Many businesses within the manufacturing world have now turned to some form of digital system for assistance with their daily processes. This is largely because it has become less viable to stick to traditional methods (as this can cause companies to fall far behind their competitors).
Some manufacturers may be looking for their first software solution, or are perhaps considering a switch from their current system (to gain a competitive edge). With this in mind, we’ve put together a useful guide.
Read on to learn about the many different types of manufacturing software. We also explain what a good manufacturing solution looks like, and how to choose the right one (at the right time).
What is the best software for manufacturers?
The activities of a manufacturer are wide-ranging, which is why it can be tricky to pinpoint one system to cover all their needs. To emphasise this point, here are twelve types of solution a manufacturer can use for different aspects of their operation:
The purpose of an MRP (material requirements planning) system is to decipher how many raw materials are needed at any given time to meet customer demand. Such a solution can make instant calculations around future orders, ensuring enough stock is always on hand. It automates aspects like work orders and purchase orders, saving time and reducing human error as a result. Read more about MRP.
Inventory management software
Inventory management software makes it far easier to view how much stock is currently in the warehouse. Rather than doing this on paper or a spreadsheet, a stock control solution has designated fields to capture the relevant information, which is stored securely, and easily accessible. With accuracy and efficiency increased, it becomes far easier to implement a philosophy like just-in-time manufacturing, which allows you to consistently maintain optimal levels of inventory. Read more about inventory management.
Contact management software
A contact management system is responsible for storing the contact details of every person or business a manufacturer interacts with. Using specialised software makes it far less likely this information will become misplaced, damaged, or outdated. By having up to date records for customers, suppliers, and prospects, you’re far more likely to keep current relationships healthy, and make more sales too. Read more about contact management.
Production planning software
A production plan is supposed to clarify what activity is needed, which resources, and at what time, so that goods can be manufactured. Due to the multitude of moving parts, it can be difficult to communicate these plans effectively, and to complete the associated complex calculations. Production planning software creates the most efficient schedule, based on customer orders, and the equipment/materials that are available. All employees can monitor the progress of ongoing work, meaning they can keep customers in the loop around timings too. Read more about production planning.
E-Commerce relates to the sales a company makes online, usually via an e-commerce platform such as Shopify. It can be difficult to keep these sales synchronised with stock, production, and financial data, as it requires a lot of manual effort to do this. This is where e-commerce software comes in, acting as a two-way link between these separate systems, and automating any updates that take place. Read more about e-commerce.
Accounting software allows manufacturers to intricately record every single income or expense they experience, with dedicated fields so that nothing is missed. Any important transactional data can be found at the click of a button, rather than sifting through endless paper records. A good system will provide unified ledger accounting and multi-currency capabilities, leading to a rational structure, and global business opportunities. Accurate and current data provides a clear picture of financial health, which can influence important strategic decisions. Read more about accounting.
Bill of materials software
A bill of materials (BoM) can often be complex. The building blocks for some products may be extremely intricate, meaning it would take an age to detail their material recipe by hand. Bill of materials software is usually unlimited in-depth, allowing you to continuously drill down into greater detail, and creating any product configuration in a timely fashion. As a result, you’ll know exactly what raw materials to source from suppliers when an order comes in. Read more about bill of materials.
SKU management software
Manufacturers will normally have to keep track of a great number of SKU codes, especially if their inventory is extensive. It can be a challenge to get in the habit of creating unique codes for every new product, and to stick to a format that is consistent. SKU management software can automatically generate a logical code based on the specifications, and greatly reduces the risk of duplicated codes. When combining SKUs with scanning technology, it’s much easier to track quantities and locations. Read more about SKU management.
A budget enables a manufacturer to stick to a particular annual spend, with the intention of steering clear of financial peril. But budgets are only useful if they’re shaped by sound information. Budgeting software enables businesses to log all costs, to predict future costs, and to analyse typical spend from previous years, making it possible to put an educated amount aside for the forthcoming period. If a budget needs to be amended during the year, a digital solution can do this seamlessly, based on the variances it perceives (which makes your business far more adaptable). Read more about budgeting.
Asset management software
Assets can make up a large portion of the value any manufacturer possesses. But it takes a lot of manual effort to track the changes associated with this value. Asset management software will usually come with a built-in depreciation calculator, allowing businesses to instantly view the loss of value that is occurring over time. Such a system should provide full visibility of an asset’s expected lifespan, and a warranty tracker too. All this information can be used to take appropriate actions, to replace or restore assets at the optimal moment. Read more about asset management.
Paying employees each month isn’t as simple as it seems. There are deductions and other legal requirements that need to be accounted for. Payroll software can instantly calculate the amount a person should be paid based on the labour hours inputted. And it will also consider variables such as tax and benefits. Many of these systems will incorporate the latest legislation too, so there’s less worry around being compliant with HRMC. Read more about payroll.
Quality control software
Quality control involves enforcing specific parameters that a product must meet before it is deemed sellable. These quality metrics can be scrutinised at every stage of the production process, from the sourcing of materials through to manufacturing. If any under-par goods were to slip through the net, it would inevitably lead to dissatisfied customers. Quality control software makes it easier to implement this strategy, allowing manufacturers to regularly enter and update non-conformances, so that performance can be continuously improved. Read more about quality control.
What makes good Manufacturing Software?
When considering any manufacturing software, there are some characteristics you should look out for:
Cloud computing is fast becoming the norm with regards to manufacturing software’s base-level functionality. Cloud-based systems can be used at any time, and from anywhere, making it possible to update and monitor work remotely. Remote access became even more important during the pandemic, with many people working from home. These solutions are more secure too, as they are accessed over the internet (rather than being installed physically).
Simple to use
Simplicity is key when you will be using a system every day. A user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate is a desirable trait. It should of course be capable of completing highly complicated processes and calculations, but the output should be comprehensible and helpful. Bespoke dashboards would be a bonus, so that you have an instant glimpse of performance in the areas that matter.
Any manufacturing software you implement should be flexible and adaptable, as your business’s needs will change over time. Without this ability, the system will become obsolete as soon as you start to expand your operations. It should instead help to make any growth more comfortable, scaling up processes in tandem with increased demand.
A critical question to ask of any software solution is how cost effective it is, and more specifically, what is the ROI (return on investment). You should look to determine factors such as the time and energy saved as a result of the implementation. And to what extent will it aid increased sales and production levels. In many cases, if the right technology is chosen, the increased efficiency will make the initial investment worth it.
How do you choose Manufacturing Software?
After prioritising the above traits, you still have a choice to make, which could be influenced by the following factors:
Functionality of the software
What is the manufacturing software capable of in relation to your most important needs? Will it help you to tackle recurring hurdles, and to achieve your business goals. It’s probably wise to think about the challenges and tasks you face daily as a manufacturer, and then assess whether the functionality will enhance these processes.
A big factor is the reputation and track record of the software provider. It’s easier than ever to find company reviews online, which should convey the quality of their product, as well as their standing in the manufacturing industry. You’ll want a partner that has the appropriate expertise and experience, whilst hopefully being innovative too. You should judge how easy they are to contact initially, as this could indicate how good their communication will be going forward. And assess whether their values are aligned to yours, as they could be a partner for many years.
Many providers allow customers to pay via a subscription model, which can be highly advantageous. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is where you simply pay a monthly fee to gain access to the product online. This protects cashflow, as you’re paying in smaller increments, rather than paying everything up front. And there’s no need for anything to be installed on specific machines, which can often be costly and time-consuming.
Additionally, you should ensure that software updates are included with your monthly subscription fee, along with any support you may need if problems/questions arise. Without these inclusions you could be liable to unexpected financial outlays in the future. With guaranteed updates, you’ll always be on the latest version, which could be the difference between being legislatively compliant or not. Technical support could be crucial if you ever face an emergency.
Is it time to change your Manufacturing software?
Timing is another important consideration when adopting a new technology. Manufacturers may be unsure of when to implement this substantial change, which could prevent them from taking action at all. There are some noticeable red flags that may indicate your current system is no longer fit for purpose.
If your employees are having to complete many tasks outside the system (or workarounds are being used a lot), it’s a sign that its functionality no longer fits with your obligations. It may even be holding you back, if, for example, you are trying to increase your processes, but it doesn’t have the capacity to facilitate this.
If a company no longer provides support for their software, this usually means the product is reaching the end of its life or is being replaced by a newer incarnation. In this scenario, it’s best to find an alternative as soon as possible, as you don’t want your operations to come to a standstill.
If you do decide to switch, it’s possibly not wise to do this during a time of crisis or financial struggle. It’s important to be sure you’re in healthy position to deal with any investment or transitional phase, so that you don’t face issues before ever having a chance to reap the benefits of the new system.
Through the power of manufacturing software, we equip businesses to reach their potential and ambitions. We want to be part of the journey as you build your business.
If you’re intrigued as to how we can take your business to the next level (through sustainable growth and increased efficiency), then take a closer look at Manufacturing software solutions.