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Automating operational processes - driving product innovation

Chris Bishop Profile picture for user Chris Bishop June 9, 2016
Cloud-based ERP has helped powertrain parts maker MFC Netform streamline operations, keep innovative and stay competitive, writes Plex System's Chris Bishop

MFC Netform
Start-up metalformer MFC Netform adopted its cloud-based ERP system in 2005 after completing a proof-of-concept that demonstrated superior functionality and scalability. The cloud delivery model enabled the company to deploy quickly without a significant up-front investment — important for a start-up business with larger, more established competitors.

MFC Netform is now recognized by customers as a leading manufacturer of cold formed components used in powertrains for automatic transmissions and engines. Its cloud-based ERP software helps streamline operations by automating data collection and shop floor processes. These improved efficiencies enable the company to focus on creative product development so that it stays ahead of the competition by providing more advanced products to its customers.

Product innovation

At first glance, it is hard to see the connection between operational efficiency and product innovation, but consider this. Using a cloud-based ERP system to collect operational data has enabled the company to replace manual data entry of 200+ quality specifications with an automated paperless system. Data entry of up to 22,000 keystrokes — required for inspection procedures — has been replaced with shop floor webcams that send data directly to the Plex Manufacturing Cloud.

Historical maintenance and failure data is collected to enable proactive identification of potential problems, so that they can be resolved before failures occur. These efficiencies enable the company to prevent problems — eliminating time-consuming finger-pointing and manual review of documentation and specifications. As a result, resources are devoted to engineering and product development so this start-up business can be competitive and win contracts typically awarded to its larger competitors.

Data science

Statistical process controls collect quality data regarding out-of-tolerance conditions. Today, if such a condition is identified, the system automatically sends an email to an operator to determine root cause. Comments and annotations are easily added and captured to provide useful information should a similar problem occur in the future.

The next step is to move beyond the descriptive intelligence outlined above to add prescriptive intelligence. MFC Netform currently plans to use the Plex application programming interface (API) to set up Internet of Things (IoT) machine-to-machine communication to collect shop floor sensor data. These Big Data sources, combined and correlated with operational data collected through Plex, will allow analytics to determine the best course of action when a particular problem occurs. Fixes to persistent, common problems will be automated so that no operator intervention is required.

Mobile devices

MFC Netform has streamlined its audit procedures by using Motorola scanners with tablets on the shop floor, looking at process level information as well as metrics and measurements, and pushing that data into the cloud system. As a result, the company doesn't need to spend days or weeks preparing for an audit. Quality Inspection data is collected with a machine that moves around and 'taps' each part, sending data automatically into the Plex cloud. This has enabled the company to eliminate inspectors in plants, combining the role of operator and inspector. Jeffrey Schroeder, information systems manager at MFC Netform, explains:

With Plex, we're not bogged down with improving product operations or managing routine functions like audits and inspections. Data is collected automatically and we can analyze both historic and real-time data to identify and resolve problems quickly.

A strong operational foundation enables us to focus on product development and innovation — keeping us a step ahead of our competition.

To find out more about how MFC Netform uses cloud-based ERP software to improve its processes, see diginomica's Den Howlett's account of his recent visit to the company's plant.

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