In the Lab - Component/Parts Catalog Solution

Leveraging the Power of Aras Innovator

We recently prototyped a components/parts catalog solution by leveraging the power of Aras Innovator.  The prototype empowers users to search, provides new part request options, support linking documents such as MSDS’s, dynamically links to ERP data, and integrates with IHS’ parts catalog solution.  And it was done in matter of days and with software that doesn’t cost a cent!

There were three key capabilities of the Aras Innovator platform that made this possible.  They are: 

  • classification structures with attribute inheritance
  • workflow capabilities
  • federated integrations

Without these application development underpinnings, we could easily have spent several more weeks doing development work.

Existing Options

There is no shortage of components/parts catalog solutions available.  Just browse the web and you’ll come across numerous standalone systems. Additionally, ERP vendors tout their capabilities to support this.  And of course there are countless homegrown solutions.  So why use Aras Innovator?

For starters, standalone solutions are just that … standalone.  They perpetuate the islands of automation theme that isolates data and spawns all of the associated challenges.  Parts have to come from somewhere and typically follow a review and approval workflow.  Once approved, they are used during the engineering, quality, and manufacturing phases.  How do you do all that on an island?

ERP vendors will tell you their environment is the place to park the data.  Admittedly this is needed for purchasing, inventory (balance sheet), etc.  But when was the last time you saw a company open up their ERP environment to the enterprise so users could check on the status of a part?

And don’t get us started on the folks that choose to “roll their own.” Seriously!  That’s the theme of this newsletter.  As stated in the previous article, Aras Innovator provides an 80/20 framework.  Why be left trying to figure out how to handle security, release stages and life cycles, and in this case of the catalog solution, chase functionality to treat classification and attribute inheritance?  This doesn’t even address the issue of how to upgrade over time as requirements change.

Effortless Prototype

What made this a prototype effortless is that our team was able to focus on the solution, not on the application fundamentals, infrastructure and technology capabilities.

Classification and attribute inheritance is not a topic to be taken lightly.  Over the years we have seen countless so called master data repositories, like a parts catalog, that are all normalized to assume the presence of various types of parts and components.   For example, say an organization has ten classifications of components that included things like resistors, diodes, capacitors, etc.  Within each component, there are potentially several sub classifications like surface mount versus discrete resistors. Each of these will have several independent and unique attributes.  Playing out the math, this quickly explodes to hundreds of fields in a table.  This is not even remotely manageable.

As a part of the prototype we needed to supply end users a mechanism to activate a request for a new part should that part not be found in the catalog.  Of course this was easily done with the workflow capabilities of Aras Innovator.  We took an existing new part request process and modified it to consider specific node activities and user tasks and responsibilities.  Literally, this was completed within hours. 

And the third critical factor in accelerating our development was the ability to leverage “federated integrations” to link to ERP data such as part pricing, unit measures, quantities, etc. Via the federated approach the needed data is made available for display, calculations, reporting, while not being duplicated in the catalog database.  The federated data stays put where it is managed.  This capability is a huge time saver and philosophically the only way to go.

Making it Happen

What makes this all even more exciting is that we used the Aras Innovator OPEN version and stood it up on Amazon Web Service (AWS).  We avoided all the hardware setup, software licensing, and configurations issues and were able to stay focused on building out the solution.  The OPEN version is available at no cost and provides a subset of functionality available with the subscription service.  The OPEN version provided all we needed for this prototype and provides an ideal “crawl, walk, run” path towards subscription. 

The net results of this exercise was the development of a very holistic solution that demonstrates the ability to help organizations optimize data reuse, streamline new part requests, and unify visibility to part data across the enterprise.