For a manufacturer seeking better communication between its engineering
and manufacturing wings, as well as a design-build engineering firm trying
to expand its profit margins, a business process streamlined across the
entire enterprise is a valuable commodity.
are using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software tools at an increasing
rate to help smooth the rough edges of their business practices. ERP attempts
to integrate all of a company's departments and functions-such as human
resources, financial management, project management, and sales-onto a
single computer system that serves those segments' individual needs.
an easy task. But vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Baan,
and IFS Inc. have continued to tackle the challenges of ERP. Most
top vendors' ERP solutions are Web-enabled and give clients options for
application service provider-hosted solutions. Unsure of the ASP model,
some mid-tier and larger client companies have been more comfortable outsourcing
their entire information technology function to companies such as IBM
As the future of ERP holds high stakes for many companies, trends are
watched closely by research organizations such as the Aberdeen Group and
Technology Evaluation Center Inc. According to the Aberdeen Group, key
trends include an increased push toward collaborative product commerce,
which relates to manufacturers' use of Internet collaboration to connect
the entire product lifecycle. Aberdeen researchers say collaborative product
commerce looks like the next logical step for manufacturers trying to
gain a competitive advantage and move aggressively toward a custom manufacturing
trends include the rise of XML standards to promote cross-enterprise communication
between applications, more integrated solutions for ERP, and tailored
solutions for specific industries, says Ben Spencer, senior director of
knowledge bases and content development for the Technology Evaluation
Center. The center develops TechnologyEvaluation.Com, a business-to-business
technology research and evaluation portal on the Web. Spencer says the
center objectively researches marketplace trends and uses a knowledge-based
selection process to help companies find an ERP system that matches their
seen a lot more integration, [based on] a recognition in manufacturing
companies that there's a need for software to help bridge the gap and
create a liaison between engineering and manufacturing," says Spencer.
"Software is only going to get more and more integrated and easy to use,
which enables companies to become more efficient and provide faster response
time to clients." Historically, software tools have been stand-alone,
a hodge-podge of different applications and systems that made companies
run, he says.
into ERP solutions or added as a separate module, product data management
(PDM) is evolving as an efficient way to collect and control data such
as CAD drawings, revision information, test documents, and inspection
requirements. PDM then allows users to share this information throughout
the organization, so that the manufacturing floor knows, as do the engineering
and sales departments, which are the latest product releases.
IFS Inc. and others have demonstrated the PDM capability to import CAD
drawing data and load a parts list into a bill of materials, which structures
itself based on the engineering design. PDM tools also aid project collaboration
and help reduce redundant use of design components.
features in this month's release of Baan's c-Ark products for PDM will
focus on Web-based design collaboration with multiple users, says Neal
White, senior vice president of marketing for Baan Americas. Through Baan's
ERP product, which focuses on the manufacturing and distribution associated
with the creation of engineered parts, Baan has Web-enabled ERP transaction
capabilities to support collaboration for planning and procurement.
manufacturing trend is the movement toward automation of product configurations,
giving clients some capability to customize the end product, Spencer says.
He has talked to companies that are interested in using a product configurator
to allow clients to confirm which product release they have, access the
availability of after-market parts, and assess the potential for integration
of products with their systems. This keeps tighter control over product
revision and product release levels, he says. The client feedback also
helps companies provide a more targeted service to their customers.
are more demanding and are expecting to be able to have more input into
the end product," explains White. "From a manufacturing perspective, each
of the manufacturers is trying to reduce the lead time from that very
specific customer order to delivery, because that is now a competitive
metric people are using."
traditionally mass-production-based manufacturing companies move toward
custom-tailored products, the traditionally made-to-order AEC industry
is moving toward increased standardization of parts. However, the AEC
industry's increasing use of design-build on construction projects is
paralleled by the manufacturing world's evolution toward full lifecycle
management and maintenance by the original service provider, industry
watchers say. In the manufacturing sector, decreasing margins on manufactured
products and price competition from globalization are driving this trend,
In the AEC arena, "not only do [customers] want firms to engineer buildings
on the site, but they want them to build it and finish the interior. And
when it comes to maintenance, they would like the same company involved,"
says White. His company offers iBaan ERP tools for construction project
in response to market demands, the major ERP vendors have developed tailored
solutions for particular industry segments, Spencer says. For example,
Baan is introducing an ERP product this month in the electronics, logistics,
and automotive areas.
example of an industry-specific solution within the mySAP.com e-business
platform is mySAP Engineering & Construction, which integrates the full
life cycle of products and projects. It carries the project from concept,
specification, and design, through manufacturing, procurement, construction,
operations, and maintenance, SAP reports. Using Web-enabled applications,
mySAP E & C provides tools for program management and collaborative engineering,
e-procurement, construction and site management, project management and
scheduling, and maintenance and decommissioning, among other capabilities.
mySAP E & C, mySAP Product Lifecycle Management creates a collaborative
environment for users to control and track product-related information
over the entire life cycle and communicate product and asset information
throughout the supply chain. In addition, mySAP Mobile Business uses a
personalized portal called Mobile Workplace to give mobile access to mySAP.com
solutions via handheld devices.
in dynamic industries with even more dynamic IT solutions, companies can
easily get caught up in the hype of many different vendors. Whatever specific
software or Web-based ERP solution you choose, carefully test and evaluate
it first to be sure it's the right solution for your company, Spencer
advises. Engineers should think about the business issues that are driving
them to adopt an ERP system, document the unique requirements of their
system, and develop "checkpoints" of software that will help them achieve
their business goals.
like going out and buying a suit," he says. "A solution for one company
may not be the same as for the next company."
article from the October, 2001 issue of Engineering Times, is published
with permission of Engineering Times, a publication of the National Society
of Professional Engineers.