The case for engineering input on to-order software

Selecting and upgrading automation processes is a common problem for manufacturing managers. Making such changes in an environment where products are extensively engineered in pre-production to suit each client's order, as well as re-engineered to accommodate changes made by customers while the order is being produced, can be a nightmare.


Selecting and upgrading automation processes is a common problem for manufacturing managers. Making such changes in an environment where products are extensively engineered in pre-production to suit each client's order, as well as re-engineered to accommodate changes made by customers while the order is being produced, can be a nightmare.

Fortunately, the customized integrated platforms, control schematics, and control technologies inherent in to-order manufacturing become more distinct—and easier to understand and implement—when aided and coordinated in an Engineer-to-Order (ETO) manufacturing environment. Control schematics and workflow are critical to both design and production, especially when the design-to-production process is delivered incrementally, thereby putting control engineers on the front lines of potential engineer-to-order conflicts. Unfortunately, control engineers are often forgotten when it comes to developing, purchasing, and implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications, of which ETO is often a part.

Historically, ERP companies gained momentum from changes in the market, such as the emergence of client/server and UNIX technologies. During these changes, ERP software firms added customers in a range of industries, but then found their development resources stretched as they tried to keep customers happy. Likewise, their service and support personnel had to understand a broadening spectrum of business processes. The results have been long and expensive implementations, in which control engineers remain left out of the loop.

The Engineer-to-Order market includes ETO and several other related types of solutions usually discribed as Configure-to-Order (CTO), Assemble-to-Order (ATO) or Make-to-Stock (MTS).

"ETO manufacturers make one-off products strictly to customer specifications, and control engineers' input is vital to the industrial control technology," says Roger Meloy of Encompix Inc. (Cincinnati. OH), a provider of ETO ERP systems. "Too often the engineering staff is not consulted at all in this type of decision-making process. The focus is often placed on the planning side instead of the design and engineering side."

Project manufacturing clarifies ETO

Ultimately, the actual process of one-time (project) manufacturing involves a number of people, each responsible for part of the production process. Each control engineer may have an area of expertise to contribute, such as electrical, structural, software, mechanical, or industrial. These control engineers are going to be held accountable for the accuracy, costs, and timeliness of production, but are given little consideration when it comes to input on software tools and selection that can either help or hinder these processes.

Project manufacturing is a great way to understand ETO manufacturing because it literally goes against so many of the basic principles and standard applications on which manufacturing is based. Due to ETO's distinctions, you should not settle for an ETO solution that is really designed for Configure-to-Order (CTO), Assemble-to-Order (ATO) or Make-to-Stock (MTS).

The best advice is to:

  • View your ETO ERP vendor as a long-term partner, and choose a company that understands your needs and is willing to work with you;

  • Pay for the initial needs analysis, even if you select another vendor; and

  • Allow the entire control engineering staff to be involved in the decision-making process.

In addition, manufacturers need to understand that the upfront effort to select the correct ETO tools is vital to the cost-justification and return-on-investment that your company's CEO and CFO are seeking. One-of-a-kind products need not create repetitive manufacturing process headaches as long as control engineers are consulted during the design and development of automation processes.

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Author Information

Thomas R. Cutler, president and ceo TR Cutler Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, FL

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