Above: Operation-specific instructions and production entries for each unique step in the process are managed through user-friendly, customizable screens.
New operating system yields dramatic improvements at high-capacity stamping company
March 2013 - An order for 100,000 pieces is considered small at Jagemann Stamping. The Manitowoc, Wis.-based company processes 100 to 150 orders per week, many consisting of fluid transfer components deep drawn on transfer presses for the automotive industry. Jagemann also has fineblanking capabilities and in recent years has diversified into the ammunition casings market, as well as the commercial realm, manufacturing components for products in the homebuilding and electrical industries. In a typical week, the company may produce 10 million parts overall.
“We make products from just about every kind of material,” says Jim Trost, Jagemann’s head of human resources. “If you can buy it in a coil or a strip, we work with it. The bulk of our product is stainless steel, regular steel and aluminum, but we also produce parts with brass, copper, different clad materials.”
Add the traceability requirements for many of its customers to the variety of materials and the volume of parts, and one can see there is a lot of information to keep track of in Jagemann’s operations. So it was a serious matter when the company decided in 2008 to migrate the information technology underlying all aspects of its operations to a centralized information system, Plex Online.
Re-equipping the enterprise
Jagemann dates back to 1946, well before the advent of computers or enterprise resource planning software. Yet its strong competitive position today stems from the data consolidation made possible by switching to Plex. The change was particularly helpful because of the scope of the business.
“We consider ourselves a self-sufficient operation,” says Trost. “We design in-house all of the tools we use on our stamping presses, and maintain a fully functioning tool room. Our toolmakers and machinists use CNC and traditional equipment to build the tooling that our design team develops. Then it goes to our development and manufacturing teams to get the processes going. All of those functions are integrated and have to work very closely together.”
Today when a customer orders a new part, the process starts with the engineering group. “They set up the part in Plex and everything drives off of that. All of our costing is driven by that,” says Trost, as are schedules for making the tools, production and all the other aspects of order fulfillment. But it hasn’t always been so integrated.
For many years the company used numerous stand-alone programs to support different functions. On the production floor, for example, it was Mapics for in-process production and timing control. Production schedulers used another program, and tool building was administered through separate shop management software. Collecting and consolidating data from throughout the enterprise for input into accounting, planning and forecasting software was tedious, time-consuming and inefficient.
“As part of our continual improvement initiatives, we are always trying to get a better handle on our operating efficiency and effectiveness,” says Trost. In July 2008, the company made a significant move in that direction by switching to Plex Online. The fully integrated enterprise resource planning solution provided by Plex Systems Inc., Troy, Mich., replaced Jagemann’s entire collection of stand-alone programs.
“At the time we were launching, I was actually in manufacturing,” Trost says, “and I was somewhat worried going into this, knowing that for some of the team members the learning curve would be steep as we transitioned to the new system.” The implementation plan was based on a prompt and complete switchover to the new system, with no provision for continuing to operate the old systems as backup.
“This was a dead cutoff,” Trost says. “If it didn’t go smoothly, we were going to be in big trouble, as far as our inventory controls and things like that.” Aside from having to verify a portion of inventory, the switch went very smoothly.
“Our accounting department was amazed at how accurate it was,” says Kim Behnke, Jagemann’s information technology manager. “After dealing with a few initial hurdles, they couldn’t believe how well everything matched up.”
Easy to use, good fit
User-friendliness is a big part of why the transition to Plex went so smoothly. “Whether it’s accounting or production, I’ve heard from many of our people that this is a very easy-to-use system,” says Behnke.
“Plex touches nearly every part of the company and the software is designed so that it’s easy to use by almost everybody,” says Jim Shepherd, vice president of strategy at Plex. “Using the software doesn’t require training—everybody understands how a web-based system works. And it’s designed for the functions they do, so the screen for the person running a machine on the shop floor looks very different from the screen for somebody doing accounts payable.”
“Our old system was a good tool for its time,” says Trost. People with expertise in using the older system could navigate just fine but infrequent users were often stumped. “If you didn’t work in green screen every day, you could be lost, but in Plex everything seems to be very logical.”
Being web-based also gives Plex a familiar look and feel. “Our operators and technicians throughout the organization in all departments just gravitated to the format,” he continues. “If you’re not sure where something is, you can do a simple menu search and it takes you to all the available options. It’s very easy for even a novice to navigate.”
The system also quickly became the company’s information baseline across the board. For example, staffing.
“Our operators request vacation through Plex,” Trost says. “When they want to take time off, they put in a request through Plex and it automatically generates a notification to the supervisor. When they approve it, it automatically goes to the work schedules so they know how they’re staffed on any given day out in the future.”
“Every single person has a login,” Behnke says, “and everyone uses it every day.” That may sound alarming to firms accustomed to paying thousands of dollars for each ERP user seat—which typically means doling them out on an as-needed basis. But Plex puts no restrictions on the number of users a firm can have.
“Because with Plex you have unlimited users, it’s not unusual to find situations where virtually everybody in the company uses the system, from the receptionist to the janitor,” says Shepherd. “And in many cases you’ll actually find companies with more Plex users than they have employees. They’ve got contractors using it, buyers using it, customers using it, because there’s no extra cost and it’s easy to use.”
Plex offered one more advantage to the company as it considered the upgrade. “The thing that gave us confidence in going to Plex was knowing it was developed at a stamping company,” Trost says. “We knew that there were many similarities between our needs and what that company was doing as they developed it, so we were confident it would work well for us.” Had Plex been developed within some other industry, he says, it would have required much more analysis before deciding.
“One of the things that’s different about Plex is that we only do manufacturing companies,” says Shepherd. “Most ERP systems do manufacturing but they also do insurance companies, banks, hospitals, government agencies and so forth. They are very broad but they aren’t anywhere near as deep as Plex is.”
Plex, Shepherd says, “goes literally right down to every activity that’s occurring, whether it be man or machine. That’s one of the things that’s so valuable to customers. They get value from the breadth, because now all the operations and all the information are in one integrated system. But they get a tremendous amount of value from the depth because they now have an automated way to do ordering and scheduling, they can track operations, capture quality data and satisfy regulatory requirements all in a single system. And they don’t have to do duplicate work.”
Going forward, both Behnke and Trost anticipate capturing more data directly from the machinery. “The process hasn’t changed,” says Behnke. “But there are ways we can improve it, maybe by getting a direct link from our presses to Plex. The company is working with us through a third-party company, Kors Engineering, that would give us those links.”
Embracing the new paradigm
“The whole concept of an ERP system is that you want to coordinate the entire organization,” Shepherd says, “so everybody is moving in the same direction, so you can redirect the organization quickly if there’s a change, and you can respond to the environment around you. If only 20 percent of the people are using the system, it’s tough to accomplish that. The value companies get from one of these systems is directly related to the number of people who are actually using it.”
And yet, the concept of not limiting the number of users and having everyone work hands-on with a centralized information system takes a little getting used to. Shepherd says, “When I came to Plex after 20 years as an analyst, I said, ‘You guys are nuts. You’re giving the store away.’ And now I am a complete believer. It just transforms how people use the system.” FFJ
Who are the toughest people to bring onboard with Plex?
“The biggest challenges we had were people who had developed workarounds in the old operating system,” says Jagemann Stamping’s human resources manager, Jim Trost. Any company will have a handful of these, he says, but when Jagemann switched to Plex, the new system “really—and I mean really—made it difficult to do workarounds. You had to follow the process correctly or it would not let you pass go; you did not collect $200. Plex makes you do it right, which is a good thing. There is no workaround.”
Before jumping to judge the hangers-on, consider which side of the continuum you would be on. Trost says, “As a manager and a person that started on the floor making parts, I can appreciate both sides.”