The emergence of platforms-as-a-service (PaaS) for the manufacturing sector is creating new possibilities in the way manufacturing applications are developed, distributed and consumed.
PaaS is a big deal for manufacturers because it lowers the barriers to entry for third-party developers to create applications that tackle specific manufacturing problems.
By building applications on top of widely-used platforms like NetSuite’s SuiteCloud, developers bypass long development cycles because the PaaS vendor has already done most of the underlying engineering work.
According to Brian Sommer, Founder of Vital Analysis, manufacturers benefit from PaaS because they can:
- Upgrade manufacturing add-ons before their vendor releases.
- Purchase a wide diversity of apps that are designed to be interoperable.
- Get third-party developers to quickly build highly customized solutions.
Additionally, the relative ease and speed of PaaS application development allows developers to sell the apps to manufacturers at affordable price points, typically on a subscription basis.
In this article, I’ll profile three apps helping manufacturers take advantage of the PaaS opportunity: Just Enough (a demand planning app), Arena PLM (a product lifecycle management app), and RootStock (a material requirements planning app).
Manufacturing Apps Built on PaaS
For now, the target audience for PaaS applications are smaller manufacturers because there are still computing and integration limitations that make it difficult to run complex manufacturing operations in the Cloud. However, large and complex manufacturers can still find value from point Cloud solutions or running Cloud ERP in subsidiary locations.
JustEnough is a demand planning solution offered on the SuiteCloud platform and can extend functionality of NetSuite Manufacturing Edition. It allows manufacturers to forecast demand, plan inventory and improve replenishment schedules.
The demand forecasting module helps manufacturers better understand future demand by running 17 competing algorithms to determine which algorithm best fits the manufacturer’s product and location. After determining the best-fit algorithm, JustEnough compares the forecast against historical demand to create a more accurate demand schedule.
Screenshot of demand forecast from JustEnough
Why it’s important: Given today’s market volatility, manufacturers need a way to forecast demand and adjust production accordingly. This prevents manufacturers from making the costly mistake of carrying too much or too little inventory. While demand planning is nothing new, the ability to easily connect a demand planning app to a Cloud-based manufacturing solution is. Moreover, the JustEnough app provides an affordable way for manufacturers to access an application that’s historically been out of reach.
Arena’s PLM application is built on SuiteCloud, the ByDesign platform and Force.com. Arena allows manufacturers to monitor and control their production all the way from item-level management to supplier collaboration and compliance tracking.
Arena gives manufacturers a more rounded view of their production cycle. With this functionality, manufacturers can track items from the supplier, collaboratively manage supplier availability, and track certificates to ensure final products comply with regulations such as ISO 9001.
Screenshot of bill of materials (BOM) management screen from Arena Solutions
Why it’s important: Gartner recently reported that PLM will be an area of increasing adoption among small- and medium-sized manufacturers. Much like demand planning software, small- and mid-market manufacturers have historically shied away from PLM because of the large investment. Arena changes a product that could cost thousands to get up and running to one that is priced as low as $49/month for basic functionality. Of course, more complex features require larger investments.
Rootstock is an on-demand MRP application built using SuiteCloud and Force.com. Rootstock is notable for being one of the first software-as-a-service MRP solutions available on the market. Rootstock’s MRP offering helps manufacturers plan supply needs by taking sales orders and demand forecasts and balancing them against current inventory levels. The supply plan helps manufacturers determine what to make versus what to buy, and the timeframe to do it in.
Screenshot of required materials list from Roostock’s MRP application.
Why it matters: MRP is the core of any manufacturing program, so Rootstock’s MRP app doesn’t necessarily extend the functionality of manufacturing software. However, because it’s built using PaaS, Rootstock can release new and improved iterations at a much faster rate than traditional vendors that require you to install upgraded software. Once a new version is ready, every customer can immediately “turn on” the new MRP solution. It’s also much easier for third-party developers — and potentially manufacturers — to modify the application to fit a particular production scenario.
We're Only at the Beginning
Each of these products makes it easier and cost-effective for manufacturers to hire developers to build manufacturing functionality they need. And we’re only starting to see what PaaS is capable of accomplishing. As Brandon George, consultant at IDB Solutions notes, “the ultimate goal is to create the app store mentality” where an ecosystem develops apps at the scale that Apple has accomplished–which has more than 500,000 apps available today.
In the same way that Apple has extended the usefulness of iOS, PaaS can expand the usefulness of manufacturing software by making it easier to customize and extend core manufacturing capabilities. As Sommer put it, with PaaS, “you’re no longer buying today’s functionality, you’re buying what can be envisioned tomorrow.”
Thumbnail image created by Karin Dalziel.