ETO manufacturers’ first lesson: Listen to engineers - The EE

ETO manufacturers’ first lesson: Listen to engineers


ETO (engineer-to-order) manufacturers must first listen to the engineering team to achieve efficiency. When an ETO project is started, says Andrew Schutte, general manager at COUNTERPART ETO ERP, the first task falls to engineering to design the unique aspects of the job.

Until the engineering process is completed (in part or full), few other activities are actionable. This unique order of operation is challenging. Engineering teams are engaged with the customer when trying to win the business from concept, quoting, and technical phases.

Machine Learning (ML) and Big Data both ideally require large amounts of clean data to generate sufficient information that can be translated into a useful ML algorithms. ETO projects need to be instructive: Do this task that has never been done before, in this certain way, with these constraints.

ETO manufacturers run into production nightmares if they ignore the engineering problems and migrate to remote monitoring and continuous unattended production. If a machine is well designed (mechanically and/or electrically) it will perform whether or not it is unattended. Remote monitoring of poorly built equipment is not helpful.  This is true whether in the ETO environment or not.

Industry 4.0 revolves around communication, conductivity, and programing. If an ETO machine has the necessary inputs (PLC logic, external datasets, sensors), outputs (pneumatic control valves, motors, robots) that can be monitored effectively, Industry 4.0 can be accomplished within the machines’ physical capabilities.

There is a cost of ignoring or failing to prioritise engineering in ETO manufacturing operations. Without including engineers in the quoting, budgeting, and discovery phases, a product will be sold that cannot be manufactured effectively or completed within budgetary constraints.

ETO manufacturers been slow in adopting evolving enterprise technologies primarily because they are focused on innovative solutions, providing customers unique, clever, and creative solutions; this means, relying on employees to solve engineering problems faster and for less cost.

ETO manufacturing means the technical difficulty level is almost always high, and the manufacturing budgeted costs are almost always low. Engineering almost always gets blamed.

Empowering engineers to think and act freely to solve the customers’ challenges is often contradictory to deterministic enterprise technologies (ERP, PDM, PLM, CRM, or otherwise). Very few ERP solutions were specifically designed for ETO manufacturing, permitting the necessary flexibility. These demonstrable ETO differentiations include long lead-times, partial BOM’s, reusing/restructuring existing orders, dynamically driven demands, and inventory/material management.

Implementing an inflexible system does more harm than good. The result of static ETO ERP solutions drove even large and successful ETO organisations to continue relying on Excel spreadsheets, paper documents, or internally generated databases.

This process of custom manufacturing requires that ETO ERP solutions offer a unique value proposition because most of the key functionality is based on actual hard-allocated demand, rather than projections, predictions, or managing key inventory values.

New solutions dramatically reduce the delay from engineering a new component to manufacturing parts in seconds or minutes, rather than days or weeks. This functionality ensures everyone working on an ETO project has immediate real-time information, updates, and allows the correct decisions without delay, saving time, money, and embracing continuous lean manufacturing processes.

The author is Andrew Schutte, general manager at COUNTERPART ETO ERP

About the author

Andrew Schutte is a general manager at COUNTERPART ETO ERP, has been mechanically inclined from a young age. Growing up in his father’s machine shop he was provided a valuable hands-on education of machining, fabrication, and mechanical design throughout high school. He moved to designing automation assembly equipment and machine design supporting the automotive, office furniture, medical equipment, and consumer product industries.

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