By manually generating manufacturing drawings, routings and bills of materials, businesses are overlooking a huge opportunity to reduce cost and lead-times, eliminate errors and deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Mention automation and almost everyone will think of a physical piece of equipment, most probably a robot – a spot-welder on an automotive assembly line, the waste collecting star of Disney’s hit movie Wall-E or the entertainment androids that populate HBO’s Westworld series.

Relatively few people currently associate automation with software. For those working in manufacturing, the reason for this apparent disconnect is relatively straightforward.

When faced with issues such as lengthening lead-times, rising costs or production bottlenecks, the obvious place for a business to focus its attention is on the factory floor and investing in a piece of new kit.

Yet, this focus ignores a crucial step in the process… how the order reached the factory in the first place.

Enquire, configure, quote, make

More often than not, someone in your sales team will receive or develop an enquiry and use a combination of brochures, samples and product demos to define the users’ requirements. They might also lean on their engineering colleagues for more in-depth technical support.

Costing these requirements and generating a quote is likely to be a manual process using tools such as spreadsheets, word docs and PDF templates, all before having to re-key all this information into your ERP system once the order has been won.

From start to finish, the process is time-consuming and highly vulnerable to the introduction of errors via outdated price lists or catalogs, old templates, data-entry errors. Further time is wasted on non-value-added tasks such as creating the bill-of-materials (BOMs), routings and manufacturing drawings – all of which can, and should be, automated.

“Unfortunately, it’s extremely common in manufacturing companies for BOMs and drawings to be manually created or a previous, similar project, copied and modified for each new order received,” explains Jon Lidbury, director of EMEA for Configure One, a world-leader in CPQ (configure, price, quote) software.

Spiraling risk

The intrinsic risk with such a manual process comes from increasing product complexity and the significant workload often placed upon the teams building these manufacturing outputs, he continues.

“As products become more complex and configurable, the automation of these repetitive tasks is critical to avoid manufacturing mistakes and reduce the workload on stretched resources,” Jon adds.

Manufacturer’s rarely cost the time involved in the manual creation of these ERP items and the inherent risk in transcribing the data from one system to another manually.

“If companies don’t take the initiative and start automating the creation of manufacturing related data, costs will likely increase, and customer satisfaction will reduce due to longer lead-times and manufacturing errors.

“An important and often overlooked result of resources being overloaded is the employee satisfaction and the inherent risk of losing important people due to the continued pressure to react quickly.

“The knock-on effect spirals as more work is handed over to existing staff or new, untrained employees who take on the workload, leading to more errors and customer dissatisfaction.”

More than just time savings

Automating the production of outputs such as BOMs, routings and engineering drawings significantly compresses the time from creating the quote to the start of manufacturing – typically from days or weeks to hours or minutes.

“Our customers tell us that lead-time reduction is one of the most significant benefits they have recognised using Configure One,” says Jon.

“It’s not uncommon for a Configure One customer to convert a quote to an order and a CNC machine starts cutting, welding or bending immediately off the back of an output created by the configuration process.

“The added benefit of these manufacturing outputs being more accurate is that your customer satisfaction becomes measurably increased.”

Constant evolution

Another important advantage is the automatic integration of data into a company’s manufacturing solution the instant a sales order is created.

“A key evolution of the Configure One CPQ solution is that more information is being made available to downstream systems earlier in the processes,” Jon explains.

“Quote data, real-time sales orders, material masters, BOMs and routings are being directly integrated into ERP and CRM systems for immediate downstream processing, production scheduling and production orders.

“This allows sales managers to analyse the data, determine trends and, by better defining workflows, increased the productivity of their sales teams across the globe.”

Additionally, by incorporating business intelligence (BI) tools, senior management can gain a detailed understanding of the end-to-end lifecycle from quote to delivery, enabling intelligent management decisions to be made on product variants sold right the way through to delivery performance, he adds.

Originally posted by The Manufacturer