Implementing a production-management system helped this manufacturer of electrical insulation products achieve higher customer service levels while gaining more control over, and a deeper understanding of, the production process.

Barbara Dutton, Managing Editor

“The biggest things needed to be competitive in this industry are quality, price and on-time delivery,” states Mike Margitan, executive vice president, Active Industries, Willowbrook, Ill. Headquartered in Clifton Park, N. Y., Active Industries is a fabricator, converter and distributor of electrical insulation products and other formed, cut, punched and laminated parts. The company also has a facility in El Paso, Texas, and one in Escanaba, Mich., that manufactures wood products.

When the company needed a software system to provide up-to-the-minute information on its multiple plants, as well as maintain the data necessary to meet customer delivery, quality and price requirements, it turned to Clifton Park, N .Y. based Ebeling Associates. Its EXEControl (formerly Infocus) production-management system runs on personal computers, minicomputers, and powerful parallel-processor machines using DOS, PICK or Unix operating systems. The software tracks production and quality details as part and parcel of its ordering, accounting and payroll tasks.

The system, brought on-line in early 1992, has achieved impressive results, including tighter inventory control, more efficient production flow and the ability to more accurately and expeditiously quote jobs.

Inventory Smorgasbord

Since the implementation of EXEControl, Active has realized significant inventory reductions and has improved trace ability at all levels; for example, it takes only seconds to find out which incoming feedstock was incorporated in any finished product. “We have some 630 different materials that we use for the more than 20,000 parts that we fabricate,” says Margitan of the wide array of stock involved. “Then we have a whole smorgasbord of special materials.”

The entire Willowbrook plant works to job due dates, with the production-management system determining run dates. Each day, each supervisor has the computer run a production schedule showing all the operations scheduled for that day. Production schedules inform the plant manager of operations scheduled. The same database supplies detailed shipping information to the shipping department. All are critical coordination functions to a company whose history, according to Margitan, involved “a struggle with on-time delivery.”

Prior to installing EXEControl, in addition to the typical challenges of meeting delivery demands, pinpointing production progress and uncovering process bottlenecks was difficult. Recalls Margitan, “We had a hot date, a promise date, and a ship date. We had so many dates, we didn’t know what date we were shipping to. If you can take all that information, consolidate it and get a report covering the variables, you’re in a position to make determinations and provide the right information to customer service.”

Avoiding the Cracks

The ability to track jobs enables slitting Department Supervisor Dan Coogan to better coordinate setups and minimize scrap. “The system helps me determine inventory quantity and configurations. It also gives us one production schedule and shows us our inventory on hand,” he says. “Once a week, we go over orders just to make sure one didn’t fall through the cracks.”

According to Wedge Department Supervisor Tony Marosovic, the system helps his operation by providing a window into work-in-process, open-order status and material availability. “It’ll let me plan a month ahead, as well as make labor adjustments,” he says. “If Tony knows what can be known,” adds Margitan, “he can deal with the unknown. All the cards are before him.”

For Plant Supervisor Silvia Ortega, the ability to access order and part information quickly is a big plus. “My primary use of the system,” she explains, “is in production scheduling. The system tells you where all work orders stand at the moment of inquiry. You find information right at your fingertips, as opposed to sorting through piles of paperwork.”

Quotes and Re-Quotes

One major task within Ortega’s department-which oversees punch-press operations and handles many of what she calls “exotic parts”-is performing job requotes. Before EXEControl, “Everything was done manually, with numerous errors occurring. Now the process is more accurate.” And, because the system offers the capability to obtain specific job costing information, it provides the ability to determine the economics of running a particular job. “Among all the jobs we do, we can spot the losers,” she says.

When it comes to initial quotes on orders, the system takes into consideration the costs of variables in manufacturing a product to customer specifications. Being able to break these out allows Active to offer customers options as well as the opportunity to make trade-offs; for example, balancing acceptable tolerances against price considerations.

Additionally, the system provides a quote conversion history, which entails a record of orders linked to quotes or, conversely, a pattern of quotes that did not materialize into orders. “The reports you can get out of this system are fantastic,” says Customer Service Manager Barbara Procanin, who relies on the system’s analysis capabilities to help identify costs associated with lead time, materials, customer location, and specific production machines. “I can go into the system and give the customer the information he wants,” she says. Regarding responsiveness to the approximately 2,500 customers served, she adds, “We have a reputation for being on time, and the computer system has helped us with that.” The whole quoting process is easier and faster. Quotation tasks that once took an hour can now be accomplished in minutes.

According to Margitan, having this type of information also gives his company the upper hand in competitive bidding situations. “When a customer tells me he can get a part cheaper from somebody else, I can sit there with total confidence and say, ‘No, you can’t.’ Because I know the cost of material today. I know the labor rate. I know what it costs to fabricate that piece, and I know the shipping costs. So something is wrong. In many cases, you find out that the something that is wrong is that the other guy is quoting a different part-in terms of different tolerances, different materials and even a different thickness of the same material, which is obviously cheaper and not of the same level of quality.”

Seeking Certification

Speaking of quality, EXEControl plays an important role in Active Industries’ pursuit of ISO 9000 certification, the international quality standard rapidly being adopted by manufacturers worldwide. Being able to access information pertaining to material traceability and vendor verification assists Quality Control Supervisor Mary Lou Bohdel in maintaining inspection reports, calibration records and other necessary documents. “The documentation we’ve been doing has us poised to pursue ISO 9000 certification,” she says. “We’ve successfully completed procedures for each area of the company. I’m also working on a program involving UL listings.”

In summing up the value of access to the information that EXEControl offers, Margitan says, “There’s a need in business to know exactly what’s going on. You can only control what you know and understand. He who gets the data quickly and analyzes it quickly can make pretty darn good business judgments.”

Taken from Manufacturing Systems, October 1993