August 30, 2005

Manufacturer turns to open ERP software to run business

Author: Tina Gasperson

Moline Bearing manufactures and sells metal bearings from its factory in St. Charles, Ill., and its warehouses in Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, and California. Owner David Fauntleroy has discovered that when it comes to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that keeps his business running smoothly, the open source philosophy works better.Fauntleroy isn't just the owner; he is the sole IT person at Moline. The lone server in use runs Tiger, the latest release of Mac OS X. Until last year, Fauntleroy was using a proprietary database called 4D on top of OS X to keep track of inventory, shipping, customer accounts, and work flow. He started running into problems with stability and flexibility. "I don't know what they did to it -- I was having to back up every hour [because of frequent crashes]."

Besides that, the business was growing and Fauntleroy needed a solution that could help him keep customers informed about manufacturing times and shipping dates. "We began to see that the system we had wasn't fitting our requirements. I looked at a lot of different systems [as potential replacements]," he says.

The software that convinced Fauntleroy to switch was created by OpenMFG. Its product, also called OpenMFG, is an ERP and accounting package that is built around the PostgreSQL open source database. OpenMFG is not true open source software, according to the OSI's definition, but OpenMFG the company provides source code to customers, allowing them to modify the program as they see fit, as long as they do not redistribute or sell the modified code without permission from OpenMFG.

Fauntleroy likes the open source concept because he gets the features he wants. "Modifications with 4D were very difficult," he says. "With [OpenMFG] I'll see a lot more added at a faster rate." Fauntleroy relies on a local developer to customize OpenMFG for him. "I can say, 'I want to do this.' I gotta pay him to do it, but at least I get what I need done."

Fauntleroy started the conversion to OpenMFG in early 2004, tested it for five months, and today uses it to run the entire business: accounting, production, purchasing, and inventory. "The biggest hurdle was that I wanted to bring over as much information as I could from our old system," he says. "That proved to be a pretty daunting task considering you couldn't directly get it out of the database." He ended up manually converting the data to spreadsheets and using Microsoft Access to finally load it into OpenMFG.

The other challenge for Fauntleroy has been understanding his options with the software and the reports that it provides, and narrowing it down to what the business needs. "There is so much information available on this system, you have to learn to cut through that and figure out what information is going to work for you."

Fauntleroy says happier customers are one of the benefits for Moline that have come from switching from a strictly proprietary solution to one that is more open source friendly. "I think the biggest thing is that we feel like we have much more control over what we're doing because of the information available. It's much easier for us to understand. If a customer calls, we know when we can ship it, how we can ship it, and if we can put it together. When we sell secondary items from other manufacturers, being able to tell customers when something will be in is very important. We didn't have that before and that's improved our sales."


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