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The Software Challenges Related to Mixed Mode Manufacturing
by Bernard Goldband, mfg/erp software consultant, NY

Manufacturing in the United States has historically been dominated by pure job shops that focus on mostly one-off custom work. But as customer needs have evolved, the custom model has evolved into more of a “mixed mode” operation, which is a blend of both custom and assemble to order manufacturing. This article discusses how a mixed mode operation can affect the manufacturing software purchasing decision.

Why Choosing Software for a Mixed Mode Shop is Complicated

In an effort to successfully compete, many manufacturers currently fall into the category of mixed mode manufacturing because higher volume assembly operations usually bring in higher profit margins without the need to significantly invest in additional plant and equipment.

The job shop manufacturer making the move to mixed mode may find that their current manufacturing software package does not have the flexibility to support both job shop and assembly operations. As these manufactures move their focus, we often hear claims about how MRP no longer works and what is needed is a simpler template, such as lean manufacturing, just-in-time manufacturing, constraint management or some other concept that uses Business Process Improvement (BPI) techniques to ensure better flow of material on the shop floor.

While simplifying processes on the shop floor always yields a return, the mixed mode manufacturer that relies on the traditional job shop environment to fabricate all or some of the necessary parts needs a software solution that also handles the assembly operation. In other words, a mixed mode manufacturer will not be properly supported by a software solution rooted solely in job shop manufacturing.

The Importance of Evaluating Different Information Demands

When you compare the requirements for tracking significant numbers of job orders on the shop floor to the process flow of an assembly line operation, the information demands become significantly different.

When considering assembly line operations, for example, scheduling is less intense; costs are easier to collect using backflush techniques; and work centers are eliminated, so reporting for job status is at the end of the production line with much simpler shop floor data collection. On the other hand, there is a heavier emphasis on order management and associated inventory than the older job shop software model. In situations like this, the attempt to use job shop software to control an assembly process usually results in workaround procedures that are unwieldy and difficult to maintain.

In light of these differences, successfully choosing manufacturing for a mixed mode manufacturer requires a solid requirements definition which combines the needs of the assembly operation with just enough complexity to control the shop floor. The balance of the two necessitates a unique statement of requirements based on the individual manufacturing process existing within a particular plant.

As you may have surmised, there isn’t one ideal solution for all mixed mode manufacturing firms and care in the software selection process is necessary. Considerations based on the product produced and the manufacturing activities that are being employed within the company are extremely important in making the final decision.

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