Software: The One Big Thing for Many Surveyed

Participants in our 2015 Top Shops benchmarking survey offer feedback to our open-ended “silver bullet” question included in this year’s edition.

This article from Modern Machine Shop's August issue highlights data for the primary survey questions we posed in our fifth annual Top Shops benchmarking survey. We ask many of these same questions each year. However, our surveys have also included a few open-ended questions that we commonly change up. Unlike multiple-choice or closed questions, open-ended questions enable respondents to answer in their own way and in their own words.

This year, we asked what we call our “silver bullet” question, one that we’ve included in a couple of previous surveys. Specifically, we asked:

What one new technology, machining strategy or strategic initiative has been most influential in contributing to the overall success of your business in recent years and why?

Many respondents noted that software has played a big role in their recent success. Some pointed to more capable CAM packages offering capabilities such as adaptive tool paths and trochoidal milling, which have extended tool life, reduced cycle times and enabled them to realize more of their equipment’s potential.

However, many more said implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has had the biggest effect on their operation. This software offers potential advantages with respect to costing, estimating, scheduling and job tracking. Having fully interactive access to process control software enables supervisors to stay close to activities on the shop floor so they can quickly access pertinent information and make changes on the spot.

Here are a few of their comments:

“ERP has greatly streamlined data collection and increased productivity by 120 percent.”

“Having access to our ERP software via an iPad enables schedulers and expediters to help make fast decisions on the shop floor.”

“Implementing ERP reveals actual costs and revenue where they happen.”

That third comment reminds me of an experience that a shop owner once relayed to me. After running his shop for many years without ERP, he finally gave the software a go starting with the most commonly repeating jobs in his shop. After entering all information for two jobs with seemingly slim profit margins into the ERP software, the owner ultimately found that those jobs were actually his two biggest moneymakers. Conversely, a few other jobs that he believed were highly lucrative were found to be unprofitable when lot sizes were smaller than a certain amount.

It often takes time to set up and implement ERP software, and versions vary in terms of their sophistication. However, as some Top Shops survey participants point out, there are clear advantages to having a more concrete understanding of what’s actually happening on the shop floor, and this software tool seems as if it can help in that regard.