from Quality, May 1998
Martin Engineering had outgrown its mainframe-based enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) system. The Neponset, IL manufacturer of conveyor products and flow aids for handling industrial bulk solids needed to switch to a networked, PC-based system.
The old ERP system forced the company’s engineers to use only plain text to create the routing instructions that told workers on the shop floor how to build products. The engineers couldn’t use large, boldfaced, colored, or underlined text to emphasize important details. If they wanted to change even a single line of text, they had to retype the entire document. Plus, they had to completely type in new instructions for each part, even if instructions already existed for a nearly identical part.
Because the old system didn’t allow drawings to be incorporated into the routing instructions, the company had to maintain an elaborate paper-based file system that cataloged drawings for the 30,000 parts it builds. The file system was time-consuming to update, and occasionally someone would accidentally use an outdated drawing and produce a bad part.
The company’s engineers thought that the problems would be solved when they moved to a Windows-based ERP system. But during the installation process they discovered that the new system still based its routing instructions on unformatted text.
"We switched to a new computer system, and the software it had for releasing orders to the shop floor was really inadequate for us," said Marty Cantwell, industrial engineering supervisor. The engineers considered using a word processor to produce the instructions, but that, too, would have been time-consuming to update every time the ERP system information changed and would be susceptible to errors if an update was overlooked.
The company sent one of its engineers to a manufacturing show to find a solution that would provide users on the shop floor with quick, easy access to bills of materials, CAD drawings, and work instructions. The system he found was Visual PDM product-data-management software from [Insight Manufacturing Software, Inc., Palatine, IL.]
The program could read bill-of-material information from the ERP database and maintain live links that automatically updated the information when the database changed. It had a full-featured word processor, so engineers could create routing instructions that included formatted text. It let them easily copy instructions from one part and paste them into another. It even provided the ability to create templates—instructions or series of instructions that can be incorporated into any number of parts—that immediately updated all of the parts that reference them when changed. Graphics of all types could be quickly integrated into the system. "Anything you can type in a computer, it can put in there," Cantwell said.
There was just one obstacle: The company had 30,000 routing instructions in the old system and only a few weeks before the new system was scheduled to go live. How could they convert the instructions from the mainframe system to the new Windows-based program without having to retype everything? Fortunately, Insight Solutions supplied a program to convert mainframe instructions to the new system. "[The conversion] wasn’t too bad, simply because the people from Insight wrote the conversion program for us," said Cantwell. After the old textual work instructions were converted, Martin engineers formatted the text and added graphics simply by pointing and clicking with a mouse.
Training the machine operators to use the program was not difficult, because of the user-friendly Windows format. To lessen the impact of the change from a mainframe system to a PC-based system, the new system was set up so that the information layout was very similar to what the operators were already used to. "The less change you have to throw at them at once, the easier it is [for them to adjust]," said Cantwell.
The instructions are now much easier to understand, because the formatted text adds emphasis, and the graphics clearly communicate requirements. After the new system was implemented, engineers immediately noticed a dramatic reduction in calls from the shop floor asking for explanations of the instructions. With clearer instructions, operators made fewer mistakes, so quality improved and rework declined. Since operators had easy access to the current drawings, rework caused by the use of outdated drawings was eliminated.
The amount of time required to produce instructions has dropped substantially now that engineers can cut and paste text and graphics from similar parts, edit existing text, and link instructions to existing templates. The ability to access part drawings from the program eliminated the need to maintain paper drawing files. Cantwell estimates that the program saves the company about 40 hr. of time weekly. Although Martin Engineering had already achieved its ISO 9001 certification before installing Visual PDM, Cantwell expects that the program’s improved access to the instructions and drawings will streamline recertification efforts.—Nancy Chase
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