Production Management Software for a Woodshop

Once you have your paper systems straight, what can a computer software package do for your materials and time tracking, labor productivity evaluations, et cetera? April 20, 2008

I would like to know if anyone (smaller shop - 5-6 on the shop floor) frequenting this forum uses JobBoss (Exact), E2, J-Mos, Tractivity, Sage AccPac, or another business management software package. After that, I'll see if I can figure out what questions I should be asking!

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor T:
It may not matter how many people you have on the shop floor, depending an what your primary needs are right now. What do you do, and what do you need the software to do?

From contributor R:
Mostly, at this point I want it for time and material tracking to a job, with enough breakdown to employee and operation/department/work center that I can better quote jobs, reward good employees, and see what areas need improving (process, equipment and/or people). Eventually some scheduling, although that's not a major issue.

From contributor T:
I would suggest that you make sure that you have good, manual systems in place before you tackle the software side. Assuming you have this under control, we like to recommend the TradeSoft system for our clients. It is modular and can grow with you as your company changes and grows.

From contributor C:
Why the Tradesoft package? Other than it being modular, what makes it better than any other software? We are looking at them, but have not decided yet.

From contributor T:
Several reasons, here are just a few... They have been around for a while and with good results; it is modular and can grow with the business; they provide good support; it is an affordable MRP type system; it has a good data structure that doesn't fall apart when your business grows; it can integrate with many of the major softwares being used in the marketplace; we have seen good results with it.

In fairness, I don't know what you do or what your needs are, so it is difficult to make a firm recommendation without more information.

From contributor P:
I have been using JB for about 8 years. I would recommend you look at something that is more woodworking specific. The metal industry is different - they look at parts only, whereas in the woodworking industry we tend to look at assemblies. The metal software is just not geared toward assemblies.

Basically I only use JB for tracking time and material. I don't use it for scheduling.

I would look at Tractivity or Filemaker Pro. Short money and more customizable, at which point you can decide if you want to go further with the erp thing. Truthfully I doubt you will want to get into something like Trackware or similar. The reality is that it doesn't have the return on investment. From what I see, guys who are successful with erp are big and more product oriented, i.e. not job shops.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I was at the Jobboss seminar yesterday. Originally I was thinking that I could call a die (from the metals trade) a kitchen and move on. But yesterday gave me pause. I didn't get a chance to hog the keyboard, though.

Filemaker Pro: I'd like for someone to expound on this. How is it compared to MS Access? Why do I hear people talk about Filemaker Pro and not Access? I have been using Access. I'm a lot better at "programming" this than I was three years ago. But time on task has been very difficult to find. I'm slowly freeing up some time (passing hats) where I could devote more time. But I wonder if I wouldn't be better off investing that time setting up a package that someone else has programmed more power into. What do you think?

From contributor P:
Both JB and I think Tracktivity are programmed in Access. If you already know Access, I would go with that. Filemaker is just easier than Access, yet powerful.

Erp is usually big bucks and I'm not sure it will give you the bang for the buck that something like Tractivity or Filemaker will. In reality I think you will find you only use it for labor and material. You may want to start with a cheaper solution first.

From contributor M:
What you describe you want to do is easily handled with Tractivity with a minimal learning curve or involvement. I have been using Tractivity for some of the purposes you describe. I do not have the inventory module, so I do not track materials. It is capable of so much more than I use it for, so it depends what it is you want to do with it and how much time you are willing to invest to get it. I plan to figure out what else I can get out of it when I have the time or the inclination (or both), but I am happy with what I get out of it now. In essence, you create a job and however many tasks you want to track, and then assign a code. Everyone gets a mobile tracking device and punches in the customer code and task code. It also acts as a time clock, which downloads directly to Quickbooks. Additionally, I find it is so much easier to get clients to accept certain charges when you can produce a print out of the time it took to get it done. (Oh, so that's how you do it....) I was so used to just making change orders that seemed minor without charging for them, until I started seeing the time it took to get them done. I also track rework caused by employee error or damage due to carelessness. The cumulative cost is staggering to me, but it puts it into perspective from the employee point of view. So you want a raise, do you? Let's see...

From contributor R:
I recommend Taskklock for what you want to do. I am using it to track time and materials for 60 employees. It's designed for woodworking, easy to use, not too expensive and very flexible. It's a good thing to start using this kind of system when you are small - much easier than switching over when you have grown.

From contributor C:
Thanks for the responses. We are a small high end residential shop that dabbles in a little commercial. Under 20 employees, 1.5-2 million annual sales. Accounting is on Quickbooks, but everything else is fairly manual. That's the short and sweet of it.

Are you using any estimating software or just your pen and paper? I have used a program called Easy Est. Not bad once it is set up. From what I understand, the Trade Soft package has an estimating module, along with having similar modules to what has been discussed here. Anyone using Trade Soft?

From contributor L:
We've been using JobBoss for quite a few years. (24-man shop) The labor-time and payroll functions work very well. We use it to track inventory (works well when employees use it correctly.) We found the scheduler to be too time consuming to use (and still don't have a good system.) JB is based on Access and uses Crystal reports, so it's easy to make custom reports for about anything. We use the estimating part, which is simple enough that you could write it yourself in Access or Excel.

The sharing of information between the estimators, CAD guys and purchasing has worked fairly well. Accounting pays bills (automatic check printing and recording) after the purchasing man has checked them. The accounting portion is automatic from there on. Every other Wed. we meet and go over the jobs that have shipped using the reports from JB and that's where the shop foreman gets his input heard. At the end of the day Thursday, Vicki prints me out a balance sheet so I can tell where we are headed. If I were to do it again I'd look for a less expensive program that had fewer bells and whistles! We have 5 shop terminals for the employees to log in and out of jobs. The server automatically collects the information and puts it into report forms for looking t job costs, and for payroll. The day before pay, Vicki prints out everyone’s hourly report and gives it to each employee. If there are things that need changed, they are done before checks get printed. It's nice having all the times stored electronically so we can look back at jobs and see where we had the right guess and ---.

The system works but requires significant input effort. Once you have decided on a system it will be hard to change later because of the learning curve you've already put effort into, and all the records that get generated in one system won't work in the next. The failure of the scheduler is due to the way we work more than anything. The input of the assumptions about overlap in scheduling is tricky at best. It is nice to be able to both forward and backward schedule. (To see how soon a job could be finished or how late you could start a job and still ship on time.)

Part of the shop makes parts. When the parts get to assembly we are making fixtures. You can't separate the part times for an individual fixture since they are being cut, routed, doweled, banded, etc. all in a big group not by fixture. Assembly times are easily tracked if the benches have enough of the same fixture to work for a couple of hours making 13 of them, but if they are making only one of each simple fixture it takes too much time to record each one's time spent. We also found that tracking finishing time by fixture took too much time. Since there are usually several jobs going through the shop at once even keeping the jobs separated in sanding/finishing is difficult.

Before you buy new software decide what you are willing to spend in time to learn and use the modules you buy. Also note the annual fees they will want to keep you up to date (and fix their bugs.) You may need to update your computer system, put in cabling, a new server and software, backup system, uninterruptible power supply, network switches, etc. Trying to figure a ROI on the whole mess is not easy! Will you have to hire a PT geek to maintain the system?

From contributor Z:
Like anything else, what you get out of Filemaker is related to what you put into it. I did spend some time with Access in the beginning. The method I used was to work my way through four books written by four gurus. In the beginning it was pretty confusing but I kept plodding along. I would read the first chapter in book one, then I would read the first chapter in book two. By the time I read the first chapter in book three it was starting to make sense and by the time I got to book four I could almost anticipate what they were going to write about.

My reasons for getting into this initially were self defense. I'd hired four different programmers over time to help me with these initiatives, but I couldn't get any traction out of the investment. I came to conclude that in order to leverage these guys' time, I would need to know how to talk with them. I figured that I would do a better job of articulating viable scopes of work if I understood the language. What moved me from Access to Filemaker was that I wanted something that would run in the Mac environment. While that consideration is moot now, it was a big deal to me at the time. In the process I have found Filemaker to be very simple to learn and very robust in its abilities.

I'm not so sure that database development is the best thing for everybody. If you are using MS Excel on a regular basis you would probably prosper from converting to Filemaker. If you want to develop a full blown ERP, you would probably do better to go with something like Tradesoft.

I enjoy the mental acrobatics of things like database and Lean manufacturing. I'm wired this way. I don't like managing people. Database calculations do what I tell them to. You've heard the expression that when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail? Every time I see a problem or successful moment I tend to lay the Lean thinking template over it and compartmentalize my analysis. Lean is all about pull systems, and so is database.