The complex nature of custom manufacturing means there are many different processes where engineering pain points can arise. A recent survey by Fast Radius asked 250 custom manufacturers to identify their biggest engineering pain points that hold back their shops: At the top of the list was lack of communication, quality issues, and rushed development cycles. Other pain points engineers deal with on a daily basis are inefficient processes that cause wasted time and inaccurate data.
But there is a way to alleviate these pain points.
An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system provides a centralized database and helps improve communication, manage data, and optimize processes — making it easier for engineers to do their jobs. By using an ERP, manufacturers can improve the efficiency, quality, and overall competitiveness of their operations.
1. Lack of Communication
The number one pain point cited by engineers in the Fast Radius survey was a lack of communication. All too often, within custom manufacturing organizations, different departments work in isolation, leading to a lack of collaboration and communication. Poor communication between departments and teams can not only slow down the production process, but can also cause errors and inefficiencies.
But ERPs can help.
ERP systems break down communication silos by integrating information and processes across an entire organization. ERPs provide custom manufacturers with the tools their teams need to collaborate on projects, assignments, and tasks: For example, engineers can use ERP systems to track project progress, share design files, and communicate with other key departments.
ERPs also act as a single source of truth for an organization’s data, allowing everyone to access the same information in real time, eliminating the risk of misunderstandings or errors due to outdated or inaccurate information.
Lack of communication doesn’t just exist within an organization, but it can also exist between custom manufacturers and their outside stakeholders. ERPs alleviate these communication issues by making it easier for custom manufacturers to communicate with their customers, partners, and vendors. By gathering all client data in one place, ERPs make interacting and communicating with customers easier. Instead of a slow back-and-forth between customers and the engineering and design department, ERPs enable a streamlined communication process. ERPs can also provide an efficient portal for all vendor communications, making it easier to interact with suppliers, and ensure quality parts are delivered on time.
2. Inefficient Processes
Too many custom manufacturers still rely on manual, paper, or Excel-based processes, which are time-consuming, error-prone, and difficult to manage.
ERP systems help custom shops to standardize business processes across their organization, ensuring that everyone follows the same procedures, which reduces the risk of confusion or misunderstandings and makes it easier for teams to work together effectively. ERP systems can also automate many business processes — reducing the risk of errors and increasing efficiency.
One of the most inefficient processes (and biggest time-wasters for engineers) within a custom shop is manually transferring a BOM from their CAD system to their ERP. Up to 20% of engineering time — time that should be devoted to other, more important tasks — is taken up by this tedious process.
But an ERP system equipped with CAD2BOM can help. CAD2BOM (Computer-Aided Design to Bill of Materials) is a process that automatically converts 3D CAD models into a bill of materials (BOM), providing an accurate list of all the components required to manufacture a product, including the quantities, part numbers, and suppliers.
The CAD2BOM process is critical for custom manufacturers as it ensures that the components used in manufacturing are accurate and up-to-date: It provides a direct link between the product design and the manufacturing process. An ERP equipped with CAD2BOM reduces the risk of errors, such as using the wrong component or using a part that is no longer available. CAD2BOM gives better control over the manufacturing process, as it allows teams to track and monitor the status of each component.
CAD2BOM not only improves accuracy and efficiency, but it also enables better collaboration between the engineering and manufacturing teams, as everyone has access to the same accurate and up-to-date information.
3. Rushed Development Cycles
Another highly cited pain point in Fast Radius’s survey was a rushed development cycle: Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe that product development cycles are getting too fast, placing a growing amount of pressure on engineers.
One way custom manufacturers can help alleviate the pressure on engineers is to implement concurrent engineering in their shops.
Concurrent engineering is a product development approach that involves multiple disciplines working together simultaneously to design, develop, and validate a product. The goal of concurrent engineering is to reduce the time and cost required to bring a product to market by eliminating bottlenecks and streamlining the development process.
ERPs that allow for concurrent engineering enable custom manufacturers to start manufacturing the first phase of a project while they are still engineering later stages of the project.
By working on different aspects of a product simultaneously, concurrent engineering relieves pressure on engineers and reduces the time it takes to bring a product to market. Concurrent engineering also helps custom shops be more innovative by integrating teams from other disciplines — and their ideas — into the development process.
Custom shops that implement concurrent engineering can also lower costs, as concurrent engineering helps organizations avoid the costs associated with rework and delays, as potential issues are identified and resolved early in the development process.
4. Inaccurate Data
Inaccurate data is another huge pain point for engineers, as inconsistent or incorrect data can lead to errors and slowdowns in both the design and manufacturing processes. Without a centralized and up-to-date source of information, engineers must make decisions based on inaccurate or outdated data — leading to reworks, missed deadlines, or even worse, defective products.
To do their jobs well, engineers need access to real-time information about project status, resource availability, and materials management. ERP systems provide engineers with a centralized data repository, giving them the visibility they need to make informed decisions. As a single source of truth for an organization’s data, everyone, including the engineering department, can access the same information in real time, reducing the risk of misunderstandings or mistakes brought on by old or incorrect information.
ERPs equipped with engineering-specific features and functionalities, like CAD2BOM or concurrent engineering, also help to ensure that everyone in a custom shop is on the same page. For example, CAD2BOM ensures that every BOM is accurate and up-to-date, enabling better collaboration between the design and manufacturing teams and reducing the risk of errors in the manufacturing process.
By providing a centralized platform for real-time data, ERP systems can help custom manufacturers streamline their operations, reduce the risk of errors, and improve overall performance.
5. Quality Issues
Quality issues are also another area that plagues engineers. Many in the Fast Radius survey cited poor part quality as one of the most pressing custom manufacturing challenges for engineers.
Ensuring consistent quality in the manufacturing process can be challenging, and defects can occur if quality control measures are not in place.
ERP systems provide a centralized database that can be used to track and monitor the quality of raw materials, components, and finished products. This allows manufacturers to detect and correct quality issues early in the process, reducing the risk of defects and increasing customer satisfaction. An ERP equipped with a good quality management system (QMS) can help custom manufacturers improve quality and reduce non-conformance costs by implementing quality control right from the start: For example, manufacturers can use their QMS to inspect parts from their vendors when they receive them to ensure they are using quality components.
ERPs that allow for concurrent engineering can also help custom manufacturers to improve quality: By involving multiple disciplines in the development process, concurrent engineering ensures that all aspects of a product are considered and validated, leading to a higher-quality final product.
ERP systems also provide real-time data about production processes, enabling manufacturers to identify and correct quality issues in real-time. They can also provide data and insights that can be used to identify opportunities for continuous improvement in the quality of products and processes. This helps manufacturers to constantly improve the quality of their products, increasing customer satisfaction and competitiveness.
Make Sure Your ERP Is Built for Engineers
Engineering pain points can hold back custom manufacturing shops, reducing their efficiency and output and ultimately causing them to be less competitive. A good quality manufacturing-specific ERP streamlines and automates design and manufacturing processes and enhances communication and collaboration. Armed with a good ERP system, custom manufacturers can become more efficient, productive, and agile — and will alleviate the engineering pain points that can slow down projects and impact delivery timelines.
To find out more reasons why engineers need an ERP, check out our blog Back to Basics – ERP for Engineers.
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