Here's a definition taken from Wikipedia: "Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is an integrated computer-based system used to manage internal and external resources including tangible assets, financial resources, materials, and human resources."
Here's another, from the same source: "Downtime is a period when a system or machine is unavailable, and fails to provide or perform its primary function."
Question is, can an investment by plastics processors in the subject of the first definition help them reduce the subject of the second? You bet; and for processors trying to maximize their resources and avoid waste during the so-called Great Recession, there's probably never been a better time to make the leap, especially with the growing availability of real-time ERP programs designed to deal with the intricacies and outright quirks of plastics processing.
ERP software suppliers agree on two things: More and more processors are saying they've outgrown their old Excel spreadsheet- based systems and are taking a serious look at ERP to steamline operations and avoid production downtime, and the ERP systems best suited to handle these tasks are those written expressly for our industry. "There are subtle nuances and languages around plastics processing that many, if not most, ERP manufacturing systems just don't handle, and also subtlties within plastics processing itself," said Glenn Nowak, vice president of sales at IQMS. "An ERP system that doesn't make these distinctions won't alert you to processes or production lines that are underperforming."
HYPOTHETICAL SHOP, REAL SOLUTIONS
Let's set the stage first, and assume that an ERP system has just been installed on the internal server of a hypothetical injection molding facility. In additon to other things, the software is now showing rate of production, cycle time, the number of part rejects and more for all processing machinery on computer screens in offices, on the shop floor--and even desktops at home--in user-friendly real-time.
Avoiding downtime doesn't have to mean something as dramatic as a flashing color code, tied into a mounted yellow light-stick on the machine, to indicate when a unit has shut down; sometimes the improvement is as simple as making sure the work schedule is running smoothly. Again, specialized ERP software is important here. "CyFrame's JobTrack ERP software has very specific modules for injection, blow molding and extrusion," said Rick Dunne, vice president of sales and marketing at CyFrame International Enterprises. "In extrusion platforms, for example, material consumption is measured in extruded pounds rather than cycle times. Processors need this kind of information if they're going to avoid machine downtime and scheduling conflicts."
Without ERP, inefficiency and miscommunication that predate a production run can strangle its productivity, leading to an uplanned work stoppage. "The amount of duplication of data in some shops is astronomical, making it harder to keep track of the production data that really matters," Dunne continued. "One of the main functions of a good ERP program is helping managers and employees streamline production through visual checklists and to-do lists generated in sequential order."
Exposing the transparency of production information brings everyone into the production loop, making delays or shutdowns caused by miscommunication far less likely. And they stay in the loop because--unlike with our old friend the Excel spreadsheet system--production information is locked down, and can't be changed by one person hoping, perhaps, to cover over a mistake.
With its web architecture, JobTrack allows a scheduler to share information from one or multiple plants, make changes to the allotted production time of a machine, track raw material consumption and availability, and view equipment or material constraints from any browser on the network. "The latest Job- Track feature allows managers to be alerted to constraints by an alert on their cellphone," Dunne said.
Let's also assume that our injection molder is making parts for the auto industry. ERP software is available that takes even that distinction into account. "Solarsoft's iVP software is niched to allow automotive parts manufacturers to perform supply-chain management or scheduling of components," said Shawn McMorran, CEO of Solarsoft Business Systems. "We understand they need to deliver their parts in a very short time-frame with large penalties for sequencing errors, and the software reflects this."
NUMBERS DON'T LIE
No disrespect intended, but the workers at our hypothetical molding shop probably don't realize they're not running at 100 per cent efficiency in the first place. This leads to another benefit of ERP: cold, hard production numbers, against which it's hard to argue. The benefits in catching and correcting even one underperfoming machine, for example, can be dramatic. "One machine losing one second on a standard 20-second cycle time is the equivalent of one lost production shift per week," McMorran continued. "Correcting that problem recovers a lot of lost time and money."
Underperforming machines also create a shop floor bottleneck that backs up production, meaning more lost time and money. "A machine cycling at too slow a rate has a huge effect on the balance of the jobs in the queue behind it," said Glenn Nowak. But beware the machine that runs too quickly, too, since it can drain the raw material available for the next job, leading to a shutdown. ERP production monitoring can detect either problem.
"The ERP software that we integrate, including Solarsoft's iVP, tracks all of the uptime, the downtime, and the inefficiencies, to let management make informed decisions," said Gary Benedix, vice president of ERP integrator Syscon-PlantStar. "If a machine is down for a tool change, the software records how long the interruption lasts, and this number can be used as a benchmark for improvement the next time."
Allowing for improvements the next time is one of the big benefits of ERP; data isn't just displayed for the here and now, but recorded for calculations about future performance. "The EnterpriseIQ software from IQMS records the efficiency of information, and can make calculations about which mold will run best in which processing machine," said Glenn Nowak.
Finally, if our hypothetical injection molder is worried about the cost of implementing a good ERP system, the investment might come to less than they think, and can also pay back in big dividends (see sidebar on pg. 19). "There's a misperception in the market that you have to install a big-name, million-dollar ERP system to get results," said CyFrame's Rick Dunne. "A better choice is something less expensive and more industry-specific that returns your investment quickly, often in less than a year."
CyFrame International Enterprises Inc. (Montreal);
IQMS (Pasa Robles, Calif.);
Solarsoft Business Systems (Richmond Hill, Ont.);
Syscon-PlantStar (South Bend, Ind.);
Control Solutions Inc. (Brampton, Ont.); 905-458-8382
Ouija board no more: One molder's ERP story
In the article above, we put ourselves in the shoes of a hypothetical injection molder. Here's a real one with an ERP story to tell.
THE COMPANY: Custom injection molder Ottawa Mould Craft Ltd. manufactures a range of products on the 22 machines in its 40,000 square foot facility: communications equipment such as cell phones and fibre optics connectors; consumer products including tools, toys, pagers and furniture components; and protective equipment and breathing apparatus for the military.
THE PROBLEM: Up until three years ago, the 120-employee strong, Ottawa, Ont.-based company managed its plant monitoring primarily through Excel spreadsheets, with separate, multiple programs for its accounting, sales management, marketing and a third software for shipping. "There was no integration in our company between finance and manufacturing," said vice president David Veal. "The old system was basically a cross between a crystal ball and a Ouija board."
THE SOLUTION: After a three-year hunt for an ERP provider, the company selected the EnterpriseIQ ERP system from IQMS. "Most of the programs we'd considered were either strong in manufacturing or in finance, but not both," Veal said. "Enter-priseIQ balanced the two, and was designed specifically for injection molding."
Features of the EnterpriseIQ system include a comprehensive financial management system, real-time machine monitoring, regrind usage and consumption capabilities, multi-level bills of manufacture, and multi-tool and family-tool functionality. "The software also supplies process information such as which machines are running and their cycle times and scrap rates, for example, as well as where the purging is going," Veal said.
The software took approximately one year to install, and Veal admits to some problems at first. "The biggest challenge was rethinking what we were doing," he said. "We had to stop trying to make the software do all the bad things we'd been doing, and instead do the good things it was telling us to do."
THE RESULTS: Ottawa Mould has now centralized its business activity and improved its overall effectiveness and efficiency of operations. "Within a year of installing the software we'd quadrupled our sales without adding any front-end staff," Veal said. "We could never have achieved that level of success if we were still running our business with Excel."