Special Focus


Manufacturers need to be aware of five key trends in ERP systems for 2017. By Staci Davidson

The North American manufacturing industry is so dynamic, it’s not always easy to keep track of all that is happening. The industry has been strong since the Great Recession, but it still faces major challenges, such as lack of skilled workers and ongoing pressure to do more with less.

But focusing on one aspect of the industry can help to see things more clearly, and that is what we have done. Working with Top10ERP.org, a leading online ERP software index for manufacturers, Manufacturing Today spoke with three experts in the ERP sector to determine the top trends in ERP for 2017. No surprise, there is a lot for manufacturers to juggle.

“The uncertainty of U.S. politics could dramatically change the market for anybody producing overseas,” SYSPRO USA President Joey Benadretti explains. “The market is changing as a result of increased costs, fluctuations in the supply chain and unstable suppliers. Consumption patterns are changing around the country as populations move. Brexit and the European Union and the Transatlantic Agreement and all have the capacity to influence change in terms of international trade.

“Renegotiations of NAFTA could significantly affect the United States with trading partners,” Benadretti continues. “Increase in locally driven manufacturing in the market could have a big boost for the industry. It’s really the unpredictability of the market. Increased competition, increased competitors both local and foreign. Changing costs of energy can dramatically affect the marketplace, as well.” 

With all of this in mind, consider the five ERP trends our experts have noted for 2017.

1. Consolidation will continue to be a major influence on manufacturing.

Not only do shorter supply chains and less-complicated systems help manufacturers with cost reduction and on-time delivery, but they also allow companies to be much more agile in their responses to customers and the market.

“It has gotten too expensive, too time-consuming, too error-prone and too cumbersome to manage a company using a bunch of disparate point solutions and databases,” says David Morfas, Director of Marketing Communication at Plex Systems. “Companies running old software systems have to pull data from multiple places and try to tie it all together quickly to be able to act on it. Manufacturing is more data-driven than ever and companies need to make the process of gathering and using that data easier.

“Additionally, having multiple-point solutions to manage individual functions of the business is difficult to manage, difficult to keep updated and difficult to scale. Having tighter, better-integrated systems that offer more capabilities allow companies to consolidate systems and better connect their enterprise. In the case of manufacturing that means connecting users to data, connecting machines to machines, connecting plant(s) data to a single source of truth, and connecting reporting capabilities so people can see real-time how production and the enterprise are performing.”

2. The cloud will play an important role as manufacturers adopt new technology.

Morfas explains every major ERP vendor is marketing a cloud system, especially as more manufacturers realize this is the new normal for software in their enterprise and they realize the benefits of the cloud over legacy systems.

“Industry 4.0 calls for a future of agile, affordable manufacturing, fueled by technology enablers such as the IoT, 3-D printing, cloud computing, mobile devices and big data,” says Christine Hansen, Product Marketing Senior Manager of Epicor Software. “These technology enablers will change how products are designed, produced as well as impact how data is gathered, stored and analyzed. Taken together, these technologies will have a profound impact that can change manufacturing in unprecedented ways.”

Additionally, Morfas notes, ERP software needs to be more cloud-oriented. “Being [on the] cloud enables manufacturers to have greater flexibility in using the software, to be better at centralizing data into one database available to all users, offers better mobility options – both in mobile device access but also in how users can access the data, like using wearables and mobile scanners – and makes reporting quick and easy. ERP software has to make what is a more complicated environment simpler to manage, while also driving connected manufacturing – connecting everything and everyone in manufacturing so there are no more silos.

3. Increased connectivity is key for manufacturing competitiveness.

Morfas cites the need to eliminate silos because connectivity is important for manufacturers to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Enhanced connectivity and communication can help companies better react to market changes.

“[There is] growth/need for connectedness and collaboration,” Morfas says. “This applies within each company, but more importantly manufacturers should better connect their supply chain and their own customers to the manufacturing process for better efficiency and collaboration. [This] leads to better demand predictability but also better inventory control and better ability to meet customer needs.”

Hansen explains that “global megatrends” and the increased emergence of new and disruptive technologies are directly impacting manufacturers and causing new demands on ERP systems. “More and more devises will be interconnected with each other and connected with products that will be embedded with sensors, and potentially connected in global networks directly to customers or suppliers. This network of interconnected devices will form the basis for a new manufacturing revolution called Industry 4.0, which will radically transform the face of manufacturing and the types of solutions that will be leveraged.”

4. Manufacturers need to be ready for an even larger volume of data to consider.

With all that connectivity, there will be more data for manufacturers to manage, and companies must find a way to do that effectively.

“With the advent of IoT, the applications businesses use will reach every corner of the business and beyond,” Hansen says. “The tremendous volume of data that will be generated, as well as insights from said volume of data, will be more dynamic and more instant. Everyone’s expectations of technology and responsiveness will rise accordingly, setting new standards for communication and collaboration.

“As more digitally controlled technologies such as IoT and additive manufacturing are introduced, the number of connections drastically increases,” she continues. “And with the growth of data, manufacturers need new and faster ways to drive insight and actions and easier ways to support decisions.”

Benadretti notes that greater integration across all aspects of ERP software is necessary. “It is all about operational functionality, visibility, cost control and performance measuring,” he says. “More attention [should go] to the cloud-based solutions and greater flexibility in terms of on-premise, cloud and mobile capabilities. This should include IoT, machine learning, artificial intelligence capabilities and integrations bringing in data from disparate systems and having the capability to make operational and management decisions based on that data. [In other words,] the ability to turn data into actionable information. It is more about the mobile worker today to really incorporate their needs and ability to be mobile and flexible.”

Morfas adds that more data is available in real-time, which can be a benefit and a challenge. “Making use of that data and/or automating processes is a challenge, and manufacturers are trying to figure out how to do that. If it’s more IT people, much of their current IT budget is tied up managing software today and can’t be dedicated to the task of data analysis,” he says. “To the earlier point of cloud, Plex sees customers moving people who used to manage software but no longer have to because of cloud ERP now managing new value-added projects, data analytics and addressing areas they previously did not have the headcount to address.”

5. End-to-end ERP systems are increasingly important.

As manufacturers deal with ongoing market changes and uncertainty, as well as a continuous increase in data, strong ERP systems are even more important.

“Manufacturers must address the challenges in managing an increasingly overwhelming volume of data that operators need to convert into actionable intelligence,” Hansen says. “It is important to note that IoT data will be gathered and dissimilated by a stream processing application. A manufacturer’s ERP system must have the ability to integrate with the stream-processing application to allow for specific, filtered data to be passed to the system, allowing the ERP platform to make better decisions.

“Today’s next-generation ERP solutions leverage new technologies to bring information to those who need it, at the moment they need it, in a form that they can use and in a way that they can action immediately, anywhere,” she adds. “The value comes from increasing the reach of ERP, to every part of an organization making it as usable on the shop floor as it is on the top floor.”

Strong ERP systems are key, Benadretti says, because technology is more important throughout every aspect of manufacturing operations. “Manufacturers are becoming more conscious about their internal systems and technology is beginning to play a much larger part from sourcing of raw materials and components all the way through to the manufacture of finished goods and the servicing thereafter,” he explains. “There’s more consciousness on the sourcing of materials in the United States and companies are looking to manufacture closer to the point of consumption to reduce cost and customer service. [They are] shortening supply chains for cost reduction and on-time delivery.”

What else will impact manufacturing in 2017? Be sure to check back, as we will continue to cover the developments of the industry. 

Top10ERP.org indexes and compares the highest-rated manufacturing ERP software solutions from the top-rated vendors in the United States and Canada. Top10ERP.org simplifies the software evaluation and selection process for small, mid-sized and large manufacturing enterprises.

From the Great Depression to the Great Recession and all of the economic and technology changes in-between, Stanek Tool has survived and outlasted many of its contemporaries for one main reason. “We’ve always operated as a family business – we value our employees and value building relationships with our customers and suppliers,” owner and President Mary Wehrheim says. “I think we’re respected in the industry because we’ve done what I feel are the right things.”

For Wehrheim, doing the right thing includes treating employees, customers vendors and suppliers with respect. Wehrheim represents the third generation of family ownership at the company, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2014. Her grandfather, Edward Stanek Sr., a native of Czechoslovakia, founded the company in 1924 after leaving his home country and settling in Milwaukee. 

Car collectors know the impact coatings have had on automotive products. Nowadays, glass and silver aren’t needed to provide reflectivity in auto headlights – just a light aluminum coating on injection-molded plastic does the job and gives automakers increasing design flexibility. A similar story can be told about cutting tools, which are manufactured with tribological coatings that reduce wear and can double or triple their lifetimes.

Enabling manufacturers to provide these benefits is the business of Mustang Vacuum Systems Inc. The company is a global manufacturer of industrial-scale vacuum deposition equipment, including sputtering systems, evaporation systems, optical coating units and roll-to roll-systems. The equipment it manufactures is used to apply coatings to automotive, decorative, medical and industrial tools, and thin-film solar products. 

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LMT Onsrud began in 1946 and since that time it has been committed to providing the best-quality router bits and cutting tools within the industry. Tooling lines range from wood materials to plastics and composite machining to the latest end mill lines utilized to cut aluminums and exotic metals. Its products are used in industries such as aerospace, defense and medical.

When Linear Mold & Engineering launched in 2003, the economy in its native Michigan was on shaky ground. Nevertheless, the company’s founders believed there would always be a need for manufacturers who could perform rapid tooling for the automotive industry. More than a decade later, Linear has been proven right, as it has grown to become one of the most successful providers of tooling for molds in North America. Director of New Business Development – Tooling & Manufacturing Lou Young says the company has become a leader in the industry through its dedication to upgrading its equipment and embrace of innovation as well as a solid reputation for handling customers’ requests in a timely fashion. 

CNC Engineering Inc.’s business is centered on machines, but its key element is its staff, Vice President Patrick Harrington asserts. “We’ve surrounded ourselves with very talented people,” he declares.

They include its team of gifted engineers, which are among the best in the business. “We’re always on the look-out for the right type of engineer,” Harrington asserts. 

Based in Enfield, Conn., CNC Engineering provides FANUC integration services for multiple industries, including aerospace, automotive, bearings, and oil and gas clients. “Aerospace is year in and year out probably our largest customer,” Harrington says.

Co-owner Gary Caravella started CNC Engineering more than 30 years ago. Although his father specialized in manufacturing, “Gary studied electrical engineering,” Harrington says, noting that the younger Caravella focused on updating various machine tools.

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“I started the business in August 1992 after having worked for many years on all types of metal working machinery at different companies and factories,” President Romas Juodvalkis says. “We now have more than 38 employees and are building state-of-the-art machines for many different industries. North America is our primary market.”

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Guyson Corp. has been demonstrating its capabilities in the United States as an engineer and builder of cabinet-blast machinery for nearly 40 years. The company designs and builds cleaning, shot-peening, finishing and surface-preparation machinery, manufacturing both air-blast and wheel-blast equipment. 

“We have built a strong base of customers,” President Steve Byrnes says. “Now we are focusing on the next generation of our products, which we believe are robotic blasting systems.”

Based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Guyson is part of the U.K.’s Guyson International group of companies. Guyson International is the largest independent manufacturer of blast finishing and aqueous degreasing equipment in Europe, having been involved in cleaning and surface treatment since 1938. It also has offices in France, Malaysia and China.

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