Case Study

Datel Uses MES to Double its Manufacturing Productivity within Weeks of Implementation

By: Laura Carrabine, for Real World Technology


•Realizing Benefits Early
•Meeting Customer Demands
•Technology Trends in the Electronics Packaging Industry
•PC based Manufacturing Environment

Datel Inc. (Mansfield, Mass.) was founded in 1970 as a power supply manufacturer. Since then, the company has expanded by developing a diverse electronics packaging line of products—analog to digital converters, digital to analog converters, panel meters, power supplies, and printed circuit board (PCB) products. The company outputs a whopping 40,000 final assemblies of 1,600 different products each month.

The PCB products plug into PCs for factory floor, medical, and military measurement processes or for other industrial measurement purposes. The analog to digital and digital to analog converters are used for applications such as aircraft radar installations that detect wind sheer. The company's power supply products are used in the telecommunications industry. Datel components allow telephones and other devices that utilize a single power source to convert the power source into other voltages. Datel power supply components can be found in the telephones on seat backs of commercial jets, in several computer systems, and cellular telephone systems. And in the not too distant future, the next NASA Mars expedition will include Datel products in its Mars launch vehicle. Some of Datel's largest customers include IBM, Texas Instruments, Cisco Systems, and EMC.

Sid Martin, P.E., is Datel's manager of manufacturing. He says that there are a number of challenges in maintaining optimum productivity and customer satisfaction in a high-volume, multi-product manufacturing environment. "Our customers want products that are very powerful. In an age of miniaturization, parts must be small yet pack a lot of power. From a product design perspective, our design engineers try to design as much power as possible in a tightly constrained space. From a manufacturing perspective, the small design itself is a challenge to assemble. In terms of size, most of our products are typically one inch by one-inch square and one-half inch high. They are very small."

Datel's design and manufacturing departments work collaboratively. Each week, both groups meet to discuss issues relating to existing designs. There is also a phased release process that involves five meetings while new products are developed. In those sessions, participants evaluate products to assure designs will meet envelope requirements. Final meetings often address specific pre-production run issues.

According to Martin, since implementing OnTrack, a manufacturing execution system from Real World Technology (Mt. Prospect, Ill.), Datel has never experienced a situation in which manufacturing had to stop abruptly due to a design-for-manufacturability problem. Martin says, "Because the factory floor is running smoothly and efficiently, we have time to attend meetings to assure that we don't have manufacturing problems efficiently."

Datel's products must fulfill its customers' stringent requirements:

  • High reliability
  • High volume at low cost (and even more difficult are the customers who want low volume at low cost at specific intervals)
  • Traceability (Specifying product components)

Martin says that Datel satisfies its customers' needs beginning at design conceptualization. "However, we learned that the process wasn't adequate because once the product got to the production floor we became overwhelmed with the amount of paper we had to generate and monitor. So, we augmented our planning system by adding Real World's OnTrack. Once we implemented the system, we realized much greater control and far less paper on the floor. We aren't spending as much time at photocopy machines. We aren't filling out forms. We no longer maintain all the paper logs for machine maintenance and tracking the location of material on the floor." Within just six weeks of implementing OnTrack, Datel's manufacturing process became 20 percent more efficient without additional people.

"We realized that our business was growing and we wanted to make sure that we continued to make good business decisions," adds Martin. "Prior to implementing OnTrack, we hired a major consulting firm to evaluate our processes. They offered six recommendations; five of which addressed team approaches to new product design. Our senior management gravitated to the sixth recommendation that advised the implementation of a manufacturing execution system."

Martin and the company's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) organized an internal team of six people to evaluate manufacturing execution systems. As part of their research, they contacted AMR Research (AMR, Boston) and requested a list of manufacturing execution system vendors that specialized in the electronics business. "AMR gave us a list of six companies," says Martin. "We either visited their sites or they presented product demonstrations here. After that process was complete, we narrowed the list down to three pretty quickly because three were strong in the electronic assembly industry. Eventually, we narrowed the list to Real World Technology and IBM."

Martin and his team then sought Real World Technology and IBM customers. "We learned a lot seeing products in use at actual manufacturing sites. We made our purchase decision after that effort," notes Martin. "For instance, when we visited IBM sites, we found that a lot of work was done by third-party integrators—for both installation and operation. The company people who were using the system couldn't describe to us how the system functioned or what benefits had been achieved as a result of using the technology. The third-party integrators answered our questions. We then attended meetings that included 20 or more people representing IBM, the third-party integrator, and the manufacturer."

Martin experienced a much different scenario at Real World Technology's customer sites. He recalls, "Quite often, we were greeted by the manufacturing manager at the door. Once on the factory floor the manager would turn us over to the OnTrack operators who eagerly showed us how they use the system. They were able to answer our questions. One operator asked us if we were interested in knowing what their plant in Mexico was doing that day. The operator accessed that plant's manufacturing data on the computer screen and described exactly what was occurring at any given time."

After returning from customer sites, Martin was very confident that OnTrack was the system Datel needed to implement. "However, I needed to convince a somewhat pro-IBM senior management that just because IBM is a household name, its manufacturing execution technology wasn't necessarily the best choice for Datel." As a result, Martin's team did a few more months of continued research to help convince the brass that Real World Technology and OnTrack offered nearly 100 percent of the functionality that was required at Datel. "In addition, we had the additional benefits of getting started immediately and we didn't have to hire a third-party integrator. Furthermore, we didn't have to spend a lot of our own IS time getting up and running," Martin adds.

Realizing Benefits Early

Forty-five days after training at Real World Technology, Datel had OnTrack implemented on its factory floor. Just six weeks later, manufacturing doubled its production output.

Datel's manufacturing floor realized a one time material reduction off the floor—equaling about one week's worth of work in process. Martin says, "We've implemented OnTrack on three different production lines and that reduction follows consistently after each implementation. Companies that don't have good scheduling systems maintain too much material on the factory floor for just-in-case jobs. Those operations don't have a good ability to see just how much of that just-in-case inventory is on the floor. A good manufacturing execution system that tracks product inventory allows users to ascertain where product is on the floor at any time. Our main goal is to move product through the facility and keep production to optimal levels to maximize revenues."


Meeting Customer Demands

Prior to implementing OnTrack, at least twice per month Datel's customers would demand immediate product delivery. For each crisis, management would meet to discuss how best to satisfy these customer demands. However, since implementing OnTrack in January 1997, these meetings have become a relic of history. Martin explains, "By using OnTrack, we have such great factory floor visibility. If and when we need to set a priority, planners can determine the impact very quickly. They can change priorities for a specific product on the floor. Users don't have to convey to anyone else that this is now the most important item on the floor. The system allows for the change to appear at every PC involved with the manufacturing of that product. As a result, the system eliminated those time consuming crises sessions. Today, all the directors, vice presidents, and the president are doing what they were hired to do—designing, selling, marketing, and manufacturing products. Those who were once skeptics are now completely satisfied with OnTrack."


Technology Trends in the Electronics Packaging Industry

Martin says that a current trend by manufacturers is to implement ERP systems. He notes, "Most companies that use ERP systems have only a shop floor control system. Shop floor control from an ERP vendor doesn't provide what a manufacturing execution system offers. While ERP users can obtain all kinds of information from an ERP system, operators have to navigate through a number of screens. For instance, to enter information, an operator may be required to enter data in six different screens involving six different mouse clicks.

Using a manufacturing execution system, all the information that users need to enter or obtain is usually only one click away and presented in a format that manufacturers can use. All the information that an operator needs—schematics, assembly drawings, processes procedures—are immediately available. A manufacturing execution system is much easier to use and the benefits obtained far outweigh the ERP offerings."

Martin also believes that ERP packages serve the needs of the financial community, order entry, product configuration, purchasing, and perhaps shop floor dispatching. Manufacturing execution systems are still required for the factory floor. "ERP systems," says Martin, "have an accounting view of manufacturing. These systems typically collect transactional data after the fact, for input to their cost accounting system.

A manufacturing execution system provides information such as how much labor was used, what material was used (and how much was scrapped), how many finished parts were made, and where appropriate, how much time the production equipment spend in set-up, run, idle, and maintenance. ERP is not concerned with "how" manufacturers should make products, only in the tracking of information during the production process. The ERP systems' only concern is what the results are.

"This is the inherent problem with ERP systems with respect to shop floor control," says Martin. "ERP systems are not real-time and thus tell you later what you should have done earlier. ERP systems provide a production plan that ERP expects manufacturing to follow perfectly. However, since we know the manufacturing process is really just a series of random failures separated by the varying periods of uptime, production personnel need real-time feedback on how manufacturing is doing right now so it can make better and more accurate decisions."

OnTrack, on the other hand, presents information to the worker on the factory floor. The focus is on how well the information is presented to the operators. The assembly drawing, procedure, or other instruction is immediately available on the screen after accepting work from the dispatch list. Shop floor control packages that Martin has reviewed will present a dispatch list, but the operator will have to search to find assembly and process information, and operators have a natural aversion to searching because it slows them down.


PC based Manufacturing Environment

Datel runs OnTrack on Microsoft's Windows NT and SQL Server. The IS staff is completely satisfied and the data base administrator states says that it's been months since he's had a call he's had to address. Remote monitoring within SQL Server shows that the stations are constantly reading and writing to the database. After initial setup issues the OnTrack system has been right at home on the server.

Martin says, "The operators on the production floor (who speak English as a second language) adapted very well to Windows NT. Once we completed operator training we've not had problems with the operators understanding how to operate an NT workstation. Training focussed on input/output issues in getting used to working with a PC and figuring out how to use a keyboard.

"The Windows NT environment is extremely friendly to use. We've been insisting that all our process support equipment be supplied with Windows NT or that the vendor provides an upgrade to NT when it's available for their product."


Laura Carrabine is a Pittsburgh-based public relations consultant. She specializes in promotions for high-tech companies and has written articles promoting CAD/CAM/CAE and MES technologies for leading trade press publications.

Sidney Martin at Datel can be reached at 508 339 3000 ext. 181. Fax: 508 337 4751. His email address is