There are dozens of categories of manufacturing software. Some focus on process, some focus on integrating silos within a company, and some focus on better relations with customers and/or suppliers. To decide what type of software to investigate, define your goal:
- If the problem that needs to be solved is one contained within operations, then software that focuses on scheduling, materials planning and procurement, inventory or other operations-oriented functions is called for.
- If your company needs more enterprise-wide control, then enterprise resource planning (ERP) or product lifecycle management (PLM) might be more appropriate.
- If sharing information with suppliers is what is needed, then investigate supply-chain management offerings. To better serve customers, review customer-resource management systems.
- For any solution, request and expect a trial. Implementations can run from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand depending upon size of your business and scope of the solution.
Plant-floor improvementProduction-scheduling software (a.k.a. finite capacity scheduling software or manufacturing planning software) lets users schedule orders for machinery, labor units, inventory space and other manufacturing assets based on the finite availability of the assets.
ERP and beyondEnterprise resource planning (ERP) is one of the most commonly used software solutions in manufacturing. It manages companies from a financial-metrics point of view. Much consolidation has occurred in the big companies recently.
PLM optionsOne of the fastest-growing areas of manufacturing software is product-lifecycle-management (PLM), which focuses on managing documentation of a product's life from every perspective — suppliers, materials used, logistics, liabilities, etc.
Making connectionsAs the importance of supply-chain management has grown in global manufacturing, so have the offerings of software that assist with supply-chain management.
- Solutions options vary: a hosted solution in which the actual program resides on an external server (usually the most affordable, but some consider it the least secure), off-the-shelf software (a moderate choice in terms of cost and function) or custom-built (most expensive, best customized functionality).
- Many other types of manufacturing software exist, including manufacturing resource planning (MRP), manufacturing execution systems (MES), warehouse management systems (WMS) and a cadre of product design systems such as CAD. Often, the best way to determine exactly what your company needs is to hire a chief technology officer or consult with an outside specialist.