Manufacturing Software: 15 Different Types & What They Do

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There are many types of manufacturing software available to help manufacturers streamline processes and increase workplace efficiency. While some tools deal with specific stages in the production process, others bring the power of automation to nearly every aspect of operating a manufacturing business.

With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to find the system that’s perfect for your needs.

Here we look at 15 types of manufacturing software and answer three questions:

  • What are the main functions of this software?
  • What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  • What type of business is this software suited to?

Ready to get started? First, let’s recap what manufacturing software is and why you might need it.

In this manufacturing software guide:

What is manufacturing software?

Manufacturing software is a digital tool that enables manufacturers to plan, manage, and execute tasks efficiently and cost-effectively while reducing wasteful activities. It’s designed to automate and streamline repeatable production processes such as materials planning, inventory management, and production scheduling.

Why is software important in manufacturing?

In the manufacturing industry, time is money – and so is waste.

The different types of software available for manufacturers vary greatly in functionality and application, but most tools focus on two objectives: minimising waste and saving time.

By harnessing the power of automation, manufacturers can produce goods at a faster rate with lower production costs and fewer errors. The result is greater profitability and higher productivity, which in turn facilitate faster business growth.

Manufacturing software can also improve customer satisfaction, as it ensures products are manufactured quickly enough to match consumer demand without sacrificing quality or accuracy.

Manufacturing software example

An example of a cloud-based manufacturing software dashboard displaying production costs and assembly statuses.

The two delivery models for manufacturing software

Before we move on to types of manufacturing software, here’s a brief look at the two software delivery models available: on-premise and cloud-based, plus some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

1. On-premise manufacturing software

On-premise software is licensed and loaded onto servers owned and operated by the user. Everything necessary to operate the company’s IT infrastructure must be provided internally.

This used to be the standard software delivery model. However, as cloud computing has risen in popularity there are fewer and fewer businesses relying on a legacy system.

Advantages of on-premise manufacturing software:

  • The business has full control over the software and its IT security.
  • The company can customise its software extensively and does not rely on an internet connection to operate.

Disadvantages of on-premise manufacturing software:

  • The business must make a significant up-front investment to set up the IT system and servers.
  • The owner is responsible for ongoing operational and maintenance costs, including regular system and security upgrades.
  • Where there is hardware failure, an on-premise system may take days to get back online.

Overall, operating an on-premise software system can be time-consuming and costly. However, it permits manufacturers to retain full control over their software and cybersecurity.

2. Cloud manufacturing software

Cloud manufacturing software refers to on-demand production management systems that don’t rely on direct active management by the user. Businesses access cloud-based manufacturing software on a pay-as-you-go basis over the Internet.

With cloud software, you won’t have to invest in and maintain your own IT infrastructure and hardware to run it. All that’s required are the personal devices to use it on, such as laptops, phones, or tablets, plus an internet connection.

Software as a service (SaaS) is the largest market segment of cloud-based software and is expected to continue to grow in 2023 and beyond.

Advantages of cloud manufacturing software:

  • Manufacturers save on infrastructure costs: the company avoids the cost of purchasing, managing and periodically upgrading expensive software.
  • Companies using cloud manufacturing software can scale up and down according to its needs without further capital investment.
  • Because the software is backed up offsite, data is safe in the case of events like flooding, fire, and theft.
  • The service provider is responsible for updates to software and data security. This means that manufacturers do not have to pay skilled staff to deal with IT issues.
  • Cloud-based SaaS software allows for better remote accessibility – information is stored in the cloud and can be accessed on a range of mobile devices. This facilitates collaboration between staff by making data-sharing easier.

Disadvantages of cloud manufacturing software:

  • An internet connection is needed to access cloud-based manufacturing software.
  • Businesses are unable to use the software if their internet coverage is unreliable or the connection fails.

Cloud manufacturing software continues to trend as businesses move more and more into the digital space. The rise of ecommerce in recent years has driven a shift towards cloud tools that can integrate, allowing manufacturers to synchronise sales with production, accounting, and stock control for more streamlined operations.

the two types of manufacturing software models

15 types of manufacturing software

Each type of manufacturing software has different characteristics and functionalities that are suited to some types of business and some industries more than others.

1. ERP manufacturing software

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is a type of software designed to help with multiple business activities by centralising process management in one system.

Many ERP tools have functions that help manufacturers manage business operations. These include inventory management, supply chain operations, procurement, project management, financial management, risk management and compliance.

Advantages of ERP manufacturing software:

  • ERP centralises information and improves overall operational efficiency.
  • It optimises inventory management and gives real-time visibility and inventory accuracy.
  • Diverse business units within a company can operate off the same dataset and manage finances and operations globally.

Disadvantages of ERP manufacturing software:

Who is ERP best for? Larger, more complex operations in the construction, manufacturing, education, healthcare, hospitality, retail, and waste management sectors.

2. CMMS software for manufacturing

A computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) is used to ensure that maintenance work is carried out efficiently. It centralises maintenance information, simplifies processes, and automates some jobs.

A CMMS provides technicians with access to the information they need to carry out preventive maintenance. This includes step-by-step procedures and itemised lists of spare parts and tools needed.

Advantages of CMMS software for manufacturing:

  • CMMS software ensures that physical assets like machinery, vehicles, and plant infrastructure are utilised and available as much as possible.
  • By increasing the efficiency with which assets are used, CMMS tools can increase productivity and reduce total manufacturing costs.

Disadvantages of CMMS software for manufacturing:

  • An on-premise CMMS system can be expensive and time-consuming to set up and maintain.
  • Some cloud-based CMMS systems are costly to customise and might not integrate well with other platforms.

Who is CMMS best for? Businesses in almost any industry that have physical assets to maintain; facility and maintenance managers, asset planners and maintenance teams use CMMS.

3. Computer-aided manufacturing software

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) uses software and computer-controlled machinery (3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines) to automate the manufacturing process.

CAM is a way for manufacturers to create goods directly from a computer design, rather than having to set up their equipment and operate it manually.

Advantages of CAM software: CAM can run constantly on repetitive tasks for fast and accurate production.

Disadvantages of CAM software: CAM is expensive to set up and requires a skilled workforce of engineers.

Who is CAM best for? Electrical, mechanical, and aerospace engineering and refrigeration and air-conditioning manufacturers all benefit from CAM software.

4. Computer-aided design software for manufacturing

Computer-aided design (CAD) software is used to create 2D and 3D technical designs for products.

CAD software increases design productivity by improving the quality of design, providing comprehensive documentation, and establishing a database for manufacturing design operations.

Advantages of CAD software for manufacturing:

  • CAD software supports rapid innovation by allowing concepts to be quickly and accurately brought to life.
  • CAD systems also improve communication and streamline processes.
  • Engineers can use CAD to analyse the manufacturing process and provide better designs.

Disadvantages of CAD software for manufacturing:

  • CAD systems can be costly to purchase.
  • Staff training in a CAD system can take time and be expensive.
  • Design is vulnerable to hacking risks and computer viruses.

Who is CAD best for? The aerospace and aviation, civil and structural manufacturing, consumer products, medical devices, and oil and gas industries.

5. Inventory management software for the manufacturing industry

Effective inventory management is critical to the success of any manufacturing business. Inventory management software uses barcodes, point-of-sale software (or eCommerce integrations), plus warehouse tracking to optimise inventory control.

Cloud-based inventory management systems with manufacturing features make it easy for businesses to reduce time to benefit. They integrate easily with other software systems and are automatically upgraded by the service provider.

Advantages of manufacturing inventory management software:

  • Inventory management software provides transparent, real-time inventory data.
  • It automates inventory tracking and reordering, which reduces holding costs, increases profitability, and improves customer satisfaction by reducing stockouts.
  • Some systems will also offer advanced features for production and operations management that improve forecasting, strategic planning, and decision-making.

Disadvantages of manufacturing inventory management software:

  • Implementation and training can be costly and time-consuming, though much less so than typical ERP manufacturing software.
  • Some tools have limited inventory software integrations, which can make data synchronisation a slow and manual process.
  • When using inventory management software, a periodic physical stock take is still necessary to identify loss from spoilage, waste, theft or even manipulation of the system – and reconcile the real-world situation with the digital record.

Who is inventory management software best for? Any manufacturing business seeking to optimise efficiency by reducing stock carrying costs, stockouts, and waste. Accountants and advisors also use inventory management software to monitor and optimise their clients’ businesses.

6. Accounting software for manufacturing

Manufacturing accounting software helps manufacturers manage financial transactions and the operation of the business. This software assists with accounting processes like accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, and payroll.

Manufacturing accounting software is usually offered as part of an ERP suite of software that can manage the entire operation of the business.

Advantages of manufacturing accounting software:

  • Manufacturing accounting software gives updates in real time and allows multiple users to access financial data and client information.
  • It streamlines processes and automates reordering to save time and reduce operational costs.
  • It creates reporting consistency through established workflows and standardised file formats.

Disadvantages of manufacturing accounting software:

  • Manufacturing accounting software relies on information being entered accurately.
  • As it typically comes wrapped inside an ERP system, it’s not always a cost-effective solution for smaller SMEs.

Who is manufacturing accounting software best for? Professional accountants and bookkeepers; large manufacturers with in-house accounting teams.

cash flow manufacturing business

Accessible cash flow is critical for avoiding liquidation and staying profitable as a manufacturer.

7. EHS software for manufacturing

Environment, health, and safety (EHS) software offers a comprehensive range of functionality to help companies comply with EHS regulations. This software enables manufacturers to track and analyse safety-related activities and standardise their safety procedures.

An EHS system allows companies to better manage and report on environmental performance benchmarks, and any operational risks associated with their business.

Advantages of EHS software for manufacturing: EHS software enables organisations to make environmental- or safety-related decisions based on real data. This improves the company’s health and safety culture.

Disadvantages of EHS software for manufacturing: EHS software does not include the social interaction and interpersonal engagement necessary to build trust. It does not provide for hands-on learning opportunities.

Who is EHS best for? Any business that tracks and reports on environmental, health and safety matters to comply with EHS regulations.

8. ETO manufacturing software

Engineer-to-order (ETO) software allows manufacturers to create accurate quotes for custom goods that meet the exact specifications of their clients. From a customer order, the software is then able to produce a bill of materials.

ETO software manages inventory data, takes care of scheduling and monitors production. It uses current and historical information to estimate costs and lead times.

Advantages of ETO manufacturing software:

  • ETO allows for greater accuracy in a range of tasks – for instance, providing quotes and scheduling production.
  • It also frees up staff time by automating processes like demand planning and purchasing materials.

Disadvantages of ETO manufacturing software:

  • ETO systems rely on current data – including inventory levels, costs, and lead times –so this must be recorded accurately.
  • Most ETO software is on-premise, meaning an up-front IT investment, ongoing management, regular upgrades and the possibility of hardware failure. (Some cloud-based ETO systems are available.)

Who is ETO best for? Companies that manufacture specialist products such as industrial cranes, commercial HVAC equipment and fire engines.

9. Manufacturing cost-estimating software

Cost estimating software helps managers cost and estimate hundreds of manufacturing processes. This software simplifies and streamlines the estimating process to support consistent and accurate pricing.

Advantages of manufacturing cost-estimating software:

  • It takes the hard work out of estimating costs and improves the accuracy of pricing raw materials, purchased goods, and external services.
  • There is a quicker turnaround of quotes, which can result in higher win rates.

Disadvantages of manufacturing cost-estimating software:

  • As with other manufacturing systems, cost-estimating software can be expensive to implement and requires staff training.
  • Market fluctuations can lead to changes to prices, and these will have to be updated frequently.

Who is manufacturing cost estimating software best for? Original equipment manufacturers; aerospace, civil construction, engineering, facilities maintenance, and mining manufacturers.

10. Food and beverage manufacturing software

Food and beverage manufacturing software allows manufacturers in this sector to track raw materials, production batches, perishable stock and expiry dates.

It consolidates and automates processes and workflows. This makes tasks simpler and leads to greater productivity. It provides business insights so that decisions can be made based on accurate data.

Advantages of food and beverage manufacturing software:

  • Food and beverage manufacturing software can manage inventory, quality assurance, recipes and batch scaling.
  • It can help forecast seasonal demand, and optimise the supply chain management process.
  • It can track suppliers, batches and expiry dates to improve food safety. This ensures compliance with food regulations and avoidance of expensive errors – like shipping food with ingredients past their use-by date.

Disadvantages of food and beverage manufacturing software:

  • Many of these software systems are still on-premise, meaning upfront installation costs and system maintenance. Cloud-based options are available that reduce these costs.
  • For both types of software, staff training and data migration are required.

Who is food & beverage manufacturing software best for? Food and beverage manufacturers, hospitality firms, and FMCG manufacturers.

11. Preventive maintenance software for manufacturing

Preventive maintenance software is a key component of CMMS that deals with preventive maintenance, rather than remedial or future maintenance.

Preventive maintenance software simplifies the scheduling of regular maintenance. It allows a business to categorise the tasks necessary to ensure the efficient operation of manufacturing facilities and equipment.

Advantages of preventative maintenance software for manufacturing:

  • Preventive maintenance reduces plant and equipment failures. It therefore cuts down repair costs.
  • It helps maximise manufacturing resources, reduce downtime, and reduce the overall cost of asset maintenance.
  • Equipment and machinery have a longer lifespan.

Disadvantages of preventative maintenance software for manufacturing:

  • The system can be costly to implement.
  • The cost of labour and parts to perform preventive maintenance is ongoing.
  • There is a risk of over-maintenance without adding value.

Who is preventive maintenance software best for? The oil and gas, energy, food and beverage, manufacturing, and IT industries.

12. Manufacturing process management software

Manufacturing process management software centralises information on how goods are manufactured to make production processes more efficient and responsive.

The software is designed to automate manufacturing operations from production planning, stock availability, inventory tracking, allocation of resources and delegation of tasks.

Advantages of manufacturing process management software:

  • Manufacturing process management software brings lower labour costs, greater efficiency, and higher profits.
  • Automation standardises production processes and reduces human error.
  • The software simplifies cost allocation and provides real-time inventory stock levels.

Disadvantages of manufacturing process management software:

  • The migration of data from manual systems is time-consuming.
  • Separating workflows and processes can result in poor communication.

Who is manufacturing process management software best for? Manufacturers that produce standardised items in bulk. The construction and healthcare industries.

managing inventory with software

One of the best manufacturing software features to look for is serial number tracking, as it can help you resolve product recalls.

13. Manufacturing shop management software

Job shop management software lets make-to-order manufacturers manage their operations – and can also be used by smaller manufacturers to manage production activities without the need to invest in more expensive ERP systems.

It supports processes like production scheduling, inventory management and sales and purchasing, plus shop floor job control.

Advantages of manufacturing shop management software: Job shop software allows businesses to create BOMs (bills of materials), assign tasks from the workflow to employees, manage inventory and track production costs.

Disadvantages of manufacturing shop management software: The software does not always include features for customer relationship management and finance, so integration with CRM software and accounting software may be needed.

Who is job shop management software best for? Make-to-order manufacturers – plus SMEs and machine shop operators looking to manage their manufacturing processes.

14. Project management software for the manufacturing industry

Project management software assists manufacturers with planning projects, assigning resources, tracking processes, facilitating collaboration and organising documentation. This helps ensure maximum utilisation of resources for any project.

Advantages of manufacturing project management software:

  • This software is usually simple to use and easy to install.
  • It offers budgeting, cost control, forecasting, reporting and risk management capabilities.
  • Importantly, it facilitates team collaboration by allowing for document sharing – and giving a view of dependencies and responsibilities within big projects.

Disadvantages of manufacturing project management software:

  • This software can be costly, difficult to implement and produce little ROI – especially for smaller businesses.
  • Project management software may complicate simple projects if the wrong system is used.

Who is project management software best for? A range of small, mid-size and large businesses, including the aerospace, architectural, automotive, defence and energy industries.

15. Manufacturing time study software

Manufacturing time study software uses motion and time analysis to help reduce production and labour costs. This software examines each step of the manufacturing process and determines how long these take on average.

This allows the company to come up with refined work methods that avoid unnecessary actions and make manufacturing more efficient.

Advantages of manufacturing time study software:

  • It allows businesses to obtain data and implement efficient work methods more quickly.
  • It allows companies to standardise processes.
  • Some manufacturing time study software helps you create video manuals.

Disadvantages of manufacturing time study software: This software can be complex and costly to implement, and often does not suit small-scale manufacturers.

Who is manufacturing time study software best for? Manufacturers that produce goods in bulk, especially those that use the lean manufacturing model, e.g., in the electronics and automotive industries.

Manufacturing software features list

Selecting the right manufacturing software for your requirements can be tricky. With so many types and vendors to choose from, many manufacturers struggle for confidence during the software procurement process.

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the most useful manufacturing software features – so you know exactly what to look for when it’s time to buy.

list of manufacturing software features

The best manufacturing software features to look for in a new system:

  • Bill of materials (BOM) management – BOM management makes it easy to manage and build multi-level assemblies while ensuring your inventory records and production schedule are up to date.
  • Manufacturing inventory management – Manufacturing software with inventory management functionality keeps track of all your parts, products, and raw materials as they move through each stage of the production process.
  • Materials requirements planning (MRP) – MRP functionality automates key production management processes, such as production planning, production scheduling, and supply chain optimisation.
  • Manufacturing accounting – Tools with manufacturing accounting features help you keep track of your production costs and the value of your manufacturing inventory in real time, ensuring your records are all accurate. This enables better financial reporting and smarter purchasing decisions.
  • Warehouse management – Factory layout and shop management features (sometimes referred to as warehouse management) aid in optimising your available facilities to improve productivity and safety.
  • B2B ecommerce – A B2B ecommerce portal can be a great tool for business-to-business sales. It gives manufacturers the ability to set unique pricing for each customer while massively reducing the amount of labour and admin required to make sales.
  • Business reporting – Data analysis is critical for growing a manufacturing business. Business intelligence tools with reporting functionality help you analyse sales and production so you can make smart decisions around future investments and product development.
  • Order management – For D2C manufacturers, order fulfilment and management features facilitate faster delivery of goods to customers. This improves customer satisfaction and gives the manufacturer more control over the orders they ship out.
  • Procurement and purchasing – When sourcing and purchase order management are synchronised with production, you’ll be able to optimise your replenishment levels and compare suppliers based on historical data.
  • Inventory optimisation – Manufacturing software with inventory optimisation features such as demand planning and demand forecasting can help you better understand your production capacity for the future. This enables more informed purchasing and helps to protect your cash flow.

While this list hopefully helps you find the right tool, the best manufacturing software features should be determined by your biggest opportunities to reduce costs and be more efficient.

Common questions about manufacturing software

Now that we’ve covered all the main manufacturing software types, here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding production management systems.

What is the best software for manufacturing?

While we urge you to speak to sales reps and investigate manufacturing software for yourself, here’s a quick look at some of the best manufacturing software tools for different use cases:

What’s the difference between ERP and MRP?

ERP software refers to dynamic systems designed to provide functionality and centralisation across an entire business. In some cases, ERP software can include an MRP module or features. MRP software, on the other hand, specifically focuses on improving manufacturing processes such as production planning and scheduling.

What’s the best manufacturing software for a small business?

A small business with simple manufacturing requirements can benefit from uncomplicated manufacturing software – any tool that enables inventory tracking, bill of materials management, and business reporting will suffice.

Small businesses should avoid costly and overly complicated manufacturing ERP software, as the time and money spent on implementation and training can sap your profits.

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Alecia Bland - Unleashed Software
Alecia Bland

Article by Alecia Bland in collaboration with our team of inventory management and business specialists. Alecia's background is in ancient languages. When she's not reading a book with her cat for company, you can usually find her cooking, eating or trying to make her garden productive.

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