Aerospace-industry parts are some of a wide variety processed by MPI. Over the years they have built their reputation by providing high-quality heat-treating services combined with strong relationships with their customers.
The equipment and software available today allow MPI to run a very lean, efficient operation. A well-designed software system assures maximum utilization of equipment and labor. “We wanted to increase our productivity without having a large capital outlay for new equipment,” said Elena Ritoli, president. “We looked at several software packages that could help us run our business more efficiently, but most of them did not fit with what we do. We chose Visual Shop because it was a comprehensive package that fit our business model.”
In 1997, MPI began using Visual Shop, and over the last 12 years they have continued to improve their productivity and efficiency by utilizing more features in the software package. Terry Chadwick, quality assurance manager, stated, “Visual Shop encompasses our whole operation. It is flexible, which allows us to make it fit our ever-changing operation.” Visual Shop is designed to handle all aspects of the heat-treatment business including quotes, order entry, generating shop-floor travelers, shipping, invoicing and more.
Order EntryMPI will often receive repeat orders for the same part. They keep a record of every part that has been brought in for processing, and as they receive new shipments of these same parts, a new shop-floor traveler can be generated after entering just a few key pieces of information such as order quantities and due date. Shop-floor travelers can be easily generated for unique parts as well, based on material type.
This streamlined order-entry method is done through the use of process masters. MPI has created a large library of process masters that contain all the different types of processing performed in the plant. Process masters are processing blueprints that contain detailed step-by-step instructions and any inspection requirements. Process masters are assigned to individual part numbers or to a material type and are easily updated when a process change arises.
SchedulingAfter an order is entered, it is released to the shop floor. However, order processing is not necessarily in a first-in, first-out schedule. To maximize return on investment, MPI’s 30 furnaces need to be run at peak capacity. Additionally, delivery guarantees made to the customer will affect the scheduling of furnace loads.
Production managers Minh Duong and Frank Medina use a scheduling module that allows them to schedule exactly what parts will run in the furnace and when. In the scheduling report, the parts are grouped by furnace cycle and material, which allows the managers some flexibility to add additional orders in the load if space allows. All this helps to assure that the furnace capacity is maximized and that the parts will be delivered to the customers on time.
TrackingAny heat treater would like to know the location of any given part at any time. MPI processes hundreds of orders per day, and monitoring all those orders can be a major challenge. Barcode scanning has been a huge help for tracking orders and parts. Each order can be scanned in and out of any process step. This information provides the real-time location for any order on the floor. “I don’t even have to leave my desk. I can find the answers while I’m talking to the customer. It’s a world of difference for customer service,” said Dennis Perry, customer service manager. Kris Lang, sales manager, can access this information while visiting a customer’s factory.
As part of the tracking system, inspection results can also be entered right at the inspector’s workstation. These results are then printed on the certification, producing a much cleaner customer report. Additionally, the certification results can be quickly pulled up at any time in Visual Shop.
To further improve on efficiency and data collection, MPI will be updating their tracking system to use Visual Shop’s radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking capabilities. This RFID system allows jobs to be automatically logged into an area or piece of equipment rather than requiring an operator to perform a barcode-scan operation.
Furnace OperationPresently, all manual furnace-control systems are being updated to computerized versions from Super Systems, Inc. (SSi). Scanning the shop-floor traveler allows the correct recipe to automatically upload to the furnace controller. “Works very nice,” said Phil Grant, furnace operator. “Makes my job a lot easier.”
A big reason for choosing SSi is that their controllers seamlessly link with Visual Shop. A furnace chart can easily be pulled up at any time from any computer that is running Visual Shop. This is especially useful for providing charts along with the shipments. Whenever a certification is printed in Visual Shop, the furnace chart will also print if it’s required. Gone are the days of shuffling through rolls of paper charts trying to find the exact cycle.
Production OptimizationPerhaps even more useful than the real-time location information is the abundance of reports that can be generated from the tracking data. These reports can be used to accurately measure performance from all aspects of the operation. Here are some of the common reports:
- On-Time Delivery and Turnaround reports are used to continually improve delivery times.
- A Profitability report can be run on the furnaces. MPI typically runs this report for each furnace. It will show a list of all the jobs that ran for the specified time period, the total part quantity and weight, total time the furnace was running, the time the furnace was not running (gap time) and whether they are making or losing money on the job. This report is great for monitoring overall furnace utilization and job-by-job profitability, which can determine if price adjustments need to be made for future orders of a part.
- A Rush list that prioritizes the jobs is distributed throughout the plant. It can be changed at any time to accommodate changing production needs throughout the day.
- The Backlog list that shows all orders sorted by customer is used to determine the Rush list.
Customer CommunicationsIn addition to its internal use, every morning a Backlog list is generated for each customer and is e-mailed directly to them with the press of a button. After reviewing their list, customers may request priority changes of their own. The Rush list will be adjusted to accommodate this priority change.
For those customers using the available part pickup and delivery services, a Shipping report is e-mailed before each delivery. It contains a list of all jobs that will be delivered, which allows the customer to prepare their production schedule in anticipation of the incoming parts.
These and other regularly e-mailed reports are key to creating solid customer relationships. It is a win-win situation because the customers like having the information without needing to request it, and it takes almost no effort to generate and send the reports. After an e-mail distribution list is set up for a customer, nearly any of the 100-plus reports in Visual Shop can be sent by the press of a button.
Quality AssuranceA good quality monitoring and reporting system is essential for running a lean operation and satisfying customer needs. One example of a useful tool is the Reject report, which can be analyzed to see if process masters need to be changed. Stuart Sherman, quality director, said, “Quality systems today require that information within a system be compiled in such a way as to make reporting and trending of historical data simple. The reports created by the CSI Visual Shop system allow trends to be easily identified.”
Quotations/Invoicing/A.R.The business financial information is also streamlined through Visual Shop. Quotations can be created and automatically e-mailed to a customer. For repeat orders, pricing is already assigned to the part, and that pricing can automatically be used for new quotations. For new parts not based on a quote, pricing can be assigned based on process, material or part dimensions.
During order entry, the system automatically checks to see if the part is quoted and that all the necessary pricing information is automatically pulled in. This allows the invoices, which are sent directly to customers via Visual Shop’s e-mail utility, to be automatically generated after orders are shipped.
As payments come in, the information is recorded in Visual Shop’s A.R. module, which can generate many reports. Statements can be sent to customers as a notification of what has been paid and what is still open. If a customer falls too far behind on payments, Visual Shop will not allow any quotations or orders to be entered for them.
Signature and Remote P.O. CaptureMPI has several trucks that are used for part pickup and delivery. The drivers use PDAs running Visual Truck to manage the routes. Visual Truck contains a list of all the shipping tickets, and the driver collects the customer’s signature right on the device just like UPS or FedEx. This signature can then be displayed in Visual Shop’s proof-of-delivery document in case a customer requests it for an invoice.
Additionally, Visual Truck also allows a P.O. to be captured during part pickup. The P.O. is automatically transmitted back to the plant, which allows the order to be entered and the travelers generated before the parts arrive at the plant. Sherman said, “This gives us a huge edge on scheduling.”
Document ArchivingEvery heat treater has some type of system for storing records and documents, and quality-system watchdogs such as Nadcap, ISO or QS usually influence it. Some records must be kept for 40 years or more. The storage space required to contain paper copies of all these documents is enormous, and the time spent filing is vast as well.
MPI has implemented Visual Shop’s digital archiving system, Visual Archive. “Visual Archive makes filing so easy. All we have to do is put the documents in the scanner and they’re automatically filed,” Chadwick said. “We can do searches by order number, P.O., part number or pretty much anything else. We find our documents instantly.”
Blueprint to EfficiencyMPI strives to use the technological tools available in its Visual Shop heat-treating software package to the fullest. In doing so, they are able to run a lean operation and fulfill their mission statement: “Our Mission is to ... Perform metal treating and surface-enhancement solutions, which provide quality, delivery and value to our customers, focusing on education and technology through 100% team effort.” If history is an indicator of future trends, you can expect MPI to be on the front lines of new technology as it becomes available. IH
For more information: Contact Marshall Handelsman, president of Cornerstone Systems, Inc., 820 E. Terra Cotta Avenue, Suite 156, Crystal Lake, IL 60014; tel: 800-275-4274; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.ask4csi.com. Mr. Handelsman, who has been developing software for the heat-treating industry since the 1970s, founded CSI in 1993. His experience went into the development of Visual Shop, which was initially released in 1997 and currently has over 300 installations in seven countries.