Maintaining tight control over inventory is crucial for manufacturers operating in modern manufacturing environments where stock is kept at a minimum and orders are filled just in time (JIT). Manufacturing inventory software, sometimes referred to as manufacturing inventory control software, is one of the more traditional manufacturing applications. For this reason, there are more than 100 vendors that offer some form of manufacturing inventory management software.
This buyer’s guide, along with our manufacturing inventory software reviews, cover the essential information needed to make a purchase. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Inventory management software helps optimize supply levels so manufacturers always have what they need as orders are placed, without tying up capital in excess parts or ingredients. The systems allow manufacturers to instantly determine on-hand inventory balances, which is useful for financial planning. In addition to tracking raw materials and stocked items, the system also records work-in-progress (WIP) items, finished products and more.
Most inventory systems will track purchased material and stocked items by lot number and/or serial number. Inventory management solutions use these numbers to track and locate in-stock items and produce picking information for item retrieval. Many systems have barcode, or radio frequency identification (RFID), functionality to scan items that are received, picked or transferred. Inventory management systems can also track purchase orders and other value information that is helpful for accounting.
Before deciding on which system best fits your needs, it’s important to determine what type of buyer you are. More than 90 percent of buyers typically fall into one of these three categories:
Full-suite buyers. These buyers appreciate the integration that a solution from a single provider offers. Having a single system control all manufacturing functions improves information sharing between applications. For instance, a full-suite system can manage inventory picking, product assembly and invoicing from a single source.
Multi-location manufacturers. Operating multiple facilities adds a layer of complexity to the software requirements. These buyers need to track inventory for multiple facilities and balance levels across a geographic region. For manufacturers with international operations, the system should include multi-currency and multi-language support.
Small manufacturers. These buyers have straightforward requirements and need a system to improve data entry and inventory tracking. Small manufacturers are typically transferring over from pen and paper to a more automated system and only need basic inventory control functions such as order processing and lot/serial tracking.
In order to remain competitive in today’s global economy, manufacturers need to reduce excess inventory and have the capability to manage stock levels with an automated system. Here are a few of the benefits and potential issues that accompany a manufacturing inventory management system.
Time savings. An inventory system will reduce the amount of time spent processing and recording. It also enables manufacturers to immediately find the location of an in-stock item and check availability in real time.
Improved inventory accuracy. Fewer manual entry mistakes, such as logging the same inventory item twice, are made using an an electronic system. Getting a better grip on inventory management will also help reduce potentially costly manual recording errors.
Implementation difficulties. Implementing a comprehensive inventory management solution can be expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, manufacturers have to start from a clean physical inventory so the system can work off a well-organized inventory from the beginning. This can be very labor intensive.
Time and again different inventory management concepts, such as lean manufacturing, Kanban, six sigma methodology and 3D printing, arise to make the manufacturing process more efficient. Inventory management is moving away from the manual process, which is onerous and prone to errors. Instead, it is moving toward digital technology, which constitutes web services, mobile and internet of things (IoT). Therefore, manufacturers are looking for digital solutions that can help them manage their inventory efficiently.
Manufacturing inventory software is a niche market that is still evolving as its adoption in manufacturing organizations is increasing. Before buying a manufacturing inventory solution, decision makers should consider the following industry trends when they are evaluating a solution:
Smart inventory tracking. One-dimensional barcoding has gained a foothold in industrial and inventory tagging. Advanced systems use RFID, which enables remote monitoring to track the inventory status and product availability. Manufacturers can track products throughout the supply chain in real-time to help reduce instances of theft and spillage. In addition, real-time inventory report generation helps manufacturing and supply chain professionals to monitor business performance and take corrective actions.
Adoption of web-based platforms. There has been a gradual shift in manufacturer’s preferences from on-premise to cloud-based solutions. One of the reasons for this shift is that software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions require very little upfront investment. In addition, the digital infrastructure helps companies save maintenance.
Enhanced business intelligence. Manufacturers are increasingly looking to track and analyze their inventory levels to understand lead time, analyze the variability in product demand and avoid inventory stock outs. Advanced manufacturing inventory solutions provide real-time business intelligence and analytics features to improve planning and strategic decision-making capabilities by providing timely updates.
Access from mobile applications. Inventory professionals have moved from working at a fixed, single location to mobile workstations. These mobile workstations are typically connected through wireless networks and operate in remote locations. To facilitate business operations from these mobile workstations, manufacturing inventory software vendors offer mobile applications that can be accessed 24/7 from any mobile device. Moreover, these mobile applications share notifications whenever an order is received, confirmed, packed, shipped and delivered to the user.
Internet of things (IoT). With this technology, internet-connected sensors communicate without any human intervention. Though it is still in its nascent stage, this technology is expected to grow exponentially and disrupt supply chain and manufacturing operations. Small businesses should keep a watch on this initiative and prepare themselves for IoT in the future.
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