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One for the Little Guy PUBLIC ACCESS

Small to Midsize Enterprises are Linking their Manufacturing and Engineering Departments with Technology Formerly Reserved for the Largest.

Mechanical Engineering 126(01), 37-39 (Feb 01, 2004) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2004-JAN-3

This article focuses on engineers at an organization that may rely on its product lifecycle management software to speed a product to market. The system gives engineers a way to talk among themselves over a network as they work out product details and hash over design changes. Equally important to a fast-paced manufacturer is an enterprise resource planning system, which manages the operational, planning, and control side of the organization. As costs come down, smaller companies, often the suppliers to the big ones, are also finding it worthwhile to undergo the expense and transition to install enterprise management software and to wed their engineering and manufacturing systems. Manufacturers can usually expect installations of extensive systems to cost a sizable portion of their information technology budgets. An enterprise planning system can be time-consuming to implement and the training period long. Following a two-year company-wide evaluation, Anchor Lamina executives decided to re-engineer front-end processes. They specifically sought estimating, computer-aided manufacturing, and design technology that could be easily integrated with the company’s ERP system.

Engineers at an organization may rely on its product lifecycle management software to speed a product to market. The system gives engineers a way to talk among themselves over a network as they work out product details and hash over design changes.

Equally important to a fast-paced manufacturer is an enterprise resource planning system, which manages the operational, planning, and control side of the organization.

A product lifecycle system is the place where engineers store information about the product they've defined. It manages all forms of product data, which could include CAD files, text files, or anything having to do with the product, said Richard Bourke, principal of Bourke Consulting Associates in Laguna Woods, Calif.

An enterprise planning system usually keep's track of scheduling, inventory, personnel, and the like. The technology coordinates production, after mechanical engineers have defined the product.

So the type of data tracked within the systems differs. "Engineering would probably not need to model all of the four tire assemblies used on a car because they're all identical," said Monica Schnitger, senior vice president at the market research firm Daratech in Cambridge, Mass.

"So only one might be stored in the PLM system. The bills of material are stored in the ERP, which would definitely need to include all four instances of the assembly."

Because the types of data used in the engineering and the manufacturing operations aren't necessarily the same, most companies need both types of systems, Schnitger said.

For several years, however, it has been only the largest manufacturers, with their extensive product lines and multi-tiered supply chains, that could afford the cost and the time to bring enterprise planning systems on board and get them to work with engineering software.

As costs come down, smaller companies, often the suppliers to the big ones, are also finding it worthwhile to undergo the expense and transition to install enterprise management software and to wed their engineering and manufacturing systems.

Automotive parts supplier Anchor Lamina Inc. is no Ford Motor Co. The company name isn't recognized on three continents. Drivers don't proudly boast that their cars include Anchor Lamina parts. Nonetheless, this definitely midsize company has an enterprise resource planning system in place.

The company is now in the process of marrying this system to its job-estimating software and to its computer-aided design software. That wedding will give managers an up-close view into both the engineering and manufacturing operations of the organization, and will streamline the passing of information between them.

One small manufacturer, Krebs Engineers of Tucson, Ariz., found that by marrying its product lifecycle and ERP system it had streamlined its operations.

The ISO-employee maker of hydrocyclone separators sought a way to automatically move bill of materials information from its place on fabrication drawings directly into the company's computer system. Krebs found an answer by integrating a new design tool with a new product lifecycle system and tying those packages directly to the ERP system already in place, said Mark Holmberg, engineering manager.

In 1999, a staff of three engineers and six designers were told they would have to include the bill of materials on their fabrication drawings. Before Krebs installed the Catia CAD system from Dassault Systemes of Paris, its engineers used two-dimensional drawings. Employees manually input design information in to the company's enterprise- planning system. The addition of bill of materials data to the drawings would make the manual process that much more time-consuming.

Also, because 90 percent of the company's cyclones are custom-built, dozens of variations to the product were often requested with each order.

"If we added 130M data to our drawings, how could we get it auto matically into our ERP system?" Holmberg said." Some data, such as part numbers, were entered five times or more, from the time an order was brought inhouse until its release to manufacturing. We sought to eliminate some of those redundant steps."

In addition to doing away with manual data reentry, Krebs executives also wanted to integrate its new design and product-lifecycle technologies with its established ERP system. After implementing the new systems, Krebs reduced its product design time by 90 percent, Holmberg said.

The engineers now use the CAD system for design, and the company automates its process for generating bills of materials through the tied-in lifecycle management system from a Dassault-owned company, SmarTeam of Kfar Saba, Israel. Engineers now include the bill of materials information on the product drawings. The information is then automatically entered into the company-wide planning system, Holmberg said. That planning system is from J13A of Rolling Meadows, Ill.

"Our goal, which was once the exclusive domain of only very large manufacturers, is to have complete end-to-end integration of our product design process," Holmberg said. "We took an aggressive approach."

Things don't always go that easily, Schnitger said. Although it may appear at first blush that a company's ER.P and PLM systems should work together seamlessly, marrying the two can be a challenge. Software from different vendors is often incompatible. And integrating large-scale systems can be difficult, she said.

Krebs actually found its goal easier to meet than a larger company might. The company's size meant new systems could be put in place without a great deal of hassle or cost, and could be up and running quickly, Holmberg said.

Krebs technology moves BOM data directly into the company-wide system.

Grahic Jump LocationKrebs technology moves BOM data directly into the company-wide system.

Now that manufacturers of Krebs' size can afford a data integration system, they will have to define the roles that engineering and planning software play in their organizations, Bourke said.

Companies might rely on product lifecycle management to avoid job duplication. These systems, for instance, ensure that bills of materials are generated by product designers rather than by the manufacturing engineers.

The bill of materials describes exactly what parts will be used in each manufactured product. As such, it needs to be complete and accurate because it's the source document relied on by employees in purchasing, product, inventory control, and other departments associated with manufacturing operations.

It summarizes an engineer's design and provides the interface to all departments involved in manufacturing the product. After studying the bill, a manufacturing engineer determines the most efficient set of operations to manufacture a product and may request a design modification in order to streamline production.

A bill of materials should logically take shape in the product management system at the same time that the product is being developed and then should be released to the resource planning system-and thus to manufacturing- when the design is complete, Bourke said.

Before the days of product lifecycle systems, mechanical engineers often gave manufacturing engineers the blue prints for the part they'd developed and let manufacturing develop the bill of materials. This some times led to problems because manufacturing engineers could tweak the bill and the design to suit manufacturing needs.

The bill of materials can be generated as a product is designed and entered directly in to the manufacturing program, if the two systems can communicate with each other, Bourke said. "The more complex the product development process, the more the case can be made for PDM and ERP implementation," he said.

Manufacturers can usually expect installations of extensive systems to cost a sizable portion of their information technology budgets. An enterprise planning system can be time-consuming to implement and the training period long. And at least initially, the systems might contain any number of gremlins.

With a list of cons like that, it's no wonder smaller manufacturers weren't turning to enterprise resource planning in droves. But Roy Verstraete, president and chief executive officer at Anchor Lamina, expects that tide to turn in the not-too-distant future.

Executives at Anchor Lamina spent two years combing through manufacturing practices, looking for ways to streamline book keeping and do away with unnecessary paper work and manufacturing practices. The Windsor, Ontario, company also wanted to provide customers with more accurate and consistent quotes.

That lengthy evaluation process brought about some unexpected changes in the way the parts supplier runs its business.

"From the moment we get our first customer call related to a quote, our processes are changing," Verstraete said. "We're evolving our departmental structure. We're evolving our definitions of what individual persons do.

The supplier manufactures die sets, steel plates, fabrications, precision metal parts, and industrial supplies. Although it primarily supplies automakers, the company's parts are also found in industrial machinery; generators; electronic equipment; aircraft, office, and agricultural equipment, and in scientific instruments. That's a lot of quotes to provide, a lot of parts to design and track.

Gisele McLarty, Anchor Lamina's information technology director, is a strong proponent of enterprise resource planning systems for midsize manufacturers. The company uses a system from Profit Key of Salem, N.H.

"Over time, other ERP vendors will go after and obtain more of the midsize manufacturing market," McLarty predicted.

Following a two-year company-wide evaluation, Anchor Lamina executives decided to re-engineer front-end processes. They specifically sought estimating, computer-aided manufacturing, and design technology that could be easily integrated with the company's ERP system.

To streamline business processes, the company implemented software that estimates job costs, plans a job's process, and analyzes the best method for doing the job. The software, Machine Shop Estimating from Micro Estimating Systems in New Berlin, Wis., helped the company provide its customers with quick and consistent quotes, Verstraete said.

The company found that it needed to upgrade its computer-assisted manufacturing system and moved to CAM Works from TekSoft Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. Anchor Lamina also brought on board new CAD software from SolidWorks Corp. of Concord, Mass. All these applications are tied to Anchor Lamina's ProfitKey system.

"We found that estimating software is important, but what's equally important is connectivity to our ERP system and then connectivity to the CAD program," Verstraete said.

Krebs had to keep track of dozens of variations to the design of its custom-built hydrocyclone separators.

Grahic Jump LocationKrebs had to keep track of dozens of variations to the design of its custom-built hydrocyclone separators.

Software vendors are already chasing the midsize market, said Jim Brown, president of the technology consulting company Tech-Clarity of Media, Pa.

In October last year, Microsoft Business Solutions announced that it would include product lifecycle capabilities within its ERP offerings. Microsoft will work with Autodesk of San Rafael, Calif., to build a product lifecycle system that can be used by customers in the mid-market manufacturing segment.

The move will link the three types of technology that the two vendors produce: CAD, PLM, and ERP. This gives manufacturers a way to connect the engineering teams that design products with the operations groups that manufacture them, according to Autodesk. The company estimates that more than 60 percent of its design technology customers have never directly connected their engineering data to their management systems.

With easier access to the types of technology the big boys use, even small and midsize manufacturers can run their businesses like their huge counterparts, as Krebs and Anchor Lamina are discovering.

Copyright © 2004 by ASME
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