ERP Software Tamps Down Barriers to Growth

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G&W Products, Fairfield, Ohio, stamps and fabricates components and assemblies from many different material types and thicknesses using a variety of processes—both in-house and outsourced—for a diverse client base (see lead image). Part volumes are as high as 2 million a year, though most item requirements are 100 to 10,000 parts annually.

Founded 50 years ago, G&W had become a successful stamping manufacturer under its original entrepreneur management. When Gary Johns, a steel industry veteran, purchased the company in 2006 with ambitions to grow it, he found that the company’s growth was constrained by an antiquated scheduling and inventory management system.

“Upon my arrival, scheduling was actually done on a notepad and a magnetic whiteboard. It was just shocking,” company CEO Johns said.

Vice President of Sales Randy Sagraves worked with Johns previously and moved over to G&W with him. “I felt like we took a step back in time in terms of the system in place here. To take our business to another level and support existing and additional large customers required a much more robust system.” The previous owners had purchased an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system but had not fully implemented it.

Johns added, “We have some unique talents and abilities at G&W and we are located in a good spot, so we had a lot to capitalize on, but we really didn’t have all the resources we needed. To grow, I knew we needed some additional equipment, additional management talent, and we really needed to do something about our ERP system.”

Resources, Operations to Manage

Like other manufacturers, the company must coordinate its material intake, outsourced parts, in-house operations, machine time and scheduling, maintenance, quality inspections, tool maintenance, human resources, inventory and work-in-process (WIP) storage, client requirements, and delivery schedules.

Processes: In-house, Outsourced. The company stamps, welds, and powder coats in-house on 17 stamping presses; 30 weld bays; eight robots; five grinding stations; lasers; press brakes; a 275-foot, three-stage powder coating line; and other machinery. It monitors the operations, maintenance, downtime, productivity, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and tooling of each of those 110 work centers.

In addition, the company offers other services that it outsources, such as plating, coating, heat treating, machining, and deburring. “So those operations must be tracked as well,” said Jeff Karan, director of enterprise technologies.

Materials. G&W Products processes carbon steel, aluminum, stainless steel, and red metals to support industries such as energy, heavy equipment, military, construction, and material handling.

Human Resources. More than 165 people are employed there.

“So, think about keeping track of that on a magnetic board!” Johns said. “That board would have to be very long.”

Client Requirements

The manufacturer’s customer base is growing, both in number and in level of sophistication. “We are working with large, even FORTUNE 500®, companies, and we’re building or stamping to print,” Johns said.

Customers of that caliber don’t play with suppliers with whiteboards and notepads.

“Large companies, whether they’re Schneider Electric, Caterpillar, Navistar, or Honda, won’t buy from you if your system isn’t robust enough to meet their expectations for quantity, quality, and delivery. You really can’t be where we were a decade ago and sell to them,” Johns said.

Company management sought ERP software that would help them handle complexity, especially with scheduling and part and material traceability.

Software Helps Manage Complexity

The company investigated 10 ERP software companies and their products. Through a process of research and evaluation, matching their offerings with the company’s needs, G&W narrowed it down to Plex Systems’ ERP Technology Platform.

G&W installed Plex Systems’ manufacturing suite, which comprises five modules: products and programs, planning and scheduling, inventory management, production management, and quality management.

Immediate Results

“When we first put the new ERP system in, we had a lot of gains … I mean overnight,” Ken Vance, CFO, said. “The first week, the head of receiving came and told me I could reassign his staff. The software helped him know where materials and parts were and what was coming in and when, so he could manage intake by himself.”

Since installing the new software, G&W has been able to grow its part volume exponentially.

“When I first took over the company, we got a really nice contract for 15 part numbers. It took the effort of everybody in the company to get them loaded, launched, and moving within 60 days. It was labor-intensive, involving a lot of spreadsheets. Today, it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to release 15 part numbers in one day,” Johns said.

Karan added, “Fifteen years ago, the most complex assembly we’d make would have five or six components. “Today, we produce an assembly with 300 components. It’s massive.”

“To do that 10 years ago, I’d have to hire more engineers, more project managers, more hands-on expediters … more people to track all this information. Now it’s in the system. It all flows together,” Johns said.

Parts Inventory Tracking, WIP Anywhere

After implementing the new software, G&W used the capacity planning and production requirement planning modules to help control inventory levels and create job runs that were appropriate for the customer’s requirements, Karan said.

Karan said that because the ERP system requires scanning bar codes and recording locations, parts whereabouts are always transparent. “Traditionally, we had specific areas where WIP and finished goods would be placed. But inevitably, we ended up spending a lot of time looking around for parts with a pad of paper.” Because the company’s mix is constantly changing, parts and finished goods would get moved around or placed in front of another one, and employees had to double- and triple-handle parts, Karan said.

“Now we no longer have to have that. We have part location control by scanning the bar codes to a specific location. So, no matter where we put the container, we know where it is.”

Dynamic Production Scheduling

The scheduling and capacity planning features within Plex allow G&W to adjust to ever-changing customer demands, while ensuring that adequate stock is in place for ongoing kanban requirements.

Having real-time data at their fingertips has enabled G&W managers to make informed decisions on-the-fly. Johns recalled an instance when the ERP system’s mobile scheduling capabilities saved a job run and salvaged a holiday gathering.

“Two years ago, my son, who works here, was sitting at the dinner table with us on a holiday, and he received a call about a problem on second shift. He just pulled up his smartphone, looked over the data, and rescheduled a machine.

“In the old days when that happened, more likely, managers or the operator would just make a decision. It may or may not have been a good one. Or maybe they just shut down the machine until the next day, which would be a waste of personnel and equipment time.”

Quality Inspections. Inspection scheduling is complicated because it varies from job to job. On one, inspections might need to be done on an hourly basis. On another, it might be based on the quantity of the production run. The ERP system incorporates the inspection criteria into the operation, based on how it is set up, Karan said. “The operator will have a notification pop up on the screen saying, ‘You need to do an inspection now.’ It will not allow production to move forward until the inspections are completed and the data’s captured. As a result, we have full traceability and inspection data all the way back to the raw material,” Karan said.

Tool Maintenance. The ERP system tracks and records all tooling activity. “Let’s say that we have an issue with the tool,” Karan said. “By looking at the serial numbers of the parts that have been stamped from it, I can tell what was produced, when it was produced, and who stamped it. It is time- and date-stamped, so if we find a tool defect, we can go out and quarantine those parts immediately. In the past we would have no idea how many parts had run since the tool became defective.”

With these new levels of inspection and maintenance, metrics since the software implementation have improved substantially:

  • On-time delivery has increased from 85 percent to as high as 98 percent.
  • Inventory has been reduced by 25 percent to less than 40 days on-hand.
  • Lowest overall defective parts per million has been reduced to 176—a world-class rate.

Transitions from Small Company to Big League Player

Karan said that the ERP system’s real-time data has enabled G&W to handle increased complexity, so it can grow volume and empower managers to make informed decisions quickly.

“In the past, the most complicated part assembly that we could work on might have a dozen different components. With the software’s traceability component, we now can make 300-part assemblies. We can trace all the parts back to the mill cert and all of our inspection data is captured, so we can do so much more than our previous system allowed,” Karan said.

“The real game changer is how the system allows us to do everything faster. We handle much, much more volume in a very short period of time compared to what we could do 10 years ago, seven years ago, even four years ago,” Johns said.

And that has been the big win. “All of the capabilities Plex has given us are great, but the visibility and being able to manage labor more efficiently were key. I think those are the two biggest things that upped the game for us,” Johns said. “And that has given us the ability to transition from a small company to one that can play in the big leagues.”

A Leg Up

Johns said that the software has given the company a competitive advantage. “Everybody can buy the same equipment, whether it’s lasers or stamping presses. If you implement the software correctly and you really utilize that information, it puts you in a realm where a lot of others our size are not.

“I know a lot of smaller companies are still struggling with keeping up. When companies like ours are scheduling from our cellphones, it’s going to be tough on them if they’re not staying up on technology,” Johns said.

Future Benefits to Realize

Vance said that he believes there is still more benefit to be gained by knowing the software better. “I think to some degree, we’ve only scratched the surface of what Plex can do for us.

“We need to scout the technology that the software has made available for us to make that next leap.”

Ground up Implementation

Johns credited Karan with getting buy-in from the staff for successful implementation. “One of the things we did correctly was we got the team involved in getting the technology installed and embraced. They took ownership of it and really implemented it.

“Jeff got a lot of our folks involved at a grassroots level to get the new system up and running and buy-in to make it more successful.”

“At the end of the day, we’re still a people business,” Johns said. “Of all the decisions we make, hiring the right people is number one. It’s by far the most important. I don’t care how great your system is, if you don’t have the right people, you’re not going to get the job done.”

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