Image: Nash assembly line, 1951, by Alden Jewell, CC license

Maintenance and maintenance parts are two other manufacturing sub-categories where the software market offers several competitive alternatives. This category is referred to as CMMS, or Computerized Maintenance Management Systems. These systems keep track of maintenance schedules for equipment, tell you when parts have to be ordered, manage vendor contacts and accounts, manage your parts inventory, and integrate to your financial systems to record parts expense and value of the parts on the balance sheet.

Like many software categories, parts and maintenance management has vendors that range from the big players to firms that offer free downloads and desktop versions. SAP, Oracle, and JD Edwards all have established offerings in this category.

Here, my advice is to select something close to home; meaning a vendor who is either your ERP vendor or a well-known and established software company. The reason is that maintenance is usually a non-critical function, and doesn’t warrant a lot of integration and customization work. It’s possible to get by for years using spreadsheets or vendor catalogs or other tools.

The ROI for this type of application usually comes from saving administrative time in keeping track of maintenance schedules and keying purchase orders and receipts for parts into your financial or ERP system. Manufacturing applications are no different from other software in that they need data to deliver the benefits they offer. That means someone has to key this data in, unless the software is getting data from a connection to another application.

Purchase orders, part numbers, receipts, parts usage, and lots of other data have to be entered or uploaded into a maintenance management application. This is one of the downfalls of software, not unique to manufacturing applications but maybe more prevalent in that category because the manufacturing floor is not the place you normally have the people who enter data: the quality, accuracy, and timeliness of the software’s output is directly correlated to the quality, accuracy, and timeliness of the data going into the application.

A maintenance management or parts management application will also change your internal ways of working. The software can’t read your mind; it only knows what you tell it. If your work force is sloppy about entering data or about workflow procedures like scanning parts into and out of the system, you won’t get much but headaches from the application.