Current Challenges to Enterprise Software

Nearly 150 vendors of Enterprise Resource Planning applications (ERP) compete to stay useful as digitization makes new data available and technology impacts production processes. To stay current, the ERP providers must adapt their offerings. Here are three current challenges facing ERP vendors.

How to use Data From the Shop Floor

Collection of real-time data related to production progress and anomalies is becoming standard operating procedure. But knowing what is going on is only part of the production management issue. Determining what to do about anomalies is more challenging than just collecting the data.

  • Is the deviation from plan significant enough to require immediate replanning?
  • What is the best strategy for revising the production plan? What is the least disruptive way to replan?
  • Is my ERP application a decision support system for replanning?
  • If 85% of a production manager’s time is spent on plan revision, what is the functionality needed to reduce this effort?

Data obtained from the shop floor will require an ERP system designed specifically for replanning. A manager responding to an anomaly will usually want to change something. The ERP system should show the consequences of a change. If a production activity is removed for editing, the ERP system should show the other activities that are affected by the editing. It should also show which activities are not affected, since the replanning objective is usually to recover production goals with minimal disruption. The ERP system should not require a complete plan revision to accommodate a change to a few activities or resource assignments. Obviously, an ERP system optimized for replanning is certainly capable of building an original schedule, so there is no loss of functionality from designing for replanning. Automating schedule revision requires viewing production management as a feedback control system, complete with all the issues of stability and control.

Adding Artificial Intelligence to Production Management

Artificial Intelligence is becoming mature and relevant to both production and project management. Not only are machines learning about their own best practices, but the decision behavior of successful shop floor managers is being captured. This will allow automation to minimize disruptions arising from unexpected demand or difficulties from the shop floor.

The Gartner Group predicts ‘Lights Out’ manufacturing by 2025. Experiential knowledge, the essential skill of the shop floor manager, is becoming recognizable and can be captured by AI ‘Agents’.

The accommodation of artificial intelligence will be difficult for ERP systems that have decision logic buried throughout their software modules. A better software architecture is to isolate decision-making from data processing logic. This allows rulesets or ‘Agents’ to be inserted and modified easily based on machine learning or managers’ best practices.

Integration of Production with Supply Chain Management

It is no longer sufficient to regard Production Planning and Supply Chain Management as separate disciplines supported by separate modules such as APS and SCM. Well-publicized supply chain problems and the continued development of Lean Manufacturing have revealed the need for tighter integration of the two disciplines. For example, machines in the manufacturing process and trucks in the supply chain must now be considered resources in the same domain. Their time-oriented assignments must be coordinated. ERP systems that cannot couple these resources will not be competitive.

Similarly, long-term planning and execution scheduling now require tighter integration. The distinction between the time horizons and scheduling buckets embedded in ERP systems is becoming blurred as we gain insights on how to achieve higher efficiency and lower cost.

The integration of supply chain and production planning requires an ERP system that is independent of the traditional manufacturing and Supply chain vocabulary. Terms like ‘materials’, ‘machines’, ‘shipping’, ‘packaging’, ‘technicians’, ‘ordering’ etc. are familiar but should not be embedded in the ERP system. A more generic architecture would regard both production and supply chain environments simply as sequences of activities and their required resources. The labels for these elements can be supplied as data by the user (or ERP installer) so that displays and KPI’s use familiar terminology. But using the ‘activity-resource’ generics internally makes an integrated production and supply chain timeline easy to achieve. It allows bottlenecks in the integrated processes to be easily identified and managed.

These are just three examples of how an ERP system must adapt. The Five-Agent-Scheduling-Technique (FAST) introduced by Unique Scheduling Solutions has been designed specifically to meet these challenges. It represents the next generation of Planning and Scheduling technology. Using it as a key element of the ‘Lights Out Generation’ of ERP will accelerate a new level of support for manufacturers and project managers.

© Unique Scheduling Solutions, LLC