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What's in a name?

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Tech Talk by Peter Mate
Peter Mate is owner and president of Planit Canada, a software and services company devoted to servicing the manufacturing industry. For more info email
Call it what you will. As if software is not hard enough to evaluate, buy or understand, to make it even harder, the industry uses confusing names and acronyms. My software is better because it's not merely an ABC software it’s also an XYZ, so it’s better. In this column I’ll try and shed some light on some of the more popular acronyms and types.

CAD – Computer 
Aided Design
This encompasses pretty much any software that can be used to draw something. Instead of drawing on paper, we draw on a tablet or computer. A well-known CAD software would be AutoCAD™ for example.

CAM – Computer 
Aided Manufacturing
This is the portion of software that takes geometry and creates the step-by-step instructions for a CNC machine to cut the desired part. Often, you’ll see software referred to as CAD/CAM, meaning you can draw and send instructions out to the CNC.
ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning
ERP software is a suite of applications or bundled into one umbrella. It typically touches all parts of the business from quoting to shipping and beyond. It’s intended to be a central nervous system of your business and setting one up in your shop can sure be as complicated and costly as a nervous system transplant. It will typically include some basic form of MES and MRP.

MRP – Material Resource Planning
This software focuses on material and time requirements for the products being produced. Some MRPs have morphed into adding parts of ERP like scheduling, capacity planning, etc.

MES – Manufacturing Execution System
MES lives primarily on the shop floor. It guides the work orders in an intelligent way through the shop considering the constantly changing conditions. Human resources, damaged parts, change orders, etc. Its goal is to get the products manufactured and shipped in the most efficient and timely manner.
SAAS – Software 
As A Service
This is a business model more than a type of software. Instead of paying a lump sum up front for acquiring the license to use a particular software, you pay a smaller monthly fee for the entire duration that you use the software. Typically, more costly in the long run, but easier to get into and mange cash flow.

CLOUD – Cloud based
This again is more of a platform than a type of software. Instead of installing an application or program on your computer or tablet, you access the software via a web browser. Nothing much is installed on your computer and all functions and files are saved on a server owned and managed by another company that specializes in taking care of servers.

So the million-dollar question is: What software do I need? The answer is simple. You need all software that will free up more of your time, increase quality and make you more money.
Having spent the last 
21 + years in the software industry in woodworking, I have seen how complicated it can be to understand what a software does and what is a smoke and mirrors sales pitch vs real world gain.
Marketing a software system can get pretty creative.
Your best option is to look for referrals and talk to other shops using the software you are looking at. See if you can find some yourself or through your network. Ask other material or machine suppliers if they know of the software you’re looking at. Maybe they can point you to shops that had experience with it.
Every software presentation will likely look great and sound like a dream. Even referrals given by software suppliers will always be their best accounts. You’ll have to dig a little deeper to get the real stuff.
So whether you end up buying ERP, MRP MES or whatever else sales and marketing want to call it, just buy what you know works when the rubber hits the road. TTYL!

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