Image: Coors Brewery, Golden Colorado, by David Fulmer, CC license

The job of manufacturing software in the modern economy is to keep track of production formulas, in terms of quantities and cost, enable production scheduling, calculate and report on efficiency measurements like machine utilization and percentage of wasted materials, and in some cases measure cost of goods sold.

These systems are usually linked to the core financial system. Subcategories include software to manage preventive maintenance schedules, spare parts inventory and ordering, and to manage and report on product defects and percentage compliance to quality standards, and labor management systems that track worker output and productivity.

One solution in this category is Oracle’s JD Edwards Enterprise One Manufacturing Management. The company’s web site claims the application “manages all manufacturing modes with a single enterprise-wide system where all manufacturing processes share common inventory, material, planning, purchasing, and financial databases.”

Manufacturing execution systems (MES), a subset of applications in the manufacturing sector, are applications that directly monitor and control the manufacturing process; for example, managing the dosing of different materials into a vat of formula, opening valves, operating PLCs (programmable logic controllers), and displaying real-time graphics of the different stages of production. These systems usually also calculate and display management-related indicators, such as cycles per second, minute, hour or day, pieces produced per man-hour, and percentage of material losses in the production process.

Wonderware is an MES software brand with a long history in real-time monitoring and control of manufacturing processes. The company is owned by UK firm Invensys, and claims more than 500,000 licenses sold in over 100,000 manufacturing plants around the world.

The company’s web site claims: “Wonderware is the market leader in real-time operations management software. Wonderware software delivers significant cost reductions associated with designing, building, deploying and maintaining secure and standardized applications for manufacturing and infrastructure operations. Our solutions enable companies to synchronize their production and industrial operations with business objectives, obtaining the speed and flexibility to attain sustained profitability.”

Wonderware’s customers include Chevron, Norfolk Railway, Nucor Steel, New Belgium Brewing Company, and Magna Automotive.

Another subset in manufacturing applications is shop floor management. These systems are used by contract manufacturers and companies that make to order specialty products. The software helps with estimating time and costs, managing schedules and resources, and coordinating material receipts and shipments.

E2 is a private company that claims to be “the authority on manufacturing software.” The firm’s web site states: “The E2 Shop System is comprehensive manufacturing software that puts total shop floor control at your fingertips. Designed just for job shops and make-to-order or contract manufacturers, E2 equips you to see your business like never before, and get the big picture on the best way to manage it.”

The ROI for these apps comes usually from basic cost control. Especially in complex manufacturing environments where many inputs and processes are involved, precisely recording machine time and materials consumed is essential to cost control. Small percentage reductions in losses or just knowing your true costs can more than pay back the investment in shop floor, MES, or other manufacturing software.