Accelerating improvement: A fully integrated ERP suite inspires strategic thinking

Back when Miniature Precision Components first looked at EnterpriseIQ, an enterprise platform from IQMS, the obvious attraction was the ability of the ERP system to link machines on the shop floor to applications at the enterprise level. But managers soon discovered that once EnterpriseIQ reached the shop floor, there were many more connectivity advantages to leverage.

By Malcolm Wheatley, Senior Contributing Editor October 14, 2008

Back when plastic injection molding specialist Miniature Precision Components first looked at the EnterpriseIQ enterprise platform from IQMS , an obvious attraction was the ability of the ERP system to link machines on the shop floor to applications at the enterprise level.
“Maybe it’s not so unique now, but at the time—four years ago—it was a capability that certainly made it stand out from the crowd,” recalls Jim Schneberger, director of operations for the Walworth, Wis.-based manufacturer.
Thanks to some custom code linked to its existing MAPICS system, Miniature Precision already had some limited plant-floor visibility—but wanted it extended and built into a platform such as from IQMS that came pre-configured for the needs of the plastics industry.
Implementation was conventional enough, relates Schneberger. Over a two-year period, the company migrated key business processes over from MAPICS to EnterpriseIQ.
“We started with how we sold products; then how we engineered those products; then how we built them; and finally, how we shipped them,” he explains. Now, in late 2008, processes like quality are being migrated to the IQMS platform as well.
Once EnterpriseIQ had reached the shop floor, though, it was possible to take advantage of its connectivity capability, says Schneberger.
One such option was to make key operational data available to managers like Schneberger himself. From his desk, explains Schneberger, “I can look at any machine on the plant floor and see its productivity, output rate, cycle time, quality, and yield.” What’s more, he notes, the IQMS system offers the ability to group machines into business units and departments, as well as set up color-coded gauges and dashboards.
The system’s out-of-the-box plastics-industry credentials ensure these metrics made sense, and weren’t confused by industry characteristics such as re-grind.
“Most good molders try to get the re-grind back into the process as quickly as possible, via in-line re-grind,” notes Schneberger. But even when this wasn’t possible, the in-built options within EnterpriseIQ catered for under-definable mixes of re-grind and virgin materials, as well as machines running solely on re-grind or solely on virgin material.
But it’s arguably the system’s second form of plant-floor connectivity that has had the greatest impact, reveals Schneberger. As well as transmitting metrics upward to senior management, performance data also is made available on the plant floor itself—either at individual machines, via touch screens, or large displays that show the performance of several machines at once.
“People need a speedometer,” argues Schneberger. “You can’t expect people to be productive without knowing how fast they are going. They need to know how they stand—not just with respect to output, but quality as well.”
And given that speedometer, the outcome at Miniature Precision Components has been something of a cultural transformation, he notes.
“The authority to make decisions has gone deeper within the organization than it ever has before,” asserts Schneberger. “People on the plant floor have the information that they need presented to them, and they make their decision based on it. Companies talk about empowerment, but don’t always provide the data that empowerment calls for.”
But empowerment, it turns out, hasn’t been the only benefit. Supervisors can now concentrate their energies on higher-level activities—troubleshooting, continuous improvement, and other productivity-enhancing activities.
“They’re not just cracking the whip any more,” says Schneberger. “They’re working on set-up time improvement, quality, and making preparations for the work that’s about to go on machines next. It’s a very different way of working.”