Every manufacturer seeks reduced costs and rapid, reliable delivery schedules. Increasing efficiency is a challenging task, but is also the key to increasing profits and providing better service to customers. Over the last few years, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) has become widely recognized as the best method for securing accurate, reliable information that helps get components on the floor faster, and finished products out the door more quickly.
For Findings, Inc., a Keene, NH-based jewelry manufacturer which takes its name from the industry term for parts, moving from manual inventory management to computerized ERP resulted in a 66.7% increase in the number of finished items they produced per month, equal to an additional two million total pieces.
"We were beginning to feel the strain of trying to handle things without an ERP or Materials Resource Planning (MRP) system in place, especially during peak times like the Christmas production season," said Paul Dunkerley, Materials manager and manager of Information Technology at Findings. "We were a totally manual organization in this department, with no computerization of our inventory and order fulfillment processes. Overall, we needed to implement a system that would help us increase efficiency, to provide better service to our manufacturing and wholesale customers," he stated.
Selecting from among the large number of software applications designed to manage ERP information can be challenging, and requires careful planning on the part of a company's information technology department. For manufacturers, an ERP suite needs to offer options that fit the organization's business method, as well as modularity that allows users to choose the elements that fit their particular needs.
For Findings, the selection process was an extended one, involving the careful examination of several ERP vendors even before requests for proposals were made.
"We wanted to stay on the IBM RS/6000 platform, so we searched the IBM Partners database for companies providing the kind of packages we needed. We narrowed down the 25 or so responses we received from those companies, and eventually sent requests for proposals to about a dozen."
Dunkerley kept the particular needs of his organization in mind as he reviewed the software choices. "We have more than five million finished pieces going through our inventory system every month. To assemble those pieces, the system must be able to efficiently track 12,400 component part numbers so that the information is available and updateable for each of our 250 employees at both our manufacturing locations. I needed a system that was pretty robust to accomplish that."
Findings was very impressed with the DMACS package offered by ONLINE Software Labs, and eventually selected it as their ERP suite. "We were excited about the fact that Sean McAlary (OSLabs founder and president) understood and had control of the system enhancements and future capabilities," Dunkerley said. "We knew that any customizations or new features they built into the software would be made available to other users. A distributor can't offer that, because they don't own the code."
Founded by McAlary in 1979, OSLabs develops the DMACS (Distribution, Manufacturing, Accounting, Costing, and Simulation) ERP suite specifically for manufacturers and users who, like Findings, must track a multitude of components and finished products from ordering to the shop floor, assembly, and delivery to customers.
"Another thing that influenced our choice was visiting one of OSLabs' customers, who were actually using the software," Dunkerley said. "I think that observing the products we were considering in a production environment was a very valuable step in our selection process."
Findings began the implementation process in August 1998, with the delivery of their IBM RS/6000 F-50, a machine based on IBM's AIX UNIX known best in its incarnation as "Big Blue", the machine that defeated chess master Gary Kasparov.
Despite the fact that software implementation began during the beginning of the Christmas production season, Dunkerley claimed it surprisingly easy.
"Anytime you change the way an entire information system functions, it gets complex," he reported, "but OSLabs offered on-site training that was first rate. The training is tailored to the organization that is ordering the new system, and it helped us move from a totally manual inventory system to full-blown computerized ERP."
According to Dunkerley, training from the vendor eased implementation not only at the managerial/IT level, but also for each employee. "In our system there are 18 workstations on the plant floor," Dunkerley explained, "so that the manufacturing process can be updated in the tracking system as each stage of assembly is completed. Our employees needed to be able to access the system. The simplicity of the design, combined with the excellent user training, made sure that they could without too much difficulty."
"We've increased our factory throughput by 10%," Dunkerley said, "and I expect that number to improve even more. It's difficult to estimate it in terms of dollars saved, but I'm confident that we can grow the business now, with a system like this in place. We've gone from three or four days to get components on the manufacturing floor to one day. Production runs more smoothly, without waiting on parts, because we can anticipate our inventory needs and fill them. We're getting components on the floor in a single day with the new ERP system."
The Christmas production season that made implementation challenging for Findings has proven an excellent test for their new enterprise information system. "We put the system in place at the beginning of the busiest time of the year," Dunkerley pointed out, "and the system helped us get on top of things quickly. We went from 25% behind at the worst point to only 15%, in two weeks. That increase in delivery efficiency is directly attributable to the system we've brought online."
Overall, Dunkerley reported satisfaction with the OSLabs DMACS suite. "We're moving five million pieces a month through our plant with this system. A year ago at this time, we could only handle about three million without creating an order backlog," Dunkerley commented. "We couldn't have made that improvement without automating our inventory management, and the results we've had indicate that we chose the right system to handle our automation.
"There are many features in the software I'm not even using yet, because the system is new to Findings," Dunkerley concluded. "With the improvements we've seen already, combined with what I know we can still improve by using more of the modular features of the package, I know the software is going to help us continue to grow our business."
Founded in 1979, OSLabs has been providing stable, comprehensive ERP solutions with DMACS and its component modules. OSLabs takes advantage of the comprehensive DMACS suite to concentrate on making the fine adjustments that make ERP a business asset instead of an added complication.