Healthy, very convincing and much more widely available functionality in CAD/CAM, much better shopfloor-focused business/manufacturing management systems from the ERP vendors, better e-procurement solutions for production materials, a build-your-own software components-based supply chain management suite – and a new, ultra-low cost model for production management. Those were the instant impressions of a slimmed down, but vibrant and busy nonetheless Computers in Manufacturing (CIM) Show at the NEC earlier this month. And if that wasn’t enough, Show organiser Penton Media Europe announced at the event that for next year it is teaming with Reed Exhibitions UK to bring together all of CIM 2002, Inspex, Tooling and Manufacturing Week as Total Engineering and Manufacturing event (TEAM 2002). Next year, says Penton, we will have: CIM; Tooling; Factory Automation; Drives, Motors & Controls; Design Engineering; Inspex; Factory Services; and Contract Manufacturing – all under one enormous umbrella. The idea seems to be to provide everyone involved in any way with engineering and manufacturing with a good reason to get there and get updated. Says Penton managing director Andy Center: “As industry gets more competitive and collaborative it makes perfect sense to create an event which coves all things to all manufacturers. UK industry needs all its stakeholders to play their part to increase our competitiveness. Now we have a meeting place for al of them annually.” Back on the CIM 2001 exhibitor developments, and the engineering design side of CIM seemed bigger than ever, with big names including Autodesk and many of its value add partners, SolidWorks, Delcam, MSC Software, VX Corp, Solid Applications, SmarTeam and others. It is hard to remain unmoved by the power and flexibility of the software from vendors like these. So much is automated, so many processes eased, so much legacy 2D data easily imported. The list goes on, and the CAM and collaborative engineering facilities are just as impressive. Digging beneath the surface reveals the need still to be specific about precisely what you are trying to use with what, but nevertheless, the image is one of an industry really getting to grips with its users’ needs – and anticipating many more. As for the mainstay ERP-plus vendors, SME manufacturers were well catered for, with names like Mapics, Lilly, Exel, Manusoft, Cincom, Infor:swan, McGuffie Brunton, K3, Minerva, SSA, Epicor, Sage and Sanderson to choose from – as well as advanced planning and scheduling vendors like last year’s award winning Asprova/Profax and Preactor, the latter now showing remote supply chain querying functionality. It is the case that many of these look increasingly similar, and it becomes ever more important to look at the detail – both of technology, features and functions, and of the marketeers’ ‘domain expertise’ (industry sector experience and manufacturing style coverage). It’s also worth quizzing them about their involvement with initiatives like lean manufacturing and TOC (theory of constraints) – and how well these methodologies are embedded in and encouraged by their software. It is the case that most vendors are hungry for business these days, and manufacturers are being offered very good deals that really do include lower costs (and better financing deals), much faster implementation times, better business advice and more comprehensive and detailed solutions. CIM revealed a pattern of ERP vendors involved with tighter strategic alliances to round out their offerings, a more holistic approach to businesses’ needs and an eye for differentiating not just their solutions, but also their services. On the shopfloor side, three to watch are Manusoft, Dlog and the unfortunately named Sexy Software. Manusoft’s is an SME package very strongly geared to managing the work place electronically (with excellent MES functionality); Dlog’s is similar, but with the emphasis on machine management with all the feedback loops, work instructions, drawings and the rest. And Sexy’s is just £2,500 site-wide: that’s probably the most important point. It’s a pretty thorough manufacturing management suite for the ‘S’ end of SMEs, used by and developed for parent company Onyx Holdings’ fabrication plants throughout the UK – and, for what it is, it’s ridiculously cheap. That fee is for everything – as many concurrent users as you can throw at it, maintenance, upgrades the lot. Incidentally, two tips – check out: B2E Markets for an interesting e-procurement solutions involving people, processes and web technologies; and Skyva for technology that makes the term ‘collaborative manufacturing’ make absolute sense.