Taking control of operations

Departments - Ensuring Excellence

Data from Infor’s Visual software streamlined Skills Inc.’s operations, giving the non-profit contract manufacturer the ability to go after new types of jobs and hire larger numbers of disabled workers.

April 14, 2014
By Robert Schoenberger

Running an aerospace and defense contract manufacturing business is difficult, but Seattle’s Skills Inc. takes on the extra challenge of hiring employees with disabilities. However, one of the biggest obstacles for the non-profit wasn’t adapted processes for employees; it was the quality of its software.

“Our employees would write down their hours for each order either on a daily timesheet, or on the work order itself. Those hours would then be manually summed when the work orders were completed; or data would be entered into a program that would tabulate the hours on a daily basis. Calculating labor hours this way took a lot of time, was prone to errors, and provided no useful job-tracking information,” explains Gail Gilbertson, information technology manager for Skills Inc.

The company wanted to expand and take on more assembly work, but it realized that it couldn’t properly manage complex contracts with multi-level bills of material with its outdated, manual order-entry systems. Collecting data on paper and running reports later was too slow and inefficient for the companies with which Skills wanted to partner.

Skills turned to New York software company Infor, specialists in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, to help digitize and automate many of the functions that employees had been performing with pencil and paper. Infor’s Visual cloud-based ERP software has given it better visibility into operations and more control over costs.

“Our company could not have grown successfully without utilizing ERP software, and we probably would not still be in business at all if we had not implemented Visual. Prior to implementation, we did everything manually, such as using a standard paper form that was filled out by hand to create internal orders for processing. There was no way to electronically track the orders as they moved through the shop, and it was very difficult and time-consuming to find orders,” Gilbertson says.

ERP software tends to shine a light on company operations, showing how time, materials, and resources are actually being used, giving managers the ability to better control those functions, says Edward Talerico, industry director for aerospace and defense at Infor. Once in place, the systems give companies better control over their supply chains, allowing them to order materials and manage inventories across multiple contracts and customers.

“Many aerospace and defense companies, and complex discrete manufacturing companies in general, are mining the value of managing their supply chain and inventory levels using modern ERP solutions effectively,” Talerico explains. “The technology available today to collaborate throughout the enterprise and across the enterprise and to be notified with alerts of data anomalies is better than ever.”

Real-time advancements

Looking back at Skills Inc.’s old method for tracking work, Gilbertson says the difference in moving to digital files from notes jotted on work orders has been amazing. Her company can now track the progress of each job and generate useful time reports from a centralized system.

“With Visual, our employees enter their time into a barcode module that is easy to use, accurately keeps track of every work order and operation they work on, performs the algebra to allocate hours on any orders processed in batches, and provides real-time tracking of work orders,” Gilbertson says.

She adds that Skills did not have to adapt any aspect of Infor’s solution for its employees with disabilities, saying, “It’s quite user-friendly, adaptable, and forgiving. Using the software has enabled our company to grow, which in turn enables us to hire more individuals. Almost every employee in our manufacturing, chemical processing, and assembly facilities uses Visual in some manner.”

Managing parts inventories has gotten easier and more precise with the use or ERP, Gilbertson adds. Instead of tracking each piece of needed material by hand, the system automates most of those functions.

“Purchasing agents create part IDs for items that they purchase regularly and includes a default vendor, vendor part ID, pricing, and other pertinent information,” Gilberston explains. “Then all they have to do is create a purchase order and enter that part ID. All the relevant information loads into the purchase order, which saves them a lot of time whenever that part needs to be purchased. They can override any of the information in the PO, so for example, they can select a different vendor if they so desire.”

With the ERP in place, Gilbertson says Skills added extra features so it could go after that assembly business it had targeted.

“When we purchased and implemented the material requirements planning (MRP) software module, it allowed us to successfully grow our business in the direction we strategically envisioned,” Gilbertson states.

That module gives businesses real-time, comprehensive analyses of required materials for ongoing work, allowing them to regularly balance supply and demand.

Gilbertson says Skills has been able to streamline processes in every department using Visual. Skills uses the software in order entry, work order planning, order tracking, labor collection, inventory management, lot trace management, material issues and returns, purchasing, managing assembly orders, invoicing, and financial reporting. Some functions, such as customer service, have transformed completely.

“Prior to Visual, our customer service reps would receive a phone call from a customer asking for status about their job. The Skills representative would walk all over the facility looking for the order, and then call the customer back,” Gilbertson recalls. “Now our customer service representatives can respond immediately to the customer by looking up the order in Visual. They can also see when the order arrived, when it is due, every operation that is required, what has been completed so far, and what operations remain, as well as notes that operators have entered regarding the order.”

Targeted, focused

Talerico says Infor has developed many features with specific industries in mind, adding that companies considering ERP should look into what the software solution provider knows about their industries’ unique challenges. Though Infor developed the software to apply generally to any manufacturer in an order-driven environment, key features were developed with specific industries in mind.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that cloud solutions will be adopted a more rapid rate and that ERP suppliers will be expected to provide solutions with industry specific capabilities built into the core solution,” Talericao says. “Infor is providing industry specific cloud suites, as well as industry specific analytics, so the IT staff of our customers can focus on value added tasks to support the business, rather than spending their time on routine IT work and writing reports.”




About the author: Robert Schoenberger is an editor at AMD and can be reached at rschoenberger@gie.net or 330.523.5381.