I met with an Engineering team this week. As we sat in the conference room I could see the last of the fall leaves waving around in the fall breeze. Gazing out of the other window I saw rows and rows of tall wood bookcases filled with red binders. Each binder had the job number hand written using a black Sharpie. I enjoy getting out and talking to the SMB manufacturing community and hearing about their digital transformation projects. The topic today was engineering productivity.
The company was using one of the Dynamics ERP family. Fred, the engineering manager, got up to the white board to illustrate how they managed revisions to bills of material. He drew boxes for a third party add-ons, for ERP customizations, for Crystal Reports, for updating the purchasing and inventory control departments, for the SharePoint document manager and various Word Templates for Engineering Change requests and approvals.
By the time he finished the remaining leaves had all fallen from the trees outside. I glanced over to the very busy whiteboard. I entertained myself analyzing the potential productivity and quality implications of every connecting line. I tuned back in. Fred was explaining what happens when a customer calls in for a spare part. Customer service has to walk back into the rows of bookcases and track down the correct red binder. They flip through the binder to find the “as built” BOM and then write the part number down on a post it note. They return to their desk to look it up the part in the ERP system.
I’ve had dozens of teams walk me through similar tour-de-force workarounds.
I’m always fascinated listening to how engineering teams adapt to the missing revision control capabilities – a particular weakness that exists across the not only the entire Dynamics family of products (as of 2016) but many other ERP solutions as well. If you are a Dynamics partner please let me know if I understand this correctly.
Regardless of your business model – engineer to order, make to order, make to stock or all of the above you’ll need solid revision control. If your ERP software doesn’t have a a revision number on the part master, sales order and work order lines then you have a problem. This is fundamental concept supported by all CAD vendors. Pull up any CAD drawing you will see – a part number, the current revision and the date it was revised – a simple best practice concept.
Accepted engineering practice dictates that every change to an assembly’s bill of material triggers a revision increment. Part 123 begins life as Rev A. You identify a cost saving from substituting a plastic part for a metal part. You update the bill of material. The result – you now have progressed to Part 123 Rev B. Your ERP system should have both in the system and allow you to inactivate Rev A. This ensures new sales use the latest revision. The history of sales and production of the previous revision remain untouched. If your ERP system supports this then the whole process is quite straightforward.
However, if your current software doesn’t have a revision field on the part master then you are left with some very problematic options. Option 1 – you can create a new part number every time you change a BOM. However, this violates accepted engineering practice. A new part number should only be created if the form, fit or function changes. Option 2 – you update the bill of material and leave the part number the same. But what about all the customers who have ordered the previous incarnation?
The topic spills beyond ERP bills of material and extends to synchronizing CAD drawing numbers to ERP part numbers, the impact of changes on open production orders, vendor revisions for purchased parts and the whole work flow for controlling engineering changes. If your ERP system doesn’t have built in revision control you will need to get creative to overcome this foundational and systemic flaw. You bake in extra productivity and quality costs into your operations.
On the flip side there is some great news! This will never affect your ability to compete – so you can relax (as long as every one of your competitors uses the same software that you do).