Case Study: Center Manufacturing, Inc.
Company: Center Manufacturing, Inc.
Industry: Metal Fabrication
About The Company
Center Manufacturing, Inc. of Grand Rapids, MI. manufactures fuel tanks, exhaust systems, tubular engine components and complex welded assemblies for the heavy truck and construction equipment markets, and the recreational vehicle and automotive markets.
• ERP that could help facilitate evolution/growth of business
• Batch and manual processes compromised usefulness of data
• Integrated EDI and sequencing capabilities
• Comprehensive, integrated MRP capabilities
• Real-time visibility into production
• Real-time bar-code tracking of inventory movements
• Standard costing capabilities
• Multi-plant functionality
• iVP - Solarsoft’s integrated enterprise business system
for manufacturing and distribution
• Functional maturity supports range of distinct needs out of the box
• Elimination of physical inventories/dramatic increase in inventory accuracy
• Robust, integrated and Honda-certified EDI
• Acquired and stabilized three struggling manufacturers in the market over the last 14 months
"We're one company that has done well in transitioning from being a supplier to the Big-3 to supplying other industries; that's our success story," says Chuck Ward, Director of IT for Center Manufacturing, a producer of complex metal assemblies, as he recounts his company's response to seismic downturns in the automotive industry.
Indeed, in the space of a few years the industry that once accounted for virtually all of Center Manufacturing's business now accounts for only a small fraction, supplanted by the motorcycle, heavy truck, construction and agricultural equipment industries. "We don't make too many car parts anymore, but our sales are back to where they were prior to the downturn," he says. "This hasn't been a subtle change; we went through a hurricane and Solarsoft iVP kept us afloat, allowed us to stabilize and take on all this new business. We're now poised for really good things."
Through a series of acquisitions the company absorbed several
businesses into its existing 2-plant operation in Grand Rapids. Michigan and added two plants, one in Virginia and another South Carolina. With a transition of such magnitude come dramatic increases in data, customers and complexity - sets of demands that could not be met by the antiquated, highly customized and largely non-integrated ERP system in place at Center Manufacturing's two Michigan facilities.
Fully integrated functionality for range of new challenges
"With our old system there was a profound lack of usable information. We had no standard costing, which meant we had no visibility or control over costs and profitability. We had no MRP, so we either ran out of material or over-ordered to compensate. We had no bar-coding and our EDI was third-party. Upgrades were really expensive, as was maintenance. The whole solution was disjointed," recalls Ward. "Solarsoft iVP offered integration across all those functions. Without any customization, the solution would give me a level of functionality and precision that other packages just didn't have." Within months of implementation, he notes, the integrated bar-coding capabilities in Solarsoft virtually eliminated the need for physical inventories and dramatically improved inventory accuracy.
In its choice of Solarsoft, Center Manufacturing not only invested in a replacement ERP system for its Michigan operations, it invested in a solution that would play a vital role in enabling the company to absorb several new businesses into its existing operations and acquire other businesses and plants outright. "Solarsoft definitely set the stage," says Ward. "It's a mature system, and by that I mean it has full function and flexibility for all the unique requirements we were facing in these new businesses."
As an example, Ward points to his company's Virginia acquisition - a bankrupt supplier of fuel tanks to Volvo and Mack, both of which have stringent sequencing requirements. "I had never had to think of sequencing before. I knew nothing about it, but the functionality was already there, integrated in Solarsoft. That happened time and time again, where vanilla Solarsoft iVP supported these unusual functions. That's a big, big deal."
Fully integrated EDI, significant savings
Though largely removed from the automotive industry, EDI remains critical for Center Manufacturing. According to Ward, the company has 45 EDI maps implemented with 25 trading partners, each of whom have strict and sometimes very complex EDI requirements - Honda being the most notable. "Honda is the gold-standard for EDI and Solarsoft is an approved Honda EDI provider," he says, while observing that because Solarsoft has such a large customer base using the same EDI maps with a lot of the same trading partners, EDI development costs are spread among Solarsoft iVP users. "A lot of companies might charge $10,000 to implement a set of EDI transactions, but Solarsoft charges a small monthly amount per transaction, with no huge upfront cost. That's a very fair, progressive way to do it."
While avoiding such large upfront costs, maintenance costs and ongoing charges for custom programming are important bottom line benefits, Ward also recognizes the impact of Solarsoft iVP's high degree of EDI integration with his company's accounting, customer service, inventory and engineering data. "With a bolt-on EDI package you don't have the same degree of cross-checking you get with an integrated package. That could mean missing shipments, delivering parts out of sequence or not getting paid for the parts we did ship." In its fuel tank business, Center Manufacturing is paid per tank installed on the truck production line.
Director of a 3-person IT department and member of a cross-functional team that selected Solarsoft, Ward is responsible for implementing and administering the system across the organization. He gauges its value in terms of its ease of implementation, day-to-day management, its cost and user satisfaction. A single IBM System i server in Grand Rapids serves all four locations, while the use of Solarsoft iVP for day-to-day operations is largely decentralized.
"This new ERP system was a very visible project and it came in on-budget and on-time. And instead of fielding complaints, IT has a voice in a lot of decisions about where we're going as a company," says Ward. "Our ERP system has a lot to do with that. Solarsoft iVP is robust, easy to work with and allows us to monitor and manage a much more complex business. We can handle it all, and because of that we're ready when it's time to to ramp up."
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