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Buyer's Guide

by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 27, 2017


Discrete manufacturing is a commonly used term in manufacturing that refers to a final product which can be divided up into its raw components. For example, in an automobile, each component can be separated, touched and seen. By contrast, in process manufacturing it isn’t possible to get the raw ingredients out of the final product. An example of process manufacturing is medications produced by pharmaceutical companies.

This guide is intended to help those who are looking for a software solution that will make the discrete manufacturing process more streamlined for their organization. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Discrete Manufacturing Software?
Common Features of Discrete Manufacturing Software
Benefits of Discrete Manufacturing Software

What Is Discrete Manufacturing Software?

Discrete manufacturing systems are designed to give organizations better control of and visibility into the manufacturing process. Discrete manufacturers focus on reducing costs by limiting waste and reducing the time to produce. A typical system will implement a lean manufacturing philosophy, matching the inflow of parts, materials and subassemblies with the production of finished goods.

The key modules for discrete manufacturers are inventory (including purchasing and receiving), accounts receivable and customer relationship management (CRM), with a special emphasis on process control. Manufacturers of discrete goods can choose to implement a full enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or select best-of-breed components to integrate with their accounting system. Firms with automated shop floors will be interested in incorporating manufacturing execution systems (MES). Integration with project management is available on some manufacturing systems as well.

For most manufacturers of discrete goods, general ledger and accounts payable are standard. Payroll is standard, but some companies have bonus pay and overtime that must be charged against specific projects or products.

On-premises installations are the norm for discrete manufacturing software, but cloud-based options exist. The key driver of cloud-based installations is the existing information technology (IT) capabilities of the company, usually based on the complexity of the shop floor technology and integration.

Common Features of Discrete Manufacturing Software

In evaluating software, discrete manufacturers should consider the following functions to meet their unique requirements:

Supply chain management Discrete manufacturers need transparency into suppliers’ systems. Order status, supplier inventory, current pricing, order entry and payment can all be integrated between supplier and manufacturer.
Make/buy reporting Products require subassemblies. Make/buy reporting applies job estimating to subassemblies to see if it is more profitable to make or buy components. Advanced systems will factor in time to build or buy, as well as the cost.
Process planning reporting In order to estimate and track jobs, the process for each step of fabrication must be planned and documented. The process of planning reports tracks the development of the process plan for each product.
Material supplier planning Part of the make/buy process, material supplier planning assigns a bill of materials to each subassembly. This also allows make/buy decisions to be based on current market prices for material and labor for each product and production run.
Component substitution If a preferred component is not available, the inventory system should provide any alternative components. The production runs with alternative components should be tracked for recall management.
Bill of materials (BOM) management The system should create BOMs directly from orders. It should allow revisions to the BOM to provide additional levels of detail. In advanced systems, a conceptual BOM is used as part of the process to develop a quote or new product.
Workload planning As part of the manufacturing planning process, shop floor managers can adjust the workloads of employees and machines. Managers can use this feature to leverage the most expensive equipment to depreciate or minimize usage of the most expensive to run. Managers can also manage workloads of shop workers, taking into account workers’ preferences.
Engineering change management The system should track engineering changes and their impact on time and cost per unit. It should also be easy to enter the changes into the system so that the adjustments can flow to other products and the overall production schedule.
Serial number management If the products are serialized, the serial numbers must be managed. Numbers must be linked to specific products, including any variations, such as color options. Serial numbers must be tied to production runs as part of recall management.
Certified design management If the manufacturer produces certified products, the system should provide compliance reports for the certification authority. It should also enforce the stipulations of the certification, such as no component substitutions or no changes in software.
Recall management The system should support product recalls by identifying which runs are affected and which customers received them.

Benefits of Discrete Manufacturing Software

Manufacturing businesses can see a variety of benefits with the implementation of discrete manufacturing software. Some of these benefits include:

  • Creation of a collaborative environment in the organization. Discrete manufacturing tools allow for a collaborative environment that lets employees share information seamlessly with both internal and external stakeholders. They can retrieve a graphical view of processes and workflows that help in sharing and adopting best practices within the organization. Finance and other teams can also access the accurate costs of products and detailed reports once the software is integrated with other applications in use.
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  • Improved customer service. Integrating CRM functions with discrete manufacturing software allows users to generate a consolidated view of their customer information. Users can quickly access the order status, product details and progress report. This information helps users provide after-sales service by monitoring the equipment delivered to its customers. Businesses can further expand their customer base by sending competitive quotes and delivering customized products.
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  • Better visibility of work in progress. Users get up-to-date information of all product orders, which helps them plan their workflows more effectively. The software helps managers determine whether the order will be finished and delivered within the stipulated time frame. This feature helps floor managers take corrective actions and expedite the work on orders with the nearest deadlines.
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  • Increased efficiency. Discrete manufacturers require data about their providers, transportation expenses, the market demand and competitors. An efficient solution provides a consolidated view of data in a single platform, giving full visibility into all processes. Management can also use this real-time data to make better decisions.

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