ERP News

Digital manufacturing technologies a challenge for ERP

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As the manufacturing sector undergoes digital transformation, poorly integrated ERP systems will soon be a thing of past, driving ERP vendors to reinvent.

Increasingly, manufacturers are becoming digital enterprises, adopting digital tools and processes to harness, analyze and glean insights from their data so they can operate more efficiently, respond to customer needs more rapidly and get their products to market faster.

Since ERP software is a key part of the evolution of digital manufacturing technologies, it must reinvent itself in response to this digital transformation or risk becoming extinct.

While that may be happening, there’s plenty of room for improvement, said Pat Welsh, managing director of manufacturing ERP services at Revolution Group, a technology services firm in Westerville, Ohio.

Next-gen digital manufacturing technologies

“The ERP systems today are just sort of transforming from heavy complicated systems to more lightweight and nimble and accessible,” Welsh said. “And that’s largely through the cloud migration.”

But these systems even have to go a step further to scale up digital manufacturing technologies.

“The most important thing is that ERPs have the capability of housing tremendous amounts of data, like quality inspection data or production downtime data, machine data, that type of thing,” Welsh said. “But they’re not quite yet in a position to really get that data in front of decision-makers in a concise fashion.”

One of the biggest opportunities for ERP is to be able to get the data out to the business user — the decision-maker on the shop floor or in logistics — who is responsible for making decisions on a daily or hourly basis on how to react to different situations, according to Welsh.

Although ERP systems have made great strides toward making that information available or creating avenues or mechanisms for people to communicate more effectively, they still require somebody in the front office or a supervisor to interact, analyze and then communicate, he said.

“So that’s a very manual process, and there’s some time involved in that,” Welsh said. “But the mechanism to get that information to the shop floor quickly, that’s not really there yet today without significant human interaction.”

The real key for the future is for that process to be automated so it happens quicker, it happens more reliably and it doesn’t require a supervisor to be clocked in or even at the plant.

AI is crucial to digital manufacturing technologies

“I think that may fall under artificial intelligence, and there are certainly some predictive analytics that would fall into that same kind of category,” Welsh said. “So [its] providing the decision-makers, e.g., the maintenance [staff], information ahead of time before a machine actually goes down.”

Although most ERPs today do a pretty good job of enabling manufacturers to capture information historically and measure it, it’s still a challenge for ERP systems to deal with all that data and capture it in a meaningful way.

“Most of our customers have some type of programmable logic controller on their equipment,” Welsh said. “But only our more sophisticated customers are systematically collecting data from those machines that they’re bringing into their ERP environments or reporting over or making decisions on.”

Therefore, that whole bridge between the machine and the ERP is definitely an opportunity for improvement.

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