The Following Article was published in the February 1996 issue of APICS, On-line Edition and is reproduced in its entirety.
DOS-based MRP II System
Software Editor's notes:
For many users, the idea of acquiring and implementing an MRP system is seen as something that is both expensive and time consuming. In many cases, these packages require the computing horsepower of a minicomputer and they are difficult to modify and customize. MAGI, from Manufacturing Action Group, Inc., takes a different approach to the implementation and modification of an MRP package. First of all, it is written in FoxPro, so users can configure and modify the package with relative ease. Second, MAGI is Windows-like without being written for Windows. As a result, it makes fewer demands on computer hardware and software. Finally, this package, although it is written for a microcomputer environment, embodies nearly all of the features you would expect to find in a comprehensive closed-loop MRP package.
This month's guest reviewer is Donald E. Spice, who examines the various features and capabilities offered by this package. As his review shows, good things can come in small bundles.
On a different note, as the software editor, I am interested in reviewing any feedback or comments that you may have. If you wish to contact me, I can be reached at my office (N431 NBC, Department of Management, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1122. Phone 517-432-3506 or fax me at 517-432-1111. My Internet address is email@example.com.
We are also recruiting software reviewers. If you want to become a reviewer, please contact me as soon as possible. -Steven A. Melnyk. Software Editor
By Donald E. Spice
MAGI is a closed-loop MRP system designed and written for PC-LAN-based systems. As such, it contains all of the modules and capabilities that you would expect in such a program. These eleven modules (listed in the product summary box on page 43) are controlled by a twelfth module, the system manager, which essentially acts as the "brain" of the system.
MAGI is targeted at make-to-order/assemble-to-order/discrete batch manufacturing operations that place a high priority on packages that are robust, easy to implement, easy to use and easy to configure. The ease in use and configuration are due to the language used in MAGI. MAGI is written in FoxPro, which is widely used in the PC world. The files created by MAGI are in the industry .DBF standard. As a result, they can be addressed and used by numerous report writers available on the market. This enables the user to easily configure the package (or to have the programmers at MAGI do so at additional cost). It also enables the user to develop and implement specialized reports easily, cheaply and quickly.
The source code for all modules, except for the system manager, is available as an optional purchase (about $1,000 per module), which allows users to modify modules on their own. A nice feature offered by MAGI is a super safety hatch that can be used by the developer to revert the code back to the original logic in case of any problems with the modifications.
Modifying and compiling the source code requires a copy of FoxPro 2.6 (readily available from many software outlets at a reasonable price). Users can also contract with MAGI to modify the software for a reasonable hourly rate.
The version reviewed in this column is DOS-based. It will run under Windows (either 3.1 or Windows 95) in a DOS partition. A Windows 95 version is currently in beta testing and should be available early in 1996. However, while it is not a true Windows program, it is Windows-like in that it features a graphical user interface (GUI) with hierarchical pull-down menus.
In terms of the breadth of features, this program does a good job. This review will look at all of the features except for the Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, General Ledger and Order Entry. These were examined in the demo and generally found to be easy to use. It should be noted that MAGI offers an interface for $500 that gives the user integration into Great Plain's Software (something which I felt was a significant feature).
System Manager: As previously noted, this is the brain of the program. It interacts with all of the modules and controls the whole package. It also offers a system of user-defined passwords at the module level, at a lower level and within each module. It is also here that import and export activities are performed. Generally, import/export are done in ASCII format-a generally usable but somewhat limited format. It is also at this level that we access the ready-to-run reports built into MAGI. In addition, we can modify/add fields to any one of the more than 150 tables. We can also customize printer requirements at this level.
Inventory Control: Inventory Control is the heart of MAGI. The item master consists of two screens of data for each part number (including several memo fields of unlimited text-a useful feature for adding comments). This data is the foundation of several other modules including Purchasing, Bills of Materials and Shop Floor Control. In addition, this module supports serial/lot and shelf-life traceability, transaction history, and multiple warehouse/location. In this module, reports may be queried in several ways, including by range of dates, part numbers, commodity, and so on.
Bills of Material/Process Routings: This module supports indented bills of up to 99 levels, where-used lists, engineering parts lists and routing documents. Bills may be switched on and off by means of effectivity start/stop date fields (a very handy feature that enables the user to pre-plan any changes to existing bills without the changes being dumped prematurely into the MRP module). An options bill feature is also available that helps to reduce the work of creating a bill for each and every product. It also provides a way of minimizing the chances for errors. Routings can be broken down to any operation level to suit the needs of the user. The tracking of all labor costs and location of WIP can be as detailed as required.
Product Costing: Five sets of costs are retained: average, current standard, frozen standard, simulated and last actual. Each is broken down into material, labor and overhead categories and offers a wealth of data for almost any management "what-if" simulation requirement. Unfortunately, this module does not support activity-based costing.
Purchasing Control: This module gives the user an unlimited number of line items per purchase order. Each line item has an option to print unlimited text, and a large number of reports help to keep tabs on outstanding orders with sorts being done by need date, vendor and part number. A vendor part number database gives a quick look-up of previous vendors used for a particular part. The database also gives a vendor part number cross reference to your part number (again, another useful feature).
Shop Floor Control: This module is used for creating and closing work (manufacturing) orders, tracking material issues and actual labor charges, and creating kit lists (can be sorted by shelf location). Screen query shows items issued to kits and compares them to any stock shortages. Again, this module offers a large selection of reports (10) including a shortage report based on a user-selected range of dates.
Requirements Planning: The MRP module is notable for being extremely fast. As a default, it offers 50 user-defined buckets for a one-year window (no bucketless system supported). The user can define the planning horizon as far out as needed. The module, while complete, is limited to full regen MRP; it does not offer net change (a problem that is somewhat offset by the speed of the module). An optional "M" day calendar program is available that enables the user to create a user-defined calendar that excludes non-working days. This module also contains the master production scheduling system.
Estimating: This module creates comprehensive estimates based on the Bill of Material and Product Costing Modules. Costs can be broken down into material, labor and overhead categories. The modules do what you expect a closed-loop MRP system to do: MRP, capacity planning (at the rough and capacity requirements planning levels), exception reporting and production/purchasing scheduling. Missing is aggregate planning (production planning).
This program is fast, primarily because it uses FoxPro (which means that a great deal of the overhead associated with Windows-type programs is not present). The speed of the package is greatly influenced by the capabilities of the LAN and the hardware platform. Of these two elements, it is the first that acts as the essential bottleneck to performance.
An example of the performance of MAGI can be obtained from our test involving 6,500 item master records. There were, on average, 5,500 records per bill, with an average of four levels per bill. The average run time (working through 12/31/99) was less than 10 minutes. This test was carried out using a 486 33MHz file server and a 486 33MHz workstation.
The capacity of the program is essentially unlimited-again thanks to FoxPro. MAGI can accommodate any size of database.
Ease of Use
Overall, MAGI is easy to use. Menus are grouped and layered logically. Nearly everything in this program is self evident to any knowledgeable user.
Help can be obtained at any time by hitting the F1 key. This brings up a help system that is a subset of the information found in the manual. The help feature is not as helpful as it could be-it is not context-sensitive and, unlike other programs that place the entire manual on-line, this help is rather limited.
The manual is fairly complete and logically laid out, with a writing style that is fairly ease to follow. It covers the basics for the user. You are left with the feeling that you could learn to use the program by simply reading over the manual and going through the demo. However, this manual is limited by its minimal table of contents and index. It is difficult to imagine that a five-page index is detailed enough to cover a 480-page manual. Furthermore, while the documentation does cover what the system contains, it is limited in explaining how to use the tools. Another weak point: the manual refers to each figure by an almost cryptic notation. For example, for the Quotation Review, we are introduced to a screen shot of the appropriate screen and a title which reads "Figure 252-ESTMD." Titles of this type are not useful and are often confusing. They should be either rewritten or dropped.
Before leaving this section, it should be noted that the program is fairly robust. Whenever a problem was encountered, it was possible to back out of the problem (often by hitting the escape key) without creating any additional difficulties.
On one hand, installation is relatively straightforward and could be completed in most cases by the user. The installation program leads you through all of the steps. In general, it takes between 30 to 60 minutes to complete the installation. The only requirement is a familiarity with DOS. For those users who are timid about installing this program, it should be noted that this installation can be done either by a consultant or by subcontracting for installation from MAGI.
The installation process is relatively inflexible. It works well as long as you are installing MAGI to the root directory. However, it will not work "as is" if you want to install the program to a subdirectory. To do so requires user modification of the installation batch files (something that should not have to be done). I tried to do so and experienced only limited success on my own. After installation, the user is given a demo database consisting of 100 records which can be used for experimenting (a nice touch). In addition, the first 46 pages of the manual provide a nice guide for system implementations and a useful general check list. However, it would have been nice if a tutorial had been included to help the user.
Finally, it should be noted that MAGI does offer customized on-site training to help in the implementation process.
Technical support for MAGI (available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT) is excellent. In nearly every instance, the five-person support staff answered my questions on the first call. Further, if your system uses either Carbon Copy, PC Anywhere or Reach Out, the staff at MAGI can access your computer system and diagnose your problem from their location. This feature results in real-time solutions combined with less frustration, as you do not have to explain the types of problems that you are facing.
A maintenance program is required for the first year at a cost of 15 percent for each module and source code purchased. The maintenance program provides unlimited telephone support along with any upgrades. After the initial 12-month period, the support program is optional.
The bottom line
There are several things to like about this program:
Against these pluses, there are several potentially irritating but relatively minor shortcomings. Magi offers limited on-line help and it does not support multi-level pegging of supply orders, only single level. The documentation could be improved. The installation program is relatively inflexible. MAGI offers no formal returned material authorization process, and it offers limited import/export capabilities.
In short, MAGI, while limited, delivers what it promises-a no-nonsense, effective, fast, customizable package that does its job with a minimum of fuss and bother. To this end, it is good value. It leaves you with a sense of confidence.
Donald E. Spice holds a B.S. in production engineering. He is a member of the American Institute of Industrial Engineers, Association for Computing Machinery and Zimbabwe Computer. He has 23 years' experience in production and has been involved in the computerization of manufacturing companies in Australia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the U.S.
The most important component we have found in successful implementations is the usability of the system-how well you address the business issues and how acceptable is the human interface. Tracor did not require product training to run our software, nor did they ask us to provide onsite installation support. If you know manufacturing, you know how to run this system. There are no surprises, no confusion, only the good, solid, commonsense functionality that APICS has been pushing for years.
By stressing "ease of use" and adhering to industry standard practices, we have been able to reduce installation time and training requirements for our customers significantly. They also found that employee changes are less disruptive and overall productivity is greater. The most significant result, however, is the business objectives are easier to meet.
As a software publisher we spend a lot of time in a feature and option war with other suppliers. Consulting firms make up check lists, customers place marks beside the items important to them and purchase decisions are made. The process is simple and painless until implementation time. Then the real issues surface and ease of use, flexibility and adaptability become critically important. We have found that for a system to be successful, people have to be able to run it. If it is a pain to use, requires a lot of training, or falls short on substance, it will fail. That is why we consider the user interface issues so important and why we are on the PC LANs.
Today's robust PCs are the equivalent of a mid-'80s supercomputer. You can buy a gigabyte of disk storage for $300. Processing power and mass storage are not issues. Neither are software tools and databases. Corporations, like Microsoft, are supporting highly functional offerings in both areas. It's a brand new world. One where full-time MIS support is an option, not a requirement. Control of the business systems is returned to the people who use them, where it belongs.
Our DOS product provides a solid foundation, and we are currently focused on a Windows product that significantly expands user control over our software. We are supporting modifications to menus, reports, files, fields, editing criteria, etc. New fields can be incorporated in the system with security and maintenance automatically in place. Continuous MRP has been added. The reporting side options now include fax, E-mail, screen and hardcopy. Documentation has moved to the computer as context sensitive hypertext; and it's user-maintainable.
We have the computer playing a more active role in the systems process. It can be set to participate in the day-to-day running of the business.The computer acts as a task manager and ensures that critical events are brought to the attention of the appropriate people, ensuring that effective action is taken. The system can automatically escalate past-due "tasks" to higher levels if deadlines are past due. It gives management a definition tool that provides enforcement and tracking as well. Issues do not slip through the cracks. Goals are met.
-William Porter, President
Manufacturing Action Group, Inc.
Type of product: Closed-loop MRP package
Vendor: Manufacturing Action Group, Inc., 6650 Crossing Drive, SE, Suite D, Grand Rapids, MI 49508
Phone: (616) 698-2880
Fax: (616) 698-2927
Contact: William Porter
WWW home page: http://www.magimfg.com
Operating environment: MS-DOS and compatible with NET BIOS LANs
Contents of software: Twelve integrated modules: Inventory Control; Purchasing Control; Customer Order Entry; Shop Floor Control; Requirements Planning; Bill of Materials and Routing; Product Cost; Cost Estimating; Accounts Payable; Accounts Receivable; General Ledger; System Manager
Cost: $5,000 to $53,000
Support policies: Maintenance Agreement required for first year-15 percent of software list price ($1,000 minimum). Maintenance is optional thereafter but highly recommended. Telephone support is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Modem support available using a variety of communications packages (Carbon Copy, Reachout, PCAnywhere, etc.).
Training programs: Available on request (customized).
Demo available: Yes
Copyright © 1996 by the American Production and Inventory Control Society Inc. All rights reserved.