IIoT Era- Manufacturing Engineering: What are some new technical trends in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software?
Terri Hiskey: The trends include ongoing migration of on-premises ERP to the cloud; integration of AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning), more mobility options offered, and more personalization.
ME: How has ERP’s cloud migration evolved recently, with manufacturers leveraging cloud ERP’s advantages?
Hiskey: We have seen the number of customers migrating to cloud ERP increase over time. The pandemic certainly forced many companies to look at cloud as an easier way to manage their business, especially with a distributed workforce. We also saw many companies that may have had on-premises installations of ERP look to add-on analytics, e-commerce or enterprise content management as cloud solutions.
ME: What impact do you see technologies like AI and machine learning, CAD/CAM integration, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) making on ERP?
Hiskey: These technologies are making a huge impact in ERP. Epicor introduced Epicor Virtual Agent, or EVA, last year. AI can help reduce the time it takes to execute processes by intuiting what the user is working on and providing options for next steps; it can also help walk new users through how to build workflows and processes to shorten the learning curve.
We’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deploying IoT in manufacturing. Right now, the majority of the IoT use cases we are seeing have to do with remote monitoring machines. This is another area that has become critical as manufacturers get back to work but must comply with social distancing safety standards. Fewer people on the factory floor means less risk, so with the ability to be able to remotely monitor the performance of your machines—whether it is output, temperature, vibration or fluid levels—IoT has enabled many companies to do this remotely and therefore safely. When you combine AI and IoT, that is an even more powerful proposition. A user may get an alert from an IoT sensor that a machine is not performing to its usual standard. The AI may pick up that alert and send the user options of scheduling maintenance remotely, shutting the machine down, or perhaps ignoring the alert and continuing to monitor the situation. These are just small improvements that combined yield more efficiency and productivity.
ME: What’s new in the latest ERP releases from Epicor?
Hiskey: I’ve already mentioned our introduction of EVA; also, Epicor IoT helps translate the data coming off of machines and brings it into your Epicor ERP instance. We have been investing heavily in analytics, and with our Epicor Data Analytics solution, users get access to a host of role- and process-based templates that help visualize data that is important to them, whether that data relates to financials, operations, inventory, machine performance, or other functions. We are also investing in industry-specific functionality to help users in specific areas like metal services, medical devices and other areas.
ME: What do manufacturing customers want most from their latest ERP software?