it’s the same scenario. One of the most important capabilities is configuration, which will allow even nontechnical users to modify the application to mirror your workflow without the cost and complexity of writing and maintaining software code.

This seemingly simple, yet powerfully true requirement cannot be overstated. And to solidify the point, it heeds a bit of further explanation.

Manufacturing ERP solutions typically come with the “standard” off-the-shelf capability that is required to cover about 70% of your business needs. While those features and functions will help you run your SMB manufacturing facility, they are missing the key to your competitive advantage.

It’s the 30% of nonstandard processes, unique to your company, that you need to manage more effectively. And this is where the difference between configuration and customization becomes glaringly apparent. Sure, adding a custom field or table is great. But what you really need in your software is to add a new process or to change the process flow. Only a configurable Cloud manufacturing ERP solution will allow you to do this, without breaking the base functionality of your solution.

For operations leaders at SMB manufacturing companies, your technology has a huge impact on how you can deliver. One of the ways to ensure a wise choice is to look for a system that can work the way your team wants it to work without burdening your company with unnecessary cost and complexity.

As you seek ways to improve performance, it is important to determine if the solution you’re evaluating is configurable and if so, at what cost. If the answer is it’s not or that configuration can only be done by the vendor, maybe it’s time to eliminate that software from the running.

Lori Payne is vice president, manufacturing development at KeyedIn Solutions, Inc. 



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
July/Aug
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me