"Parts is parts," exclaimed the flustered clerk in the whimsical TV commercial for a fast-food chain's chicken selection. Likewise, for years, manufacturing planners have been forced to take a similar view toward raw materials and production inventories -- since their MRP systems operated on the assumption that any part was available for any customer order that required it. Certainly, in many instances it makes sense for a planning system to allocate materials to the production jobs that most urgently need them -- namely, those closest to the customer due date. At times, however, it can be important to predesignate inventory to a specific customer order, especially for companies that emphasize build-to-order capability. In some cases, the customer may be required to prepay for materials and inventory -- and might be very upset to discover that those materials were diverted to another job, especially if this results in late delivery of its order. For manufacturers seeking to avoid such dilemmas and to improve their customer-order tracking capability, Glovia International LLC has incorporated Japanese "seiban" principles into the latest version of its advanced ERP software -- Glovia 4.0. The product, which also accommodates more traditional MRP approaches, includes a Seiban Workbench feature that enables manufacturers to closely monitor all facets of a specific order from entry through distribution. When used for contract and project management, it can track service requirements as well as materials. "It is JIT manufacturing -- on steroids," says Patrick Adams, director of global marketing for Glovia International, an El Segundo, Calif.-based joint venture company formed in 1997 by Fujitsu Ltd. and MDIS. "The seiban concept has to do with being responsive to customers and making sure that everything comes together in a synchronous fashion." Seiban is a Japanese term that means "manufacturing number." And with Glovia's seiban-enabled MRP function -- dubbed project resource planning (PRP) -- a unique identification number is attached to a particular customer order or contract. Subsequent supply orders -- for all purchased parts, materials, activities, manufacturing orders, and even outsourced services associated with that customer order -- inherit the seiban number. The PRP application can coexist with traditional MRP and MPS (master production schedule) techniques. One advantage of the seiban capability, Glovia points out, is the ability to track the status of all components required for a particular customer order. "You can go into the system and ask, 'How am I doing on this customer's order?'" Adams notes. "If a supplier is running late on an item, you have the ability to reschedule the assembly operation or the delivery date." In addition, the software enables manufacturers to monitor costs and profitability on an order-by-order or customer-by-customer basis. "With seiban you can measure the exact cost of a customer order, including indirect costs," he adds. Other benefits include the ability to conduct "what if" analyses to predict the impact of changes in the manufacturing process, as well as the ability to link inventory acquisition and replenishment directly to customer needs, thus reducing inventory requirements and costs. Significantly, if the schedule for any item tied to a seiban number is changed, the schedules for all other related items can be adjusted simultaneously to keep them in synchronization. William Engel, president of Glovia International, says the firm's software represents the "next generation" of ERP solutions, those with extended capabilities that address such trends as outsourcing and project management. "If a third-party supplier's product is needed to meet a project milestone, it gives visibility to the requirement for that component," he explains. The technology underlying Glovia 4.0, which is available for both UNIX and Windows NT platforms, provides the ability to use emerging standards to connect heterogeneous systems and assemble "best of breed" solutions, Engel points out. "The market," he says, "is beginning to believe that no single vendor can accommodate all of the special needs of an enterprise." Glovia, which is specifically targeting four discrete manufacturing sectors -- automotive, telecommunications, capital equipment, and electronics -- supports a broad spectrum of manufacturing modes: repetitive, build-to-order, assemble-to-order, and engineer-to-order. The engineer-to-order option addresses such things as bid process management, cost estimating, and configuration management. "In a multidivision operation, different plants may require different styles of manufacturing," Adams points out. "A feeder plant, for example, may be repetitive while the assembly plant is highly engineer-to-order." With Glovia 4.0, all of a company's plants can use the same basic software.