We talk to a lot of small manufacturing firms. Many of them are still using spreadsheets to track inventory, plan their bill of materials (BOM), and schedule production. These manufacturers are looking for a better way to get stuff done, but they don’t have an appetite for expensive ERP systems. To help manufacturers that are ready to leave the world of spreadsheets and manual processes behind, we put together this guide on small business manufacturing software.
What constitutes software for a “small business?” We drew the line at vendors that serve manufacturers with $10 million or less in annual revenue. From there, we narrowed our analysis down to five manufacturing software products and dug in. Here are the five vendors that made the cut.
Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition (Epicor Express) debuted in May of 2010 and has quickly garnered the attention of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as a cost-effective solution. The system is a full-suite offering that can handle finances, CRM, MRP, SCM, among others. The product is offered only through software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment. This means the software is hosted by Epicor and accessed through a web browser. Buyers will pay a subscription price and won’t have to purchase the server hardware to run the system. We like Epicor Express because it gives manufacturers flexible accounting options and room to grow. For manufacturers that outgrow the system, Epicor has a long line of products that can serve manufacturers of any size.
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Since it’s founding in 1984, Exact JobBOSS has grown from a small garage-based operation into one of the most popular manufacturing systems in the world. As the name might suggest, JobBOSS is a system specialized for job shop management, and is best suited for contract, make-to-order, and mixed mode manufacturers. Exact JobBOSS excels at handling machining, sheet metal fabrication, spring shops, and machine builders. The system is available in three different versions (Starter, Professional, and Enterprise) with each consecutive version adding a layer of sophistication. For example, the Starter version will include MRP and MES while the Enterprise version will include lean manufacturing capabilities such as meeting Six Sigma quality management requirements. The system is available either as SaaS or on-premise and is an attractive option due to its ability to integrate with Quickbooks.
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Fishbowl Inventory has been an Intuit Gold Partner for the last decade and is now the most requested Quickbooks inventory solution. The system is popular among both manufacturers and distributors that use Quickbooks for their financials but need to get a better handle on their inventories. The software is used by small manufacturers as well as those with over $100 million in revenue. The system covers an impressive number of industries and comes complete with asset management, MRP, MES, SCM, and supplier management. The system also supports inventory processes such as barcoding and cycle counting. The software is available both as an on-premise solution and web-enabled, meaning that the database is kept on site but can be accessed through a web browser.
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Consona’s lower-end manufacturing option, Intuitive ERP, is the choice of over 800 small to midsized manufacturers across more than 20 countries. The system is a feature-rich offering that contains functionality for MRP, CRM, BI, and financial accounting as well as other functions. Manufacturers that need human resources (HR) or asset management features can obtain the applications from one of Consona’s partners. The system is built on the Microsoft .NET technology and has a user friendly interface that makes it a solid choice for companies installing their first ERP system. Although the system is only offered through on-premise, Consona does offer subscription pricing to make the system more affordable.
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MISys is a great manufacturing system that manages the shop floor operations of more than 7,000 manufacturers across the globe. MISys is ideal for manufacturers that currently run a separate accounting package (e.g. Sage Peachtree or Simply Accounting) and are looking for a manufacturing add-on. The system contains functionality for MRP, MES, SCM, and supplier management. One unique thing about MISys is the ability to add modules to the system as they are needed. For example, a basic manufacturing package can be upgraded to include serial and lot tracking or advanced planning modules. Like Intuitive ERP, this system is also built on Microsoft .NET and is formatted to reflect the common look and feel of Microsoft documents.
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Which Systems Serve Your Manufacturing Mode?
It’s important to select software that supports your mode of manufacturing. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck trying to adapt your software to business processes it wasn’t designed to handle. Here’s a look at the modes of manufacturing supported by each product.
|Configure to Order|
|Make to Order|
|Engineer to Order|
Which Systems Serve Your Industry?
Industry support should be similarly evaluated when selecting the right software. The chart below provides a breakdown of the industries served by each solution.
|Food & Beverage|
|Petroleum/Oil & Gas|
|Wire & Cable|
Which Systems Offer the Applications You Need?
The final area to consider is the functionality of the system. Most manufacturing software will have features for material requirements planning (MRP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) with some form of supply chain management (SCM). Some will incorporate accounting, customer relationship management (CRM), and business intelligence (BI) features. To help sort through the available features, we created this chart as a quick review of product functionality.
|Material Requirements Planning|
|Manufacturing Execution Systems|
|Supply Chain Management|
|Product Lifecycle Management|
|Customer Relationship Management|