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Don't Force Manufacturing Software Modes to (Mis)Fit Your Industry Needs
by Tom Garske, Principal, Consulting Associates, MN

When considering new manufacturing software, one of the most critical questions to answer is “Which manufacturing modes does the software under consideration handle well?” Trying to force company processes to fit new ERP is one of the worst mistakes you can make when choosing new manufacturing software.

Based on my experience interacting with hundreds of users over the years, I would have to say that the first place to start when screening ERP is to see whether the software is designed for your type of manufacturing mode and whether the vendor has customers with your revenue size.

To illustrate my point, let us look at a real company. Suppose a discrete repetitive manufacturer selected an ERP that is designed for custom, make-to-order or configure-to-order job shop. How do you think that might work out? Not well, of course.

Let’s add fuel to the fire. After struggling with Global Shop Solutions for two years, this same company’s IT Director was tasked with finding a better replacement. This individual, while a world beater at networks, databases and programming, admits to knowing nothing about manufacturing. Hmm … that doesn’t sound too good either.

Folks, you can’t make this stuff up. It is an actual situation that recently came to my attention. These are issues manufacturing companies struggle with needlessly. When the software processes offered by the vendor do not match the way the company operates its plant, the software in question is a terrible choice.

The company, a straightforward light manufacturing operation, is a custom job shop which is job oriented and emphasizes quoting, creation of and management of bills of material, scheduling, tracking work in process and capturing labor and materials to jobs.The company is a part oriented operation which is at the other end of the spectrum from a custom job shop. Their manufacturing needs are simple; distribution and warehouse management are more important than quoting, creating BOMs, capacity planning, and tracking work in process which is what job oriented programs are good at.

They currently plan on a BPR (Business Process Reengineering) study to see if they can make their processes line up with the way the software works. But their processes and operation are not compatible with the software. The modes of operation don’t match up and never will no matter what changes in procedures they may try.

The IT director can program so he is digging into the Pervasive SQL database and writing custom code workarounds it to try and close the gap on its shortcomings vis a vis their mode of operation. De facto, he is rewriting the system almost from scratch which means it will ultimately become a homegrown monstrosity that will be unsupportable without him. This is a terrible lesson in wishful thinking. It would be better for the company to cut its losses.


The first step in evaluating software is to know how you want to operate your manufacturing plant. This requires a business process review which should include a review of current processes vs how you would improve them in the future. This review should happen BEFORE you start evaluating software and not as after the fact. If the software purchased is designed to work for one mode of operation which is incompatible with the way you operate, you are bound to struggle to get things done.

If you have not done your software evaluation homework and you do not appreciate your company’s manufacturing modes and particular process and software needs, you are at the mercy of the best salesman who can give a slick, convincing demo and make anything look good. A healthy respect for your company’s operating processes demands that you find software that can handle those processes. Do your BPR to make sure you are looking at software that can meet your needs.

You also have to have contingency plans in place when you run into unexpected events during implementation (which happens to practically every manufacturing software installation).

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