Picking up from my last blog post on automation, the challenge for many job shops and custom manufacturers may be understanding where to start on their automation journey. Should you start with the shop floor? Should you start with the front office? Where will you get the biggest bang for your buck?
There probably is no right or wrong answer–you just have to start somewhere. For many shops, if you are selective with the kind of parts you produce based on your manufacturing capabilities and machines, then produce those parts with minimal scrap, and the parts flow through the manufacturing process seamlessly, you are probably doing the right sorts of things from a production aspect. Could you invest in better machines? Always! Could you gain efficiency with those machines? Probably.
However, what hinders many shops is not the lack of automation or technology on the shop floor. What hinders many shops are the front office processes that are not streamlined and the manual processes that it takes to actually get the job released to the shop floor. For many shops, these processes are plagued with many manual processes to quote the part, researching and getting the most updated material costs, and then formulating routing estimates that may or may not be accurate. Then we start the process all over–likely in another solution–once you win the business. Someone else or another team has to take the estimate and rekey it in a separate order entry and production management solution. What if (as you look at that process) you could eliminate most–if not all–of the re-keying of data? What if you could have updated material costs at your fingertips? What if you could re-quote routing operations based on how you last ran the part (or at least one that was relatively close)? What if you could then take all that information and seamlessly convert it to an order? What if you could do all of this without the limitation of being in the office and sitting behind a desk.
Implementing a quote-to-cash ERP solution that is more in line with managing the chaos and changes of a job shop could gain you significant efficiency. At the very least it would eliminate the manual entry and re-entry of data throughout the quote to cash process. However, not all ERP solutions are created equally. In the “old days” you had to settle for what you could get–an ERP system NOT designed for job shops. You had to settle for solutions designed for repetitive or standard product manufacturers. These were systems that were architected from the ground up for companies likely quite different than yours forcing you and your company to adjust that company’s vision of how you should work.
The good news–some systems have evolved. Some systems actually are designed for job shops and contract, make-to-order manufacturers. In addition, even though you are a job shop, you probably have your own unique ways of doing things–that’s what is likely your “secret sauce”. A good front office solution should also allow you to configure the solution to YOUR needs rather than the other way around.
So, look at your processes, decide where can you realistically get the greatest return on your investment. It may not always be on the shop floor. Imagine what saving just 8 hours of front office time from time of quote to release to the shop floor would do across the dozens (or hundreds) of orders you process could do.