(High Point, NC) — Allred Metal Stamping Works, Inc., a fixture in the metal stamping industry since 1946, has completed a successful implementation of Steel Viking Manufacturing Software at its High Point, North Carolina facility.
Allred had implemented a mainframe-based manufacturing package in the late 1990’s and had outgrown that solution’s technological limitations in recent years. In 2009, the company began a comprehensive software search, and was not comfortable with the price to flexibility mix of prepackaged manufacturing software in the market, especially given the company’s prior experience with prepackaged software.
Allred chose Steel Viking Software by Cleveland, OH based Fidelis Partners, primarily due to its model of software customizability to the company’s precise specifications. “We were attracted to the willingness of Fidelis to customize Steel Viking to our organizational needs”, says Bryce Mullinnix, Allred Project Manager.
In January 2010, before embarking on the implementation, Fidelis and Allred conducted a six-week software discovery project, which laid the groundwork for the implementation. “The software discovery project helped us to collectively form a team vision of what the software would do for us, and finalized project costs and schedule,” says Leigh Mullinnix, Allred President.
Let’s do this thing
The full implementation project kicked off in March 2010 and the project team worked to customize Steel Viking for Allred’s core business processes over the next six months.
Originally, the project schedule was structured to implement the front office in the first phase and the automation of the plant floor in a later second phase. For a time, this would have required manual paper capture of transactions by plant floor employees and subsequent data entry of those transactions by the front office.
In October 2010, the project team decided to pursue an aggressive approach, combining front office and plant floor automation into a single implementation, scheduled to “go live” in January 2011.
The team at Allred was understandably nervous about the January 2011 data conversion process. Not only did the company have to conduct a full physical inventory, but personnel had to deal with a new level of plant floor shop order detail, software learning curve, and new operational processes. Beyond this, the team had bad memories of the lengthy, unsupported conversion process of its mainframe system over a decade earlier.
“We did not want a repeat of our prior software conversion experience, ” says Mrs. Mullinnix, President.
The system went live on Monday, January 3. Allred was able to conduct its business on the new software on Day 1 and minor software and procedural issues were worked out over the next two weeks.
“All things considered, the implementation went quite well, ” according to Mr. Mullinnix. “Fidelis stayed in the trenches with us for two weeks until everything was running smoothly.”
Meanwhile, on the Plant Floor
The decision to combine front office and plant floor automation in a single phase paid off. While there were certainly some challenges in the first few days of system usage, those were quickly ironed out and full plant floor data capture was accomplished within the first week.
Using bar code technology on plant floor computers, Allred operators now record time and attendance, raw material receiving, raw material production issuance, production capture, and shipping transactions in their entirety.
“Overall, I was pleased with the ability of our plant floor operators to follow the new procedures with the system and climb the learning curve quickly,” says David Allred, Production Manager. “Some had not even used computers before. But they embraced the solution and even suggested software improvements for us.”
According to Mr. Mullinnix, “We are now beginning to realize the benefits of the plant floor automation, including real time access to WIP and finished goods inventories, dramatic time savings in the entry of data, and the new availability of information to mine around production costs and productivity.”
The software has also paid dividends in the area of inventory control and materials requirements planning, as Allred now has a precise knowledge of available, issued and future-needed raw material inventory.
What in the World is “Fuball”?
One major project challenge revolved around how to configure Allred’s order management process, given individual roles in the company and the capabilities of the new software. The team converged on the decision to place a status bar at the top of each order screen that presented an interactive, color coded, navigable view of all activity necessary to satisfy the order.
For reasons not disclosed in this release, the new software feature earned the name “Fuball”. According to Meredith Carroll, Account Manager, “With the combination of the Fuball bar, Part Status window, and various reports and alerts out of Steel Viking, we have refined our order management, materials purchasing, and production planning into a more efficient process.”
In addition to the Fuball feature, the software incorporated an automated workflow allowing all key parties to weigh in on an order confirmation date prior to acknowledgement to the customer – including account management, materials management, and production.
Automating Customer and Supplier Interfaces
With the software implementation, Allred saw the opportunity to automate previously manually intensive processes around customer and supplier interaction.
From an inbound perspective, the software was customized to download release schedules, receipt confirmations, and warehouse consignment transactions from major customer portal sites to remove the need for redundant data entry into the software.
“The customer portal download processes now save us several hours each week,” according to Mr. Mullinnix.
On the outbound side, Allred can now automatically email pdf versions of supplier purchase orders, sales acknowledgements, and customer invoices directly from the software. “These new features save us considerable time and also improve our presence with customers and suppliers,” according to Bob Allred, Chairman.
Don’t forget Quality
In the second quarter of 2011, with the core system fully implemented, the project team turned its attention to the needs of the Quality Department. Among Quality’s objectives were electronic document linkage into shop floor paperwork and an integrated quality alert solution.
The first release of this solution includes the ability for any Allred employee to easily log a quality alert or Non Conforming Material Request in the system. Further, suspect inventory can be segregated at all levels of work order detail and labeled accordingly. Quality alert follow-up items can then be assigned to appropriate personnel and tracked for completion.
When production paperwork is printed for a work order, all necessary Quality documents are printed with the package, including the print, inspection sheets, and open quality alerts for attention.
“We are off to a nice start as far as modifying Steel Viking around our quality processes, ” says Keith Gaedtke, Quality Manager. “I am impressed by the flexibility of the solution.”
Allred is looking forward to the next phases of the implementation, including the automation of the Tool Crib and Maintenance areas, quoting workflow, and conducting the physical inventory on mobile handheld devices.
“We are now equipped with an agile software solution that we can grow with our business,” concludes Mr. Mullinnix. “We are eager to move forward with additional process improvements using Steel Viking as a key tool.”