Management Software pt.2

Again, somebody is requesting manufacturing management software appropriate for small manufacturers. Below is a typical request:

I have been running my line for nearly 2 years and things have been growing exponentially and it’s been hard to keep on top of things, like tracking inventory, sales, invoicing, working out what I need to restock and when, purchase orders, payroll etc…My rep in LA said there was some kind of program specifically for the apparel industry. There are so many out there – is there one you’d recommend?

This kind of software is what’s known as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), PDM (Product Data or Development Management), MRP (Material Requirements or Resource Planning) and lately, PLM (Product Lifecycle Management). When I ran this request the first time in August 2005, commentors responded with Net Suite ($99 per month), Tukatech ($5,000) and Quickbooks ($399). A resource for the big players in apparel manufacturing software is Apparel Magazine; they’re big on software (register for the free guide download). This morning I was re-reviewing Quickbooks (which seems to be of the least utility apparel-wise) looking at screenshots and I got totally depressed looking at their accounting system because it’s Sloan-esque and seems to revolve around managing waste. So I asked Bill who’s big on lean manufacturing and lean accounting and he recommended Access Your Biz ($995). I downloaded the demo (registration required) but haven’t tried it out yet.

Oh, before I go any further, I have bad news for Mac users. Few -if any- programs run on Macs. Way back when I first got into computing, I made the decision to go with PCs because I couldn’t find any apparel specific software that ran on a Mac. Unfortunately, if you use a Mac, you will probably find yourself in the same boat. I realize that as designers you may like Macs better but when it comes to cross platform functionality, you may have to switch. As is often the case, you can’t use a platform that melds with your personal preference. Rather, you’ll have to adopt the platform common to your industry.

I don’t have any fast answers since I’m in the process of evaluating demos and will be updating this post but this is a fast pass of what you need beyond basic accounting functions. You can use the list below to weigh software packages. This list came from Tukatech’s website and reflects the most needed (but not all) elements of their package. Personally, I’m not familiar with their product and can’t weigh in either way but I have a demo disk on the way (the overview brochure is here).

PDM Product Development Management Brochure (pdf) Cost is $5,000 for the 1st user
* Workflow and Event Tracking
* Bill of Material (BOM)
* Costing
* Style/Size/Color/Options
* Construction and Assembly Details
* Report Generation
* Measurement Specs
* Revision History

ERP Enterprise Resource Planning Brochure (pdf) Cost of add-on module, $2,000
* Inventory Control
* Manufacturing Orders
* Cut Orders
* Purchase Orders
* Shipping
* Invoicing
* Material Allocation
* Sales Analysis

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  1. Esther says:

    I used PDM years ago and found it slow and difficulty. Perhaps it has improved since Gerber purchased it? In any event, the price is still out of reach for most start-ups. I set up similarly styled PDM pages as Excel spreadsheets and workbooks. Eventually, you would want a customer database. For a true budget crunch, you can get OpenOffice. They have a great spreadsheet program, though their database program is still a bit difficult. MSAccess would be a better choice. Can’t argue with OpenOffice being free though.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    I like the idea of open source programs, and have pulled down some information to review later in the year. However, at first glance, my recommendation for DE’s is that it is better to not split your focus searching for the “ideal” software. At this stage in the game, it doesn’t exist.

    Well, except for those large plants with deep pockets who can afford to sponsor the development of the product. Sometimes it’s better to let the “early adopters” take the lead. They will sponsor the project and contend with the majority of the bugs. Soon afterward, the developers will turn around and remarket the product commercially, later.

    An ERP makes it easier to share information and to have several people performing related tasks simultaneously. If you need a book-keeper to pursue invoices (i.e. aged accounts receivables) while you are checking in an order, then an ERP might make sense, eventually.

    Take a look at the workflow you have established in your studio, then consider whether a low tech solution will solve your perceived problems. I feel it is more important to develop a smart, manual process long before you automate portions of it, as you can afford it. I say this because in the event of system failure, you want to be able to “crash pack” it by still being productive.

    Try thinking lean about your software investments. By this, I mean that you should only invest in improving the processes you need to, as you need to. If accounting and aging accounts receivable are a problem, then use QuickBooks to help support you through that problem. However, when you need software to manage another component of your business (presumably you’ll have more bank by then) look at the “whole” system. The ability to integrate with or convert your old data becomes a business requirement the new solution needs to address.

  3. Alex says:

    A great open source ERP package is Compiere ( There is a customized version available for the apparel industry as well (


  4. Karen C. says:

    Has anyone used AIMS? I’ve met the owner and heard him speak about the system, but haven’t had the opportunity to hear from an end user. Anyone?

  5. Robin says:

    Our company has used AIMS for the past year. At first, we thought it was a kludge but soon changed our minds as we began to learn the system. It will take intelligent people a few weeks’ time to learn how to use AIMS properly, but I think it is the most cost-effective software for a small to mid-size apparel company. It has excellent EDI integration, providing you use their recommended sources. The EDI integration is the reason we went with AIMS. It covers the “enterprise management” gamut from purchasing to vendor management to WIP. Cut tickets are a breeze, and order processing from picking tickets through invoicing is pretty simple once you’ve learned the ropes. We were helped greatly by consulting with a company called ECSSS (I do not work for ecsss!). Their $500 per month consulting fee will easily pay for itself. We are fairly comfortable with the software, but we still pay them their monthly fee, because we can pick up a phone and ask them a question any time we like. They’ll answer. I wish I could say the same thing about the AIMS tech support: nice, but difficult to reach.

    Although the screen looks like some kind of DOS program from the 80’s, navigating the program is pretty easy once you get the hang of it and once you’ve had a day or two of training.

    I HIGHLY recommend buying a few licenses for AIMS Online and using their online version, instead of buying the stand-alone software and running it from your own server. You run the online version from any Windows PC.

    They have thought of most everything, and have made the software fairly idiot-proof yet powerful. Only a few irritating things about the programming bring it down in my view, but otherwise I can recommend it as someone who uses it every day.

    Just passing through and thought someone might appreciate the input.

    p.s. make sure you’ve got a reasonably computer-savvy individual on your side when you go to implement ANY Enterprise Management/production tracking software/edi initiative.

  6. Laura D says:

    Well I looked up AIMS and it sounds good for what I am looking for, check the site out and any drill down information is written in Chinese I believe. Would anyone know the cost?

  7. Leslie Hanes says:

    Comments and updates anyone? It’s been 3 years since this article was written, it would be great to see some recommendations from small business manufacturers. It would also be good to get recommendations on point of sale software, that integrates with the manufacturing aspect because so many DE’s also sell their products at wholesale to others, and retail to the general population.

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