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How IQMS customer Custom Profile makes manufacturing modern by bridging the IT - business gap

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed December 17, 2018
A smart acquisition is about making customers' lives better. In advance of my exclusive with IQMS on their acquisition by Dassault Systèmes, here's a view into Custom Profile, a long-time IQMS customer. Their story is about smart automation, and bridging the IT - Finance gap.

Horlings and Cox of Custom Profile

If you were looking forward to a quiet December in the enterprise while your chestnuts roasted on the open fire - well, sorry about that.

IQMS is the latest vendor to stir the breaking news pot, with the recent announcement of their pending acquisition by Dassault Systèmes.

This acquisition matters because it points to the resurgence in midmarket manufacturing. IQMS calls this an industrial renaissance - a "convergence of a diverse and powerful collection of digital technologies that is transforming every aspect of industrial business."

Caveat: companies are going to need support to harness these new models. IQMS CMO Steve Bieszczat calls this standing taller than your competition; I call it punching above your weight. Either way, if manufacturers can't pull this off, they'll be left behind:

The world’s 250,000 small and midsized manufacturers must adopt and optimize new ways of producing and doing business through digital transformation in order to innovate and accelerate their growth in an increasingly competitive, global marketplace.

That's where this acquisition fits in. Tomorrow, I'll share insights from the IQMS leadership team on how Dassault's IQMS acquisition impacts what IQMS can offer manufacturers. One of the key questions on my mind: what does this mean for existing IQMS customers? At the recent IQMS Pinnacle user conference, I talked to plenty of passionate IQMS customers who will surely have questions.

I'll get further into that topic tomorrow, but for now, it's a good time to revisit the impact of IQMS on manufacturers. At IQMS Pinnacle, I got a welcome view into the IT and finance sides of this relationship when I sat down with two attendees from IQMS customer Custom Profile.

Custom Profile - an IQMS customer with a deep IT - Finance partnership

Custom Profile, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has specialized in plastic profile extrusion since 1992, with a focus on the appliance, furniture, medical and marine industries. One medical industry factoid that caught my eye: each year, Custom Profile produces enough tubing to circle the earth - 360 degrees around. They make all this happen with about 500 employees, located in Grand Rapids and Juarez, Mexico.

Growth rates back up Custom Profile's approach: IT/IS Manager Brian Horlings told me that 2008 was the only year that Custom Profile hasn't been steady on with double digit growth. Whenever I sit down with an IT and finance person together, I always want to know, how well do they get along?

At this point, Horlings and Accounting Manager Regina Cox have a history: Horlings joined Custom Profile in 2005; Fox joined in 2004. They walked into an IQMS shop - Custom Profile has been running on IQMS since 2003. So how long did it take the two to hammer out a working relationship? "We've always gotten along," says Horlings. He added:

If you look at our business processes, Regina and I both have to be very involved in the business processes, knowing exactly how they interrelate to each other. So we're probably two of the stronger IQMS users. Knowing the different business processes, and knowing how IQMS Enterprise IQ works, we can take a look at what we need to accomplish, and how to accomplish it in IQ.

Cox turned herself into an IQMS expert through her own initiative:

When I first started, I was brought in as an accounting clerk, so it was at a much lower level. But I had a lot of free time, so I was able to pick up and help in other departments to learn the system more. And, I think part of my nature is, I'm gonna push buttons, and figure out what IQ does.

Horlings quickly added that Custom Profile only had one plant and four or five extrusion lines back then. They have a much bigger operation today - any potential changes to their IQMS production system are carefully tested. Ergo: users out there who share Cox's raw IQMS enthusiasm are well advised to sandbox their explorations.

Still, it sounds to me like Custom Profile's culture of initiative fuels its growth. So I asked Cox and Horlings: what's the Custom Profile difference? Horlings:

I think it's our ability to dig into a challenge and figure out what the core need is, and then kind of look at the process. We take a 30,000 foot view look at it, and then look down further into it, to optimize it as much as we can.

Cox added:

I think it's just that we culturally promote that: to constantly improve, and look at the processes and find a different way. If it works better, great - if not, at least you've put forth that effort.

Building an alerts infrastructure with IQMS

Across all the manufacturing customers we talk to, a huge key to making this "industrial renaissance" happen is automation: figuring out how make the time spent by humans as valuable as possible. I asked Custom Profile if they've been able to apply IQMS towards those efforts. Short answer: yes. One example is "managing by exception" via IQ Alerts. Horlings told me they now have over 800 alerts. Why did they go this route?

We figured out we don't want to review it every day; we look at some sort of trigger. When this inventory falls below a certain level, or when this PO is entered, then it kicks out a report to us.

As I put it, they've declared war on administrivia. Some reports have built-in parameters; other alerts kick off a process in the background. Horlings:

It allows you to work on the right things at the right time. Instead of constantly working on everything.

The wrap - peer networking for the win

I go to events for a living, but I'm always curious about people who take time out from important projects to hop on a plane. What do Cox and Horlings get out of Pinnacle? Cox says the customer sessions point her towards new tips and tricks:

You still pick up things that you didn't know. There were a handful of things I wrote down yesterday that I want to follow up on when we get back, to help improve some of those processes.

One of them is auto-invoicing. We push the button everyday, and they brought up in one of the classes that you can trigger that with an IQ Alert while nobody's there - so that I don't have to wait for it to run. It can be running at midnight.

Horlings says the peer networking is invaluable:

One of the biggest things from coming out here is the networking. You can deal with your peers, and you just exchange information. You know: what are you guys doing for this process, what are you doing for that? And the knowledge transfer that happens.

How seriously does Horlings take it? He (almost) never misses a Pinnacle:

I've missed one user group since 2004. I remember when we had just started on the software, and we were just playing with it. We were the new kid on the block just learning.

Now they can return the favor as well:

We've been on the software so long now, we've got a lot of knowledge that we can use to help somebody else. So it's rewarding for us to be able to share that, and do for somebody else what somebody else did for us.

The Custom Profile team isn't stopping there. Horlings says they want to spread the IQMS super-user know-how across more departments. Example: he'd love to have an internal IQMS quality expert on their team, and ideally, bring them to Pinnacle in the future. With more subject matters experts internally, there's less dependence on a few go-to individuals - and more protection against turnover.

Horlings was also at the standing-room-only IQMS Web BI session. That fits into their goal of getting IQMS insights to more users. One big focus: making sure the production team can get a real-time, dashboard-like view of what's running, where production flow is at, and quickly see what machines are up, or in some cases, down.

Being a long-time IQMS customer has paid off for Custom Profile. Horlings shared the example of an IQMS senior VP he used to call for tech support. That's where fourteen years of relationships between vendor and customer pay off.

Which leads to an obvious post-acquisition question: what happens to those contacts going forward? The early prognosis looks good - I'll share how IQMS CEO Gary Nemmers answered that query tomorrow.

Bonus content update, January 9, 2019 - on BI and manufacturing user needs. One standout for me was the discussion of Web BI - and Custom Profile's analytics needs. I asked Horlings for more on what they want to accomplish with BI in 2019, on the shop floor and beyond. He responded:

I would love to get to the point where for each one of our excursion lines, we have a monitor, and they can move up their work order number, and it can give them information like "Hey, here's what the last five runs looked like, here's what the rejects were for the past five months, here's any notes that we put into production reporting," so that they can know the pitfalls.

Cox talked about the need to get IQMS users information faster - and in the easiest format possible. Horlings agrees:

One of the biggest areas for us is what Regina said, getting people information faster. We're trying to figure out a way to get our production reporting done in a more timely fashion, so our scheduling department, and our production management team can know what's running, what's up, what's down. That's going to be a big focus over the next year.

Custom Profile's BI goals fit in with talks I've been having with IQMS' Louis Columbus. It's all about why real-time environments are so important to manufacturers - and what it takes to get there, given that multiple systems are typically in play. Diginomica readers can look forward to a piece from Columbus on that topic later in January. Stay tuned.

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