Case Study: Caltherm Corporation
Solution: Plex Online ERP
Industry: Munufacturing (thermostatic engineering parts)
Location: Columbus, Indiana
About The Company
Since 1972, Caltherm Corporation has been designing and making custom engineering solutions for customers requiring thermal and pressure control technologies. The manufacturer has a strong heritage in innovation with customized products that include water and oil thermostats, thermal actuators, check valves, and pressure regulation and pressure relief valves. The firm has experienced long-term growth and, in 2006, it moved to a "state of the art" facility designed to ensure it can conceive innovations and manufacture and test them according to customers’ exacting requirements.
With the goal of being an innovator of quality products, Caltherm knew that cost-effective production alongside accurate, on-time delivery was the key to its success in market. The organization already relied on an ERP system, Infor’s SyteLine, to run the business. This technology had been chosen primarily for financial reasons and hastily deployed. The result was a series of awkward processes that hindered workflows and reduced the productivity of plant floor operatives, taking them away from the production line to enter data into the system. However, because of the way the system was implemented, employees were not forced to enter data while moving through automated processes so data collection was patchy.
This led to inaccuracies in inventory recording, barcode printing, shipping and quality management. Matt Shamblin, Technical Services Manager at Caltherm explains the day-to-day situation: “Lots of our people found it difficult to do their jobs as effectively as they’d have liked and we were losing money due to the problems we were having in accurately labelling and shipping products, recording inventory and meeting customers’ timescales. We didn’t have a single system where all the manufacturing processes that we required were integrated. In fact, we had one of our key customers, Caterpillar, receiving the wrong orders because our labels were printed incorrectly.”
“The situation had become untenable and I began to research the ERP market to find alternatives that wouldn’t significantly increase our monthly operating costs.” Shamblin also looked at vendors that could write customized process bolt-ons to supplement the current product. “We spent some time talking to one particular developer, and when that route didn’t progress, we hired our own developers only to discover that they would not share their source code,” he notes. Finally when the options to “make good” with the existing software solution had been exhausted, Shamblin recommended looking at several other key players in the manufacturing software business.
The Caltherm management team was concerned about buying a new ERP system because they’d heard about implementations from vendors where costs and schedules had doubled from the original agreement. Shamblin’s approach was to ask line of business managers at Caltherm to each make a list of the top ten things that would help them run their departments more efficiently, or to be a more effective leader. While demos of each solution ran, Shamblin had each business manager score their lists against each product’s capabilities. One Integrated Platform for Systemic Change “I was delighted that Plex came out as the leader because it has the best configuration and no CapEx,” says Shamblin. “I had implemented Plex at three other organizations so I knew it offered exactly what we needed.
Essentially it gave us one system with all the manufacturing processes we needed, fully integrated, so that we could undertake wholesale change across our organization, without having to buy add-ons or make huge customizations. And, because it was a true cloud solution, it was available on a subscription basis without any IT infrastructure for us to buy or maintain.” Shamblin assured Caltherm’s leadership team that, as a made-formanufacturing solution, the Plex Manufacturing Cloud provided exceptional out-of-the-box functionality with the flexibility to customize all processes from the plant floor up. Caltherm was up and live in nine months and within budget.
Results and Benefits
Shamblin collaborated with Plex subject matter experts to configure the Plex Manufacturing Cloud to meet Caltherm’s unique processes. He understood ERP best practice but also interacted with the Plex User Community to derive additional insights. Nine months after the implementation began, the technology was up and running.
Within just three months the Plex Manufacturing Cloud has delivered some significant improvements:
- Inventory and shipping management—before Plex, Caltherm’s inventory and shipping processes were separate and therefore the wrong documentation was often sent with the right parts. This had a negative impact on customer satisfaction. However, with Plex, the two functions are integrated and a mistake-proofing process ensures maximum labelling and shipping accuracy.
- Data capture is up to 100 percent—overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) was 74 percent and now it’s 68 percent. While this looks like Caltherm’s efficacy declined in this area, the firm is in fact counting OEE in an extra 30% of the business than it had previously. In reality, the business is running more efficiently in the areas they are now tracking
- Visibility and accountability has been transformed—because Caltherm can now collate real-time information, it has a totally new perspective on its business operations.
- Increased employee engagement—more people understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. During the implementation process, Caltherm eradicated processes that didn’t seem to have any tangible benefit in today’s manufacturing world. Initially, several functional areas rejected the idea of new ways of working, so Shamblin’s team walked these teams through the change process and brought them online: “We simply demonstrated that by doing 1.5 times as much work around a process, they got 10 times more useful information out.”
- Enhanced productivity—because of the way the Plex system works, employees are unable to move onto a new process until they have completed the previous one. This ensures every member of the
workforce interacts with the new system, performing all the activities, checks and reporting they are supposed to. Before Plex, Caltherm had dozens of business blind spots. Now, however, they are beginning to see gaps in their processes,
such as accounting challenges, and are gaining new insights into how the business is performing.
- Manufacturing performance—Plex’s professional services and implementation teams recommended best practices to boost manufacturing performance
through cultural change. In view of this significant investment in cultural and process change, Caltherm wanted to deploy a monitoring process prior to going live with Plex. Instead, due to the fully integrated nature of the solution, they got this tool for free with Plex’s Manufacturing Posting Process.
“It’s very early days in our Plex journey, but we are delighted with the positive impact the Plex Manufacturing Cloud is having on our business. It is not an accounting system with manufacturing processes added on, but rather a purpose built, fully integrated ERP system that has been created from the plant floor up. What that gives us is real confidence in the processes we are running, the accuracy of the data we are capturing, the visibility of our operations, and the quality of the products we are creating and shipping to customers,” explains Shamblin. “In the Plex Manufacturing Cloud we have a system that doesn’t require hardware and human resources to manage it. On the contrary, we have reduced the number of production servers running mission-critical workloads from fourteen down to four. Not only has that saved us a lot of time and money, it means our technical resources can focus on providing more effective technological solutions to the challenges our people are experiencing, rather than spending all their time on supporting infrastructure.”
Over time, Shamblin believes the Plex Manufacturing Cloud will help Caltherm to reduce its error rates when it comes to more complex tasks. This is because Plex allows them to manage many objects in a workflow at once, rather than managing islands of data. He also believes that the productivity and quality measures offered by Plex will help the firm get to market faster, reinforcing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What’s Next with Plex?
Caltherm is moving ahead with implementing the Quality module, which will improve productivity on the shop floor by eradicating paper-based processes and manual checks. Engineering Change Management System and associated workflows will follow, driving improvements in the APQP process. This will reduce the time spent in meetings with project managers since all stakeholders will be able to access project data in real-time, without needing to talk to project managers. Shamblin is also looking forward to integrating the plant floor machines via the Plex ML platform, known as MACH2. Deploying this solution will free up operators to focus on making parts without having to stop and put labels on them or run functional tests. “Everyone at Caltherm is excited about the difference the Plex Manufacturing Cloud is making to our business. We already had the infrastructure and clever minds to define our ambition to be a leading innovator in thermo-engineering solutions. Now we have a cloud ERP to make that vision a quality-driven reality.”