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Streamlining Processes at Small, Medium-Sized Manufacturers with ERP Software

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: Tell us about ECi Software; what types of software does your company develop?

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David Christensen
NA Executive Director, VP Sales
ECi Software Solutions

David Christensen: ECi services a multitude of industries, but we presently have four products that service manufacturing and what FABTECH attendees would be focused on: these include Macola, Max, JobBoss, and M1, which is the product I represent.

ME: One issue in manufacturing is the time spent searching for equipment and materials. How much time do manufacturers spend searching for things that they need?

Christensen: It depends on the size of the organization. You have large manufacturers that have built in a lot of processes that sometimes have overcomplicated things. And you have small manufacturers that oftentimes have limited processes. A guy who is keeping track of things in his head, trying to manage orders that are going to come in, trying to keep the workers out on the shop floor organized, oftentimes they end up falling behind on delivery dates because they can’t see clearly what items are going to be needed at which time. That can vary widely. I’ve seen organizations where they’ve been at 50% OEE; I’ve also seen companies that have been at 12% OEE.

The challenge is that most organizations haven’t truly evaluated their real performance; when they don’t know, they’re guessing. When you come on site, they tell you: ‘We’re pretty good. We’re on time for most of our deliveries. We maybe miss a few orders here and there.’ But when you actually dig into it with them, if you get to know their processes, it can vary widely. Companies that aren’t tracking their processes are typically late on orders, or they have not grown to meet their capacity or capitalize on the opportunity that’s out there. They’re on time, but they’re just not handling as many orders as they really could if they’d better manage their processes.

ME: So people tend to underestimate their problems?

Christensen: Absolutely. I think it’s that balance between naiveté and hopefulness. A lot of managers believe that their processes are better than they really are. And that’s OK—it’s good to be optimistic. But if you have a wise optimism that allows you to look into your processes and evaluate what needs to be improved, it’s going to help you make the changes that will take you to that next level.

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ECi Software’s M1 ERP software features an advanced inventory module that offers manufacturers functionality for managing complex inventories. Image courtesy ECI Software Solutions

ME: How can ERP be a solution to some of the issues we’ve been talking about?

Christensen: ERP’s great focus is the ability to connect the entire organization. And it doesn’t matter if it’s my product or somebody else’s product. The goal of all ERP systems is to take you from the starting point, when you’re quoting, talking to a prospect, or creating a sales order, all the way to the end point, which is shipping, delivery and accounting. The steps that occur in between those two points include sales orders, material requirements [or MRP as it’s often discussed], creating a bill of material to drive shop-floor manufacturing processes, and deciding which employees or workcenters are the correct path to pass through those materials and operations. An ERP is a clean and organized system, if it’s set up correctly, to track those behaviors. It doesn’t necessarily create your process for you, but it can help you recognize where your process has opportunities for improvement, and it can help you see availability or capacity that is on workcenters or employees on the shop floor.

And it gives you a fall back as well. If you have product that underperforms, you can go back to the ERP system, see who worked on that, where it was at, what stage, what material. You have full visibility into the activities and the material that guided the outcome. If the ERP is structured correctly, it takes you from entering a sale all the way through production with a clean process for your accounting department to track invoices, accounts payable, etc.

ME: It gives you the tools to improve your process?

Christensen: Absolutely. It sees from beginning to end, and it can give you the analytics that everybody talks about to help you make process improvements and simplify the process going forward. You have much better visibility into the OEE metrics which everybody touts. It’s a great way for you to recognize if you’re productive and if you’re meeting capacity constraints, and if you’re really taking advantage of your opportunities in the marketplace.

ME: M1 software is your ERP product; what are some of the features of M1 that address these issues?

Christensen: M1 has an SQL [structured query language] relational database. When you have a well-structured database on the back end and it collects information correctly, it allows you to pull out that information in ways that give you insights into your business. One of the big differentiators between ERP systems is how they collect information. Everybody has heard the phrase ‘trash in, trash out.’ That’s effectively what occurs in most ERP systems. When somebody structures their ERP system incorrectly or creates it with convoluted processes, it forces the manufacturer to use a convoluted process as well. And when you have a manufacturer who doesn’t really understand process improvement, who’s just trying to figure out how to start keeping track of some data, if he uses a system that’s not clean to guide his ERP process, it ends up creating extra processes, extra steps, and it oftentimes leads that user to say, ‘You know what, I don’t think ERP is right for us.’

And the truth is that the ERP system that they used was either convoluted or hard to manage, and they needed to find something that was simpler and a better fit. The nice thing about M1 is it’s customizable. If I’m an administrator at the company, I can restrict what fields and forms each individual has access to; I can make their screen extremely simple and have them only pull up certain reports that guide their processes.

ME: ERP is often thought of as something that big companies do; is it also a good tool for small- to medium-sized businesses [SMBs]?

Christensen: We’ve reached the age where technology has become much more affordable. ERP was maybe a large-organization product 20–30 years ago. Today, there are a lot of competitors in the market space that service SMBs. Whether you’re talking about cloud or on-premise systems, because of the decrease in cost to manage these systems and the value they create for small businesses that use ERP software, there are very few times where, if ERP is structured correctly, that it doesn’t pay off in a relatively short period of time—10, 12 or 14 months. We reduce wasted employee time, cost of materials, scrap, returned materials, and shipping costs. Most ERP companies can show you an estimated ROI and after time, they can come back and work with you to show you a true ROI.

New Releases

Vero Software (Cheltenham, UK, and Tuscaloosa, AL) has launched a new direct modeling system that the company says will fill the gap between CAD and CAM, focusing on the needs of machinist programmers. As a standalone, optional application for its CAM portfolio, the Designer package enables users to create new designs or modify existing geometry from third-party CAD systems.

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A component designed in Vero Software’s Edgecam CAD/CAM shows Vero’s new Designer direct modeling software option for adding advanced modeling capabilities. Image courtesy Vero Software

The Design software represents the CAD framework that will become the core modeling engine for all CAM applications, said John Buehler, brand manager, Vero Software. “It’s not dependent on having a series of parameters that drive it, or a feature tree. It provides a quick, dynamic editing and modeling environment, where users sketch, drag, hold, push or twist, to create and modify models.”
Having a single, unified solution for solids-based designs gives Vero users the flexibility of receiving a CAD file from any source for review or modification, he added. “Some modelers do not maintain adequate tolerances, so the models will often require a degree of repair—or if they’ve only been roughly modeled there may be gaps in the geometry,” he said. Designer allows users to read the native CAD data, clean up poor geometry, close the gaps, stitch it into a solid, and make modifications important to the CAM process, such as the suppression of features, or the modification of draft angles. “Generally, those modifications do not impact on a part’s design or performance,” Buehler noted, “but will make it more manufacturable.”

The Designer package operates separately from the CAM system, but with full associativity between the two. “From fixture design to part modification, Designer is the right CAD for CAM by providing a full set of tools to fill the gap between the two.” The system offers import model healing, feature suppression, and model simplification, plus tools for sketching, geometry for machining, working with 2D data and a range of CAD interfaces.

Shapr3D (Budapest, Hungary) announced a collaboration with Siemens PLM Software (Munich and Berlin) and Tech Soft 3D Inc. (Berkeley, CA) to create the first CAD system to run Siemens’ Parasolid software and Tech Soft’s HOOPS Exchange natively on iOS, specifically the iPad Pro. This announcement came after the company secured a seed round of funding led by InReach Ventures in August 2017.

“The barrier to entry with CAD software is high in the case of traditional CAD tools that are complicated and expensive. We want to make 3D CAD modeling available for all creative professionals, and now all you need is an iPad Pro, an Apple Pencil and some inspiration,” said István Csanady, founder and CEO of Shapr3D.

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The latest Shapr3D release features integration of Siemens’ Parasolid 3D modeling kernel and Tech Soft’s HOOPS Exchange CAD translation SDK that allow CAD users to run CAD apps natively on the Apple iOS mobile platform. Image courtesy www.Shapr3d.com

The newest release of Shapr3D integrates Parasolid and HOOPS Exchange to allow solid modeling and data translation locally within the app, according to Shapr3D. Siemens’ Parasolid is a 3D geometric modeling component, while HOOPS Exchange offers users a CAD translation software development kit (SDK). By integrating these two technologies with Shapr3D’s touchscreen interface, engineering and design professionals can perform desktop modeling on the iPad Pro tablet.

“We found that touchscreens are not optimal for precise engineering. Detailed 3D CAD design on tablets only became a reality after Apple released the iPad Pro line in early 2016, which uses a pressure sensitive, active stylus,” added Csanady. “The key to success was to integrate the Apple Pencil’s pixel-perfect precision and the touch-based user interface.”

The Basic version is free to all users. The Pro version is free for individual students, teachers and faculty members from any accredited educational institution. Getting the Pro version license takes three steps after downloading the app to the iPad Pro. For complete Pro version pricing and to learn more about how to apply for the educational license visit: https://shapr3d.com/pricing/.

ModuleWorks (Aachen, Germany), a developer of CAD/CAM components for toolpath generation and simulation, announced the latest release of its CAM components, ModuleWorks 2017.12, the third major update of 2017.

With ModuleWorks’ latest release, multiaxis collision avoidance has been improved by taking the shape of the holder and arbor into consideration, the company said. It is now possible to create deburred edges with a user-defined constant depth or width. In addition to the five-axis machining capabilities with collision avoidance improvements, the component package has new tool-axis smoothing for surface-based and geodesic machining, allowing users to smooth the tool axis when machining to eliminate jerky movements. Rotary smoothing as well as linear axis smoothing optimizations are possible.

Other new features include capability to create a deburred edge with a user-defined constant depth or constant width and new options for three-axis and two-axis machining.

The new release has a Machine Simulator viewing area that offers four separate views with independent and different orientations. This new feature allows users to simultaneously visualize the machine, the workpiece, and the tool in different windows and from different perspectives to obtain an enhanced overview of the machining process and an instantaneous, comprehensive visual analysis. The module’s Cutting Simulator supports all processes, from simple ones where the rotation is parallel to X, Y or Z, to arbitrarily placed rotation axes (not parallel to XYZ) and any tool type and any toolpath direction.

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New Epicor ERP software adds new data analytics features plus inventory optimization, mobile FSA and CRM capabilities for manufacturing operations. Image courtesy Epicor Software Corp.

Epicor Software Corp. (Austin, TX) has introduced the latest version of its Epicor ERP software for manufacturing enterprises. Key capabilities in the update include mobile field service automation (FSA) and customer relationship management (CRM) improvements, as well as new business intelligence and visual analytics capabilities delivered via Epicor Data Discovery (EDD). The update features a redesigned home page, Active Home Page, Smart Inventory Planning and Optimization, and new country and industry-specific functionality.

“Businesses that adopt the latest technologies in cloud, analytics, and employee experience will be fit to grow and respond to new digital challenges,” said Scott Hays, senior vice president, product marketing, Epicor. With this update, Epicor’s third major release in 13 months, Hays said “Epicor continues to deliver cloud-enabled, industry-specific functionality, globalization and localization, mobility, and action-oriented analytics, with continued improvements in customer experience, ease-of-use, and performance.”

The updated software’s Active Home Page provides dashboard views of role-based analytics with access to role-based functionality. EDD makes this possible by supporting on-demand data exploration to surface real-time operational and business performance insights to guide decision-making, according to the company. The update includes Epicor’s Smart Inventory Planning and Optimization, an integrated set of cloud-based capabilities for demand planning, inventory optimization, and supply chain analytics.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.

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