Mention real-time information these days, and thoughts are likely to turn to the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, and the communications and data access opportunities that are opened up by networks of intelligent devices. But actually, access to real-time information is much simpler than that. Much, much simpler than that.
And the good news is that your manufacturing ERP system comes ready-equipped to receive and report on a lot of this real-time information: the ‘connectors’ are already built in.
First, within the four walls of the enterprise, inside-the-firewall communication is fairly straightforward. You could choose to do it with Internet of Things technologies, but basic real-time information technologies tools like barcoding, smart terminals, and RFID work just as well.
Second, outside those four walls, existing web-based and other real-time information technologies—although different ones—again supply perfectly good connectivity. And third, a lot of the underlying reporting requirement can be met by the sort of reporting capabilities possessed by ordinary manufacturing ERP systems. In other words, you can forget about complicated analytics and ‘Big Data’ datasets.
So let’s take a look at the opportunities.
Real-time information on production.
Even a few years back, manufacturers routinely relied on end-of-day production reporting. Job tickets were collected up, typed in, and status reports updated. By mid-day on a Tuesday, you might find out what you’d produced on Monday. Not surprisingly, the usual result was a mix of manual reporting systems, conflicts, and arguments about which version of the truth was correct.
Real-time information, direct to a manufacturing ERP system, avoids these delays, and frees up the resource that was previously spent on maintaining all those parallel systems. Barcoding, RFID, shop floor data capture terminals—frankly, the technology doesn’t matter. What does matter is that at a stroke, at any point in the day, managers have a clear and accurate view of how production plans are progressing, and where corrective action might be needed.
A clear and accurate view provided by the manufacturing ERP system, finally performing the job that you bought it to carry out.
Real-time information on inventory.
Similarly, the same underlying principle can be extended to inventory. Raw materials and components inventories, as well as finished goods inventories. Again, the precise technologies aren’t important. To barcoding, RFID and smart terminals, however, we’d add cycle counting (also known as ‘perpetual inventory’), which is an extremely useful way of making sure that inventory records correspond with physical stockholdings.
And the benefits of having real-time information on inventory holdings are several—chief among which is the avoidance of having to go and verify the physical stockholding.
More accurate inventory information in terms of finished goods inventories, too, helps a business to achieve an accurate ‘available to promise’ performance, confident in its capability to rely on physical inventory holdings matching anticipated calculated inventory holdings.
Again, there’s no need for specialised third-party software systems. All that’s required is building real-time information connections to the manufacturing ERP that you already possess.
Real-time information from the supply chain.
What about outside the four walls of the enterprise? How do businesses go about delivering real-time information to their manufacturing ERP systems in that context? Information—say—from the supply chain, in the shape of communications from suppliers, customers and logistics partners? Well, the Internet of Things is certainly an option. And for manufacturers contemplating—say—adopting a new business model, such as servitisation, the Internet of Things is a perfectly valid option.
But it’s often much simpler to relay on existing—and mature and stable—technologies instead. These can deliver real-time information as well, and often on as real-time a basis as makes no difference. Where mobility is a factor—in the case of logistics partners making deliveries to customers for instance, or collecting from suppliers—then various mobile data services exist. Effectively, they use the same capabilities as does your smartphone, when sending and receiving e-mails while on the road.
In terms of fixed locations, there’s even more choice. EDI, XML, web services, portals—there’s certainly no shortages of solutions. And your existing manufacturing ERP system, it’s worth stressing, can almost certainly handle all or most of them. Don’t forget, too, the various e-commerce collaboration platforms that are out there, connecting customers and suppliers through robust real-time Internet-based communications, often leveraging the Cloud.
And again, all will usually seamlessly interface with your manufacturing ERP system—because that’s what they have been designed to do.
Real-time information: the bottom line.
Roll it all together, and the conclusion is fairly inescapable.
Your manufacturing ERP is equipped to handle real-time information; real-time information would benefit your business—and the provision of that real-time information is neither difficult nor expensive.