Software Solutions

The right system from ECi Software Solutions helps Ace Metal Crafts

By Gretchen Salois

The right system helps convert blueprints into subassemblies more easily

September 2018 - Reaching into your pocket for a pair of headphones only to wind up with a fistful of tangled cords is an annoyance. A jumbled workflow can become mission critical in a busy fab shop. “We installed our original MRP software more than 30 years ago and we outgrew it,” recalls Keith Stout, executive vice president at Ace Metal Crafts Co. “We found we needed to accommodate [growth] by adding what turned into a ton of work-arounds.

“Our business model changed,” he continues. “We had gotten so far from the original software that we couldn’t recognize our flow any longer.”

Located just west of Chicago in Bensenville, Illinois, Ace Metal Crafts operates within a complex system to produce subassemblies and components for the food processing equipment industry.

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Ace Metal Crafts can route materials according to the job sequence and maneuver from one work station to the next.

M1 software from ECi Software Solutions in Fort Worth, Texas, turned out to be best suited to the task. “We needed to clearly define subassemblies with their parent jobs,” Stout says. “With M1 software, we can flow work to our welders when we need it depending on what needs to be done.

“We have multiple tributaries set up to flow independently until they meet up to—in this case—the welding milestone of the process,” he explains. “From there, we can route the parts where they need to go and in that job’s correct sequence.”

The new process has eclipsed any semblance of “the old days” when staffers manually wrote up paper tickets and made paper copies, says Stout. Instead, the software makes tasks easy to see and maneuver. He likens Ace Metal Crafts’ operations to a bus line. “There are multiple stops along the route, but the goal is to get everyone on and off where they need to go until reaching the end of the line, while sticking to the schedule.”

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System upgrade

Customers typically come to ECi as either one of two types: new to ERP or keen for an upgrade. “A first-time system buyer might be using various software suites to tackle a number of tasks but has never run an integrated business system,” explains Jeff Ralyea, president of the manufacturing division at ECi. “The second type of customer is a bit more sophisticated, having used ERP in the past but needs an updated, more robust system to handle growing demand, as in the case of Ace Metal Crafts.”

The difference in implementation is often comfort level. Those adopting the software “usually start reaping the value from it quickly,” Ralyea says.

The M1 software’s benefits continue to unfold with daily use. “It’s an evolutionary process as employees find areas where they can make use of time that would have otherwise been wasted,” Ralyea says. “Now they can go back and look at the software assessment to identify the what- ifs and future possibilities.”

ECi sales reps visit customers’ facilities to see their processes at work before making recommendations. Groups shifting from manual processes to automated software work with ECi directly to recognize the potential in each software feature.

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After careful inspection, Ralyea says it is usually clear where the potholes lie. “We might uncover that scheduling procedures need to change in order to improve delivery times or adjust processes to handle increased demand,” Ralyea says. “We see high degrees of requirements for CAD in factory automation as well as warehouse automation and help users apply the technology to help keep jobs moving.”

ECi’s product configurator allows users to make sense of complex procedures. “We have one customer that manufactures high-level boat products and our software helps them configure processes whether it’s for a standard product like a cabinet or if something calls for custom personalization for the hinges,” Ralyea says.

Custom work

Each day at Ace Metal Crafts is different because the shop is 100 percent custom work. “We don’t have a product or a catalog of pieces we offer in high volumes,” Stout says. “Our customers design feats of engineering used to process and package food efficiently. We get a blueprint from the customer and often a finished piece to use in order to create the subassembly, which is then used to complete the final machine.”

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Ace Metal Crafts doesn’t know what jobs it’ll receive a month from now so M1 allows the fabricator to plan amid a quick-paced schedule.

Stout’s team doesn’t know what jobs it’ll be working on a month from now. “Our customers send over what they need and each time the blueprint and the mix of jobs is different,” he says. Ace Metal Crafts can easily adjust with varying demands while keeping track of jobs on the floor, “which helps us give accurate delivery expectations to our customers,” he adds.

“We get a job and predict how it will go based on stats our software has collected and analyzed,” Stout says. “We then use that sequencing to create visual boards and apply any customizations to make sure the customer and Ace Metals Crafts are on the same page. M1 provides the algorithms needed to make accurate predictions.”

M1 software alerts Ace Metal Crafts operators as to where one order can move up or down within a sequence to ensure there are no bottlenecks or downtime.

Ace Metal Crafts sells labor hours, says Stout. “Customers are buying our labor power and expertise—so the more hours we can find to devote to jobs, the more we’re able to produce.” FFJ


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