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Where Do Small- and Mid-Sized Manufacturing Companies Struggle Most With Technology?

August 20, 2020
Volodymyr Rudyi

Besides communications problems across departments, small- and mid-sized manufacturing companies struggle with two broad categories of technology:

  • Equipment, or hardware, used for manufacturing
  • Integrating back-office systems, essentially the “glue” between manufacturing steps

Conceptually, when it comes to data integration, there are two areas for you to prioritize:

  • How you will pass data from one of your systems into other systems across your company
  • How you can visualize and analyze your data to understand what’s really going on

From High-Precision Scales to Your MRP or ERP System

For example, take a niche manufacturing company in the advanced materials space. The company manufactures ultra-capacitors and depends heavily on high-precision scales to flag weight deviations between different batches.

While it’s super-important to analyze the specifications and precision of the scales, it’s just as important to make sure that you can connect these scales to other systems that you depend on as part of your digital infrastructure.

In this particular case, the company needs to interactively measure the weight of different batches. Then that data needs to seamlessly pass into the company’s manufacturing resource planning (MRP) and/or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Without this integration, the weights would need to be read by a person and manually entered into the MRP or ERP system.

When tackling this kind of integration, you and your technology partner will need to understand which hardware and software communication protocols are supported, how to extend the MRP or ERP technology to accept this data, and how to make this data available companywide to all of your stakeholders that need access.

Back Office Integration So Tight Your End Users Don’t Even Know There’s an Integration

When it comes to integrating back-office systems, essentially the “glue” between manufacturing steps, you may have an accounting system, an inventory management system, and an order management system.

What happens when you receive a purchase order? You’ll generate an invoice, which updates your inventory management system and your order management based on the expected delivery date. But how do you know if you have the materials or parts on hand for manufacturing the received order?

So you also need to take into account that you can’t manufacture the product before a certain date because the needed raw materials won’t be available until then. Without tight integration between systems, lots of frustrating emails flow back and forth between facilities -- trying to track down the location of raw materials that may or may not have been received. Data integration across disparate systems is critical for keeping all stakeholders in the loop.

What happens when two different parts are assigned the same stock-keeping unit (SKU)? How will this be reflected in the inventory management system? While the duplicate entries don’t look accurate when discovered, these problems often don’t surface until several weeks or months later. However, with proper integration across your currently siloed technology platforms, you can filter out invalid data immediately -- and reduce or altogether eliminate a major source of organizational friction.

At the end of the day, the goal is to make the technology so seamless that end users don’t even know that the integration exists. When the system discovers an anomaly, relevant users simply receive an email alert or Slack notification about a problem with a link to review the data. There’s no additional tool to learn to use or remember to use. The technology just works.

Where does your manufacturing company struggle most with technology? Share your comments below.

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