Essential real-time information for your manufacturing business

Posted on 31 May 2016 by The Manufacturer

Andy Gough, general Manager at Datawright, explores the opportunities for leveraging ERP data for real-time reporting.

Andy Gough, general manager, Datawright.
Andy Gough, general manager, Datawright.

Research firm IDC estimates that by 2020, 40% of all data will be machine-generated, with 20 to 50 billion devices fuelling that growth.

So it’s no surprise that with the mention of real-time information, 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. And the good news is that your manufacturing ERP system should be 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 ERP systems.

So where are the opportunities for real-time information?

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.

Read more manufacturing insights from Andy Gough here.

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.

Real-time Reporting Supply Chain ERP Digital Data - image courtesy of Datawright
Manufacturing ERP systems should be ready-equipped to receive and report on a significant amount of real-time information – image courtesy of Datawright.

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 your ERP system.

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.

Datawright Internet of Things Blog Image
Where mobility is a factor, then various mobile data services exist – image courtesy of Datawright.

And for manufacturers contemplating—say—adopting a new business model, such as servitization, 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 manufacturing ERP, 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 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.

ERP is an important tool for companies with global distribution to help reduce costs and manage inventory - image courtesy of Shutterstock
ERP designed specifically for manufacturing is equipped to handle real-time information; real-time information that could benefit your business – image courtesy of Shutterstock.

ERP designed specifically for manufacturing 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.

So why delay? If you would like advice about manufacturing ERP, feel free to contact us. We’ve been immersed in the manufacturing market for more than 35 years and we would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.