Custom Software Development for Manufacturing Company: How to Build and How It Helps
At first glance, mobile and web technologies don’t seem vital for manufacturing companies. That’s why some businesses underestimate the importance of custom manufacturing software development. Yet, the after-COVID reality shows us that things are quite different.
The PWC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey puts it quite clearly. The key idea behind their report on industrial manufacturing trends 2020 is as follows:
As economies slow, industrial manufacturing (IM) leaders will need to resize the enterprise to meet realistic levels of future demand. They must focus — perhaps now more than ever — on creating agility, which will enable them to pivot and adapt to the constantly changing conditions on the ground. This can be achieved by strengthening technological capabilities across functions, reorganising global supply chains and building a workforce with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) skill sets.
Talking of specific fields and numbers, PWC’s research provides us with the following info*:
- 34% of CEOs prioritized the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the nearest future;
- 37% focus at first place on predictive maintenance;
- 43% of IM CEOs are planning to improve their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems using technologies;
- finally, 69% acknowledged that the increasing complexity and danger of cyber threats push them to rethink their cybersecurity strategies, from the tech perspective as well.
*they could choose a few answers so numbers don’t make up 100%.
Another source of thrilling data on industrial automation software development is the 2018 Global Digital Operations Study. Its key findings are:
|📊 Insight||💡 What it means to your business|
|Only 10% of global manufacturing companies have already implemented a broad digital strategy. At the same time, ⅔ haven’t even started it yet.||By building custom solutions software for your manufacturing business you can still get ahead of the competition and provide yourself with an “unfair advantage”.|
|While about 20% of manufacturing companies in Asia have deeply introduced digital products and services, the share of such companies is less in the Americas (11%) and in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (5%). This leads to an expected 17% growth in digital revenue in Asia compared to 13% in other regions.||If your business is located in the Americas, Africa, Europe and Middle East, introducing new digital products and solutions may provide you with higher revenue growth compared to competitors. At the same time, it may help to deal with the COVID-lockdown consequences.|
|Over 50% of revenues in companies that deeply implemented digitization comes from digitally enhanced or purely digital products and services.||Digital products and services can be deeply integrated into your existing process to enhance them in different ways: reduce expenses, increase revenue, get new customers and improve their LTV, etc.|
However, the real reason why more and more companies build custom manufacturing software is not that they’re participating in a made-up competition. Actually, it provides them with many benefits on different levels.
Let’s take a closer look!
👍 Why Companies Invest to Build a Custom Manufacturing Software?
Manufacturing companies use custom software for a wide range of different purposes. If we try to describe it with one sentence,
companies develop software for the manufacturing industry to enhance existing processes and introduce new ones
|📈 Enhancing an existing process||🚀 Introducing a new one|
|A manufacturing company used an outdated approach to employee management. The info on attendance, vacation, and sick days, total work time, and schedules would be managed manually and through different apps.
Now admins can access this info in a single system. Moreover, it automatically adjusts to any schedule changes and calculates the payroll amount based on worked hours.
|A manufacturing company had no holistic approach to equipment maintenance. It would repair it after breaks and replace it when repair is no longer a better option.
The company decided to introduce a predictive maintenance system. Based on the data from equipment sensors, managers can now foresee equipment breakdowns and take actions before it happens. Eventually, it significantly cuts maintenance expenses.
The advantage of custom software development and lean manufacturing is that it’s applicable in many cases. It also works for both digital novices and companies that have already implemented some digital practices. Eventually, it provides businesses with the following benefits:
- Companies can increase their revenue and reduce expenses by increasing their overall efficiency.
- Business owners and managers can access all the data in real-time. It empowers them to make proactive decisions and easily spot any changes or errors.
- Automate routine tasks to free a lot of time for your employees. Instead, they’ll be able to focus on something really important.
- Lower or eliminate human errors with the help of sensors, devices, AI and ML-algorithms.
- Avoid bottlenecks and effectively deal with unforeseen situations.
But is there an actual need to create custom software for a manufacturing company instead of using a ready-made solution? Let’s take a look at both cases!
👨💻 Сustom Manufacturing Software Development vs Ready-Made Tools
Let’s start with the key idea of this paragraph:
Different approaches fit different cases and needs.
Thus, we won’t try to convince you that custom software development and lean manufacturing is always better than using SaaS (software as a service; on-demand software) or vice versa.
Instead, let’s see how different they are and what the best cases for each approach are.
How does a solution match your business needs?
There are many reasons why you may want to develop software for the manufacturing industry. For example, to manage relationships with your customers, get better control and transparency over your warehouse, make calculations, or improve the logistics system.
Sometimes your business needs may be quite generic and typical — like integrating a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. In other cases, you may face some very special needs — like to use Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technologies to detect manufacturing flaws and early identify the need for maintenance.
Ready-made SaaS solutions try to cover the most common cases as they aim to get as many users as possible. Thus, more narrow and special requirements mean fewer chances to find the needed tool.
If you need a tool to manage or enhance unique processes, it’s next to impossible to find a ready-made software that will perfectly match your needs.
Now you may easily guess that it’s reasonable to make custom software for manufacturing companies if you want a tool that aligns the best with your needs and business processes. To put it simply: it will have everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Which solution makes you more independent?
When using SaaS solutions you’ll be dependent on the company behind it. This is not always something bad but you should be aware of a few things:
- They may introduce changes you don’t like. It may be anything: from increasing subscription price to disabling a feature that is not very popular among all the users but is quite important to you.
- They may stop supporting the platform at all. Things like that happen for many reasons. For example, it may be not as profitable and perspective as they expected it to be. Or they may sell it to a bigger competitor that will eliminate it as a separate product and make a part of their own product or service.
- Questionable data safety. If all your data is staying on their servers and you have no possibility to build a cybersecurity system as you see it, then your data may be stolen and there’ll be little chances to do something about it.
Custom software development and lean manufacturing make you totally independent. You’re the only one to decide what features to implement and support or how you’re going to protect your data. On the other hand, it also puts all the responsibility on you.
Which solution works faster/better?
The exact answer to this question depends on the quality of each particular product.
In general, custom software for a manufacturing company usually shows better performance than ready-made solutions. Why is it so?
Off-the-shelf tools aren’t customized for your business. Thus, they include things like redundant features, optimization for devices that you don’t use — it increases the amount of required space and load times, decreasing the performance. Yet, the difference may be not that dramatic.
However, the performance gap will grow as you compare more and more complicated technologies and features.
By the way, the contrary situation is also possible — a SaaS solution may be not very well optimized for your devices, resulting in poorer performance than you’ve expected.
⏳ Time to implement
Which solution can be implemented quicker?
Ready-made solutions definitely take less time to be implemented. All you have to do is pay, download and install the app or even start using it right away in the browser.
The time to build a custom manufacturing software depends on its type, required features and technologies, size of the development team, etc. Thus, it can possibly take from a few weeks to several months or even more.
What solution is cheaper?
Based on what we’ve already said, you may correctly guess that SaaS is usually cheaper, especially from the short-term perspective. It usually utilizes one out of these 2 payment models:
- A subscription-based model in which you can use the software as long as you make monthly or annual payments.
- One-time payment to buy a lifetime license.
Some SaaS solutions may offer you both options while others can leave you with no choice.
The cost to make custom software for manufacturing and tracking will greatly vary on the set of features, its complexity, needed technologies, etc. Yet, in general, these costs are usually higher than a lifetime license since the product is built solely for you and perfectly adjusted to your needs.
Also, when it comes to the subscription-based model, it may be more reasonable to pay for a custom solution once then use non-custom one for years and spend the same amount of money.
Let’s briefly sum up key findings:
|🚀 Scalability||Perfectly matches your needs and existing processes. Can include very special features that are essential to your business.||Covers the most common cases faced by companies in your industry. Can be customized to a limited extent.|
|🔀 Flexibility||Makes you completely independent in terms of supported features, security, UI/UX design, etc.||You depend on the rules set by the company that’s developed and sold you this product.|
|🔋 Performance||Fully adapted to your devices which makes it work perfectly.||Usually works well but the chance of performance issues is higher.|
|⏳ Time||Takes some time since it’s developed from scratch.||Ready to use right away or after installation.|
|💰 Price||The exact price varies but is usually more expensive than SaaS solutions.||Usually cheaper than custom software but in a long-term run may be less profitable.|
At this stage, we usually provide our readers with a description of typical features to include and some tips on how to do it better. However, the number of possible apps in this industry is huge.
Depending on whether you’d like to make custom software for manufacturing and tracking, or planning and scheduling, managing your warehouse, the list of key features will greatly change. Thus, we’ll review a few cases from different fields to show what types of manufacturing software you can build.
🗂 Manufacturing Software Сases: What Can It Do?
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System 🗃
ERP System is one of the most complex and comprehensive solutions. This is the digital heart of your company — a platform that allows you to collect and view data from different departments as well as manage their work.
It may consist of different parts like:
- inventory management tools;
- planning & scheduling functionality;
- production management system;
- employees management panel;
- tracking & logistics tools;
- QA and other systems.
You may think of ERP software for the manufacturing industry as a platform that lets you access and manage this data in a nice visual form. However, the parts of the ERP System may work well as separate applications.
Other few concepts that you'll meet when reading about industrial automation software development are:
|🤖 Artificial Intelligence (AI)||The ability of software to analyze big amounts of data and make reasonable-decisions. This technology is strongly linked to Machine Learning algorithms.||A system that automatically assigns goods for delivery based on truck’s load, departure time, route, etc.|
|🧠 Machine Learning (ML)||The ability of software to automatically learn and improve from experience without human intervention.||A system that predicts electricity usage, its costs and suggests ways to optimize it based on how your company has been using electricity so far.|
|🌐 Internet of Things (IoT)||The network of physical devices that have all the capabilities to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet.||The set of sensors that tracks temperature and humidity in the warehouse.|
|🧰 Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)||Interconnected sensors and devices that are used specifically in manufacturing or industrial processes.||Sensors that analyze the condition of equipment and other machinery to notify you of the need for maintenance.|
Yet, developing a custom manufacturing ERP software doesn’t mean that you have to implement all the features it can possibly have. Custom development is actually called custom because it lets you focus on what is most important for ou business right now. Thus, you can build a separate application that will deal with a specific problem. Take a look at a few examples!
Tracking Machinery and Assets 📡
Your manufacturing business probably deals with movable machinery, tools or assets. It may be anything: from equipment that can be used by different employees to things that you need to regularly move between a warehouse, factory and shop floors.
If you make custom software for manufacturing and tracking, you’ll be able to know the exact location of equipment, components and goods. It’ll help you to quickly find it when needed or track its movement around the site.
Here's an explanation of how it works:
Such an app will also prevent losing tools and equipment if you take it to perform some work outside of your territory.
From the tech perspective, it’s implemented with the help of special sensors. Most likely — RFID tags.
|📡 Asset Tracking | Case Study|
|Freightliner provides us with a great example of custom manufacturing software development for asset tracking. The company is one of the leading manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks in North America. They’ve used RFID tags to track inventory replenishment at their factory in Portland, Oregon.
To enable production, they needed to move parts from the warehouse to the factory floor. The parts were put in inventory totes, then a few totes were loaded on a mobile tug and delivered to the production line. However, the tracking of parts in totes was done manually, took more time and required to process huge amounts of data.
To track transactions in and out of the inventory warehouse, they’ve put RFID tags on each tote and tug. Extra tags were placed on the ways from and to the warehouse.
When leaving or entering the warehouse, the tug’s tag would trigger an RFID reader to read all other tags passing. The tote’s tags would contain info on the number and type of parts inside. This data would be transferred to the Freightliner SQL database, making the whole process fully automated.
Such a system left no room for human error and help to save a lot of time on asset tracking.
Predictive Maintenance 🛠
The main goal of predictive maintenance technologies is to monitor the condition of in-service equipment and notify about the need for maintenance.
This approach replaces time-based preventive maintenance which leads to cost savings as the maintenance is only provided when warranted. It also helps to avoid unexpected accidents.
Building custom solutions software for the manufacturing of this type almost always involves the use of IIoT. That’s because it mainly relies on data from sensors. Then it’s analyzed by AI and Machine Learning technologies as well as your maintenance specialists which provides you with the most accurate results possible.
|🛠 Predictive Maintenance | Case Study|
|A Japanese automotive components manufacturer faced the problem of poor maintenance that also affected its productivity and uptime. They’ve decided to address the problem by developing custom manufacturing ERP software in the field of predictive maintenance.
To set up the IIoT system at the factory he used a network of camers and sensors. They were installed in tools, inspection equipment, cranes and other machinery to collect data on their condition and performance. On top of that, custom software analyzed different production variables to define how they impact productivity and quality.
As a result, they were able to dramatically cut the number of unexpected accidents. The overall maintenance costs also dropped as they’ve switched to keeping equipment in optimal condition rather than fixing broken machinery.
Due to the scalability of custom software for manufacturing companies, they were able to quickly implement the same system in their other factories as well.
Quality Assurance ✅
Quality Assurance Apps are another popular reason for manufacturing companies to start industrial automation software development. The high complexity of production lines, as well as request for perfect quality, makes QA extremely important to manufacturers of all sizes.
The main aim of such apps is to minimize scrap and returns, avoiding extra expenses on waste and ensuring the high quality of the products.
The QA system may consist of different parts like quality test plans and checklists, integration with sensors at capture points, etc.
|✅ Quality Assurance | Case Study|
|Quality assurance software can even be implemented in such specific industries as semiconductor development. A global leader in this field developed custom manufacturing ERP software to ensure a smooth QA process.
Before that, the QA issues were handled manually: quality engineers had to manually report all the details using the 8-step model. Thus, it took a lot of time and effort, created room for human errors, and increased response time to deal with the flaws.
On top of that, different business units had different approaches to QA processes. It made it difficult to enable experience sharing within the company and effectively deal with similar mistakes at different factories.
When building custom solutions software for the manufacturing system, they’ve focused on a few points:
• The new software would automatically put all reported flaws in one system, assigning a unique number, capturing the details of the problem and responsible quality engineer.
• Based on ML and AI algorithms, the system suggests the fastest and cheapest way to solve the issue.
• Info is shared between all locations, helping other departments of the company efficiently deal with the same flows based on this experience.
• The system also prepares dashboards and reports on different data like rate of repeat failures, root cause, current open quality issues, etc.
Such a system helped to streamline the QA process, putting everything in one place. Thus, it reduced the average issue resolution time and costs. Moreover, with deep insights at their hand, managers are able to proactively prevent future issues.
Production Scheduling and Planning 🗓
The manufacturing production process isn’t always streamlined and linear. It depends on the availability of materials and parts, equipment’s capabilities, demand, and so on.
Businesses design custom manufacturing planning software to make the process more predictable. It leads to reduced cycle times, minimized costs of wasted materials or overproduced goods, more accurate production reports and so on.
An example of such software is below:
Thus, when companies create custom manufacturing scheduling software they usually implement the following features:
- Forecasting and planning — manufacturing companies can determine the needed scope of materials, time, workforce, energy and other production factors to be used at different levels of demand.
- Risk management — by simulating “what-if” situations companies can discover their production capabilities under different circumstances.
- Material Requirements Planning (MRP) — helps organizations to calculate and predict the needed flow of raw materials and resources to meet the demand.
Very often companies also integrate their sales and order entry systems when design custom manufacturing planning software. It helps to automatically adjust production plans with real-time data, ensuring a more steady production flow.
|🗓 Production Scheduling and Planning | Case Study|
|Standard Process is a dietary supplement manufacturer from Palmyra, Wisconsin. The company’s been in the market for almost 90 years. During this time, Standard Process used Gantt charts and simple spreadsheets for production planning and scheduling.
Yet, as the demand grew, this approach was no longer efficient. To draft job schedules, employees would manually check inventories. Because of unforeseen constraints, the company would deal with bottlenecks.
The company decided to design custom manufacturing planning software. They’ve started by creating an ERP System that incorporated product, scheduling and inventory info. All the needed data now could be seen and managed in one app.
The system would accurately predict production capabilities and adjust the production process to any changes. Supervisors got greater visibility that empowered them to make proactive decisions in a changing environment. Overall, it provided them with better control over the whole production process as the data is updated in real-time.
Workforce Management & Monitoring 👨🏭
Development agencies like Stormotion make custom software for manufacturing companies not only to improve the performance of equipment and machinery. Another popular set of functionality is employee management.
The most obvious use case is to track employee attendance: when the come to work, how long they work, when they take breaks or leave. Such software is often integrated with physical key cards.
Companies create custom manufacturing scheduling software to manage employees’ work time and payments more efficiently.
It’s also possible to implement the same feature in the mobile app like in loyalty apps. From the tech perspective, it can be done with the help of NFC or QR-code scanning.
However, there are many more ways you can use the employee tracking feature. Since we’re talking about the development of ERP software for the manufacturing industry, apps can deal with special safety requirements.
Sensors of employee’s smartphones, fitness trackers and other variable devices can monitor his or her health. It will help to avoid or quickly deal with injuries due to falling from heights or hazards like freezing and overheating.
|👨🏭 Workforce Management | Case Study|
|Willerby is known as the largest manufacturer of lodges and holiday homes in the UK. The company employs over 1 000 people at the Head Office in Hull.
Previously their HR and workforce management system was built around manually filled timesheets. It took a lot of time to compile and process them in order to estimate the efficiency of workers and their monthly payroll.
Their first step was to build a custom manufacturing software that would integrate Time & Attendance, HR and Access Control functionality. Now the HR Team could easily access attendance & absence records as well as personal data in one system.
Also, the software would automatically generate weekly and monthly reports to show changes in performance, payments, working time and other parameters. On top of that, now admins can easily manage different levels of access, ensuring better security.
These were a few examples of features that can be either a part of your ERP or make up a standalone app. If you have an idea of an app that would help your manufacturing business but you aren't sure about its costs and feasibility — drop us a line and we'll see how we can help!
Moreover, this process is extremely flexible: you may develop software to deal with a very specific problem or create a big ERP platform to digitize all key processes in your company; at the same time, you may add new features to the existing system one by one, when you need them.
The software can help directly increase your profit by optimizing and speeding up production as well as improving the productivity of both employees and machinery. It also reduces your expenses that occur due to bottlenecks, wasted working hours of your employees or misplaced assets.
To make custom software for a manufacturing company you’ll need to find and hire a development team. This is how the process looks in short:
Want to get an estimate of how much can it cost to develop ERP software for the manufacturing industry? Or simply want experienced developers to take a look at your idea? Drop us a line and we’ll see how we can help!