This article was updated in March 2023 to reflect new information and current industry trends.
Manufacturing is a process of many moving parts. Making sure all of those individual elements function cohesively and are completed efficiently is a major challenge for any business owner.
Luckily, there is a range of manufacturing software now available to help businesses streamline their processes and maximise efficiency. Here we look at 15 types of manufacturing software, and for each 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?
What is manufacturing software?
Manufacturing software are digital products designed to simplify, streamline, and optimise the various processes that go into manufacturing a product or operating a manufacturing facility. This includes inventory management software, CAD software, accounting software, and more.
5 benefits of using cloud-based software in manufacturing
Let’s survey the primary ways that cloud-based software can help manufacturing business succeed.
Increasing your forecasting accuracy with cloud-based systems can enable you to develop algorithms for your product categories to help meet the demands of your growing business.
2. Efficient inventory management
Holding the right amount of inventory to meet demand is crucial to the success of any manufacturing business. Stock shortages can cause huge knock-on effects and ultimately, decrease productivity and profitability. Cloud software can allow you to track inventory in real-time to prevent product shortages, avoid missed sales and retain your customer base.
3. Better customer service
Cloud-based systems can remove the need to have customer service personnel in any one location at a time. Staff can handle customer inquiries and other functions without having to be onsite as they have access to all the necessary information in the cloud, easily accessed with a phone, tablet or laptop.
4. Improved marketing
A cloud-based marketing system can allow you to manage the marketing process, exchange notes, get status updates and get real-time statistics and feedback without the additional time-wasting.
5. Backups and updates
Cloud-based systems are a safe way to store your business information, since even if all the devices in your warehouse crash, you are virtually assured not to lose your data. Without such software, you risk losing vital manufacturing information and data due to IT glitches or an external disaster.
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 for manufacturing firms.
1. On-premise manufacturing software
On-premise software is licensed and loaded on to 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.
Advantages: The business has control over the software and their IT security. The company can customise its software extensively and does not rely on an internet connection to operate.
Disadvantages: 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.
2. Cloud manufacturing software
Businesses access cloud-based manufacturing software on a pay-as-you-go basis over the internet. A company does not have to invest in and maintain its own IT infrastructure and hardware to run this software, other than providing 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 2021 and beyond.
Advantages: Manufacturers save on infrastructure costs: the company avoids the cost of purchasing, managing and periodically upgrading expensive software. The company 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. Critically, companies are better able to operate through lockdowns when accessing critical software through the cloud.
Disadvantages: 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.
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 has functions that help manufacturers manage business operations. These include inventory management, supply chain operations, procurement, project management, financial management, risk management and compliance.
Advantages: 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 data set, and manage finances and operations globally.
Disadvantages: ERP software systems are complex tools, which means they are expensive and complicated to set up. This means they are suited to larger corporates, and are an unnecessary investment for SMEs.
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. This software 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: CMMS software ensures that physical assets like machinery, vehicles and plant infrastructure are utilised and available as much as possible. This improves productivity and reduces costs.
Disadvantages: An on-premise CMMS system can be costly and time-consuming to set up and maintain. On the other hand, 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.
CAM requires three elements to function:
- Software that generates toolpaths for machines from your designs and data
- Post-processing software that translates your toolpaths so that your machines can understand these
- Machinery capable of turning raw material into a finished product
Advantages: CAM can run constantly on repetitive tasks for fast and accurate production.
Disadvantages: 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
- Establishing a database for manufacturing design operations
Advantages: 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: CAD systems can be costly to purchase. Staff training in a CAD system can take time and be costly. 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 & gas industries.
5. 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: 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: 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. Safety can be an especially important issue for manufacturers.
6. ETO manufacturing software
Engineer to order (ETO) software allows manufacturers to create accurate quotes for custom goods that meet the exact specifications of their client. 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 historic information to estimate costs and lead times. It can assist with important processes like make-or-buy decisions by providing information on whether it is cheaper (or quicker) to produce components than to buy them.
Advantages: 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 planning, and purchasing materials.
Disadvantages: 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.
7. Inventory management software for the manufacturing industry
Effective inventory management is critical to the success of any business. The best inventory management software uses barcodes, point-of-sale software (or eCommerce integrations) plus warehouse tracking to optimise inventory control.
SaaS inventory management systems 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: 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: 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-word 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.
8. 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. This software is usually offered as part of an ERP suite of software that can manage the entire operation of the business.
Advantages: Manufacturing accounting software gives updates in real time and allows multiple users to access financial data and client information. It streamlines processes and automates re-ordering. It creates reporting consistency through established workflows and standardised file formats.
Disadvantages: This software relies on information being entered accurately. It is 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.
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: This software takes the hard work out of cost estimating. It improves the accuracy of pricing raw materials, purchased goods and external services. It means there is quicker turnaround of quotes, which can result in higher win rates.
Disadvantages: 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 & beverage manufacturing software
Food & 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: This software is able to 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: 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, 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: 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: 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 & gas, energy, food & 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: 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: 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.
13. Manufacturing shop management software
Job shop management software lets make-to-order manufacturers manage their operation – and can also be used by smaller manufacturers to manage production activities without the need to invest in more expensive ERP systems. Job shop management software supports processes like production scheduling, inventory management and sales and purchasing, plus shop floor job control
Advantages: 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: The software does not always include features for customer relationship management and finance, and so integration with CRM software and accounting software may be needed.
Who is job shop management software best for? Make-to-order manufactuers – 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: 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: 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: This software allows businesses to obtain data and implement efficient work methods more quickly. It allows companies to standardise processes. Some time study software helps you create video manuals.
Disadvantages: This software is 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.