White Paper - Integrating MRP with other data systems
While MRP/ERP spans all key departments within a business, every company will have its own collection of standalone systems that deliver specific functionality, such as CADCAM or testing. However, linking them with MRP/ERP can deliver multiple and significant benefits.
What systems should I link to MRP?
Every manufacturing type will have a need for dedicated systems at certain stages of manufacture, or within specific areas of their business. Chemical companies will have laboratories that analyse and test products, electronic companies may run automated tests for component failure and metal manufacturers will use products such as CAD (Computer Aided Design), CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) and nesting software. Products may come back for servicing, where testing and measuring equipment captures further data. In each case there may be value in linking or passing that data through to MRP.
Here are just some of the systems that our customers have linked to MRP:
- CAD/CAM software
- PDM (Product Data Management)/PIM (Product Information Management) systems
- Nesting software and NC code generation systems
- Bespoke Shop Floor user interfaces
- Company intranets
- Statistical Process Control quality system
- Customer information display systems
- Factory information display systems
- Testing and measurement systems
- Machine monitoring systems
- Weigh scale systems
- Websites, often with e-commerce or stock display capabilities
Every manufacturing type will have a need for dedicated systems at certain stages of manufacture, or within specific areas of their business.
What are the problems with standalone systems not linked to MRP?
A lack of connectivity to MRP will cause different problems, depending on what the standalone system does, but generally the issues will relate to accuracy, visibility, and speed of retrieving data. For example, a company using unconnected weigh scales will require the operator to enter data into the MRP system to accurately record the weight of components. By linking the two you remove a step in the process and eradicate the possibility for user error during input.
Let's take an example: A metals engineering company may have a bill of materials where some components are designed in one CAD system and others in another. Milled parts are produced on a machining centre, where the NC code that programs the CNC machine needs to be generated. Sheet metal parts are designed in CAD but then must be run through nesting software. After the parts are cut on a CNC laser they may also go through a bending process. Further down the line the assembled part may go through an inspection process, where precise measurements need to be logged. Staff may need to interact with multiple pieces of software to produce the finished parts for this BOM, often entering the same information repeatedly.
Audits are much more labour-intensive, with auditors following a trail until they hit a digital wall. Then, off they go with a part or invoice number to follow on with the standalone system. Where multiple systems are involved, this can significantly increase the time that an audit would take, also potentially raising questions about the effectiveness of the systems in place.
Where multiple systems are involved, this can significantly increase the time that an audit would take, also potentially raising questions about the effectiveness of the systems in place.
How do I exchange data between MRP and other systems?
This will most be affected by two key factors - what data needs to be exchanged and what methods of data exchange are available to both systems.
Another consideration is how to deal with 'what if' scenarios. For example, if ten fields of data are specified in information that is being passed between systems, but some are not populated or have the wrong type of data, what happens next? Either error handling needs to be added or checks need to be put in place to ensure that only the right data can ever be output in the first place.
The simplest method of data exchange is by exchanging data in CSV (comma separated values) format. Your MRP system outputs the required information into a simple text file, with each item of data separated by a comma. This is then imported into the standalone system - either by the user or automatically, as some systems can be set to monitor a folder and process new files, simplifying the process, and drastically reducing the possibility of error. Both methods remove the user having to input the data manually. If the standalone system has data that can feed back to MRP then this can often be done using the same method.
Automating CSV data exchange may present challenges. For example, maybe you can output the CSV automatically from MRP data source but must import it manually. However, some automation is better than none - it is better to have systems generating files that may require some manual effort to process than be open to the time, effort, and possible errors of replicating it by hand.
While CSV offers a reliable solution that is often the quickest option to implement, tighter integration may be available. MRP systems will generally use industry-standard databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server or Postgres, however it is recommended that you do not write to tables directly. Instead, use whatever data exchange methods your chosen MRP supplier can offer.
While CSV offers a reliable solution that is often the quickest option to implement, tighter integration may be available. Use whatever data exchange methods your chosen MRP supplier can offer.
Examples of MRP data exchange
Customers connect 123insight to a wide variety of external systems through various methods. What is common throughout is that each method removes human interaction and the possibility for error. Here are just some examples of integration between standalone systems with MRP:
- A metal forging company that supplies small components in their thousands connected their weigh scales to 123insight. Operators simply scan a works order (to identify the part) and pour out components onto the scales until the desired number of components has been reached, determined by weight. The operator then confirms this with a single tap and the parts are booked against the works order.
- A plastic injection moulding company linked 123insight to their Statistical Process Control quality system, with measurements and part records logged, providing information such as tool wear.
- A company serving the marine industry connected their e-commerce website to 123insight, allowing customers to place and track orders. Once placed, orders were injected directly into 123insight, with status updates available live when customers logged back into the site.
- A plastics company linked their data acquisition machine monitoring system to 123insight, capturing parts manufactured, waste streams and down time.
- An electronics manufacturer linked a surface mounting line to 123insight. The AOI (Automated Optical Inspection) system scans completed circuit boards and submits a pass or failure status against the associated serial number back to 123insight.
- A company offering electronic manufacturing services linked an external testing and measurement system, passing test results back to the relevant part in 123insight. BOM and part master data was also passed to other systems.
- A company manufacturing products for the restaurant industry wrote their own touch-based shop floor user interface for staff that injected works order status information directly to 123insight.
- A chemical manufacturing company interfaced a bespoke quality system with 123insight to link test results.
- A medical electronics company linked 123insight to their Intranet to display live business metrics around the company on large screens.
- An industrial lighting manufacturer connected 123insight to a custom web-based product configurator, allowing its customers to build their own quote online which then dynamically created a part with associated BOM and sales order within 123insight.
- A company serving the rail industry create BOMs automatically from their CAD and PDM systems which are then injected into 123insight.
As MRP is the only system that spans virtually every area of administration, production, stores, and despatch it makes sense that it is the backbone for your data. Connecting MRP to standalone systems can reduce lead times, simplify processes and aid with quality. It is worth taking the time to see which systems within your business might allow connectivity so that you can consider what benefits might be gained.