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End-to-End Cloud-Based ERP for Welders and Fabricators in the New Now

By Christine Hansen, Product Marketing Manager | December 02, 2020

On July 23, the New York Yankees took to the field at Nationals Park, and during the very first inning of the game, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton launched the first home run of the pandemic-delayed Major League Baseball season. Purposeful inspiration to go big was certainly on the mind of this ballplayer as he stepped up to the plate, picked the right pitch, and made a statement about the sport. Baseball was officially back. For many of us, like in baseball, getting back to what we do best has changed and looks a bit different from the way it did eight months ago. What has not changed is our drive to succeed and adapt. This is the new now, and we’ve got to get used to it if we want to flourish. What we’ve learned is that incremental changes and the adoption of key technologies can drive greater performance for greater success in the future.

Growing Customer Expectations Demand Innovative Technology

For welders and metal fabricators, much like many other industries today, the need to strengthen customer relationships and drive value in new, innovative ways continues. Expectations are evolving around responsiveness to change and accountability in areas like sourcing materials and ensuring strong employee health. As the workforce continues to look and feel different, investments in technology to support remote collaboration, mobile (and remote) workers, and business-to-business eCommerce portals that offer self-service oversight on job or shipment status both reduce costs and shorten time-to-market. Metal fabricator Dalsin Industries understands this and the value that evolving technology delivers.

“Some of the most significant challenges we face are increasing customer demands from the standpoint of technical ability, documentation, and service lead-time being reduced, but yet wanting it all for less,” said Keith Diekmann, vice president of technical operations, Dalsin Industries. “It's very competitive out in the market today, so we must maintain our competitiveness through technology to reduce costs and time-to-market.”

Give employees intuitive messaging with hashtags # and @ capabilities to improve communication.

Communication across an extended remote workforce can be difficult but has proven necessary to continue to deliver a high level of experience to customers. Digital collaboration tools offer enhanced messaging capabilities for the business that allows employees to communicate with hashtags and @ symbols, two widely used social tools — Fig. 1. Additionally, businesses can integrate enterprise resource planning (ERP) events into message streams and build cross-functional teams that can solve problems quickly, reducing the clutter of emails, unnecessary notifications, and status update meetings. Everyone can easily be on the same page on a customer order, problem job, or ongoing project, even if the team is not physically together.

Target great experiences for customers with online commerce where they can configure and self-serve estimates.

With businesses like Amazon seemingly competing against all industries, time-to-market from the point of order to shipment continues to be squeezed and shortened. In response, manufacturers are deploying online commerce solutions where customers can selfserve with quote requests, order repeat items, and even configure standard products for pricing right from a company’s website — Fig. 2. Integrated to backend production systems, these configurations and orders are automatically transferred, validated, and sent to procurement or directly to production based on available schedules. Customers prefer the simplicity of electronic commerce solutions that allow them to quickly check on the status or review their account, especially during a time of such unease.

Reducing risk in the supply chain is also a high priority for customers who are now asking for greater insight into sourcing and alternative sourcing where available. The ability to deliver is now top of mind, especially when sourcing materials from certain regions of the world where delays in product or shipping may have occurred in the past. Also, closely managing suppliers from a quality and delivery perspective with scorecards and systems that support supplier audits and supplier corrective action requests not only offers benefits to the business, but it also demonstrates the rigor customers are looking for in trusted suppliers. Deploying quality management systems (QMS) can help achieve these goals alongside the reduced cost of quality.

QMS reduces the cost of quality across the enterprise by introducing standardized workflow for manufacturers that meets industry standards for compliance. This is critical in many industries for entry, but for others, the rigor of quality systems can provide a strong basis for reduced waste. Secondly, as many manufacturers look to deploy quality, a natural benefit is in the management of documentation that may be scattered. Understanding standard processes with strong documentation offers a critical tool when nonstandard events such as a returned item happen and the employee who does that is on vacation or moved to another department to fill in for someone else. It drives a level of operational flexibility that is needed by businesses today to stay afloat against competitors. Quality systems also deliver a level of traceability that reduces time spent looking for or into what transpired. The audit trail is available for easy access. Lastly, customer interactions take a new tone as your customer service team is armed with accurate quality data when responding to reports of quality problems.

Greater Operational Performance with Complete ERP

Operationally, businesses continue to focus on doing more with less, improving operational productivity across the value chain while reducing overall costs. Traditional strategies of going paperless, continuous improvement programs, and digital transformation are initiatives that once offered incremental advantages. Now, however, as the majority of manufacturers are well on their journeys and competing at new levels, digital transformation is deepening across more processes. For many businesses, deployment of electronic content management, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and Industry 4.0 technologies that drive new efficiencies for shop workers and offer greater equipment effectiveness translate to reduced costs and provide a path to offering greater value-added services for greater profits.

Leverage Industry 4.0, IoT technologies to drive new efficiencies for shop workers and greater equipment effectiveness.

Operators can easily receive queues of work always know what's coming next

Outside the clutter that paper introduces, the “point-in-time” nature of paper-based processes means when things change, which is more likely than not to happen, the paper will need to be replaced with a new one. Going paperless, deploying electronic records instead of job packets with paper drawings and manually signed work orders, declutters operations. There are also many benefits to these digital processes that go beyond just going paperless on the plant floor. Alongside the environmental benefits of going electronic, operators can more easily receive queues of work from their MES and always know what is coming next in production. This wasn’t as seamless before paperless options were available. Nowadays, workers aren’t walking around looking for something to do or someone to ask what to do. Work is accurately logged with the time it took and the quantity completed, which helps to drive more informed estimates the next time around and delivers greater accountability around the cost of production.

Beyond worker-driven MES, Industry 4.0 or the internet of things (IoT) technologies connect equipment notifications directly to ERP systems where the notifications can be filtered to what the business cares about — Fig. 3. For example, the business employees may not care about every weld joint being completed, but they may be concerned about the weld joint that failed. They would likely care more about the pieces of equipment that aren’t running or that will soon need to be repaired. Keeping capital investments running optimally helps drive new levels of efficiency and productivity and reduces the cost of production, which are crucial during a time like this.

Getting Current and Staying Current is Easy in the Cloud

Manufacturers on older ERP technology are quickly seeing they are at a disadvantage to compete. The path of least resistance and minimal cost for many businesses is to upgrade their technology and take advantage of what their vendor has to offer in the latest releases. For some that are many releases behind, the cloud offers a clear solution and is an opportunity to resolve the sins of the past and forge a new path forward. This is especially true when considering the cost of software updates, new hardware servers, and vendor contracts for installation and management of systems. Cloud continues to perform for businesses with limited IT budgets to ensure the security and sustainability of current systems. One of the values of the cloud that manufacturers who leverage the technology speak to consistently is that staying current delivers value in taking advantage of the latest innovative technology as it becomes available, and never again will the business have the disruption of a costly upgrade.

Conclusion

Much like after Major League Baseball’s first home run of 2020, there is uncertainty around the challenges to overcome. Many businesses have spent the last several months pulling together resources to take on the unknown. What we do know, however, is that resilient businesses with agile technology will continue to compete strongly and win business. Serving customers at new levels, reducing costs to maximize margins, and delivering on expectations consistently will yield results. This is the new now —and this is the time to consider your technology journey. What will your business look like in 6–12 months? What part does technology play in your success? These are questions top of mind for many welders and fabricated metals manufacturers, and they will ultimately determine who is successful in the long-run.

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Originally published in Welding Journal, October 2020

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