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MRP-II software: a selection guide for custom processors.

MRP-II is a proven aid to manufacturing management across a broad range of industries. Not every package, however, is ideally suited for the custom processor. Here's a look at how to select one that's right for you.

Over the past several years, MRP-II software packages have proliferated and become widely implemented in manufacturing operations across many industries. Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP-II) is an outgrowth of an earlier concept called Materials Resource Planning (MRP), and has expanded to encompass every facet of typical manufacturing operations: integrating quoting, production scheduling, inventory management, and accounting into one seamless operation.

All MRP-II packages are not the same, however. They range from generic software, some of which is claimed to be "flexible" enough to be tailored to plastics operations, to packages specifically designed for the needs of plastics processors. Of the latter group--those written from the ground up with the custom processor or job shop in mind--there are a relatively small number of vendors.

Since our last feature article on MRP-II (see PT, July, 88, p. 64), a few vendors have dropped out of this market. Among these, Keller, Schroeder & Associates no longer markets its Plastics Advisor MRP-II software, and Camis ceased operations last February (its Molders Office Plus MRP-II software is now marketed by In-Track Systems). Qantel was unsuccessful in its attempt to sell its MRP-II system to the plastics market; it's since been sold to Decision Data Corp., which no longer markets its MRP-II systems for plastics. On the other hand, vendors that have remained in this market have expanded their packages.

This article compares some key features of plastics-specific MRP-II software, and also looks at a selection of generic vendors that also claim to service this market.

A GOOD FIT?

One important criterion in selecting an MRP-II system is how well it fits the needs of your manufacturing operation. Peter Afif, president of International Plastics Consultants of Stamford Conn., says that plastics processors have unique requirements in the MRPII area. Typically, plastics processing entails fewer operations to make the end product (i.e., molding and maybe some finishing and assembly), when compared with traditional manufacturing operations involving multiple processes, he says.

One implication of this is the need for a high degree of accuracy in the way the bill of materials is handled. "In plastics, raw material can account for 40% to 50% of the end product's price," compared with around 20% in non-plastics operations, Afif says. "The emphasis has got to be on an accurate tracking system for the bill of materials, scrap, regrind, and colors." He adds that materials-tracking systems should monitor material usage to three, and preferably four decimal places.

According to Ron Ferguson, president of Agape Computer Systems, which markets the PowerPaks MRP-II system, classic MRP-II software was originally written with repetitive manufacturers in mind, traditionally forecast-driven operations whose primary concern is to supply their own distribution systems. These packages are not suitable for the "mixed-mode" (make-to-stock and make-to-order) manufacturing operations that characterize custom processors. Although custom processors may see a limited number of repetitive jobs in the form of blanket orders, most of these processors face relatively unpredictable, short-lead-time order demand. Their MRP-II packages should reflect this reality. "It's very difficult or impossible for custom molders to make forecasts part by part," says Ferguson. "They can't make a sales forecast or plan a schedule based on a sales forecast."

Several MRP-II software suppliers claim to take an order-driven approach, with implications in several key areas.

ACCURATE JOB QUOTING

Given that custom molders often must generate several quotes per order that they receive, quoting software must be accurate as well as efficient, remarks Agape's Ferguson. One key area is integration: Not only must the quoted price cover cost and profit margins, but that information must flow to the rest of the system, to be used as a standard for manufacturing that part, if and when the order is received.

It's also important to look at different cavitation levels for different part runs, and to be able to build a single quote that identifies a family of products, according to Rusty Russ, v.p. of Data Technical Research, which supplies the Plastics Management System. A key factor in this function is the ability to establish accurate costs to substantiate the quote, he adds. DTR's quotation package can quote unit costs to five decimal places. "Rounding errors can be devastating, particularly when dealing with gram part weights," Russ cautions.

Another useful feature is the ability to manipulate the sales rate above the cost of the product. DTR's quoting package, for example, can generate one quote to cover multiple-quantity runs. Within that configuration, it's possible to manipulate details such as running efficiency, yield rates, cavitation, and regrind rates.

Virtually all information dealt with in DTR's quoting package is fully integrated with the production side of the system, which is claimed by the vendor to be a unique feature when compared with some generic systems. When a customer accepts a quote, the molder can take all of the details behind a particular part run, build a bill of materials, set the part in inventory, establish production standards, assign it to a work station for production, and identify the tool.

RESPONSIVENESS TO CUSTOMERS

One challenge of MRP-II systems for custom processors is the ability to accommodate frequent changes in the ordering patterns of customers with minimal disruption of other jobs. Key here is close integration between order entry and production scheduling, says Agape's Ferguson. He says a production-scheduling package should be able to respond to these change requests almost immediately, rather than 24 hr later. "Information needs to be available to the scheduler to identify problems in advance, so he can adjust scheduling or promises."

In scheduling jobs, it's important to account for secondary processes such as printing and decorating, say several software vendors. The MRP-II system of IQ Management, for example, is equipped to handle both upstream and downstream operations. One new feature that adds flexibility to this package is the ability to change the definition of a particular operation on-the-fly, without the need to alter the source code, according to IQ Management president Randall Flamm.

Ability to handle parallel runs is another valuable scheduling feature. MDSS, Inc., offers a scheduler in its Plastics Plus package that can split orders and overlap operations, according to president John Liebert. Such a function, for example, allows a molder to pull the first 1000 parts of a 10,000part run off the press for hot stamping, gluing, and packing while continuing to mold the rest of the run.

In the interest of simplicity, In-Track Systems has combined its router file, bill of materials, and bill of resources into one file, eliminating the need for a secondary file to handle outside purchases. Company president Michael Mucciaroni says this configuration helps simplify the overall scheduling procedure for the molder.

MATERIAL TRACKING

One important feature of these systems is their ability to track regrind in a production run. DTR's package, for example, identifies the amount of regrind in a part based on runner weight, and determines whether or not a run is producing enough regrind to satisfy the allowable percentage. If more than the allowable percentage is being produced and stored in inventory, the software can credit the cost of manufacturing with the value of regrind being produced.

IQ Management uses a "multi-location" approach to track both virgin and regrind to specific locations or machines. "We can have unlimited locations of the material," says Randall Flamm. It doesn't just go into a |black hole.'"

PROCESS MONITORING

One important trend in MRP-II systems is to incorporate process-monitoring functions, and use that data to track real-time costs and the quality of the product. Vendors take different approaches. Some work with outside vendors that specialize in machine/process monitoring, while others offer their own process-monitoring system. The latter approach is taken by IQ Management, which recently introduced its own low-cost production-monitoring system that runs on PCs. On the other hand, Agape has an agreement with Syscon-PlantStar in South Bend, Ind., to provide an interface that standardizes the way information is uploaded and downloaded between the two systems.

The advantage of having a tight link between process-monitoring and MRP-II is that more information can be shared between the two systems. When the two companies planned the interface, says Steve Thomas, marketing v.p. of PlantStar, both companies adjusted their databases so they matched more closely. "By tying the two together, we look at the whole picture, asking not only |Is the machine going to be done on time?, but also |Is the material going to be there to do it, and is the mold coming in on time?, Those answers are important to running a shop. Some of them are found in the MRP system and some found in the production-monitoring system."

To any user planning to engineer its own interface between production-monitoring and MRP-II systems,

Thomas has a caveat: "It may seem like a simple thing, but it involves hundreds of hours of programming. People are sometimes shocked."

PART OF THE CIM CHAIN

The key to an effective MRP-II system is a high degree of integration, according to Randall Flamm of IQ Management. "You cannot have islands of automation. Everything has got to talk to everything else."

Similarly, according to Mitch Timberlake of DTR, CIM is the environment that connects components such as process monitoring, EDI, barcoding, and MRP-II into one integrated manufacturing system. "Real CIM is where you have all computing resources tied together in such a manner that one user can access data from any one of those sources, and you have the ability to take output from any one of those sources and input it to the other." DTR has identified different computing resources for each function and defined a series of interfaces to allow outside vendor services to tie into its system. "We provide them with a flat file of information that we require, and they draw up information in the flat file and pull it into their system."

PORTABILITY

Most of the plastics specific MRPII packages discussed here are said to run in an "open-systems" environment--i.e., they are not hardware-specific. One advantage of the trend toward open systems is that hardware prices will remain competitive, according to Ferguson of Agape. "Open systems means that there are lots of hardware choices for the same kind of product. Prices are low and coming down."

In-Track's MRP-II package was originally designed for the IBM AS400 mainframe, using IBM's proprietary operating system; the software is now compatible with the more "open" PC. Meanwhile, Agape runs on the "open" Unix operating system, though individual modules can run on a standalone DOS-based PC. MDSS is also Unix-based. DTR's and IQ Management's systems both run on the Novell network operating system, which is compatible with a variety of hardware platforms.

IS |GENERIC' MAP-II FOR YOU?

A number of "generic" MRP-II systems on the market also claim to have features suitable to custom processors, although some of these suppliers admit that custom shops account for only a small number of their installations. Here's a brief look at some of them:

CAMM claims its MRP-II package is highly flexible and can be configured to meet molders, needs. The program is written in 4GL computer language, requiring fewer lines of code for programming instructions. This is said to dramatically reduce programming time. It contains modules for order entry, quoting, financial, purchasing and inventory, routing and capacity planning.

Xytec's XRP II system contains its own integrated production-monitoring system to gather data from molding machines. Lot traceability can track material forward to the end product or back to the source.

Pilot Systems has an integrated MRP-II software package that's said to be established among both custom processors and conventional repetitive operations. Its modular design can be made to fit either make-to-order or make-to-stock modes. Modules include sales, shop floor, inventory, planning, and accounting modules.

Martek, Inc. sells a plastics-specific version of its generic MRP-II software package. Modules include scheduling, planning and shop-floor control, materials requirements and inventory control, and financial analysis. It's said to include a versatile report writer.

SELECTIVE LIST OF MRP-II SUPPLIERS

(Asterisks denote vendors of MRP-II software specifically design for custom plastics processors.)

* Agape Computer Systems, Inc., Wilmington, Del. (CIRCLE 35) CAMM, Farmington, Conn. (CIRCLE 36)

* Data Technical Research, Jacksonville, Fla. (CIRCLE 37)

* In-Track Systems, Erie, Pa. (CIRCLE 38)

* IQ Management Systems, Ontario, Calif. (CIRCLE 39) Martek, Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill. (CIRCLE 40)

* MDSS, Inc., Cleveland (CIRCLE 41) Pilot Systems, Brookfield, Wis. (CIRCLE 42) Xytec Corp., Tempe, Ariz. (CIRCLE 43)
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Title Annotation:manufacturing resource planning
Author:De Gaspari, John
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:2097
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