Patrick Miskill’s series on ERP management continues with a closer look at how the most powerful tool you can get for managing your system, the DMT, works alongside the most important feature, the Method of Manufacture, or MOM. That’s right, love your MOM is stll the best advice ever. 

The Epicor ERP system, like similar systems from SAP or Oracle, contains hundreds of tables in a single relational database.  The database is almost irrelevant; however the logical “rules” regarding how the data exists in the database is critical.  Generally speaking, ERP systems consist of simple code (e.g. Unit of Measure) tables, then more complex entity tables (e.g. Suppliers) and finally transaction‐based tables.  All these data must follow rules for “referential integrity” and the underlying database engine must keep track of the data and enforce the rules whether we are talking a few dozen rows of data in a single table or millions rows of data in hundreds of tables.

The beauty of these “back door” tools is that they are quick and easy to load and run. And they also provide instant feedback to the user as to the program’s progress. Either a row insert succeeds or fails.  You can test a single row in just a few seconds; it if fails, the Data Migration Tool provides an error log telling you why it failed.  Error messages can be somewhat cryptic, but usually it is straight­‐forward.  E.g. you are missing a required column (e.g. the “Company” column). And when all else fails, you can always go enter a row via the standard product then look at the resulting data in the underlying table(s) to deduce what the business object requires. Each DMT template lists the required and optional columns with a basic description of the data. As long as you follow the “rules” the data loads from the spreadsheet, just as if you keyed it manually into the system.

Some data relations however are quite complex and even the data template from DMT will cause you “instructional anxiety” (that feeling you get when you read an IKEA instruction guide and say, “What the heck?”). Rule­‐of‐thumb:  Just follow the rules, get one data set to load OK, then attempt a larger data set until you get it right.  Big mistake: Run a spreadsheet with tons of rows without testing and end up with garbage in the system, or better yet, a crashed system!

Case‐in‐point:  Method of Manufacture 

Epicor stores the Method of Manufacture (MOM) for a part as a series of operations and materials linked to the finished goods Part and Revision. It is the “how­‐to” cookbook to make something as simple as a screwdriver or as complex as a 747. It may consist of a single Operation with one or two raw material parts or it can be multiple sub­‐assemblies, each with their own operations and materials. It provides not only the “how­‐to” instructions to build something but it also contains estimates for the labor and burden rates to perform the operations.  These estimates are critical to any manufacturer since they provide the baseline for each manufacturing job in determining how well the actual product conforms to the method and whether the actual costs are in line with the estimated costs.

In the Epicor Production Management module, before a single MOM is created, all dependent data must be loaded into the system.  Example, all raw material parts must be entered, each with a given unit cost. All machine resources used in the manufacturing process must be loaded and activated.  All labor resources (Employees) must be entered along with their labor and burden rates. All operations must be defined and assigned one or more resources. It is an enormous engineering task to get these data entered and all the relationships established properly so that the Epicor ERP system’s production jobs can begin tracking and documenting each step of the MOM, including capturing all related costs for management review.  When done correctly, a company can then take advantage of the “Holy Grail” feature of ERP: MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning, where the system can analyze demand and forecast part, labor and machine requirements for meeting that demand).

Of course just as in life, “things change” like the cost of raw materials, labor rates and then you always have “Acts of God.”  For example when the earthquake off the coast of Japan struck in 2011, the resulting tsunami wiped out many manufacturers along the western coast of the country, leaving companies like Toyota in a serious bind as their “just­‐in‐time” processes ran out of parts and sub­-assemblies needed to manufacture cars and trucks. Imagine the sleepless nights that production managers must have had, re­-engineering their MOMs and seeing their MRP rules flushed down the proverbial toilet!

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