Choosing an Industry-Specific Product is Key
by Dan Andersen
It is obvious that the use of computers is providing major benefits to manufacturers in the fenestration industry.
Overshadowing the successes are failures in the deployment of systems characterized by tales of installations that take years or never happen at all. In order to mitigate such failures, users should develop a fundamental understanding of what software should do when it is deployed.
There are many configurators available and in use in the marketplace with varying degrees of sophistication and capabilities. As such they perform the basic functions of providing quotations/orders and bills of materials. These are merely the front end of the process required to order, manufacture and ship fenestration products. Most are parametrically driven, however, a few are CAD based. True CAD-based systems are “knowledge-based” which allows dynamic engineering and low database maintenance. CAD-based configurators also provide real rendered images while non-CAD-based configurators display “approximation” images. Users should look for interactivity between the software and products such as autoCAD.
Many software manufacturers focus on the configurator and allow, with a certain degree of success, passing this front-end information to generic manufacturing systems. Many manufacturers are unaware that they are actually dealing with multiple suppliers. Generic systems by definition are not designed to manage the specific needs of the fenestration industry. Users who deploy them should understand that they will not provide the level of accuracy and flexibility dictated by the “made-to-order” nature of the industry. Few software manufacturers offer fenestration-specific systems that cover front end and back end functionality. Systems designed for the industry are more responsive to changes in a user’s product line as well as new industry requirements. Patchwork solutions then inhibit migration as information technology infrastructures evolve.
System costs are not only the cost of the software. Software with an “open” architecture allows users to add custom interfaces and custom reports using in-house resources or third party resources. Software that is not “open” means the software manufacturer can dictate the terms and costs of modifications. Many modifications are only identified after deployment so users can have few options available to them if the software architecture is not “open.”
The platform on which the software runs is also key to cost control. Older technologies require scarce and costly resources, and may force costly migrations. If the software manufacturer does not maintain and release software that works on the latest technology platforms, ultimately the client will face increasing costs. Industry standards such as Microsoft Windows and SQL provide long term investment protection as well as a pool of resources that companies can draw on.
Software independence is another key to controlling total system costs. As the industry automates using CNC capabilities, software should not inhibit manufacturers from moving between different CNC manufacturers. Knowledge-based software allows an interface with CNC machines with only a protocol conversion instead of reprogramming operations when CNC machines are moved, swapped or re-deployed.
User interaction with the software is of paramount importance when looking at total system costs. Most systems offer a single look and feel, however, most manufacturers have employees with different skill levels and experience. While general system architectures such as industry specific and “open” address the needs of the manufacturer, the User Specific Environment (USE) architecture can optimize individual employee productivity. For example, a new employee needs more systems help than a ten-year veteran who understands the product line. Both employees need to input to the system and perform the same jobs, however the veteran has more familiarity with product codes etc. The software system should provide multiple interactivity capabilities customizable to the individual.
Remember to keep all these factors in mind when considering software purchases.
Dan Andersen is president of Preference North America Inc. in Toronto. You may e-mail him at
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