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Features That Define the Best ERP for Manufacturing


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Features That Define the Best ERP for Manufacturing

22 Jan 2024

Andy Pickard
Businessman in manufacturing plant

When you’re looking for new technology, it’s easy to get blinded by choice. Many of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions available right now offer a comprehensive suite of tools, but how do you know which manufacturing ERP features you actually need to accelerate your digital transformation journey and drive measurable change in your organization?

If you’ve read our blog post on everything your business needs to know about manufacturing ERP and are ready to invest in new software, you’re in the right place. An ERP can help you optimize productivity, gain end-to-end real-time visibility, increase collaboration and maximize profitability—but you’ll need to identify your must-have functionality first.

To help you find the best ERP system for manufacturing, we’ve collated this checklist of must-have features that your chosen ERP software should include, and some tips to enhance your business using manufacturing software.

Top 12 features that define the best manufacturing ERP software

Quoting and Estimating

The positive impact of ERP starts as soon as new customer opportunities arise, as the best ERP for manufacturing will include tools that enable you to increase the speed and accuracy of quotes and estimates.

The best manufacturing ERP systems record all operational details, such as raw material prices and previous job quotes, so that you can allocate resources effectively for jobs. This ensures that more orders are completed on schedule, reducing the need for overtime work by your team and protecting your profit margin. And by presenting a clear breakdown of costs, you’ll get customer quotes over the line quicker.

Quoting and estimating functionalities also empower your team with insights into buying habits and trends. These insights help your organization make informed decisions to improve the customer experience and maximize profitability.

Bottom line, a cloud-based manufacturing ERP with quoting and estimating features will provide your clients with accurate and on-time estimates while reducing time-consuming processes and increasing productivity for your business.

Shop Floor Management

As the nerve center of your business, the shop floor needs to function as efficiently as possible. But many manufacturers still rely on paper-based processes, emails and spreadsheets to manage operations.

Manufacturing ERP software is a powerful way to increase shop floor productivity and cost-efficiency, by connecting all your personnel via a single solution. Everyone can see and react to what’s going on in all operational areas, and many of the core processes that your shop floor relies on can be streamlined and automated to increase your output.

The best ERP systems for manufacturing will create automatic workflows for low-value, repetitive tasks, so your people can focus on responsibilities that require more skill or finesse. For example, if you’re a process manufacturer, the right ERP software will automatically generate certificates of analysis (CofAs).

The data insights provided by ERP technology will also allow you to make smarter decisions—such as sequencing similar processes together to minimize the number of machinery changes made during the course of each day. Data insights are especially useful if your manufacturing ERP features are mobile-compatible, as shop floor staff can view information and manage workload while on the move.

In addition, you can use your manufacturing ERP’s shop floor management module to record people’s skills, so you can assign the right personnel to each job. Coordinating this information centrally also enables you to identify any gaps or weaknesses in your capabilities, to plan future recruitment and business growth.

Financial Management

Like the shop floor, many manufacturers are using paper and email-based systems to manage accounts, which makes it difficult to get an accurate, up-to-date overview of company cash flow. The best manufacturing ERP software will automate and optimize every element of your financial management, reducing the administrative burden while increasing accuracy and visibility.

This feature, combined with secure, seamless integration with your other financial systems, allows your teams to effectively monitor expenses and better track financial data across your entire operation. This comprehensive data visibility enables you to make data-driven decisions about capital projects, funding sources, cash management, area of improvement and financial controls—ultimately, allowing you to boost profitability.

If you’re an international manufacturer, look out for ERP software with multi-language, multi-currency options for streamlined invoicing and payment.

Production Scheduling

Running a productive operation is key to your success. That’s why the best manufacturing ERP systems deliver real-time visibility of your needs and enable accurate demand forecasting, helping you improve planning and scheduling—avoiding costly shortages and surpluses.

Plus, the right manufacturing ERP software enables you to flexibly adapt scheduling and processes based on changing demand levels, organizing your production floor by work order or batch ticket to improve productivity, and scheduling maintenance and technical downtime around customer orders. It’s a win-win: you maximize operational efficiency while ensuring on-time order fulfilment and satisfaction for your customers.

A market-leading manufacturing ERP system will also allow you to perform “what-if” analyses to foresee challenges and potential disruptions before they occur—for example, what’s the impact of ingredients or raw materials being delayed? Armed with this information, you can make intelligent scheduling decisions, such as reordering your schedule to prioritize jobs that can be completed while you’re waiting for missing inventory to arrive.

All in all, the best manufacturing ERP software not only automates scheduling but also manages demand fluctuations and integrates production with other departments. This connectivity improves visibility, reduces costs and provides greater control over your manufacturing process.

Inventory Control

Inventory control goes hand in hand with production scheduling; ERP software empowers you to match real-time ingredient or component levels with work orders, to plan resources based on who and what will be available. However, the type of inventory management software you require may differ depending on the sector you operate in.

For example, industrial manufacturers will need a discrete manufacturing ERP system with material requirement planning capabilities, to generate a bill of materials (BOM) for each job. The best manufacturing ERP for discrete businesses will integrate your bill of materials with live inventory data, so you can forecast when you’re likely to run short of components—rather than only seeing the full extent of the problem when stock is critically low.

Meanwhile, process manufacturers and food manufacturers need ERP software with recipe and formula management capabilities, to calculate raw material requirements according to the size and makeup of each product batch.

Process and food manufacturers also have greater ingredient variability to contend with, which is why many organizations tend to choose a dedicated process manufacturing ERP system or food ERP software. These industry-specific solutions can help with storing and managing perishable ingredients to minimize waste.


Strong customer relationships are built on trust, and a huge element of this trust is the authenticity of the materials, ingredients and processes that go into creating a product, and the transparency with which your business can provide about these details. For manufacturers, this means using ERP software to identify, classify and track inventory from supplier through to shipment, for complete transparency throughout the manufacturing and distribution process.

Like inventory management, traceability plays a particularly critical role in food and process manufacturing, and the best ERP for manufacturing in these sectors is often industry specific.

For example, cosmetics ERP software can automate critical compliance checks and provide labeling tools for improved accuracy, while chemical ERP systems can track volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like fertilizers to comply with government regulations.

Whatever sector you specialize in, the best ERP for your manufacturing company will allow you to maintain tight control over raw materials using forward and backward lot number genealogy. Not only does this support transparency and authenticity, it will enable you to quickly audit and recall products in the event of a safety, construction, calculation or contamination issue.

Supply Chain Management

The manufacturing ERP features we’ve discussed so far have focused primarily on internal organization and customer relationship building. However, the best ERP software can also transform your supplier relationships.

Recent years have highlighted just how easily global supply chains can be disrupted—whether that’s through talent shortages, natural disasters, geopolitical conflicts or even a global pandemic. Therefore, supply chain control and supplier management best practices are critical to stop sourcing issues impacting your productivity. An ERP with supply chain management tools empowers you with greater resilience and flexibility.

Your manufacturing ERP system should give you the visibility you need to understand the impact of ingredient or component delays on your material requirement planning and production scheduling—so you can accommodate setbacks and look to source raw materials from an alternative supplier if necessary.

And, look out for systems that offer trading board and global trade management features so that you always have visibility of current and anticipated stock at all your facilities and can organize site-to-site transfers to optimize inventory, avoid shortages and keep production running smoothly.

Quality Control and Compliance

Having the best manufacturing ERP system means fewer product recalls and costly fines. That’s because quality control and safety features help you ensure compliance with regulations and maintain high standards for your products.

A top-notch manufacturing ERP solution keeps you up to date with regulations, stores compliance documents electronically, automates workflows for audits and minimizes errors through automated checks. This avoids production shutdowns, regulatory consequences and reputational damage.

As well as avoiding legislative repercussions, quality control is important for building customer trust. The best manufacturing ERP systems enable real-time quality monitoring, automated inspections, non-conformance tracking, and systematic corrective and preventive actions. A cutting-edge manufacturing ERP with compliance and quality control features gives you a powerful tool to reduce costs, enhance efficiency, boost customer satisfaction and achieve overall operational excellence.

Additionally, don’t forget to look for a vendor with experience in your manufacturing sector. Because let’s face it, the standards and legislation for food and beverage manufacturers vs. nutraceutical companies, or apparel businesses vs. cosmetics suppliers are completely different, so you want a partner you can trust is staying on top of the latest regulations and adapting their software to help you stay compliant.

Customer Relationship Management

Customer relationship management, or CRM, is a manufacturing ERP software feature for cultivating deeper connections with your valuable customers. Systems with this module, or with standardized integrations, track every communication with your customers, from phone calls and emails to marketing materials they see.

You can even analyze this data to identify trends or track key performance indicators (KPIs) like sales conversion rates and customer satisfaction. This translates to data-driven decisions for optimizing marketing campaigns, personalizing customer interactions and improving customer experience. Now, you can target your efforts more effectively and avoid wasting money on campaigns that don’t resonate.

The detailed communication history stored in CRM systems or features empowers your sales and marketing teams to pick up conversations with a personalized approach and build stronger customer relationships. This data can be accessed across departments, ensuring their collaboration. The CRM integrated within your manufacturing ERP will help you drive sales growth and strengthen customer relationships.

Analytics and Business Intelligence

In addition to providing automations, operational benefits and improved customer satisfaction, manufacturing ERP software adds value by centralizing your business data, so you can make stronger, more contextual decisions.

The best ERP systems for manufacturing include analytics and business intelligence (BI) tools that allow you to visualize and report relevant, real-time information to any device, anywhere in your business, through an easy-to-use dashboard. By digitizing your manufacturing data in this way, you can analyze high-level trends and drill down into granular detail, to understand the cost-efficiency of your processes and prioritize your most profitable jobs.

Look out for manufacturing ERP features that enable you to create custom dashboards, so you can configure insights and KPIs for each user in your business, delivering automatic event-based alerts when those KPIs aren’t met. This will allow everyone in your organization to focus on the metrics that matter most to their role, developing proactive responses to any setbacks.

Ultimately, a manufacturing ERP with advanced analytics functionality and integrated BI tools allows you to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions for both daily operational issues and strategic growth—ensuring you’re maximizing profitability and driving long-term success.

User-Friendly Interface and Mobile Accessibility

The ideal manufacturing ERP software features a user-friendly interface to boost staff productivity and mobile accessibility to help your team act quickly when needed.

A straightforward and user-friendly interface maximizes user adoption and satisfaction. To that end, the best manufacturing ERP systems offer a clean and intuitive design that is easy to navigate, allowing you to spend less on training and ensuring user comfort. In addition, role-based access control ensures users only see information relevant to their responsibilities, improving data security and simplifying the user experience.

By providing an easy-to-use interface with features that simplify the day-to-day responsibilities of your staff, not only do you gain quicker return on investment (ROI), but you enhance employee satisfaction and increase retention rates—increasingly important with labor shortages impacting many industries.

Moreover, mobile accessibility allows real-time data collection from your inventory, warehouse, loading dock or shop floor teams because your workers can access, input and report critical information using a range of devices. This improves accuracy, reduces delays and assists in informed decision-making by using real-time data. Through timely notifications, alerts and reminders, mobile ERP software can keep your teams updated, creating awareness about potential issues that need immediate attention and giving them flexibility in their working location.

Integration Capabilities

As well as out-of-the-box features, the best manufacturing ERP system facilitates seamless integration with your other manufacturing software systems allowing effortless data exchanges, fostering collaboration and optimizing operations.

An advanced manufacturing ERP system can integrate with your full software ecosystem, including product lifecycle management (PLM) tools, warehouse management software (WMS), transportation management systems (TMS) and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) software.

The best manufacturing ERP will also integrate artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to help you gain a significant competitive advantage, as well as interfacing with Internet of Things (IoT) devices to better collect and analyze data. These integrations further foster communication between departments, ensure data accuracy, streamline workflows and improve efficiency across all areas of your business by enabling real-time data exchange.

This is another area that benefits greatly by carefully choosing your vendor. Working with many suppliers can complicate communication, contracts, support processes and integrations, so consider choosing a software partner that can offer solutions for many of your digital transformation needs. That way you can leverage seamless integrations, dedicated support, cost savings and more.

Industry-Specific Features for Your Business

The best manufacturing ERP goes beyond standard enterprise resource planning modules. It offers industry-specific features that cater to the unique needs of your business and address the most pressing needs of your sector. These features are seamlessly incorporated with the core functionalities we’ve discussed above to further optimize your operations and increase profitability. Let’s explore some key features of industry-specific ERP systems that can help you succeed.

Discrete Manufacturing ERP

  • Engineering Management: An engineering management module allows for creating and maintaining alternate routings and BOMs that perfectly align with the requirements. It also assists in tracking job orders, engineering changes and even manages non-standard parts, eliminating errors and discrepancies and promoting consistent, high-quality production.

  • Job Costs and Profits: This feature of industrial manufacturing ERPs provides your discrete business with a detailed breakdown of project costs, enabling you to optimize profits. Functionality integrates data from various other features like inventory management, shop floor management, sales and purchasing to calculate accurate expenses for each job. Now, you’ll have an in-depth analysis of estimated and actual costs across various aspects like personnel, materials, operations, work orders and more— helping you analyze variances between standard and actual job costs, maximizing the profit margins on each job.

Process Manufacturing ERP

  • Mixed Units of Measurement: Process manufacturing environments often struggle with managing raw materials measured in various units. Tailored process manufacturing ERP software addresses this concern with specialized recipe and formula management features that account for mixed units of measure. This function tracks and converts between units (kilograms, cups, pounds, grams, etc.) regardless of the purchase unit providing accurate calculations for both inventory control and formula management.

  • Formulation Revision and R&D Tools: To keep up with changing regulations, consumer trends and rising costs, process manufacturing businesses often find themselves needing to re-formulate existing products or iterate to satisfy customers with new products. The best process manufacturing ERP software provides tools to help you manage recipes and formulas, including revisions and versions, not only helping you remain agile as requirements shift, but also streamlining the management of different formula versions for your own production, private label and contract manufacturing. Plus, robust research and development (R&D) tools help you innovate and easily iterate to bring new products to market faster—so you can capitalize on new trends or standards ensuring and stay ahead in your competitive marketplace.

Food Manufacturing ERP

  • Allergen Management: For manufacturers in the food and beverage industry, tracking allergens and expiration dates is paramount for ensuring customers' safety. This requires meticulous tracing and segregation of problematic ingredients identified by regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK government. The best food manufacturing ERP systems offer functionality specifically designed to help you protect consumers and your brand reputation. A robust food manufacturing ERP with recipe management and allergen management features will help you easily and efficiently trace allergens, avoiding product recalls, regulatory sanctions and most importantly, safeguarding public health.

  • Advanced Pricing: The most advanced food manufacturing ERP systems, such as Aptean Food & Beverage ERP, include advanced pricing modules, to help you maximize ROI in the competitive food industry. This tool empowers you to go beyond standard pricing limitations and enables you to create multi-tiered pricing structures, catering to different customer groups with specific needs. Furthermore, it offers greater flexibility in applying discounts, allowing your teams to use both percentages and fixed-amount reductions. To ensure maximum accuracy and control over your pricing strategy, your teams can even choose to base pricing on either the shipment date or the promised delivery date, so you’re maximizing customer satisfaction and unlocking greater profitability.

Don’t Forget: Talk to Vendors About Their Manufacturing ERP Features

This manufacturing ERP features guide has given you a comprehensive overview of what to look for when choosing new technology, but it’s not just a case of finding software that ticks every box on your checklist. Your choice of vendor can make a huge difference to whether your new ERP delivers optimal ROI.

To find the best-fit technology partner, look into your shortlisted vendors’ track records, to see what their experience is working with manufacturing companies in your sector. At this stage, it’s a good idea to document your requirements in a vendor brief or request for proposal (RFP), so you can set clear criteria for rating the capabilities of each manufacturing ERP provider you’re considering.

Next, talk to your shortlisted vendors about their sector knowledge. The best ERP systems for manufacturing are built by people that know the challenges organizations like yours face everyday, and will be comfortable demonstrating their capabilities by:

  • Sharing case studies and customer testimonials – so you can see which other manufacturing companies are using their ERP software and the benefits they’ve yielded from it. For example, when chemicals manufacturer, Hammond Group, moved to Aptean’s process manufacturing ERP, the company reduced IT costs by 39% in the first year of operation. Read Hammond Group’s success story in full.

  • Live demonstration – it’s good to see on paper what your manufacturing ERP provider can do, but make sure you also ask your shortlisted vendors to carry out a demonstration. This will give you a clearer idea of whether the software is easy to use, and seeing it in a live environment will give you the opportunity to ask questions and explore key features in greater detail.

  • A roadmap for deployment, training and support – a good implementation plan is critical to hitting the ground running, but an experienced ERP vendor understands that day one is just the beginning. The best results are driven by tech companies that understand the importance of training and support in customer success, and who will empower your workforce to drive value through your manufacturing ERP features.

Aptean offers free, personalized ERP software demonstrations to prove the value of our technology in helping manufacturers run more efficient, profit-driven businesses.

Rather than trying to create a “catch all” solution for every manufacturing organization, we’ve created industry-specific cloud software solutions that deliver the tailored functionality your business requires to drive long-term success:

  • Aptean Industrial Manufacturing ERP is ideal for manufacturers with customers in computers and electronics, fabricated metals, heavy machinery, and transportation equipment.

  • Aptean Process Manufacturing ERP supports manufacturers with customers in sectors including chemicals, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

  • Aptean Food ERP enhances manufacturing operations in sectors like bakery, confectionery, dairy, fresh produce and frozen foods.

  • Aptean Apparel ERP optimizes end-to-end processes for fashion and apparel businesses manufacturing clothing, accessories, footwear, textiles, workwear and more.

What’s more, all of our solutions are backed by dedicated in-house teams that know your industry inside out and are on hand to offer best practice advice, technical expertise and by-your-side support. Together with our ecosystem of advanced software systems, this empowers you to optimize day-to-day operations while driving tomorrow’s growth.

If you’re ready to get started transforming your manufacturing operation, get in touch with our team of manufacturing experts today.

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