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Manufacturing Software: The Rise of the Smart Factory

What Kinds of Software are Needed Most in Manufacturing?

The manufacturing industry is buzzing with connectivity, data-integration, and smart technologies. As the latest industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, starts to gain ground, you may wonder what this means for the future of manufacturing, and subsequently, manufacturing software.

At this current moment, there are still strides to be made before fully reaching the next industrial revolution, but technological advancements are on the right path to making a smart factory possible.

The goal of a smart factory is to provide visibility, connectivity, and autonomy via real-time insight. To do this, manufacturing software that is increasingly intelligent needs to be implemented. As an everyday consumer, you likely use some form of smart technology – asking Alexa to play your favorite song or turning a light off with the touch of a button on your phone. Home connectivity is great, and an example of how smart technologies can be used, but the idea of a smart factory takes that connectivity to a whole other level.

In that capacity, smart technology is applied across a multi-faceted organization, everything from the use of an ERP system to report and track across divisions of a company or using a CMMS solution to monitor and manage maintenance. (Yes, we know, there’s a lot of acronyms used in manufacturing – learn more about all of those terms here!)

In order to make a factory truly smart is the ability to track, compile, and evaluate data from the manufacturing production process. Cue manufacturing analytics.

Manufacturing analytics extends beyond the manufacturing of goods and into the area of creating efficient processes with the use of big data. More on this later, but let’s talk about the various manufacturing software that can be implemented, in some cases in conjunction with one another, to make a smart factory.

What Types of Software do Manufacturers Use?

Wow – software for manufacturing is a broad, vast topic. There is an abundance of manufacturing software options for manufacturers, but not all are created equal. Let’s start with the general categories and then dive deep into what each one can, or can’t do, for your company.

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) – The two terms go hand-in-hand and pertain to the design and programming of various processes of manufacturing. Specifically, it applies to the machine tools and parts that make the machine work.

MRP – (Material Requirements Planning) – Production and inventory are the sole focus of this software category and will only be used by those directly involved in the manufacturing process. Today MRP systems are included in most manufacturing ERP systems.

MES (Manufacturing Execution System) Specifically tracking manufacturing processes, an MES is great for running the actual plants. However, it also provides data on a high-level.

CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) – Keeping a centralized record of all assets and equipment helps organize maintenance. An example of this type of software, is Fiix, a maintenance management system, that helps tracked needed maintenance and schedules work-orders in real-time.

Manufacturing Analytics – Collecting data, in context, in real-time provides you, the manufacturer, the opportunity to evaluate that data to make forward-thinking decisions about the productivity and efficiency of your plant. A bonus? Manufacturing analytics can work with other software, such as a CMMS, ERP or QMS system, to integrate for efficiency.

Simply put, data collection and evaluation become a reality with smart technology and eliminates the need to manually track that data via pen and paper, a huge time-saver.

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) – Great for making high-level decisions based on past events, an ERP system is essential to any growing company because of its organizational and efficiency benefits, across all divisions of the larger enterprise.

QMS (Quality Management System) – Pertaining to the customer, QMS is a “collection of business processes focused on consistently meeting customer requirements and enhancing their satisfaction.” It is often aligned with the overall strategy of the company rather than the specifics of a particular manufacturing process.

There’s no question – there are a lot of manufacturing software options out there, but how do you know what is best for you and your company in order to reach the coveted status of a “Smart Factory”?

Do Manufacturers Need an ERP System?

The short answer is, yes. As a company grows, an ERP is necessary to stay organized and continue on that path of growth. However, that does not mean an ERP system can solve all problems. Essentially, the data the system will provide is high-level, meaning you can make decisions for the future based on the events of the past, but it fails to collect data for one very important action – those events that occur in real-time. You will not be able to analyze how things are running right now, what to do to make those processes more efficient, or evaluate real-time trends.

What’s the Difference Between ERP and MRP?

As you begin researching smart software solutions, it is likely that you’ll come across the terms MRP and ERP. Most definitions don’t provide much differentiation between the two, but there are a few key differences that set the terms apart.

An ERP is a connected, integrated software that looks at the organizational processes of the plant as a whole while an MRP can be a standalone software that allows you to track materials to ensure the highest rate of production. Used together, the two can be very efficient

With an ERP system, it will likely be used across all facets of a company – from the plant floor to human resources to even accounting. MRP software, on the other hand, is strictly limited to the factory floor.

Cost is one of the biggest differentiating factors when discussing the two manufacturing software. An ERP is often an expense, large-scale solution while an MRP is inexpensive compared to the former due to our next point, scale.

An MRP is a smaller scale solution as one can guess due to the scope of the users. It is used only on the plant floor while an ERP system is used throughout the organization.

What’s the Difference Between MES and ERP?

At first glance, the two systems look like they do exactly the same thing, but what’s with the different names? It can be confusing, to say the least.

An ERP is a reporting system to be used, you guessed it, throughout an entire organization. An MES on the other hand, allows companies to track and analyze specific portions of their manufacturing processes.

Both systems monitor processes on a high-level whether it’s from the factory floor to procurement in accounting and lack the ability to provide a deep-dive into the “Why” a specific machine went down or what is happening on the plant floor in the present time. Time for manufacturing analytics to step in because analytics will provide the data an MES and ERP cannot.

Do Manufacturers Need Analytics if They Have ERP, MES, or MRP?

At this point, you realize how inundated the manufacturing software environment is. There is countless software for manufacturing options for creating and implementing a productive and efficient factory, but while the options are great, not all are created equal. Yes, you need to be organized throughout your company, track work orders, monitor materials, monitor the entire manufacturing process and etc., but how do you determine what is working and what is not? The deep dive into analytics is nonexistent.

For that, you need manufacturing analytics to provide, in a simple way, the overview of your manufacturing processes. This includes everything from the health of your machines to the productivity of your people. It isn’t just one metric, but multiple, all feeding into one platform that can help you make data-driven decisions.

The benefit? The addition of manufacturing analytics provides context in understanding why processes are working and why they aren’t on the plant floor.

Manufacturing software can integrate and work together, and then, you are able to fully see a snapshot of what is going on in the plant in the past, in real-time, and in the future. But, sometimes, the best insights come from the simplest of data obtained through analytics.

Your journey to a smart factory begins with Mingo manufacturing analytics.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.