The annual Epicor Customer Conference, Insights, was revived in person for 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still fresh in everyone’s mind, Insights 2021 was a strange brew of keeping the traditional spirit of the event in line with the necessary precautions required to keep attendees safe. That being the case, the show was organized and executed for an audience that numbered a bit more than 1800. That is roughly half of the standard attendance when compared to prior iterations.

The event focused on Epicor’s full suite of business solutions, newest technological developments, and road map for the future of the company and its products along with providing ample learning and networking opportunities for attendees throughout the week. Because we and our audience work primarily with Epicor Kinetic (previously Epicor ERP), this recap will focus on items relevant to that product.

CDR Acquisition of Epicor Software Corp.

The Short: Epicor was purchased by CDR in late 2020. Rebranding followed shortly after with a new logo, marketing, and design. The company will focus efforts on being the #1 cloud ERP provider for manufacturers moving forward.

Clayton, Dubilier & Rice purchased Epicor in late 2020 for just under $5 billion. Epicor has more than 20,000 customers across the globe and offers a world-class suite of software for manufacturing, distribution, retail, and services. CDR is confident it can propel Epicor to its next stage in development and increase its market share. Part of that effort is a heavy investment in cloud technologies for Epicor industries.

By offloading IT costs, improving connectivity and coverage for any time, anywhere work, and heavily investing in cybersecurity, CDR seeks to make Epicor the leader in cloud-based ERP. That is not to say on-prem and hybrid deployments will be unavailable. It means that Epicor will move forward with a cloud-first mentality and encourage users to consider the cloud as the optimal choice for deployment.

Epicor has made it easy to recognize the benefits of the cloud and developed a roadmap for easier on-prem to cloud migration.

Epicor has redesigned its look to reflect these forward-looking changes with new logos, new marketing collateral, and a brand overhaul that is simple, sleek, and attractive.

Epicor Kinetic 2021.1

The Short: Epicor ERP has been renamed Epicor Kinetic. The enterprise management software will continue to focus on the needs of modern manufacturers. Intuitive design, functionality, and experience continue to improve user adoption and time to value. Advanced on-prem and cloud-based cybersecurity safeguards have become a priority to combat what Epicor sees as an increasingly targeted business group.

As part of Epicor’s rebrand, Epicor ERP has received a new moniker, Kinetic. The product leverages an array of next-generation personalization for businesses, employees, and their customers. The improved product delivers cutting-edge business management tools, including new validation and security tools for highly regulated industries, low-code, no-code interface design, and more product flexibility, all available within the browser.

This change is punctuated by a focus on Roles and Personas that will govern provisioning, interfaces, learning, and training, all within the Kinetic system moving forward.

Kinetic and the cloud-first approach will move forward in tandem, ensuring that customers will have the opportunity to see the software mature at their own pace and integrate when the time is right. The benefits emerge already, with those customers who are current on the software gaining the maximum benefit through future-proofing their business.

Epicor’s Acquisition of KBMax

The Short: Customer-driven eCommerce tools are now the norm and KBMax is Epicor’s answer to easy purchasing in a familiar online shopping experience. By enabling complex ETO and product configuration as a 3D visualization, manufacturers can enable customers to complete purchasing activities online, more quickly and more easily.

Customers are increasingly demanding faster quoting, more personalization, and an easy-to-use interface for their purchasing activities.

To address these needs, Epicor identified and acquired KBMax. This Engineered-to-Order (ETO) product configurator and 3D visualization tool allow for easy quoting and configuration of highly complex products. This includes everything from outbuildings, industrial equipment, furniture, and more.

Designed to provide customers the ability to build out complex product configurations in an easy-to-navigate interface, KBMax greatly improves the overall purchasing experience for the customer. As a result, businesses can more easily account for MRP and production activities, close more sales faster, and increase customer satisfaction to ensure repeat business. All of this takes place in a web browser, on a desktop PC or mobile device, for a new level of convenience.

The demonstration presented at Insights featured an e-commerce website for an ETO manufacturer of retail sheds and storage buildings. The tool provided for the complete customization of an outbuilding from material and color to trim and custom access points.

The customer could fabricate any variation of the shed with just a few clicks and be prompted with an alert following any configuration that would not be possible from an assembly or material availability standpoint.

The customer may even create a virtual yard or property exact to dimension to see how the finished product would look after installation. All of this took place within just a few short minutes before the purchase could be finalized and submitted from the user’s web browser. This tool looks very polished and will serve as an exceptional compliment to Epicor Kinetic’s eCommerce tools for manufacturers.

Cloud Deployments and Migration from On-Prem

The Short: Epicor is increasing emphasis on cloud deployments moving forward, though Hybrid and On-Premise will still be available options. This will provide businesses with superior agility for several reasons, including control, security, scalability, and collaboration. Government cloud and cloud validation packs are available for government contractors and manufacturers in highly regulated industries, such as med devices and life sciences.

The Kinetic rollout and cloud-first approach are governing the forward momentum of Epicor’s business model. As a result, Insights featured a litany of talks and labs based on the benefits of moving to the cloud and how to get there, whether starting from square one or moving from on-prem. The process has been streamlined to minimize business disruption.

Among the most popular reasons customers are choosing to move to the cloud over traditional ERP deployment models are:

  • Remaining current in stride with the pace of innovation
  • Achieving faster time to value
  • Enabling a mobile, global, and collaborative workforce
  • Minimizing environmental impacts of expansive IT hardware infrastructures
  • Facilitating IT staff to drive high-value business initiatives
  • Achieving and maintaining world-class security
  • Leveraging enterprise validation tools for highly regulated industries
  • Satisfying standards for Government-regulated manufacturing industries and contractors

The regular cadence Epicor has established for each new release of Kinetic helps to standardize and communicate change in advance. Cloud keeps these businesses protected around the clock and ahead of the curve with the most up-to-date security and functionality.

Augmented Reality, Machine Vision, and Cobots to Improve Quality and Assembly Operations

The Short: Epicor is working with cutting-edge robotics and augmented reality technology to improve assembly operations and ensure the quality of finished products. The effort also improves traceability throughout the supply chain, from the production floor to the final destination.

During the opening keynote with CEO Steve Murphy, Epicor demonstrated collaborative robots (cobots), shop floor workers, and machine vision tools working together to assemble complex products. In this case, printed circuit boards.

Serialized components were handed to workers by their cobot counterparts. The augmented reality display indicated where the next piece should be inserted into the PCB apparatus. The board was then scanned by an overhead camera to be either approved or rejected.

The actions were executed quickly and efficiently, which prompted the next piece to be retrieved by the cobot and placed appropriately by the worker. All these actions were recorded and reflected in the Kinetic system in real-time.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, or renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of the Industry.

Collaborative robots (cobots) are gaining traction in modern manufacturing facilities. Prices have steadily fallen into the realm of affordable for most small and medium-sized manufacturers. By offloading the repetitive portions of a human counterpart’s workload, the cobot increases overall output, accuracy, and safety.

With COVID-19 forcing businesses to reevaluate collaboration in the workplace, cobots are entering conversations at an increasing rate. Where two humans may not be able to share a common space, a human and a cobot can do so safely without sacrificing productivity.

Cobots Are Built For – Wait For It – Collaboration

When we examine robotics and automation in the age of Industry 4.0, we can identify many familiar, though more archaic, forms of robotics in the manufacturing facility. Unfortunately, many of these examples pose quite a hazard to their human coworkers. Robot cell design has traditionally put human safety at the forefront and locked these machines in cages or behind walls.

Cobots break free of those bonds and work right alongside people. By design, they are considerate of our fragility. Internal and external sensors ensure they speed up and slow down operations based on proximity to humans.

This is just one example of how collaborative robots are making their adoption more palatable in the factory.

With a starting price tag on most models circling $25,000, cobots are more affordable than they have ever been.

As adoption increases and innovation in human-cobot collaboration proliferates, we can expect to see even more exciting technologies and use cases emerge as Industry 5.0 approaches.

Collaborative Robots Make Smart Manufacturing Accessible

Not only can we program cobots to perform any series of dull, dangerous, and dirty tasks ad nausea, but we can also ensure they adopt new methods of performing work easily.

This is in stark contrast to hard or fixed automation examples in industries like aerospace and automotive manufacturing.

Those robots, generally referred to as articulated robots, are built with one purpose in mind and are rigid in their programming. Changing tooling and behavior takes significant effort. Too often resulting in lost production time. These robots even risk becoming obsolete as production changes over time.

On the other hand, collaborative robots can be reprogrammed and equipped with novel end-of-arm tooling to complete an array of complex tasks. Whether the job requires drilling, stamping, welding, gripping, or just about any other method of manipulation, chances are there is a cobot solution out there already or currently being developed.

The experience of programming cobots is becoming more intuitive every day. Examples like drag&bot and block come to mind, with simple drag-and-drop coding snippets that can program a robot to perform manufacturing tasks. as the coding environment becomes more accessible to workers who traditionally had a hands-on interaction with jobs, the result is new ways of achieving efficiency. This is in stark contrast to a computer science-oriented way of thinking about manufacturing scenarios.

Not only this, but career machinists can put their valuable knowledge to work in new ways that spark creativity, growth, and fulfillment in their careers.

Where Cobots Fit Into The Manufacturing Facility

Collaborative robots in manufacturing can take the mundane and stressful in stride. Excelling at dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks is what they do best.

Consider cobots scaled-down versions of other familiar robots already utilized in manufacturing facilities around the world.

Bench-top models resemble miniature articulated robots, at 3 to 4 feet in length. They are agile, lightweight, and customizable to an array of tasks. These same robots can also be mounted to mobile platforms. This can expand the cobot’s range of operation, assuming many different assembly tasks with the quick changeover from station to station.

Mobile cobot examples are also gaining momentum ferrying materials and components to staging areas so that staff doesn’t waste time walking from their bench to picking locations in your facility. Manufacturing and distribution centers gain incredible productivity when these useful robots can carry weights no human possibly could between storage and staging areas. The result is more employee engagement regarding the tasks at hand, fewer opportunities for accidents, and less time wasted walking the floor.

Mobile robots also make managing inventory much easier on your operations. They can complete non-stop audits of inventory, suggest amended sorting based on the flow of goods, and other efficiency opportunities based on the data flowing from their sensors into your ERP system. Businesses can then bring planning and scheduling to greater levels of efficiency, driving supply chain management like never before.

Beyond the physical examples, there are digital examples of cobots to consider, too.

Chatbots answer visitor inquiries on your website and report back to your CRM with visitor profile data.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic process automation (RPA) routines fall into this category, too. They handle repetitive data entry and admin tasks at an exponentially faster rate than humans. Not only does this example enable immense cost savings for large operations, but smaller businesses can remain competitive by handling more tasks with fewer costs sunk into non-revenue generating activities.

Both examples automate repetitive tasks that free your staff to take on more creative and value-added work.

All these collaborative robots fit into your facility in some way or another and feed the information they gather into enterprise systems.

These data transactions inform every level of your business, enabling you to make more intelligent decisions on the fly.

The Elephant In The Room – Fear Of Replacement

Ever since robots made their debut on production floors, humans have feared being replaced. Robots don’t complain, they don’t get tired, and they don’t get paid.

Despite these perks for companies, perhaps the biggest drawback when it comes to robots is that they don’t think for themselves.

They do not innovate; they do not come up with more efficient ways of doing things and they certainly are not creative. In this sense, they are about as dumb as the sum of their parts without a human giving the orders in the form of a program.

Before Covid-19, talent was hard to come by, especially for skilled trades in manufacturing. Cobots were one way to ease the burden these companies faced in a “sellers” market for talent. According to one 2018 Deloitte study, as many as 2.4 million U.S. Manufacturing jobs were expected to remain unfilled through 2028. This translated into an economic impact of $2.5 trillion.

The argument can be made that many skilled workers complete repetitive tasks daily. These tasks are the target of cobot solutions. These tasks wear on the hungry mind or eat at the fragile structures of the human body, the result is nagging injury and unfulfilled potential.

When cobots shoulder the burden of these tasks, their human counterparts can develop personally and professionally.

Take the Paradigm Electronics cobot example into consideration. The introduction of collaborative robots into the workplace didn’t lead to job loss. Quite the opposite. Those staff who were machinists up-skilled to robot programmers. Those traditionally static jobs fell by the wayside to be scooped up by cobots. The resulting dynamic was not a job loss for humans, by a redefinition of their professional roles and responsibilities.

Collaborative Robot Proliferation

The rise of cobots has shown to bring more benefits than drawbacks.

Industries continue to adopt the technology and human workers see the benefits in their adoption.

Even start-ups can reap the benefits of a workforce that doesn’t slow down and can always remain nimble to the changing landscape of business.

Whether it be on the manufacturing floor, the vineyard, or the back of the house at a restaurant, cobots are fast becoming a part of our daily lives.

Every day the price of cobots is driven down by fierce competition among robot manufacturers.

Innovations in sensing technologies and machine vision further increase efficiencies.

Currently, the cobot market is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2030. According to ABI research, the greater cobot ecosystem, which includes software, tooling, and customization, is expected to grow to $24 billion by the same time.

The above picture reveals a bright future for manufacturers and workers as this exciting technology develops.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of the Industry.

We came, we saw, it was awesome. Encompass Solutions’ participation as exhibitors and speakers at Automate 2019 gave us the perfect vantage point from which to experience the show and deliver an Automate 2019 recap.

an image of the encompass solutions booth team at automate 2019

Automate 2019 At a Glance

Produced by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the show featured more than 500 exhibitors in the massive 160,000-square-feet exhibition space at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. In addition, the show hosted five educational tracks that included practical training in How to Automate, Automation Solutions & Innovation, Collaborative & Mobile Robotics, AI, Digitalization & Smart Manufacturing, Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Basic, Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Advanced, Certified Motion Control Professional (CMCP), and Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Updates. These tracks included content from introductory level to advanced topics for users, students, educators, and operators. While we delivered an introductory seminar on current automation types, robotics in use on the factory floor, and how you can get started implementing in your facilities, we attended several breakout and advanced sessions. During each of those talks, one theme emerged over and over–ours is the age of automation.

Here are just a few more happenings from Automate 2019 regarding new advanced robots and robot vendor developments that are rolling out into facilities worldwide.

Automation 2019 Key Takeaways

There were too many things we learned at Automate 2019 to list in one post. However, we want to share a few highlights that we think everyone needs to consider moving forward:

  • Automation is here and it’s only gaining more momentum as advancements in hardware, software, and utilization become more refined.
  • If you are not thinking about leveraging automation and robotics, you are already behind.
  • While many are expecting an economic downturn between 2020-2022, now is still the best time to begin investing in these technologies.
  • Start small. You don’t have to outfit your entire operation to remain competitive. start with one robot or one instance of automated assembly. build from there.
  • Empower your staff and involve them in the transformation that is coming.
  • Focused Automation and Robotics specializations for employees will be necessary, as there will be less and less room for unskilled staff in modernized facilities.
  • Upskilling current staff will be of greater benefit and lower cost for employers than training and onboarding new staff.=

It’s going to be a hard-fought battle to outpace competitors as automation becomes more affordable and more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises. Start training and experimenting with automation today and you’ll be ready to weather the bout.

ERP At Automate 2019

We spoke with hundreds of users and manufacturers thinking about robotics and automation during the weeklong Automate 2019 event. While the robots and automation enclosures were captivating, to say the least, one thing few seemed to consider during that time was how they were going to connect those robotics and automated systems to the rest of their enterprise. In short, the answer is an ERP solution.

It’s one thing to install a robot on your factory floor to install windshields, make welds, or assemble PCBs. However, what are you doing with that data from your manufacturing processes? Are you even tracking it? By plugging your robotics and automation data into your ERP system, you are getting more detailed accounts of performance, quality, material and time optimization, maintenance cycles, and so much more. Everyone we spoke with, from attendees to exhibitors to organizers, agreed that ERP connectivity is an essential component of automation and robotics on the factory floor. We look forward to carrying those conversations further and urge everyone looking to automate processes or install robots in their facilities to consider the necessity for visibility and connectivity when evaluating such technologies.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions, Inc. is an ERP consulting firm and Epicor Gold Partner that offers professional services in business consulting, project management, and software implementation. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems or addressing emerging challenges in corporate and operational growth, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. As experts in identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of the Industry.