Addressing Engineering Problems with ERPs

The complex nature of custom manufacturing involves many processes where engineering issues can arise. In a recent Fast Radius survey, 250 bespoke manufacturers were asked to name the top technical challenges that hinder their business. Topping the list were lack of communication, quality issues, and rushed development cycles. Another pain point engineers face on a daily basis are inefficient processes that waste time and undermine data accuracy.


The good news is that there is a way to alleviate these difficulties.


An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system provides a centralized database that improves communication and data management and helps optimize processes, all of which makes the work of engineers easier. By adopting an ERP, manufacturers increase the efficiency, quality and overall competitiveness of their operations.


1, Lack of communication

The main problem cited by engineers surveyed by Fast Radius is the lack of communication. Too often, in custom manufacturing factories and workshops, different departments work in isolation, which hinders collaboration and communication between teams. However, poor communication between departments and teams can not only slow down the production process, but also be a source of errors and inefficiency.


ERP systems break down communication silos by integrating information and processes across an entire company. They provide custom makers with the tools their teams need to collaborate on focused tasks, assignments, or projects. For example, engineers can use an ERP to track project progress, share design briefs, and communicate with various key departments.


ERPs are also a unique "truth" filter for a company's data. The fact that everyone can access the same exact information in real time eliminates the risk of misunderstandings and errors caused by outdated or inaccurate information.


But of course, the lack of communication does not only exist within the same company, but also between custom manufacturers and third-party partners. ERPs alleviate these problems by allowing manufacturers to communicate more easily with their partners, suppliers and customers. By bringing all customer data together in one system, they make it easier to interact and communicate with them. Instead of a slow back and forth between customers and engineering and design departments, ERPs provide a streamlined communication process. What's more, these systems can support a portal that efficiently manages all communications with suppliers, making it easy to interact with suppliers and ensuring the delivery of quality products and components on time.


2, Inefficient processes

Too many bespoke manufacturers still rely on outdated processes ‒ manual, paper or Excel ‒, "time wasters" that cause errors and are difficult to manage.


ERPs help custom manufacturing factories and shops standardize their business processes across an entire enterprise. Everyone follows uniform instructions, which reduces the risk of confusion and misunderstandings and promotes effective collaboration between teams. In addition to standardizing business processes, ERPs automate many of them, reducing the risk of errors and increasing efficiency.


In a factory or shop, one of the most inefficient processes ‒ the one that wastes the most time for engineers ‒ is the manual transfer of BOM from a computer-aided design (CAD) system to a ERP. Up to 20% of engineers' working time is taken up by this tedious process ‒ time that should be spent on more important tasks.


This is why an ERP system equipped with CAD2BOM can be of great use to you. CAD2BOM (Computer-Aided Design to Bill of Materials) allows you to set up a process that automatically converts your 3D CAD models into a Bill of Materials and accurately lists all the components and data needed to manufacture a product , including quantities, component numbers and the name and role of suppliers involved.


CAD2BOM is essential for custom fabricators, as it ensures that the components used in the fabrication are accurately designated and are sufficientlyrecent. It ensures a direct link between product design and its manufacturing process. An ERP equipped with CAD2BOM reduces the risk of errors related to the use of a bad component or another that is no longer available. Designed to ensure tight control of the manufacturing process, CAD2BOM allows teams to validate each component and track its "status".


In addition to increasing accuracy and efficiency, CAD2BOM ensures close collaboration between engineering and manufacturing teams, with everyone having access to the same accurate and up-to-date information.


3, Rushed Development Cycles


Another frequently cited weakness in the Fast Radius survey is the rush of the development cycle. Indeed, 58% of respondents indicate that product development cycles have become too fast, which increases the pressure on engineers.


One way for bespoke manufacturers to alleviate this pressure is to implement concurrent engineering in their factories and workshops.


Concurrent engineering is an approach to product development that requires the simultaneous and synchronized work of teams from various departments in the design, development and validation of a product. Concurrent engineering reduces the time and cost to bring a product to market by eliminating bottlenecks and streamlining the development process.


ERPs that support concurrent engineering allow custom manufacturers to begin manufacturing (the first phase of a project) while they are already working on subsequent stages.


By allowing multiple aspects of a product to be worked on at the same time, concurrent engineering eases the pressure on engineers and reduces the time it takes to bring a product to market. What's more, it enables manufacturers to innovate more by bringing together interdisciplinary teams ‒ and their ideas ‒ in the development process.


Finally, factories and workshops that use concurrent engineering can reduce the rate of rework and delays, which further reduces costs, as potential problems are identified and resolved early in the development process.


4, Inaccurate Data


Data inaccuracy is another pain point for engineers, as inconsistent or inaccurate data can cause errors and slowdowns in design and manufacturing processes. Without a centralized source of up-to-date information, engineers make decisions based on inaccurate or outdated data, leading to rework, rework, delays, or worse, the manufacturing of products or faulty components.


To work well, engineers must have access to real-time information (in English) on the progress of projects, the availability of resources and the management of materials and materials. To this end, ERP systems provide them with a centralized data warehouse, giving them the overview they need to make informed decisions. With this single source of "truth" for a company's data, everyone, including the engineering department, can access the same information in real time, reducing the risk of misunderstandings and errors caused by old or incorrect information.


Finally, ERPs with features and functionality tailored to engineering activities, such as CAD2BOM or concurrent engineering, help ensure that everyone on a plant or manufacturing floor is on the same wavelength. For example, CAD2BOM ensures that every BOM is accurate and up-to-date, improving collaboration between design and manufacturing teams, while reducing the risk of manufacturing errors.


With their centralized platform of data available in real time, ERP systems help custom manufacturers streamline their operations, reduce the risk of errors and improve their overall performance.


5, Quality issues


Quality issues are another area of concern for engineers who are dedicated to custom manufacturing. Many Fast Radius survey respondents listed poor component quality as one of their most pressing challenges.


Ensuring consistent quality in the manufacturing process can be a challenge, as often defects appear in the absence of proper quality control measures.


ERP systems provide a centralized database that can be used to track and control the quality of raw materials, components, and finished products. Manufacturers can thus detect and correct quality problems. early in the process, reducing the risk of defects and increasing customer satisfaction. An ERP with a good quality management system (QMS) helps custom manufacturers increase quality and reduce non-conformance costs. It’s about having a proven quality control system in place from the start. For example, manufacturers can use their QMS to verify/inspect the quality of components from their suppliers as soon as they receive them.


ERPs that support concurrent engineering can also help custom manufacturers improve the quality of their products by bringing together specialists from multiple disciplines in the development process. Concurrent engineering ensures that all aspects of a product are considered and validated, which more often than not enhances the quality of the final product.


Another advantage of ERP systems is that they provide real-time data on production processes, allowing manufacturers to recognize and correct quality issues in real time. In short, ERPs make it possible to store and manage data and information that are used in particular to identify opportunities for continuous improvement in the quality of products and processes. Manufacturers can thus constantly raise the quality of everything that comes out of their production line, which increases their competitiveness and the satisfaction of their customers.


Make sure your ERP is built for engineers


Engineering issues can harm the operations of custom fabrication factories and shops by reducing their efficiency and output, which ultimately reduces their competitiveness. A good ERP ‒ a system specifically designed for manufacturing activities ‒ streamlines and automates design and manufacturing processes and improves communication and collaboration. By equipping themselves with a quality ERP, custom manufacturers can become more efficient, more productive, and more agile, as such a system mitigates engineering issues that slow down projects and extend delivery times.


For more reasons why engineers need an ERP, check out our Back to Basics – ERP for Engineers blog.