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PC-based manufacturing software.


Selecting a fully integrated system

Everybody needs timely and effective solutions--to the manufacturing problems that arise in day-to-day operations, as well as those that influence long-range planning. In the computer era, those answers must be both fast and accurate, or one's competitive edge can evaporate. The motto has become: faster, better, cheaper.

For top management, the key problems are cash-flow management, asset control, and information management. Downstream, these become challenges for financial and production-control people to provide. Any change in current status must be quickly observed, evaluated, and acted upon. Asset control--more specifically, inventory control--has a dramatic influence on a manufacturing firm's health and wealth. Engineering changes can also hurt profitability, if they are not well integrated into the overall plan of business.

Information management is critical. You must be able to quickly ascertain operational and financial position, spot trends, and evaluate potential responses. These simulation scenarios will only be as realistic as the data available.

The good news is that business systems to do these things, once only available to the larger organizations, are now available at reasonable cost to most companies. The software runs on readily available PCs. The bad news is that there are over 100 software contenders in this burgeoning market. How do you pick the right system for your situation?

This is not simply a decision on what's right for your department, or even all of manufacturing. The decision involves the entire company's informational needs. This article, while focusing on some key needs of the shop floor, helps narrow that decision by also focusing on software systems that offer total business solutions.

All products reviewed are capable of running on a PC-based platform, and most are migratable to midrange platforms. All information is based on the BDO Seidman publication "CompMFG: A Micro-based MRP II Comparison". BDO Seidman is an international accounting and consulting firm that helps companies select and implement such software solutions. This comparison is based on a survey of the market by BDO Seidman, identifying those companies with the broadest offerings and the largest installed customer base. (For information from BDO Seidman on how to obtain the full report, with over 1300 evaluation criteria, circle 282 on the Reader Service card.)

The article's intent is to provide some initial sampling of what these software systems can do. It is a difficult task to select an information system compatible with the business goals and organizational style of your manufacturing firm. The listing of features and functions will first be explained and then tabulated for 14 vendors. The information presented is, to the best of our knowledge, complete and up to date. Names, addresses, and phone numbers are provided to enable you to initiate contact.

How to use this information

The selection task requires matching your specific company requirements and goals against the strengths and weaknesses of a particular software system. One selection approach is to weigh the importance of each feature or function to

your organization against its availability in a given software system, module by module. No system will do all things well, but some will "weigh in" more heavily in your favor than others.

All of which is only a starting point. Minor differences are relatively insignificant. Business systems, like the organizations they are designed to support, have certain "personalities." To properly select and then "grow" with a system, you must spend some quality time "living" with that system. A demonstration should be arranged, either inhouse or at the vendor's site. Demonstration packages are usually available at a moderate charge to enable you to work through typical business situations for your organization.

Start by creating a product structure, develop a forecast of future demand, enter actual customer orders, and develop a master production schedule for each item. Run the MRP program, develop planned orders for subassemblies and raw materials. Firm up work or purchase orders, paying particular attention to how the system helps you through action and exception reporting and material availability. Receive completed assemblies or purchased goods, and issue them to the next level of assembly or customer order. Run financial posting programs, check sales reporting, accounts receivable and payable status, invoice posting, and add some manual invoices. Period-end processing should be run, such as trial balance creation and period closing to the general ledger.

Through all of this, ease of learning and use and how the system performs these functions are key elements to evaluate. How well the user manual serves as a training guide is also critical. Video-based educational aids can be very effective, such as computer-integrated exercises in a separate, protected training environment so as not to disrupt (or corrupt) the production system.

Keep in mind that the software selected is only the vehicle that will take you where you want to go. You must first decide where you want to go; then learn to drive.

Vendor profiles

There are over 100 vendors offering software capable of creating some form of an integrated manufacturing database. This was narrowed to 14 candidates by looking at installed base, breadth of features, availability, commitment to future enhancements, and activity in the current market. Beyond these selection criteria, BDO Seidman makes no specific recommendations.

The following are capsule profiles of each software system (alphabetically by company):

A. Expandable Software Inc, Cupertino, CA. Product: Expandable/MRP. Over 150 installed base. Customers include Novell Inc. Use the 4GL Dataflex relational database. System price range: $16,000 to $92,000. Telephone: (408) 253-7715.

B. FOURTH SHIFT Corp, Minneapolis, MN. Product: FOURTH SHIFT. Over 1000 installed base. Customers include Kodak, Borland. Uses a CIM Optimizer for connectivity. System price range: $10,000 to $35,000. Telephone: (800) 342-5675.

C. Macola Inc, Marion, OH. Product: MACOLA. Over 7000 installed base, with both repetitive and discrete environment support and strong financials. System price range: $10,000 to $66,000. Telephone: (614) 382-5999.

D. M&D Systems Inc, Orchard Park, NY. Product: MYTE MYKE. Over 350 installed base. Supports both DOS and UNIX platforms. System price range: $9000 to $50,000. Telephone: (716) 662-6611.

E. MCBA, Glendale, CA. Product: CLASSIC. Over 30,000 installed base. LAN and UNIX supported. System price range: $20,000 to $50,000. Telephone: (818) 242-9600.

F. Micro-MRP, Foster City, CA. Product: MICRO-MAX MRP. Over 500 installed base. Offers 42 modules and has extensive strategic alliances to facilitate connectivity. System price range: $10,000 to $25,000. Telephone: (415) 345-6000.

G. Minx Software Inc, San Jose, CA. Product: MINX. Over 120 installed base, with 20 modules operating in UNIX. Windows and configuration control are key attributes. System price range: $36,000 to $420,000. Telephone: (408) 453-6469.

H. Prodstar America Inc, San Jose, CA. Product: PRODSTAR MRP. Over 1500 installed base with extensive foreign-language capability. Runs in DOS and UNIX environments. System price range: $15,000+. Telephone: (800) 824-1313.

I., Carpinteria, CA. Product: MFG/PRO. Over 300 installed base, using the 4GL Progress database supporting DOS, UNIX, and VMS. System price range: $30,000 to $300,000. Telephone: (805) 684-6614.

J. Relevant Business Systems, San Ramon, CA. Product: INFIMACS. Over 100 installed base. Can discretely track projects; e.g., government contractors. System price range: $15,000 to $100,000. Telephone: (415) 867-3830.

K. SAPRO Inc, Santa Ana, CA. Product: IMPACT. Over 2000 installed base. Customers include Dana, N'Vision. Supports both DOS and UNIX. System price range: $10,000 to $120,000. Telephone: (714) 541-2202.

L. C R Smolin Inc, La Jolla, CA. Product: E-Z-MRP. Over 200 installed base with entry-level offering. Low cost and easy to learn, but needs an accounting package from outside. System price range: $1000 to $6000. Telephone: (619) 454-3404.

M. SYMIX Computer Systems Inc, Columbus, OH. Product: SYMIX. Over 850 installed base, with make-to-order orientation. Written in the 4GL Progress database in the DOS and UNIX environments. System price range: $20,000+, depending on platform. Telephone: (614) 895-0738.

N. Xerox Computer Systems, Los Angeles, CA. Product: CHESS. Rewritten version of a mainstay software solutions with over 1000 installed base. Migratable to VAX and H-P systems. System prices begin at $20,000. Telephone: (213) 306-4000.

Using the matrix

Features chosen for comparison were selected (from over 1300 in the full report) to highlight differences in depth between vendor offerings in a variety of diverse areas that relate to manufacturing functions and shop-floor data requirements. Obviously, there are many basic functions provided by all vendors (ie, if everybody has it, then it's a given). Generally, a "Yes" means that vendor presently supports that feature, and a "No" that is not supported.

A company searching for software would first develop a requirements definition by querying the ultimate users within the company, assigning values to the features most important to them, and looking especially at features unique to their business. Features would be categorized, as "desired," "must have," "secondary," etc. Once this assessment is completed and the choices narrowed, requests for proposals would be sent to selected vendors.


Here, keyed to the matrix, are explanations of each feature:

1. Hardware supported. The main computer used to process all data associated with the system. PC-DOS means any IBM or compatible computer. Consult a dealer for specific recommendations.

2. LAN supported. The type of local area network that can be used to communicate between more than one computer.

3. Operating system. The basic software program driving the computer. DOS indicates PC-DOS or MS-DOS.

4. Multiple user languages. The ability to support international operations (foreign languages) in the same database.

5. Database manager. A software program that manages the storage and retrieval of data. This is particularly useful as the size of files and variety of uses increases.

6. Program language. The programming language in which the product is written. COBOL versions are now widespread, C has been accepted as the standard for micro-computers due to its flexibility and speed, and Basic is simple to use and available for most PCs.

7. Commitment to CIM. Commitment to computer integrated manufacturing means the software is integrated with CAD/CAM and will exchange data.

8. Importing of dBASE, Lotus. The ability to interact with these databases to generate reports, messages. Exporting means the ability to output to an external report writer.

9. User can define menus, screens. The ability of the user to define customized input format and queries. It also facilitates the use of foreign-language output.

10. ABC analysis, based on unit cost. ABC classification stratifies items' values, listing them by decreasing dollar values, lead time, usage, etc. Here, unit cost was selected as the classifying option.

11. Engineering changes, automatic revision. Engineering-change management specifies when and how changes will be phased in. Automatic revision maintenance automatically maintains revision levels from the effective date of a change.

12. MRP replanning, net change only. Material requirements planning integrates the material-planning process, "exploding" the master production schedule through the bill of materials to create component requirements at each level. Net change only means that only those items experiencing some form of activity will be replanned.

13. MRP simulation. This MRP mode is used to predict what products can be built based on material availability.

14. Master Production Schedule: cash-flow projection. Master production scheduling transforms company goals and constraints into a viable manufacturing plan. Cash-flow-projection mode simulates cash flow based on sale prices and cost of goods.

15. Store alternate shop-floor routings. Shop-floor control tracks material and labor applied to manufacturing work orders. Store alternate routings is the ability to store preapproved secondary operation routings.

16. Operation description length. In shop-floor control, the number of characters available for descriptive text of an operation.

17. Tool-identity number length. The number of characters available to identify a tool specified on a routing or operation step.

18. Cost by operation, tied to BoM. A means to bridge a given route step to the bill-of-material component for the purpose of determining percent of completion when conducting WIP inventory.

19. Outside processing cost, tied to BoM. Standard cost associated with an outside operation, used to develop standard product costs for variance reporting.

20. Work-center description length. The number of characters available to describe the work center.

21. Work-center capacity. The capacity available for the work center, expressed in hours, used in capacity planning and scheduling.

22. Party-yield analysis per machine. Shop-floor part-yield analysis sorted and summarized by machine tool.

23. Work-center efficiency factor. A factor used to adjust planned capacity to a level equivalent to actual performance, an adjustment necessary to ensure realistic scheduling.

24. Preapproved alternate work centers. Specification of secondary work centers with similar capacity to the primary work center.

25. Machine-tool preventative maintenance. Scheduling of downtime of machining centers for preventative maintenance.

26. Planned yield by operation. The ability to plan a loss of product during each manufacturing step, summing the loss to the shrink-age/yield specified for the part.

27. Critical-ratio scheduling. A technique to schedule jobs based on relative priority of work remaining to time remaining.

28. Work-center queue analysis. Comparison of actual work-center backlog data to planned backlog data.

29. Capacity analysis by labor code. A summation of requirements by type of labor that aids in planning manpower requirements.

30. Excess WIP load report. A display of exceptions where the planned load exceeds the planned capacity for a time period.

31. Monitoring of purchase requisitions. Notifications of material requirements (buy authorizations) given to the purchasing department.

32. Monitoring purchased services. Accounting for outside service-only purchases.

33. Scrap as an optional cost inflater. In product costing, the option to include scrap factors.

34. Yield as an optional cost inflater. In product costing, the option to include yield factors.

35. Material-substitution cost variance. Cost-management variance reporting of the effect of material substitutions.

36 & 37, MRB tracking & costing. Material Review Board determinations, as part of quality assurance, define the disposition of all nonconforming materials, whether rework, scrap, return to vendor, etc.

38. Statistical process control interface. SPC monitoring provides an early-warning before quality deteriorates beyond acceptable range. A built-in SPC capability or an interface to an SPC package saves duplication of part or lot data entry.

39. Single-page management report, shipments. Management reporting converts operational information into meaningful decision tools. Single-page summaries of bookings, shipments, cash position, etc; are a key to timely decisions.

Michael Pelphrey, Director, Manufacturing Services, BDO Seidman's Management Consulting Div, has over 20 years experience in manufacturing. He is responsible for consulting services and educational offerings, with primary emphasis in MRP II systems, JIT manufacturing, CIM, business planning, materials management, and shop-floor control.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on using the information and vendor profiles and glossary
Author:Pelphrey, Michael W.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:Common cause for machine-control systems.
Next Article:Manufacturing process designed for the global market.

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