The world of software can often be scary and fraught with danger. Picking the right software for your drafting and manufacturing function in your business can be just as important as picking the right machines for your factory floor and the staff to run it all.
With over 20 years of experience delivering software solutions to manufacturers and the finance industry I’ve had the privilege of working with some great (and not so great) software products. Below is my hit list that I hope will help guide you in your decision-making process.
- Always ask what support looks like.
This is vital when choosing a software solution for your business. When things go wrong and they will, you want to be able to talk to someone and get the help you need. Don’t forget that help comes in many forms including:
– experts to coach you through a solution
– raise a bug
– request an enhancement
– teach you how to do something in the software
– get you up and running if there’s a technical issue
Support costs money, so like I tell everyone, be prepared to pay for it. Treat support like an insurance policy for your business and you’ll appreciate it when you need it most. Also, ask what turn around times look like. Lodge a ticket today and how quickly do you get a response? We love that TopSolid Australia has a 4 hour response time for all support requests.
- What’s the real cost of the software (long term)?
This is where you need to think about getting sucked in by buying the minimum and then realise quickly you need to add more modules or functions to get the software to do what it needs to do for your business. You’ll see this with builders when doing a new build on a home and the dreaded extras come flooding in when you want flooring, tiles, better fittings, etc.
Ask what the next step up in the software costs and make sure you compare apples with apples. You’re in business to grow it, save yourself the heartache and think long term total cost of ownership.
- What objects are included in the library and the cost of maintaining your library?
It’s great having a software package, but if it takes you 3 months to build your objects or an extra $5k to buy the library after the fact then this is something you need to think about more closely. A lot of software providers will leave you up to your own devices and leave you to build your library. There are many businesses today that have rolled out purely to create library objects for software that doesn’t come ready-made with a library and let me tell you, buying your way into a full library can be expensive.
Get a handle on what you build on the floor, what’s included in the software and what work you need to do to make sure you and your software are up and running as quickly as possible. I’ve always believed your objects should be managed by your software provider and that’s why we Safecode include our ANZ library for every client and offer quarterly updates that include new objects from all the industry’s hardware vendors including Blum, Grass, Titus Tekform and, Hettich.
- How often is the software updated
Just like the colour ranges of kitchens change and evolve so does the need for software. As I touched on the point above, the library of objects is forever evolving. You need to think about how much effort needs to go into maintaining this if you do it yourself or decide to pay for it. Software enhancements and bugs are a part of any software’s journey and it’s important to understand how often you can expect updates to be pushed out to you.
Ask your vendor, the number of updates they pushed out last year and how many of those updates included bug fixes compared to enhancements. As an example, Palette CAD looks to publish a software update every 6-10 weeks.
- What CAD / CAM integration options do you have.
Now we get into the nitty-gritty and space I love to live in. This is where we turn pretty pictures into the finished products as quickly and seamlessly as possible. It’s important when deciding on CAD and CAM providers that you understand what limitations exist in options and finished products. Think about some of the following:
– what happens if you change or buy a different brand of CNC
– do they support that machine with a post processor
– Is label printing an issue with certain machines or maybe it doesn’t work at all on a particular type of machine
– does your CAD/CAM solution lock you into a brand of machine
– what happens if you need to use different materials
When the world of CAD and CAM come together great things can happen but things can also go south quickly if you haven’t thought about all the possible scenarios for your business.
- Nesting options & reporting
Australian cabinet making businesses are now heavily focused on manufacturing through nesting. The ability to cut and drill means the process of design to manufacture is quick and easy. The important factors though they make up this function are nesting, waste, yield and your ability to report on the manufacturing process.
In ICB you can switch between true shape nesting and rectangular nesting while also making edits post optimisation to the nest. Features like this and yield % / waste % per sheet, per job and reporting on a daily and weekly basis allow you to run a highly efficient and lean business.
- Upgrade costs
Upgrade costs are something that we all dread, but it’s a part of every software ecosystem. It costs money to develop software and to make it better, quicker and smarter. Ask the question of what the costs look like and the impact of not upgrading and then possibly coming back to upgrade at a later time.’
Most software vendors will charge additional fees if you skip versions of software (example you are on Version 6 of something and the latest is Version 8, you will be charged to upgrade from 6 to 7 to 8).
We all love our staff, some more than others but it’s important to recognise that initial onboard training and ad-how training will be a requirement of any successful cabinet making business. Often you will be able to hire ready-made trainee staff but you should always be prepared to ask
– what training resources come with the software
– are there online demos and self help videos
– does the software provider teach you to build and make things relevant to your business
– does the software provider offer remote/online training and at what cost
– does the software provider offer team or face to face training and at what cost
Remember the more skilled your staff are in the software package the quicker, more efficient and fewer errors will save you money in the long term. Small productivity gains in your staff using the software solution can turn into big $, in the long run helping your bottom line.
- Finance as an option
In today’s world, cash is king. Cashflow to any business is vital to support day to day operations and the future growth of the business. Software purchases in the CAD /CAM are often large and depending on the size and function of your business this could mean value of $20K or more. The great news is that finance companies like Manufin who offer industry based finance solutions can help you with software finance and leases. Software finance generally spans up to 3 years with between 0% to 20% deposit to secure the deal.
Having your software financed means that you can use your capital on other activities in your business to help you grow.
I hope you found this informative and if there’s anything I or my team can do for you then feel free to drop us an email. We’re always happy to help!