If there is a key to success in manufacturing today, it's agility-the ability to accurately anticipate and swiftly respond to changing market demands. More and more companies are accomplishing this by pursuing mixed-mode manufacturing, employing different production strategies for different product lines.

However, if a patchwork of legacy software systems hinders access to timely and accurate information, it may create wasteful processes that cancel out any competitive advantages mixed-mode manufacturers hope to gain. That's why the most efficient and cost-effective software for mixed-mode manufacturing is a single, integrated platform that supports multiple production strategies simultaneously, and permits switching from one to another quickly and smoothly without disrupting operations.

As the supply chain becomes more demand-driven, manufacturers are under pressure to bring products to market quickly, at the right price, and to the customer's exact specifications. By mixing manufacturing modes, companies can bring different products to market in different ways. For example, they may have one product line that is made to stock, another that is engineered to order, and yet another that is configured to order. Because today's products change so quickly, many manufacturers find themselves taking on new manufacturing modes as they grow their product lines. Others are mixing lean manufacturing techniques, such as kanbans and cells, with older manufacturing modes.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that are not designed for mixed-mode manufacturing lock companies into a single line of business. These systems force companies to work around the software for their other product lines by constructing spreadsheets or databases to compile and finesse data from various sources. When a company's business model changes, it is usually forced to choose a whole new ERP system.

One way around this problem is mixed-mode enterprise software. This software enables companies to switch manufacturing styles, providing flexibility to meet market demands.

"Mixed-mode enterprise software is composed of modules that can stand alone, yet integrate seamlessly across any and all manufacturing styles to facilitate planning, decision-making, execution and measuring," says Greg Romanello, business solutions consultant with IFS (Schaumburg, IL), a supplier of component-based business software for medium and large companies. "It is like a toolbox that enables companies to choose just the right applications for today's manufacturing techniques, as well as any new manufacturing modes they may add tomorrow."

Greater Efficiency Means Customer Loyalty

The best business decisions depend on a real-time bird's-eye view across operations. When each manufacturing mode or facility relies on its own software, management misses the big picture it needs for analysis and resource allocation. An integrated software strategy solves this problem by enabling quick access to timely information and seamless planning across multiple operations, multiple locations and the entire supply chain.

In addition, an integrated mixed-mode platform can provide the following benefits:

  • Elimination of duplicate data entry.
  • Web portal or executive dashboard to display accurate, real-time data on key costs and trends in a concise, graphic format.
  • A common user interface and single set of processing goals for reduced training costs and smooth IT operations.

GED manufactures automated glass and vinyl processing equipment for the door and window industry. We blend make-to-order, make-to-stock and engineer-to-order production strategies, and we've been relying on an integrated information systems platform from IFS since 2001. In the past, we would extract information from the main ERP system, and then finesse it via multiple satellite databases, such as a financial database, an inventory database and a supplier database. Now, with IFS as the sole source of data, we can extract information easily using "information access layers" to track key performance metrics, and capture the information in charts and graphs for presentation to everyone in the organization.

Having up-to-the-minute performance feedback has been a huge benefit. One of our metrics is on-time delivery of parts to customers. We are exceeding our goal of 85 percent on-time, same-day delivery for service-part orders, and we're meeting our standard of 100 percent on-time delivery of equipment orders. We also track inventory cycle counting efficiency, and we monitor how reliably and responsively our suppliers deliver parts.

Streamlining operations across the entire supply chain with an integrated software system lets companies respond quickly to changes in market demand. Rather than building inventory or guessing at market demands, manufacturers can see changes as they occur, not after the fact. They can proactively provide the right products at the right time to turn customer satisfaction into customer loyalty.

Steps to Implementation

"One of the key benefits of component-based, mixed-mode software is that it enables a phased implementation rather than a ‘big-bang' approach," says Romanello. "A complete replacement of legacy systems is not always necessary or desirable. Provided the software is designed to adapt easily to both old and new technologies, it can coexist with other enterprise suites and [individual software applications]."

This gives manufacturers the flexibility to choose the implementation approach that is most cost-effective for them and will continue to meet their needs in the future.

"The first step in implementing mixed-mode enterprise software is to identify short-term and long-term objectives," recommends Jim Heideman, IFS client manager. "If the strategy calls for implementation in one product line or plant at a time, the best choice is software with an open, component-based architecture. This makes it easier and more economical for companies to add functionality or additional sites as needed."

While moving forward, manufacturers should observe the following guidelines:

  • Outline a realistic timeline that allows plenty of time for testing and user training. Take the time to prototype the system. Test the software thoroughly with some of your migrated or newly loaded data so there are no surprises.
  • Staff the project team with representatives of the different manufacturing modes. Select team members who are open to new approaches, and empower them to make decisions quickly.
  • Allocate sufficient resources. Don't expect project team members to spend 50 percent of their time on the project without relieving them of some of their existing day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Avoid garbage in, garbage out. An enterprise system can only provide accurate information based on accurate data. The data that is entered into mixed-mode manufacturing software depends on the manufacturing mode being deployed, but covers the same ground (inventory, routings, bills of material) as that relied upon by other manufacturing planning systems, such as ERP software. Prior to input, perform the necessary measurements, and slice and dice data as appropriate. Spend the time up front to analyze information in each functional area, such as inventory master files, supplier files, purchasing and distribution files. You can then formulate a step-by-step plan to align the software with your ultimate goal-to manufacture and distribute product.
  • Continually obtain and analyze feedback to stay on track.
  • Use internal communications creatively to ensure input and buy-in from the entire organization, as well as to publicly acknowledge the project team's hard work.

The data output from mixed-mode manufacturing software is comprehensive, real-time information on costs and trends. "One of the biggest benefits is that the software identifies actions to be taken and issues alerts when exceptions occur, so that management can focus on information that requires human intervention, rather than poring over run-of-the-mill data that can be handled by the computer," says Heideman.

In an environment that requires constant change just to keep pace, manufacturers must not only deploy the leanest possible processes, but also blend different strategies to improve profit margins. The advantage of component-based software for mixed-mode applications is that lean manufacturing need not be introduced throughout the enterprise all at once. It can be accomplished in a phased approach, continuing traditional, order-based manufacturing in one part of the company, while phasing in lean operations in another.

This phased approach also makes it possible to move beyond lean manufacturing to eliminate inefficiencies everywhere, from shop floor to front and back office administration. By removing processes that do not add value, companies can do more than just keep pace. They can transform themselves, step by step, into lean enterprises for the greatest possible competitive advantage.

For further information on automated glass and vinyl processing equipment, call 330-963-5401, visit www.gedusa.com or Reply 20.

For further information on manufacturing software, call 888-437-4968, visit www.ifsworld.com or Reply 21.