Anyone who has worked in the engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturing sector long enough knows that regular enterprise software solutions require significant customization to meet the needs and demands of ETO manufacturers. Since most ERP systems aren’t specifically designed for project-oriented environments like ETO, but for traditional manufacturing, finding an ETO software solution able to meet unique ETO manufacturing requirements isn’t easy. Things tend to become even more difficult if we take into account additional aspects, such as increasingly complex processes typically accompanying business growth.
Though a regular ERP solution can help ensure accuracy and consistency of manufacturing operational data and processes, below are six points any ETO manufacturer should consider to make the right software choice.
- Functionality: Each approach to manufacturing a specific product brings along a new set of unique challenges, including tossing specifications and engineering changes back and forth between customers, ETO manufacturers, and third parties; meeting tight deadlines; and working with multiple parties for producing complex items. An ETO software solution that can help address all challenges directly and simultaneously will make the difference between success and failure. To make the most of an ETO system, it should include complex functionality for project monitoring, control, and budgeting. Specifically, it should allow you to create budgets, track labor and time, specify work breakdown structures, report data, define project predecessors and successors, revise activities, adjust engineering and manufacturing bills of materials (BOM), roll out designs directly into production, and calculate and compare actual costs to forecasts and budgets as projects progress.
- Integration: The capability of an ETO software system to integrate with existing computer-aided design (CAD) solutions is another essential point. A system supporting CAD integration eliminates double entries and human error by enabling users to import and export product-related data, such as technical drawings, graphics, quotations, and prices. The best software solutions allow users to attach and view on demand videos, images, and extensive documents.
- Updates: To be truly useful, an ERP system developed for ETO manufacturers should provide access to the latest financial and technical data so that informed, timely decisions can be made. Additional features should include capacity planning functionality, client/vendor management tools, and warning systems that can be set up for different project components, including inventory, budget, deadlines, etc.
- Operations: Although the most complex ERP systems may include functionality to support ETO manufacturing processes, the gold standard for this sector remains project-based solutions (PBS). Part of advanced ERP systems, PBS focuses exclusively on project management, offering 360-degree visibility into various production areas, ranging from inventory levels and individual item costs to complex manufacturing operations. For example, if you’re manufacturing a product repeatedly, you can use PBS not only to determine product costs, but also to calculate and track additional costs according to the customizations required by a particular client. Without PBS, it would be very difficult to perform complex operations, track costs, and estimate profits for each project.
- Reporting: Reporting along with revision control is critical to help maintain project items up to date. An ERP system fully optimized for ETO manufacturing must include sophisticated reporting features to help identify out-of-specification items in inventory. Based on complex reports, engineers can revise old items and implement specific corrective actions (returns, reorders, or adjustments) to bring them up to new specifications. An ETO software solution lacking adequate revision control and reporting capabilities is quite useless, as it may fail to help ETO manufacturers meet project specifications.
- Vendor: Finding an ERP vendor specializing in ETO manufacturing is as important as selecting the right software solution for your company. Since the company offering the software takes care of many aspects, including system implementation, maintenance, and staff training, it will have a direct impact on business efficiency, performance, and results. When selecting a vendor, ask him to present software functionality in a fashion that mirrors your operations. As with any other enterprise software solution, a good understanding of your business needs is paramount.
The points outlined above can help you understand how to go about selecting enterprise software that truly meets your needs. The right ETO software solution not only facilitates superior product management, but also establishes the best pathway to business success.