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Reducing Complexity for Engineer-to-Order Manufacturers Finally Possible

By Thomas R. Cutler

Reducing complexity for engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturers is finally possible. More than 50 percent of all manufacturers now acknowledge aspects of plant operations include customization.

Many ETO companies assume it is impossible to automate the entire end-to-end process surrounding product configuration, design, engineering, and production.

Complex manufacturers must determine ETO status

ETO manufacturers build unique products designed to customer specifications and each product requires a unique set of item numbers, bills of material (BOMs), and routings.

Estimates and quotations are required to win business; as technology gains from efficient software systems ranging from ERP (enterprise resource planning) to knowledge-based engineering, business operations have improved for ETO manufacturers as well as profit margins.

ETO and Repetitive ERP Compared

Products are complex with long lead times, typically months or even years, material is purchased for a specific project not for inventory. All actual costs are allocated to a project and tracked against the original estimate.

Automation honors the engineering-centric ETO manufacturer

Until recently few ETO technology solutions were truly best-in-class. Technology which improves the manufacturing process by honoring the engineering teams has been distinctly absent for those managing ETO projects.

Engineer-to-order manufacturers have many active projects with long lead times, require project-management capabilities to plan and schedule the stages of a project and communicate to customers.

COUNTERPART automation technology empowers engineers with the knowledge whether a project is on-schedule and on-budget.

Automation provides real-time visibility of potential problems or overruns which must be corrected before costs escalate. Only when project management and the ability to collect and report costs are automated, can the potential profitability be realized.

Enter SolidWorks integration

Without integration to SolidWorks engineers must manually enter data into property fields (causing potential human error). Alternatively, non-engineering administrators may manually enter data into fields inaccurately as well.

These fields can be directly automated into an ETO ERP technology, but sadly are often placed into a spreadsheet. It makes no sense with an automated technology model that someone is manually reentering data. These mistakes cause incorrect parts to be produced, costing both time and money.

Authenticated SolidWorks integration eliminates the need for dual entry of properties. By setting material, finish, description, and other qualities in SolidWorks, everyone in the organization can see the information in COUNTERPART ETO ERP.

Andrew Schutte

According to Andrew Schutte (pictured above), General Manager of COUNTERPART, when running an engineer-to-order company it is critical to meet client expectations consistently.

Schutte says: “At the same time, you must take on as large a workload as possible to maintain throughput and revenue. This all starts with the engineers who must effectively manage job timelines; an expedient handoff and streamlining reliable dates to engineering, procurement, manufacturing, and assembly is a must have.

“This can only happen with bi-directional SolidWorks integration, eliminating all double entry without importing and exporting of BOMs. The result is saving valuable time and improving accuracy while effectively communicating partial or full BOMs to purchasing and manufacturing.”

Fully indented BOM without creating a drawing drives enterprise-wide visibility

Most engineers will finalize a design, then create drawings. This can cause some confusion as the SolidWorks feature tree does not group like parts together. Frequently, the engineering team needs to create a drawing to view the BOM.

With this leading technology integration, as soon as engineers create an assembly, the BOM is dynamically updated without having to create the drawing. Engineers can simply create the BOM which is automatically synchronized to the ETO ERP solution.

ETO manufacturers must automate frequent BOM changes

With older technologies, when an engineer designed a dimensionally perfect component it frequently required material changes creating a significant production problem. With the new best-in-class ETO ERP solution, changing the material in SolidWorks is accomplished with ease; engineers no longer need to create a revision.

Relying on that spreadsheets and notes is not an ETO automation strategy. The good news is that engineering teams, the backbone of ETO manufacturing, are finally empowered with technology addressing and resolving their pain points.

Author profile: Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at

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