Acquiring a new ERP system and fiber laser cutter while also removing dark, dirty racking reveals a bright future for one food equipment manufacturer
The idea that nothing should be thrown out – that an item collecting dust might someday be needed – can create more problems than it solves. When a fabricator holds on to every scrap of material, the shop becomes cluttered, making it nearly impossible to find anything in a reasonable amount of time.
Knowing this problem all too well, Baxter Mfg., a subsidiary of ITW Food Equipment Group, a global manufacturer of cookware and baking equipment, did away with its overloaded racking systems that were cluttering the shop and blocking the sunlight coming in through the windows. The decision literally and figuratively shed light on the company’s overall operations.
“We dropped everything down to a floor-level system and got rid of our large racks all the way through the plant,” says Jack Pennypacker, network administrator at Baxter. “In doing so, we were able to cut our inventory down to 1.2 months. Having only the right materials on hand for what's being made now is so much easier than storing material for something that might not be made again for months down the road.”
Made for manufacturers
Getting rid of the bulk of its racking systems was just the first phase of Baxter’s approach to better material management. To truly streamline inventory, the company invested in Epicor ERP, an enterprise resource planning solution developed specifically for manufacturers.
Epicor ERP features modules for virtually every aspect of business: customer relationship management, enterprise content management, planning and scheduling, business intelligence and analytics, and human resources. Project management as well as financial and production management are included in the system, too.
Overall, the package provides businesses easy access to key performance indicators to monitor profitability, data insight for better product pricing and robust analytics to understand the impact of engineering changes. And, of course, it offers the ability to manage and track inventory.
Prior to installing Epicor in 2010, Baxter was working off of an ITW-based legacy ERP system. It was described as an old, mainframe-based system that was fairly inflexible. It had gotten to the point where Baxter employees could use it for the minimum of what they needed to do, but if new requirements came up that weren’t already included in the legacy system, problems ensued.
Because Epicor ERP was designed with manufacturers in mind, the team at Baxter was pleased when they realized just how much it could be used right out of the box. While they had been willing to modify their old system, the new system didn’t require it.
In addition to better inventory management, Baxter’s goals included gaining market share and new customers and doing so within reasonable margins. Having multiple locations can sometimes add to the cost of implementing a system like Epicor, but according to Pennypacker, the ease of use behind Epicor ERP kept costs to a minimum.
To produce Baxter cooking equipment, such as its commercial ovens and dough proofers, high volumes of stainless steel must be cut – and all of that takes place at the company’s West Coast facility located in Orting, Wash. Four laser cutters process stainless steel as well as some mild steel with most of the material in the 16- to 18-gauge range. The lasers vary in age and processing capabilities, including a Trumpf Trumatic L3030 CO2 cutter, Cincinnati CL-707 CO2 cutter, Bystronic ByStar 4020 fiber laser cutter and the newest addition, a Bystronic BySprint 3015 fiber laser cutter.
“Before we implemented the Epicor ERP system, we were struggling with delivering in a timely manner,” Pennypacker explains. “To keep up with customer orders, we were buying a lot of cut material from outside contractors. But, as we improved operations through the ERP, we wanted to bring a lot of the work that we outsourced back in-house. To do that, we needed a new laser.”
Understanding the high cutting speeds of fiber lasers and their new Bystronic BySprint, Pennypacker says that the company also invested in a Bystronic ByTower material handling solution. He agrees that there is no point in investing in a fiber laser if a company can’t keep up with its processing speeds.
The ByTower, which is billed as a compact storage tower for “lightly manned” production, features a shuttle table for easy loading and unloading. Playing into Baxter’s commitment to better inventory management, frequently used materials are stored closest to the BySprint for fast access. With its raw material storage capacity, Baxter barely misses its old racking systems.
By bringing in the new BySprint and ByTower and getting the old racking systems out of the way, Baxter has truly transformed its facility. And that transformation isn’t just beneficial for company management; it’s beneficial for employees, too.
“Before, when I had to go out on the shop floor, I usually came back to the front office a little frustrated,” Pennypacker explains. “Back then, it was dirty and dark, mostly because the racks were blocking the light coming in through the windows. It’s so easy to get frustrated when you feel like you're not being as efficient as you could be. When things are cleaner and brighter and more organized, you get a better sense of accomplishment.
“When we bring in customers and walk them through the plant, we usually get quite a positive reaction,” he continues. “They've obviously been to other plants, but when they say that those other plants don't look quite as clean as ours, it’s a good sign. It also increases the pride people on the floor have with their jobs. And that increases the quality of their work, too.”
Success on the fly
With up to 1,600 product permutations for Baxter’s line of commercial ovens alone, managing inventory amid fluctuating customer demand can be a challenge. Fortunately, the robust capabilities of the Epicor ERP system can handle those ever-changing operating conditions.
Features such as advanced demand forecasting, lot billing and traceability, and vendor-managed inventory are key to managing the material and parts that flow through the Baxter plant. But, there’s another tool that has been key for the company: Epicor’s product configurator.
When on-the-fly processing of parts is required, the product configurator allows Baxter to insert that order right in the middle of operations that are already underway. It also provides guidance in regard to whether that type of operational interruption is even possible.
Moreover, it can serve as a tool for producing highly customized parts or part permutations. Through a series of straightforward questions, the part configurator translates customer specifications directly into the bill of materials.
“Epicor fit right in with the way we wanted to do business,” Pennypacker says. “Being able to use it straight out of the box allowed us to put out more product with less staff right out of the gate. And although we typically promise a two-week lead time on projects, the product configurator gives us the ability to turn around an order in one day. We have plenty of customers who've gotten accustomed to calling and saying, ‘I need it tomorrow.’"
Since implementing Epicor, Baxter has taken advantage of virtually every feature offered, including all the software upgrades. Compared to Epicor 9.05, Pennypacker says that Epicor 10 offers significant improvements, including speed improvements of more than 30 percent.
Overall, Pennypacker says the transition to Epicor was incredibly smooth – in part thanks to the wealth of resources Epicor provided to make implementation and training as easy as possible. Those resources included the company’s Epicor University and Insights conference as well as embedded training, whenever it was needed.
To date, Baxter has experienced a reduction in production lead times from two months to one day with access to a 360-degree view of the business in real time. And that’s in addition to a ramp-up in business opportunities with existing customers – opportunities that were identified through Epicor’s manufacturing resource planning and customer relationship management modules.
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