Manufacturing Scheduling Software For Small Business


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Table of contents

    What manufacturing scheduling software a small company needs for production scheduling and control?

    Production planning in small manufacturing is different from solutions used in large factories with advanced technologies and sophisticated procedures. It requires a different approach and more flexible thinking. 

    When in doubt which solution is better for your small business: ERP/ MRP /MES software, don’t search any longer, stop to read.

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    1. Different types of manufacturing scheduling software for production planning and control.

    In the search for a suitable software for your manufacturing company, at some point, you probably came across terms: ERP/ MRP / MES. Unfortunately, the definitions tend to be cloudy, and instead of helping you understand those terms clearly, add to the confusion. It makes the whole process even more complicated and discouraging. Here we will try to explain everything in simple words and shed some light on the differences between manufacturing software available on the market.

    What is ERP?

    An ERP for manufacturers is defined as an enterprise resource planning management system, which is a configurable enterprise-wide software package that integrates isolated functional areas, typically production, planning, purchasing, transportation, and distribution,  but also sales,  marketing,  finance,  accounting, and human resources — into a single system with shared databases. However, even the definition sounds complicated, indicating that ERP implementation is not just a simple software project but a change in the whole business process to fit the new advanced system. It’s like managing simultaneous changes in different areas having the same resources available at additional costs, which might strain the firm financially and substantially impact its performance. 

    Advanced software comes equipped with modules for various business processes, including general modules and industry-specific ones. Consequently, an ERP system might be a solution for multiple tasks by integrating these different components. 

    What is MRP?

    MRP stands for material requirements planning. It is a system for calculating the materials and components needed to manufacture a product. It consists of three primary steps: taking inventory of the materials and parts available, identifying which additional ones are required, and then scheduling their production or purchase. The primary purpose is to ensure the highest rate of production in your manufacturing centre. There is also a lean time concept, or to be more precise, lean times (the period from when an order is placed and the item delivered).  Most companies use it to track and manage all dependencies, calculate the number of items needed by the dates specified in the master production schedule, and boost inventory profitability. MRP is one of the most widely used systems for harnessing computer power to automate the manufacturing process, but using it requires you exceptional diligence regarding entering data accurately and punctually. If the data is old or incorrect, material forecasts can become skewed, leading to having too many or too few raw materials available for efficient business practice.

    What is MES?

    MES – stands for Manufacturing Execution System. It usually includes extensions to MRP / ERP systems and very rarely independent software, which extends to the shop floor and helps employees learn about planned tasks, register operations, monitor progress, productivity, etc. 


    In conclusion, we can sum up the above table as follows:

    ERP systems are considered the most complicated and complex of all manufacturing software solutions. In many cases, they are only the primary platform to which different modules are added, from production registration to integrated and automated inventory modules.  There are many things the company has to do, so the system to work smoothly and implementation will be successful. All elements need to be integrated and organized. 

    MRP is a simplified version, a kind of predecessor of ERP. The main task is managing required materials – particularly what and when should be purchased considering variability in stock due to fluctuations in supply and demand through measurement of actual consumer demand and production needs. Although these two are very good, they aren’t designed to fulfil small businesses’ needs, which stride for flexibility and agility. Undisturbed communication at shop floor level and registration of work are crucial. 

    MES systems are extensions of other systems, allowing the present production data and monitoring progress. They can process and store all data or send it to integrated ERP / MRP systems. 

    There is also a group of production management software created to help small manufacturing companies or tailored to specific industries’ needs. We are particularly talking about online tools (designed mainly for small businesses), which offer entirely different scaling possibilities and savings and are implemented within one working day. 

    • ERP:
      • you wish to have everything in one IT system, with the option to extend it or add extra modules when the need arises 
      • your production is standardized / series so that you can make good use of automated planning or automated purchase 
      • to your ERP system, you buy an MES module to extend it to a  production hall as you try to automate your warehouse and inventory as much as it is possible
      • you are aware of the fact that:
        • it will be quite expensive 
        • it will require a lot of time, at the start 
        • you are ready to accept the rule: if it isn’t in the system, it doesn’t exist
        • adding a new product will require a lot of time and precision, respectively, the same will require each change in the system 
    • MRP:
      • you are mainly interested in planning and calculation, based on considering variability in stock due to fluctuations in supply and demand by measuring actual demand and production needs.
      • you have an accounting system, which you are quite fond of, and there isn’t a need for integration of this system or change
      • you can extend your activity (unless you haven’t this function already built-in) by sending data to the shop floor and registering  them
      • introducing a new product still takes a long time, so it works best with series production / repetitive processes.
    • Simple manufacturing software (ex. Prodio)
      • you are mainly interested in organizing your production, regaining control, and learning about real cost and productivity 
      • the most important is fast communication between the manager and shop floor, clear vision of working schedule and parameters  
      • it would be best if you had quick effects, functionality, simplicity (reducing functions that you wouldn’t use anyway)

    2. Why do manufacturing ERP or MRP systems are not the best idea? Why do most of them fail in a small manufacturing business?

    Theoretically speaking, advanced planning systems are for manufacturers a dream come true. That’s why you might be surprised to learn that most implementations end up in disappointment, where a small company spends thousands of dollars on ERP system investment and returns to Excel or other simple solutions such as Prodio.

    The most crucial difference is those small manufacturers assume the system will automatically guess what they need, but it doesn’t work like that and often ends up in disaster.

    Advanced systems are incredible technological and mathematical creations. This allows them to automate technical processes in large factories where thousands of elements are produced.

    Imagine an ultra-modern car factory, where each model of ex. BMW series five can be configured in a few thousand different ways, starting from the type of engine used, drive, gearbox, the colour, driving assistant, type of leather covering seats, to the colour of thread used in the steering wheel coverage. Each chosen parameter implies using different parts

    ordered from the supplier and opens up additional combinations. There are thousands of orders at the production line every day – a man can’t monitor them all. ERP systems make sure the correct parts are at the right place, at the right time. Pure magic.

    Let’s look at this issue from a different angle – for the system to work so smoothly, thousands of programmers made sure that each detail would be there, hours were spent discussing things with suppliers, so the software could learn new possible combinations, limitations, etc., and first and foremost that the series product could be produced in many various varieties. Usually, this type of system is connected with suppliers’ warehouse inventory system.

    Thanks to this approach, the software has a plethora of data regarding the present situation, knows the number of employees on the production floor, their holiday schedule, production line status, and the queue of tasks for 2-3 months upfront. PROVIDING THESE CONDITIONS, YOU CAN PLAN PRODUCTION.

    You can take the best, worth a couple of million ERP systems with artificial intelligence, but there is no way it would work in small manufacture.

    A small company owner thinks that if he paid several dozen/ thousands of dollars for the system, the computer should solve all its problems. The implementation was rushed, shortcuts were made where possible because there wasn’t much time, work was hectic, and the IT company did the job based on limited data. And what’s next? There is no surprise that it doesn’t work.

    Why did the implementation of the advanced system fail in a small manufacturing company:

    • flexibility and custom production: in small manufacture, there isn’t time for the team to spend 1 hour on entering all data into the system, dividing the product into smaller parts, logistic minimum, surplus material, or material loss. The Client places an order, and its due date is “for yesterday,” which means all these preparatory jobs have to be skipped, and the system lacks operational data from the start. 
    • imprecise data: in a small manufacture, nobody cares about the % of losses, creating alternative technology, additional stock/ inventory, or schedules of machine downtime, not to mention even more advanced data. 
    • Mistakes copied from the production panels create chaos in the whole system – as a consequence, employees make mistakes, writing ex. Instead of 10 pieces, 100 or they click the wrong product, and because these systems count automatically and take away things from the stock, it works as a domino effect and spurs even more incorrect decisions.
    • very often, there is a need to pass by the system due to its inflexibility because good MRP/ERP won’t let you send an order to production when there isn’t a suitable raw material entered in the system or technology, even though you know that this material is available and the technology could be completed on the go – well, that’s the trouble with using the advanced solution. 

    My experience taught me that most companies that come to us to implement Prodio want to make their lives easier. So, as a result, they work not only with ERP but also with Excel. Why? If you can’t trust everything you have in your ERP system, there has to be somewhere else where you store your data safely, so naturally, you put your trust in Excel.

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    3. What you think You need from manufacturing  scheduling software, and what You really need? or which is better to choose: ERP / MRP software for production scheduling?

    The below table shows an example of a small machining manufacturer. There are two columns: the first one shows what a manufacturer thinks is needed and what is required

    The need can change depending on what is being produced, but the primary objectives stay the same. The most significant difference comes from the type of production, whether a series production or something more customized. 

    4. Which manufacturing scheduling software is best for production planning and control (depending on the industry you represent and your company’s size). 


    5.What are free or inexpensive alternatives to ERP / MRP, and why free solutions are generally costly?

    manufacturing scheduling software save

    This is one of the best marketing products in the IT history – software which can do practically anything, but in standard version offers almost nothing, because the company, which is responsible for implementation, has to make money. So free production management software is usually a cheap marketing gimmick. Only the licenses for basic modules are free, and companies make a fortune on implementation services, and you get a product without any technical support. That’s why you should be aware of traps:

    Watch out for “free production management software” or “open source ERP.”

    • Free is usually only basic modules licenses (such as ex. OpenOffice), any dedicated modules must be purchased at additional costs;
    • Independently installed systems usually don’t have any guarantee and technical support, and they might not be developed any further;
    • Imagine that possibly you managed to install some open source ERP, and there is another JPK, which you have no idea about;
    • Software implementation and adjusting it to your needs as well as maintenance are paid, and fees are very high – this is the “revenge” of free license policy;
    • It turns out in total balance that “free” software is more expensive than the paid ones and involves higher uncertainty.

    Some examples of the most popular ERP systems for smaller companies include SAP Business One and Insert Navireo. 

    What is a PRACTICAL difference between operating of ERP system and an accounting program?

    It isn’t the access to production or human resources (these modules you can buy in addition to simple accounting software). Still, a basic advanced system usually doesn’t have any production module, and you have to buy it as an extra. 

    The difference between accounting and inventory software and ERP is calculating material from the warehouse (material demand). For example, if you produce a bed consisting of a frame and a materace, the earlier mentioned CDN Optima will show you the total number of frames booked, based on the number of beds ordered. However, it won’t use this information while making a purchase plan connected to the production process until CDN XL, from the same producer, will point it, but you have to spend tens of thousands before.

    Please remember that practically none of the ERP-s reach the production hall as a standard. 

    The idea is that you buy a basic version of ERP and next upgrade or modify it to suit your needs better. Usually, you end up purchasing additional modules to get your ERP system work: 

    • The production module for ERP – enables creating of products technology and work planning;
    • MES registration module for production employees, where they can click completed works/operations to appear on the production plan;
    • CMMS  (managing maintenance, machine service, etc.);
    • WMS (warehouse managing system, operating on bar codes). 

    To sum up, the newest ERP-s are sophisticated tools, where you buy a “foundation” and build on it a perfectly tailored system, adding as many “building blocks” as you need. If you wish to have an ERP for production, you have to search for ERP + MES.

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    Nowadays, there is no point in investing even the lowest cash in tools that cannot work online. Moreover, the online approach guarantees flexibility regarding cost needs explicit calculation – which proves helpful in time of covid19 pandemic.manufacturing scheduling software avoid ERPThese are the tools, such as Prodio software, which are constantly developed. By investing a small monthly subscription fee like everybody else, you can use this opportunity to contribute to software development.

    Each of these companies presents a great approach to creating simple production planning tools, which are easy and user friendly.

    Implementation time decreases almost to nothing.

    The smaller the company is, the faster it should move to a “cloud,” as, sooner or later, that’s the way all businesses will go?

    • Installing any software in your company, you have to realize that in a few years, you might have to start from scratch;
    • Practically speaking, for small companies, without an IT department and advanced network, an online service is much safer than storing data at their premises.
    • The term “cloud” for production software shouldn’t scare you because the data is on a particular server in a secure location (as it is in Prodio); it isn’t all over the Internet, as in other cloud services.

    Integration with accounts and inventory module isn’t always worth doing. 

    As an entrepreneur, you strive to have work automated. You fight to eliminate dispensable procedures; you wish to pay once only and have everything in one place – this thinking is like grist to the mill of companies, which want to sell you the idea of “integration.”

    Integration is excellent, but it requires precision, and the system should be tailor-made for the company.

    Each waste and what is going to happen with it (to go to the warehouse or the trash), each technological change or different raw material used by an employee MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR in the system; otherwise, just after two months, it will be impossible to count your stock, which was automatically calculated and based on production. No products can be taken without being physically ordered, and all actions must be put in the system (it will be blocked otherwise).

    You might now think it’s excellent and that your small manufacture will finally be organized – but when there are many orders. The machines can’t work because you didn’t enter all necessary data into the system, you may go back to old good paper orders and leave this new system behind, although you spent on it several dozen.

    Automatic planning – won’t pay itself off!

    Gantt’s graph and a dream of one magic button setting a production plan is a topic of many talks between company owners.

    Meanwhile, although there appeared many different programs, which promise to plan everything themselves, so far it is still necessary for the software to know before it starts the planning process:

    • calendar of availability of production employees, time off work, their work presence,
    • matrix of competencies, to know who and in which scope can operate on which machine,
    • service and maintenance schedule,
    • perfectly prepared technology of the product, including changeovers, with exact lead times, possible replacement by other machines, types of tools used for a particular machine
    • properly run warehouse and inventory system and raw material- products allocation.

    If you fail to provide any of the above parameters, you can forget about even the best algorithms automating the production for you? Instead, the software is a small company that should tip you on your machine’s occupancy and estimated production lead time. And this is exactly what we wish you?

    7. Manufacturing software – typical implementation mistakes. 

    Failed manufacturing software implementations are a taboo topic in the manufacturing world, often swept under the rug. Why do manufacturers fail?

    manufacturing scheduling software implementation

    1) Perfect theory

    You have an idea of your perfect manufacturing software and a list of potential problems and difficulties. Regardless of the tips, we give you – reality will put all of them to the most effective. So no more theory, start practising!

    2) Let’s start after the season ends 

    How much time and money must be wasted to find a few hours for constructive optimization finally? 

    3) All in one package

    There are small manufactures, which wish to invest in advanced production, inventory and accounting software. Ok, but remember that your flexibility will also be limited and your daily tasks hindered.   

    4) I don’t have my data because it’s in “the cloud”.

    It is a better solution for small manufacturers to store all software data at the external server with an encrypted connection, more straightforward, cheaper, and more convenient than internal infrastructure.   

    5)  I can’t afford it…

    Is 5% a lot for you? Let’s say you employ 15 people and spend about 30 000 euros each month on their salaries. If you increase productivity by 5%, you are plus 15 636 euros in a year. You are right – you can’t afford to buy Prodio.

    8. Three best tools we recommend for a small business. ERP system alternatives – easy and cheap manufacturing scheduling software? 

    Which manufacturing scheduling software can help you to solve your production problems in the best possible way?

    These are the tools, such as Prodio software, which are constantly developed. By investing a small monthly subscription fee, you contribute to software’s development as everybody else does. We are improving its functions all the time, listening to users’ suggestions, and perfecting its efficiency and usability.

    Each independent software company presents a great approach to creating simple production planning tools, which are easy and user-friendly.

    It would be best if you had a light and simple prototype of the ERP system, and the most important is control of the parts flow and inventory tracking in the system.

    It would be best if you had a simple tool for simple cycles.

    You need to monitor work and plan production easily.

    Many might ask why do you praise your competitors in this comparison?

    First, both tools mentioned earlier are created by great companies that introduce fresh and new IT solutions. Secondly,  though they practically look similar to Prodio, they target utterly different product niches and solve various problems.

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    Online manufacturing software that puts you in control.

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