Aaron Johnson of Accumold didn't plan a career in manufacturing. After earning his degree in mass communications, Johnson became a visual effects artist.
But storytellers are drawn to stories that need telling. That's certainly true in manufacturing today, where successful manufacturers are fusing technology, talent and product niches to rise above price pressures and commodity markets.
As the VP of Marketing & Customer Strategy at Accumold, Johnson has witnessed this type of manufacturing evolution firsthand. On a call with Louis Columbus of IQMS, Johnson told me how Accumold pulled it off.
Today, Accumold has staked its claim as a "world leader in high-volume precision micro molding," with expertise in micro-electronics, medical technology, wearables, polymer optics, and automotive micro-systems. But they didn't get there overnight. Accumold launched thirty years ago, when micro molding wasn't really an industry yet.
Without a granular view of data, "we would not exist"
Much has changed, but Accumold's early adopter mindset hasn't. Johnson entered the Accumold story fourteen years ago. Accumold's use of IQMS dates back further, all the way back to 1995. They were running IQMS EnterpriseIQ on DOS back then. But even on that very old school operating system, Johnson says Accumold was blazing a trail:
The management at Accumold saw the value of a data-driven organization.
Accumold has grown from around 50 employees to 350 today. But the value of data persists:
Look at the way we can collect data today, versus what we couldn't do not that long ago. We were early adopters in the Internet of Things before the Internet or Things was even a thing.
Today, business transformation and savvy use of data is completely inseparable:
We could not exist without the ability to understand our business at a very granular level. The only way that we have found to do that is through data collection. For us, IQMS - something that's built for our industry - was a natural fit.
Over time, the amount of data in play has expanded:
We've watched IQMS grow and morph over the years, to add those modules that allow organizations to say, "Hey, if we can collect this, then we can collect that." And, "Oh, if we can collect those two things, then we can do this."
Accumold developed the world's first generation micro molder more than thirty years ago. But the history of tech is full of pioneering companies that faded. So how does Johnson explain Accumold's edge?
From an industrial standpoint, we were ahead of the curve also in terms of the demand for microplastics. In 1985, when Accumold was kind of formulating, Motorola had just released their gray brick cell phone. And it took two hands to use. It only made phone calls, it was not something you shoved into your back pocket. Right?
No, it was not. As devices shrank, Accumold kept pace:
As the demand for devices to shrink accelerated and accelerated and accelerated, we were also growing our own expertise. We were following right along, just one step ahead of the industry in terms of what you can do with small, high precision plastics.
Another key? Don't get lost in commodity markets, and don't get spread too thin:
We don't make McDonald's toys or car bumpers. We focus on high precision critical components, thermoplastic moldings. For a wide variety of industries. Medical devices and medical electronics are two really big ones that have been high users of microplastics, and it's continuing to grow.
Forecasting is a journey
About that IoT hype? For Accumold, it's about hooking more and more machines and devices into their ERP system. They started by pulling in their injection molding presses, which enabled EnterpriseIQ to count cycle times and provide inventory views. A few years ago, Accumold added bar code scanners to "just about everything we have in the system." Johnson:
Anybody can go into IQ and find out, where is this resin? What shelf is it on? Where is this mold and what state is it in? We can automatically push out preventative maintenance work orders based on the cycle times it knows it's gone through.
But Accumold isn't stopping there: better forecasting is the next endeavor.
The most recent IQMS resource that we've been using more heavily is demand forecasting, understanding scheduling, and trying to run our business by the seen and the unseen.
Forecasting is a journey, not something you immediately nail down.
We have yet to find a perfect way to do forecasting, but it's a regular part of our sales organization to try to inform the rest of the company where we're headed from a manufacturing standpoint. And we've made huge progress.
Then there's the nitty-gritty of compliance. When you supply the medical industry, compliance is either another edge, or a burden. Johnson says they've been able to keep their ISOs on track, so to speak.
We would be lost as an organization without IQ in terms of our ISO compliance. For years, we've had auditors come in and tell us how impressed they are with our document control and our data collection. And so it has allowed us to work through our ISO standards very effectively.
Louis Columbus wrote a memorable piece for diginomica on how some manufacturers are getting ahead by using auditing as a surprise competitive advantage - and a customer relations asset. That's been the case for Accumold:
Besides just our ISO audits, we have a lot of customer audits. We will walk them through their portion of the data we collect in IQ, and show them the dock control, and all the other pieces that go into it. And it has definitely been an asset. It's kind of our sixth man, I guess would be the basketball analogy.
The wrap - on the IQMS acquisition, and the future of manufacturing ERP
I wasn't letting Accumold get away without getting their reactions to IQMS's recent announcement of their acquisition by Dassault Systems. So what was Johnson's take on that?
When we saw the announcement, we were like, "Ah, okay, interesting. Alright."
Accumold is one of the many IQMS customers that are already Dassault SolidWorks customers:
We utilize SolidWorks quite heavily in our organization. So we're very familiar with the type of product that they put together. We are optimistic about what that might bring for the future. So we look forward to their next chapter.
We talked about what Accumold wants out of IQMS. Johnson's team goes to all the IQMS Pinnacle user conferences. He joked that his IQMS contacts are well aware of his wish list items. Joking aside, Johnson is hoping for even more functionality/integration around CRM and project management. As he sees it, that's where next-gen ERP is headed: connecting sales teams on their iPhones, pulling data in from marketing automation and lead processing.
I think that's the next major breakthroughs for organizations, when their sales teams don't even realize that when they update their CRM on their smartphone in the field, that it has a profound effect on the organization, automatically through the integration of their ERP.
Manufacturers in growth mode often struggle with talent acquisition. I asked Johnson if their increased automation helps with that. Short answer: yes.
It allows us to refocus some of our talent in more useful and valuable ways. And it's allowed us to continue to grow our employee base, because we can do more and serve more customers at the same time.
There's no need for a huge transformation project when it's been ingrained in your organization. That's the Accumold story:
When you're in front of it, it didn't seem like it was so transformational, because we've done it incrementally.
When change is a discipline, it adds up:
It's allowed us to have a massive head start, I think, in being an industry 4.0s, smart manufacturing kind of organization.
Sounds like Johnson's got some interesting chapters ahead.