After we had implemented Epicor, they came out with a new module called Product Configurator. This was a rules-based configurator that could be used to setup a model for a certain product line, and any number of fields could be setup to capture production details. Dimensions, choices of color, finish, additional processes, etc. You name it, you could capture it. Once the user was done building the unique product, the configurator could assign it a unique part number, and then automatically do the bill of materials “explosion” to setup the materials and operations to build this item. So, rules are setup to maintain steps like setting production standards, requiring certain processes because of how the details were entered, etc.
The Power of ERP
Preventive Actions with Product Configurator
As I’ve mentioned, much of my experience operating a manufacturing company created the mindset of a wholistic approach to production management. Your system should be core to the processes, not a “necessary evil” tracking costs and giving limited information. Your ERP should be THE essential tool used by your organization to coordinate processes, ensure on time delivery, and provide a system independent from relying on key staff to get things done properly. Here’s an example of how this worked for us:
We began setting up a configurator for each of our 4 product lines. We had office staff who were not engineers, and they did not understand all of our 90+ operations in the plant, reading blueprints and entering in the data into the configurator. When we first started to release production jobs to the shop floor, we asked the production staff to evaluate the routings, and if they couldn’t make the product properly from the method on the job traveler, then they needed to bring the traveler back to the office to be corrected. At the beginning, about 80% of them came back.
However, over the next few months, we gradually built more and more rules into the configurators, and the number of issues began to steadily decrease. Finally, after 6-7 months, we had our first day when there were no issues brought back. What a great day!
And then a week went by, and then a month….
Around the year mark, I remember one of the production staff coming in to report that a traveler wasn’t correct. The traveler called for laminating a protective mask on a product, and then slitting 1/4″ of the masking from the edge of the parts. This was a very unusual request, and she didn’t understand why the system required this operation. When we looked into it, we found there had been an issue that this color ink scratched easily, and needed the protective “premask,” and the electric eye on a downstream operation could not “read” the crop mark on this particular color of ink, without trimming the “premask.” In other words, the system was recognizing from our logic-based configurator that, in order to prevent a failure, these steps needed to be taken. Plus, since the configurator was run prior to generating our production costs, we knew that we were getting paid for this extra time and materials as well. Talk about built-in preventative actions!
This is an example of a robust system. We got to the point that the system was “smarter” than the humans at preventing issues because we couldn’t anticipate the problem as well as the configurator. Today, we call this “Artificial Intelligence,” and Epicor’s configurator has grown more and more robust over the years. So, if your ERP doesn’t have a configurator, and your are in an “engineer-to-order” or “make-to-order” environment, then we better talk. Contact us below, and we’d be more than happy to talk.
written by Jeffrey W. Glaze, President