ERP Enters the Cleaning Room
One steel casting job shop has expanded its ERP system to the cleaning room in an effort to increase traceability and improve on-time delivery.
Daniel Wile, Southern Cast Products, Meridian, Mississippi
(Click here to see the story as it appears in the January issue of Modern Casting.)
Southern Cast Products Inc. (SCP), Meridian, Miss., uses an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system to help with scheduling tasks in its molding and melting departments. This system is in place to help the steel casting facility maximize efficiency when dealing with constraints in both departments. For molding, proper scheduling can boost the total number of molds produced per day on SCP’s three nobake molding lines. For melting, the casting facility can use ERP to balance three constraints:
- All products in a heat must be the same alloy.
- The total pour weight of all products in a heat must be as close as possible to but not greater than the furnace container capacity.
- Heats per day fits management requirements.
SCP employees build a daily schedule to fill those constraints and publish it in paper form throughout the plant for execution. The next day, SCP assesses whether the planned number of heats were poured. With this feedback system, the company knows within a day whether it is on pace with the planned production level. The strategy—building the schedule—is handled by individuals in contact with customers, and the execution is the objective of the shop.
Recently, SCP began exploring the possibility of introducing ERP to the cleaning room, which did not have a strategic solution for increasing efficiency. After shakeout, the goal is to get parts out as quickly as possible, but employees don’t actually know if they are on pace for on-time shipment until castings arrive at inspection, which is the last operation.
Order in the Cleaning Room
For large-quantity orders, employees have a difficult time verifying order count prior to a final count, which is made during packaging for shipment. Often, at that point, it is too late to make up for any short quantities. SCP lacks a good feedback loop that allows for daily assessment regarding meeting its delivery commitments.
As a steel casting job shop, SCP pours many types of alloys with many different processing steps. When pouring an uncommon alloy, the metalcaster may reach into its order book to find enough orders of that alloy to fill the furnace. Consequently, those castings with due dates far into the future may enter the cleaning room before more urgent castings from subsequent heats. Additionally, the route that castings take through the cleaning room depends on alloy type. SCP does not work in a first-in-first-out system in the cleaning room, as lean manufacturing principles might suggest.
Currently, strategy and execution are taking place on the shop floor. SCP depends highly on some key veteran employees for directing the flow of work. The absence of quantifiable constraints and a stated plan for each day’s work lead to “seat of the pants” scheduling. SCP needs a way to prioritize the castings in the queue in front of each operation, and it needs a stated plan so that operators and managers can proceed with known expectations.
Finally, the lack of production history time data leads to difficulty in determining cost information on a product-by-product basis.
SCP’s existing enterprise software appeared to have tools capable of scheduling work in the cleaning room. SCP also benchmarked some non-competing iron casting facilities who are more experienced using an ERP system in day-to-day operations.
The module in the ERP system allows for two-way information exchange with employees through customized screens on shop floor computers. Employees can enter production data and look up information about a specific product or order.
If production reporting takes place at each cleaning room operation, the system can produce a list of products awaiting a given operation. For this to work correctly, the shop order for a product must have an accurate routing that contains the operations in the correct order. Each product can have a unique routing that shows the proper sequence of operations.
Finding the Right Data Collection Configuration
SCP first tested the methodology behind the software system with paper travelers. When melting production was entered into the ERP each day, operators printed a traveler sheet for each shop order poured. The traveler contained the routing steps that the casting should follow through the cleaning room. Employees installed a set of mailboxes in the cleaning room for each operation in a casting routing. The lead men in each operation would mark the traveler sheet when they worked the quantity of castings for that shop order. Then, they would place the traveler in the box for the next operation on the routing.
One of SCP’s main concerns about implementing the ERP system was that computers would not hold up to the rough environment in a metalcasting cleaning room. SCP decided to buy desktop computers, which have held up well in the foundry environment. The system uses a work station consisting of a Windows-based desktop computer, flat screen monitor, waterproof keyboard and mouse in a protective cabinet.
In addition, a flat-screen monitor was installed in plain view at the entrance to the cleaning room. This dashboard displays the queue of castings for each operation that reports production. Anyone can browse this list of orders and see how many pieces are scheduled, how many have been produced and any associated promised ship dates.
The computer screens are highly configurable. SCP can choose to display a list of available castings at a particular operation. The list is sorted by due date, with the earliest date at the top of the list. The operator can select a line item that represents the work he plans to do. Clicking the “Start Job” button will create a starting time stamp for that shop order.
When the operator is finished, a click of the “Stop Job” tab opens a screen that prompts him for the quantity produced at that operation. It also creates a stopping time stamp. If all products in the “quantity to do” field for that shop order are completed, the shop order line disappears from his list.
The ERP builds a cumulative record for quantity and hours worked for that product, so that a historical average rate of completion for that product at that operation can be determined, which is important for scheduling purposes and product cost estimates.
Talk with Employees: SCP spoke with employees about what was being done and why. Most employees in the cleaning room recognized the need for better planning, so they supported efforts to get better information and establish clear goals.
Ask for Help: Many of SCP’s cleaning room employees have never used a computer on the job. SCP reached out to Mark Danly, an industry consultant with experience training employees in the use of ERP software systems, to provide technical support. He also helped train employees and keeps SCP focused on developing proper habits. Computers and hardware were procured prior to his visits, so he could focus on training and testing. By the end of these visits, SCP was successfully using the ERP system in its data collection stations.
Roll Out in Phases: SCP chose to roll out the new ERP system in phases. Instead of installing data collection stations at every operation at once, the company began with one operation and expanded into additional operations at a gradual pace, which has proved successful so far. SCP learned a lot about how its shop orders needed to be configured for the ERP system to work properly. SCP personnel enjoyed the benefit of focusing attention on each addition of a data collection station. Those handling the installation could spend significant one-on-one time with operators.
Putting computers in the cleaning room presents several challenges. For one, SCP is now asking employees to interact with computers, something that had never been required before the installation of the new ERP system. Fortunately, the data entry screens can be customized for the employees in the cleaning room, so they can be quite simple while still gathering the needed information. SCP has been pleased with the way employees have picked up on the process for entering data.
The most difficult challenge was the seemingly simple act of counting. Historically, cleaning room employees have not been responsible for reporting the number of castings worked with an order quantity. That task had fallen to the final inspection operation. It was at this final step when finished castings were counted against order quantities. When orders were short, employees often did not have enough time to find or replace the quantity that is short without missing a promised ship date.
Cleaning room employees compare quantities worked with order quantities. This allows SCP to identify, as early as possible, cases of castings dropping out of the process so employees have time to find the castings or pour make-up castings. Now, employees are asked to quantify exactly how many castings are serviced.
With the ERP’s accurate queue for a particular operation, SCP hopes to create daily schedules of castings that need to be completed. The system captures the time spent between “jobbing on” and “jobbing off” a shop order, so it can build a historical rate of production for each product number through a particular operation. Eventually, this information will be used to identify deadlines for castings going through each operation in order to reach an on-time delivery.
An additional benefit of the time collection feature of the ERP software is that casting costs can be approximated based on variable and overhead rates for the employees and the historical average time per part in each operation.
Currently about halfway through its implementation of the new ERP system, Southern Cast Products has already realized three significant benefits:
- Process retention through creation of detailed routings.
- Increased visibility of order quantities and due dates to everyone in the cleaning room.
- Improved information to help employees prioritize.