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Category Archives: Management

A Story of Implementation – Where Do I Fit in this Complex ERP World?

When we started the search for an ERP solution, I knew it was going to be difficult. Where does a person start? It is a crazy, crazy ERP world out there. Don’t believe me? Try this: go to the google homepage, type ERP, and hit search. The results “about 142,000,000 results (0.38 seconds).

This is an ongoing series on the selection process we used to make our ERP choice. My goal is to help others about to embark on this journey. It is not an easy decision.

To recap the previous article, this is how we began our journey into ERP.

  1. We documented our current processes.
  2. We created a list (high-level) of what we did well and where we needed to improve
  3. We created a list (high-level) of what our current collection of systems did well and where it lacked
  4. We got management’s approval to explore ERP

So like everything else in life I need to research, I started with a good friend, Google. I typed in ERP, hit enter, and was immediately overwhelmed. The list was daunting. The number of companies offering ERP products, ERP research, or ERP selection services is outstanding. Where does a person start?

ERP Segment

What I noticed very quickly, is that the ERP market is very segmented. This segmentation is good because it significantly narrows the search. Finding the right piece of the ERP market pie, makes the selection process easier.

perfect pumpkin pie

 Creamy, smooth, slightly spicy… perfect pumpkin pie

First question to ask: are you government? in the public sector? a non-profit organization? or in the medical field? looking for a Retail system or Wholesale Distribution?. Are you a solely professional services organization? If the answer is yes to any of the above there is special segment of the ERP pie just for you. You should be searching within just these fields, contacting the companies that focus on these industries.

If you don’t fall into one of the above sections, then you have a few more things to figure out. We fall solely in the manufacturing realm. The manufacturing piece of the ERP pie is significant and probably the biggest sector of ERP. To narrow this further, you need to determine:

  1. the size of your organization (small, medium, or large)
  2. the type of manufacturing you perform.
  3. do you want cloud, no cloud, or a self-hosted solution?

Company Size

The description of size varies a bit depending on the ERP vendor, but the two common determinants are the number of people and the annual sales. As a company of 150ish employees all in one location, we easily fit into the “small” category. This knocks off the “big boys” from the list, the SAP’s, the Oracles, etc that are big-business, and do big-business well.

Type of Manufacturing

Now that size is determined, what about the type of manufacturing?

Are you a discrete, process, or mixed-mode manufacturer?

  • Discrete is the assembly of products from distinct items, think building a bicycle with nuts, bolts, the tires, etc. This is very Bill of Material (BOM) centric.
  • Process manufacturer blend liquids or formulas. Examples would be food manufacturers, chemicals, paints, etc.
  • Mixed-mode is a combination of discrete and process.

Are you Engineered-to-order (ETO), Make-to-order (MTO), Make-to-stock, or are you a job shop?

  • ETO is where the product is made based on very specific customer requirements. The products are typically complex and require the involvement of the customer from project start to finish. Lot size is very small as ETO is not well suited for mass production.
  • Make-to-order (MTO) or Build-to-Order (BTO) differs from ETO in that it is production focused opposed to engineering focused. Most components are stocked and only the high-expensive or high-customized components are manufactured to order.
  • Make-to-Stock or Assemble-to-order (ATO) is where all components and sub-assemblies are built, in stock and are assembled when the customer places the order. Customer involvement is limited, typically only at the start where they select the options or configuration they want from a predefined list. This is also referred to as light-assembly and / or kitting.
  • Job Shops focus on many, custom products or jobs. Each job is typically unique requiring its own set-up and routing steps. Lot sizes are small.

Most ERP vendors will claim to do all of the above, but you need to be careful as they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some excel in certain types where others perform equally average across all of them.

As a manufacturer of mining equipment, but with roots as a custom machine shop, we are definitely a discreet manufacturer but fit into both the ETO and Job Shop fields. So even though we straddle two types of manufacturing, we were able to weed out the outliners that didn’t address our types of manufacturing well.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud

Finally, to cloud or not to cloud, that is the question. Most ERP systems today are self-hosted with a web connecting type portal. However, the are some now (like Netsuite) that are 100% hosted in the cloud. Others are optionally hosted internally or in the cloud. You need to ask yourself if you need to access your ERP 24/7 | 365 from anywhere.

Cloudy

 Cloudy by Kima

As a single manufacturing plant, with no other locations or offices, having a cloud-based solution was not desired.. Not that we were opposed, but it just made more sense to have a locally hosted system that could potentially be accessed from the outside world. The biggest reason was even if the internet went down we can continue working.

So before starting your search ask yourself if being “in the cloud” is an advantage for your organization. If it is, then focus initially on cloud-based solutions, if you do not want to be in the cloud then scratch these companies off the list.

In Conclusion

Finding the right ERP partner is a daunting task. It is hard, there’s a lot of pressure, and potentially a lot riding on making the right choice. It’s kinda like being at the bakery trying to pick out that one piece of pie. But by asking the right questions and knowing who you are, you can narrow the field to a few, making the decision that much easier.

plan dont panic

Plan: Don’t Panic

A Story Of Implementation – The Path to ERP

ERP, MRP, PDM, PLM, CRM, SCM, B2B, and on and on and on. Its a crazy business world out there with so many options. The cloud, on premise, cloud on premise. Big data. Social outsourcing. Where does a business start?

I’m the Technical Services Manager for a mining equipment manufacturer. The business is 35-years old and has been quite successful in the local market. However, we knew it was time for a change. Expand our reach. Move into new markets. Become more global. Very ambitious goals and we know we need help to get there, and that’s how the search for ERP started.

This is going to be an ongoing series on the selection process we used to make our ERP selection. We’ve just kicked off the implementation so as we go through this journey I’ll have a running commentary of what has and has not worked. My goal is to help others about to embark on this journey, but also hoping that others reach out and we can share wins, successes, and losses.

Turning to my good friend Wikipedia, ERP is defined as:

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is business management software—usually a suite of integrated applications—that a company can use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities, including: Product planning, cost Manufacturing or service delivery, Marketing and sales, Inventory management, and Shipping and payment”

ERP is a term coined by the Gartner Group to describe the growing software segment combining Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) and Computer-Integrated manufacturing. It has grown to reflect the management of the entire manufacturing process… “quote to cash”. ERP has also grown into non-manufacturing industries, but my focus will remain within manufacturing.

Implementing ERP is not an overnight installation, run from the seat of your pants thing. It costs money. It takes planning. It takes dedication. It takes management buy-in. All-and-all it is a significant investment.

Question: What is the first step to implementing an ERP system?

Answer: Knowing that you need an ERP system.

Seems simple?

We were a company in an industry that was at its absolute max. We had more business than we knew what to do with, in fact we were turning down business. Additional overtime was not an option, in fact you could work as many hours as you wanted, supervisor approval not required. When things are that busy you don’t worry about job costs, bottlenecks, inefficiencies, KPIs, scheduling, lean manufacturing, real-time ordering, and all other things about good business. The concern and the focus is just getting the product out the door, meeting deadlines, and keeping the customer happy..

We knew we had reached the peak of “the boom” and the industry was on the way down, back to normal. What we didn’t account for was how quick the down swing would be. The price of potash dropped significantly and our main customers stopped doing business with us (and everyone else), and worse actually started cancelling existing orders. We had layoffs, unlimited OT was stopped, and focus was placed by management on cost-cutting.

Seems like an odd time to be looking at ERP, right?

Actually its the perfect time. Its the perfect time to take a step back and really look at the business. Where are we? Where do we want to be? Where do we excel? What areas do we lack in? What could we be doing that we aren’t currently?

planning session

 Planning Session

This is when we sat down and had open dialog about the present state and future goals of the company. We want to grow. We want to expand into new markets. But how do we get there?

We mapped out our existing processes with good-old powerpoint. Everyone knew our processes (or at least they thought they did) but it was never really documented. This opened a lot of eyes.

database plan

Database Planning

We evaluated our existing system. Were there features we weren’t currently using, that we should be? Were there modules or perhaps customization that we could purchase to help us?

Our existing “system” was a collection of spreadsheets and what I supposed could be labeled as an ERP system. Using spreadsheets is always the simple route, the path of least resistance, but also the path that quickly falls into the chasm. It was inefficient and each spreadsheet was its own self contained object. We needed this information in a centrally managed system.

The ERP system we were using was antiquated, difficult to use, and actually loathed by most within the organization (honestly, I do not exaggerate). Why keep using it? It was implemented in the 90’s and is what everyone knows. It had worked for us for so long. “Better to sleep with the devil you know, then the devil you don’t”.

The problem is it became more about living with the limitations or finding solutions to work around them. Although a great company to work with, it really is a “mom and pop” organization and was clear that revolutionary improvements were not in its future, well at least improvements that were going to get us where we wanted to.

The biggest problem was the difficulty of extracting information, there was no visibility. Information, real-time or not, was extremely difficult to obtain. Job costs, like actual job costs were difficult to nail down. We could not really determine how effective we were because our scheduling tools were very limited. We ordered material as the jobs came in, not when it was required.

So right away we knew the number one thing we needed was real-time, fully visible, access to our data. Whether it be searches, reports, graphs, charts, whatever… “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you do”. Access to information has a trickle down effect to every process within the organization.

What are our ERP options?

This is when we decided to explore our ERP options.

How Successful Plans Aren't Created

 This is some rescue. You came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?

However, before we cracked open Google and made that very first search, we laid out our wish list, the things that had to be there for us to make the switch. Obvious things like it had to work with Canadian taxes. Quantitative items like; take 75% less time on repeat product quotes and 25% on new product quotes. We also had items we just needed, like visual scheduling and project management.

We also made the decision that whatever system we chose, it had to have a realistic chance of being implemented in 6-months (or less). We also wanted zero customization. We wanted as close to an “out-of-the-box” solution as possible. We also made it clear that we would not attempt to implement it on our own.

With this, management green-lit our “ERP Research” team to spend the time and find three possible solutions.

The last step of this pre-ERP research was evaluating our existing staff and resources. Did we honestly feel we had the people with the right levels of expertise, skills, and dedication to pull this off. We’re fortunate to have some really strong, smart, and dedicated people so we knew with the right product implementation partner we would be fine in this area.

And the Takeaways from this are?

What you should do before looking for an ERP solution:

  • Get top-management’s approval to start the search
  • Take a good look at your existing system or collection of systems. List the strengths, weaknesses, pros and cons of each piece.
  • Map out your processes.
  • Take a seriously long look at yourself in the mirror. What does the business excel at and where is it deficient.
  • Build the “wish list” of things that needs to be in the new system

don't panic

Don’t Panic

Autodesk Vault Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) Setup Guide

I recently saw Alex’s prowess in setting up a Fully Qualified Domain Name within the Autodesk Vault 2016 beta. Configuring this feature means users can log into Vault from the internet in a secure and high performing way, all without using a VPN connection. I’d already been talking to him about writing a few posts for Design & Motion, so knowing how much I had struggled to decipher out of date Autodesk documentation in the past, I thought this would be the perfect first post for Alex. So it’s with great pleasure that the Design & Motion team introduce Alex Fielder to our readers. He’s a throroughly nice chap, you can read his bio to find out what he’s all about or you can have a chat with him on Twitter. Without further ado, here’s Alex’s cracking guide for setting up an FQDN for Autodesk Vault. Cheers Alex!

Decisions

Decide if you want open ( http: ) or encrypted ( https: ) access from your Vault, I will only be covering how to setup http: access today,

Common practice among larger organisations is to have web-facing servers in a demilitarized zone (DMZ), but since this is outside of the scope of this article, I will leave it for the reader to decide whether this is a method they are keen on implementing.

An area that requires some thought is the setup of user accounts (for remote access) and their permissions, but I will also leave that out for now.

A note about my setup: I’m using Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 9841 running on VirtualBox Version 4.3.12 r93733.

Host Network setup

Page 5 of the Advanced Configuration Guide (ACG) for Vault Server 2014 details how to change the default port during initial installation.

I made these changes after having installed Vault Server, so the steps detailed in this post will reflect that.

If there are other web-facing servers/services on the host network, then choose a port that will not clash with that. I set this up on my home network which has a Stora NAS with web access on port 80, and my router allows remote login on port 8080 (which also happens to be the alternate port mentioned in the ACG above), so I chose port 81 instead.

Windows Firewall

On the Vault Server, use the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security to add an inbound firewall rule for whichever port you chose to use (in my case port 81)

Autodesk Vault Fully Qualified Domain Name Autodesk Vault Fully Qualified Domain Name - Ports

Router Configuration

Autodesk Vault Fully Qualified Domain Name - ipconfig all

On the Vault Server, from the Command Prompt (CMD) run ipconfig /all to retrieve the Vault Server IP Address:

In the Host network router, add a port forward to the VaultServer-ip address for port 81:

Autodesk Vault FQDN - Port Forwarding

The process for configuring port forwarding will vary depending on the router you have.

Don’t forget to click Apply or Save!

Internet Information Services (IIS)

In the Internet Information Services (IIS) Manager, select the Website that contains the AutodeskDM virtual directory. (My method differs from the Advanced Configuration Guide, because I am using Windows 10 Tech Preview instead of Windows Server 2008 R2/2012):

Autodesk Vault FQDN - IIS

On the right hand side, under “Edit Site” select “Bindings” (circled above) and remove the existing port 80 row. Then click add and put in your chosen port:

Autodesk Vault FQDN - Port Binding

As these changes are being carried out after installation it is also necessary to edit the web.config file for the AutodeskDM application. You can find this file here:

C:\Program Files\Autodesk\ADMS Professional 2016\Server\Web\Services

Open this file with your favourite text editor (I use notepad++) and search for the phrase “port=” in the document. On or around line 439 change:

<server port=”80″ sslPort=”443″ website=”Default Web Site” sslRequired=”false” />

To read:

<server port=”YourChosenPort#” sslPort=”443″ website=”Default Web Site” sslRequired=”false” />

So in my case it is:

<server port=”81″ sslPort=”443″ website=”Default Web Site” sslRequired=”false” />

Save and Close this file, then, returning to the IIS Manager window, click the “Restart” option on the right hand side to restart the Site.

Remote Client setup

Check if it is possible to load the Host-ip:PortNumber/AutodeskTC url in a browser, if successful the Autodesk Vault Thin Client log in page should appear:

Autodesk Vault FQDN - Thin Client Log In

The Server value for the login credentials above, would be Host-ip:PortNumber.

Logging in should then present you with this familiar page:

Autodesk Thin Client Landing Page

Install Vault Pro Client on remote machine. Check client <> server version compatibility.

It is likely that the Vault Pro Client install will require a system reboot, so after restarting the remote client machine, fire up the Vault Pro Client and put in the same credentials used for the Thin Client:

Autodesk Thick Client Landing Page

(I used Vault Pro 2014, but Vault Pro 2013 can also talk to Vault Server 2015)

It is imperative to remember to include the port number at the end of the server name if you did not use port 80 in all login areas.

Finally, here is a view of my office-based Vault Professional Client, logged into Vault Pro Server using FQDN:

Autodesk Vault Logged in using FQDN Server

Thanks for reading and I hope you find this useful!

@%#&! Autodesk Vault just overwrote my file

Recover Overwritten Vault CAD FilesIf you’ve used Autodesk Vault at any time, then its highly likely you have downloaded a file you already have checked out and overwrote a chunk of your work. Unfortunately that’s just one of several scenarios, which can result in you losing your work. The real trick to preventing this of course, is to check your work into Vault every couple of hours (similar to continually saving within your CAD application). Nevertheless, there could be a number of reasons why checking in your work continuously isn’t feasible. I often hear the comment “I wish Vault had a recycle bin”, I’ve even murmured those words myself and you know what it’s a reasonable request. Why can’t Vault create an old version of the files it’s overwriting? Although its likely possible, it could get mighty confusing.

Just over a year ago, one of my staff downloaded a skeletal / master model from Vault while trying to work around a problem he had, the problem was he already had it checked out, but worse he hadn’t checked in the file for a couple of days. He had created components, built a main assembly and even produced a drawing. Needless to say overwriting his skeletal model with what was essentially a template file, was highly undesirable. Don’t judge him though, he’s new to this Autodesk Inventor / Vault game, all while dealing with a temperamental VPN connection & a new replicated Vault, so he’s been doing a grand job. All of my staff and myself have all made this mistake once or twice.

Autodesk Vault Inventor Project File Old Versions Setting

In the past the Inventor Old Versions folder has been our first port of call, depending on how your Inventor Project File is setup, these folders can be a gold mine during these arse puckering moments. The project file setting I am referring to is shown in the image above, I like to set Old Versions To Keep On Save to equal 5 on all Vault project files. Of course, this tactic is of no use to AutoCAD users, but it does have some of it’s own backup treasures which may or may not be useful within any given situation.

This time however, I’m glad he made the mistake, because it prompted me to ponder if some of the new Windows Explorer features in Windows 7 on wards would help out here. The particular feature which inspired me to Google for a solution, was the undo tool. In Windows 7 or 8 if you delete a file in a folder, then press Ctrl + Z, it will undo the delete command and restore the file. In this case the file had been overwritten by an application and not as a result of the user interacting directly with the folder. So I took a punt and searched for:

“Recovering an overwritten file”

The first search return took me to this site. Method 3 of 4 was a particular surprise, I couldn’t believe it, I’d seen this tab in the Windows 7 Property menu before but I’d never realized it’s impact. The command worked perfectly, the 2 days of lost work was returned thanks to this hidden gem. You can even open or copy the previous version to a different location if you aren’t confident it’s the right way to go. Be warned though, this isn’t a fail safe, but this is always worth a check in this situation. The best part though? This is handy for all Windows users, not just Vault users.

Windows 7 Restore Previous Version Tab

Then I went and took a look at Windows 8 to make sure this behaviour still existed, it turns out it doesn’t and this article explains why. Thankfully Microsoft just improved it out right, the only catch is you have to enable it and point it to a non system drive. Take a look at this well written article explaining how to do that. Another bit of good news is Windows 10 has maintained the same system as Windows 8, so we are looking good into the future. If you are the owner of your Autodesk software, then you could re-purpose your Autodesk USB installation media, to leverage this native Windows benefit.

These tools for Windows 7 & 8 are cracking little gems, lurking in the background, rarely used but invaluable all the same just waiting for the opportunity to shine and save your butt. The best part is they can be used on any file stored on your hard drive and not just those your use for CAD. Check them out and if you need to, enable it. With respect to the title of this post, I haven’t really shown you how to prevent it happening in the first place, I will do this in an upcoming post covering dialog and prompt suppression within Vault and it’s application add-ins.

Stratasys Agrees to Buy GrabCAD

Earlier this mornng, Stratasys issued a press release stating that it has “entered into a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held GrabCAD, Inc.”. The sale is expected to be completed by the end of September, 2014.

GrabCAD Purchased by Stratasys

We’ve kept a close eye on GrabCAD since its public launch in 2010, watching it grow with impressive direction and capabilities. Hardi Meybaum, the company CEO may not know exactly which initiative (or combination thereof) sparked the recent surge in interest from the design and engineering industries, but he has demonstrated vision and a consistent winning strategy. Their most recent achievement, the cloud-based Workbench Product Data Management (PDM) software is maturing nicely and has great potential to streamline (and possibly redefine) the needs of small-medium sized (SMB) design/engineering data sharing and collaboration. Its 3D-CAD model viewing (Parasolid) and unbelievably easy to use and secure client space features are some of the factors that increase the company’s value.

Stratasys is one of the premier innovators in the 3D Printing industry, with nearly $2.8 Billion USD in total assets. David Reis, Stratasys Chief Executive Officer was quoted stating that,

“By increasing the collaboration and accessibility of 3D CAD files, we believe we can further accelerate the adoption of 3D printing solutions and Stratasys’ product offerings.”

The company stated that GrabCAD would continue to operate from within the Stratasys Global Products and Technology Group, with Hardi continuing as the company leader. What we don’t know yet: The terms of the sale, how this will change Hardi Meybaun’s strategies, and what direction GrabCAD and its Workbench software will take under Stratasys leadership.

Will GrabCAD Workbench prove to be as effective a platform as Stratasys is betting? It could, but that brings numerous concerns into focus. The biggest one in my mind is, “Exactly how much PDM/PLM does Stratasys need for its own sharing platform vision?” Probably not nearly as much as we need in the general design and engineering industry, and perhaps not even as much as the initiatives we were waiting for in FY15 (These initiatives were under strict non-disclosure agreements between GrabCAD and Design & Motion, but did represent good direction for more down-to-earth needs of designers and engineers in cloud storage, PDM, and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) functionality.)

It would be a great loss for many if Workbench development was halted, however there is some positive potential now that they have a parent company with cash. Stratasys spent about $50 Million USD in R&D last year, and a good boost from Stratasys could really allow GrabCAD to finish the job it started.

I still have hope in the overall mission of GrabCAD. If that mission still exists, remains to be seen.

An Electrifying Threesome – AutoCAD Electrical 2015, Office & Access 2010

Office 2010 32 bit AutoCAD Electrical 64 bit not supported

Microsoft Office 2010 is supported they say, 64 or 32 bit they say… hmm I say. What am I banging on about you say? Well, if you have a 64 bit Operating System installed, which is highly likely if you are running Windows 7 or 8.1. Then when you install the Autodesk Product Design Suite, AutoCAD Electrical or any other Autodesk product that installs the Microsoft Access 2010 Runtime, it will install the 64 bit version of both the CAD applications and the Access Runtime. HOWEVER, if you already have the 32 bit version of Office 2010 installed, then the install will fail. OR if you try to install Office 2010 32 bit AFTER you have install the Autodesk software, then the Office installation will fail.

Office 2013 32 bit 64 bit installation error

Here’s the thing, Microsoft are very clear about wanting people to install the 32 bit version of Office. The 64 bit version is only intended for developers to use. There are far too many conflicts between Office 64 bit and other applications which rely on Office components. SO, the only way you can use Office 2010 with 2015 Autodesk products which have an Access 2010 Runtime prerequisite, is to install the 64 bit version of Office and risk all the issues that come with it. I’m not a database guy, so I can only assume the AutoCAD electrical development team have been forced into using the 64 bit version with 64 bit AutoCAD and the 32 bit version with 32 bit AutoCAD.

OK, so what about Office 2013? That is fine for now, you can happily install 32 & 64 bit versions of Office as long as they are different releases. I’m running Office 2013 32 bit, and AutoCAD Electrical installed Access 2010 Runtime 64 bit on my laptop. So I have two requests of Autodesk:

  1. Please don’t produce 2016 products requiring Access 2013!
  2. Please update your System Requirements for any CAD products requiring Access 2010 Runtime, that also includes the Suites System Requirements.

Update:

I’ve since found out Autodesk’s version of the Access Runtime installer doesn’t contain the 32 bit / 64 bit check. So if you need to install this after you have installed Office 32 bit & your CAD applications, then make sure you run it from the Autodesk Installation media, rather than downloading it from the Microsoft website.

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