IQMS Pinnacle 2018 - How Eldon James is turning their integrated manufacturing vision into reality

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 15, 2018
IQMS Pinnacle 2018 brought an inspirational message of customers using manufacturing ERP and shop floor automation to thrive in tough markets. But does that match up to customer realities? First up: my use case interview with PVC-free plastics manufacturer Eldon James.

Collins of Eldon James at IQMS Pinnacle

The motivational hashtag behind the IQMS Pinnacle 2018 user conference is #standtaller.

For IQMS, purveyors of manufacturing ERP with a born-on-the-shop-floor mantra, "stand taller" reflects their belief that savvy manufacturers can use talent and technology to punch above their weight.

Yes, they tell their customers, you can compete amongst giants. You can triumph over the cost pressures that gave home-grown manufacturing a grim outlook not too long ago.

Whether it's shop floor automation, quality management as a discipline, or tapping into new global markets online, IQMS believes its customers now have the means to truly compete and grow.

That's a welcome stance when you consider that a decade ago, outsourcing manufacturing to overseas commodity suppliers was considered non-negotiable. IQMS' punch-above-your-weight message also confronts the fear that today's AI and automation advancements will push workers out.

On the contrary, IQMS argues that smart use of manufacturing software and next-gen tech will allow its customers to shift human workers into so-called value-add roles, working with and alongside machines. That's crucial when you consider that labor shortages and recruitment problems are a top reason why manufacturers find their happy growth plans stalled out.

Honestly, I like the message - but as diginomica readers know, we want the proof points. That starts with customers, so I had an in-depth chat with Andrea Collins, Systems Operations Manager at Eldon James.

Eldon James - a PVC-free manufacturer

Founded in 1987, Eldon James manufactures standard and custom hose fittings. In 2007, they began manufacturing extruded plastic tubing, medical grade tubing, and formed tubing. They focus on three key industries: medical, automotive, and food and beverage. One big difference that's paid off: Eldon James builds PVC-free tubing and connectors.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is the world's third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, but Eldon James taps into industries where being "PVC free" matters - including Colorado's growing micro-brewery market. As the environmental stance against PVCs grows, Eldon James' avoidance of PVCs is paying off.

Collins credits Eldon James' President, Marcia Coulson, for being consistently ahead of the game. As Eldon James becomes an automated manufacturer that includes lights-out shifts, Coulson's push to innovate is being put to the test. So how does Collins fit into this?

Well, for starters, she's been an Eldon James employee for six years. She now wears two hats: system administrator for IQMS and marketing director. When Collins joined Eldon James, they were already an IQMS customer. But as she told me, it was a classic shelfware problem:

The last five years is where we really started to say, "We need to start using all the tools that we have."

Eldon James was outgrowing a bootstrapped collection of older tools.

Before we were using QuickBooks, we were using off-the-shelf third-party CRM. We were using a whole bunch of different types of tools.

Coulson called for a change:

CEO Marcia Coulson was able to say “Okay, I need something else out there to grow.”

Departments were doing their own thing - enter IQMS

About ten years ago, Coulson made the decision to purchase IQMS. Collins recalls when asking Coulson why IQMS:

She said "You know what? This is something that will change my business."

Eldon James had only implemented portions of the software; Coulson knew more of the software had to be adopted company wide. Meanwhile, Collins had a similar realization:

I had come on board, and I was looking at IQMS thinking, "Why are we not using more of this?" And the more we started to grow - we had a huge growth spurt. In order to do that, we all had to be on the same page.

A big move to Denver added to the urgency:

At the time, we had three different facilities. We were moving everything into one facility, and we had these little silos. Sales was over here, shipping was somewhere else, manufacturing was over here, and nobody was really communicating.

That needed to change:

We do pride ourselves on communication. Internally and with our customers. The last thing a customer wants to hear from a catalog manufacturer is: "I'm out of that part." If you're using an Excel spreadsheet, and you're using QuickBooks, and a piece of paper, then nothing is communicating.

So Collins helped instigate more adoption of IQMS's EnterpriseIQ manufacturing ERP within Eldon James. At the time, Sales was doing their own thing in IQMS; so was Shipping. Manufacturing "dabbled" in it. Collins helped to change that:

It was a matter of taking all of the departments, bringing them together, having them buy in.

One key to adoption: letting users own the IQMS decision, rather than simply imposing it upon them as the new normal:

They have to - or we would never get them to buy in... Each department head had that responsibility to say, “You know, you're right. This is really what we need to do.”

Results from an integrated manufacturing system - the snowball effect

It took a couple years to get the integrated use of EnterpriseIQ ramped up across departments, but the work paid off. After a year and a half, the results started to show. One example? Speed in quoting. When a customer calls for a quote, responsiveness is everything:

If a customer has to wait a week for a quote, they're going to go somewhere else.

Now that IQMS is up to speed, customer service reps can easily see if certain parts are in stock. No more quote delays. Another benefit? The quality department was able to move off manual entry into spreadsheets:

It became faster to input, more accurate to input... You didn't have the fat finger typing issues that you would have with an Excel spreadsheet. It was easier to take all the data and analyze it. We can't improve and can't grow if you don't know what you have.

But what about that all-important question: has EnterpriseIQ helped sales? Collins wasn't able to share an exact percent during our impromptu interview, but the trend is upward:

We have definitely increased our sales. We sell millions of parts a month. And that in itself is a huge undertaking.

IQMS's Louis Columbus, who has talked with Eldon James in detail, added:

The interesting thing about your story as well is that with the IQMS quality system in place, you're able to pass audits a lot faster. And when the quality escalated, your on-time deliveries escalated, then your sales escalated. So, it's like this cascade effect.

Collins agrees:

It's a snowball effect. It really is. It's a chain reaction.

If you want to go lights-out, get your processes right first

But Marcia Coulson knew that Eldon James couldn't stop there. Now, of the three shifts in their Denver facility, one of the shifts is completely unmanned. Eldon James has to innovate on that scale to stay competitive, and to stay in Colorado. Collins adds:

And not chase labor hours or other costs. But having a system like IQMS, and in conjunction with all the process improvement, you're able to go lights-out. We can compete on a lower cost per unit, and also invest - and then have that type of investment in long-term relationships throughout the company.

Columbus noted many companies want to go lights-out, but few have pulled it off. Collins responded:

You can't just turn off the lights and walk out the door. If it was that easy, everybody would do it. You do have to have certain processes in place so that you are not making parts that are not sellable, or not usable.

Limiting costs helps, but you have to grow new markets also. International inquiries are great - until you realize you're not equipped to deal with them. Collins:

Marcia made the decision to move over to IQMS to be able to deal with this type of growth. QuickBooks was about to snap because it was overtaxed. Soon we began to realize, “This is an incredible amount of work dealing with this.” That was more of an emphasis to go to more of a centralized system to deal with international.

That's changed now. With IQMS, Eldon James now sells to more than 40 countries. And they do all that with around 45 employees.

We had an interesting talk on how Collins defines intelligence in the context of lights-out machines, and how Eldon James recruits and nurtures talent. I'll return to that in a future piece. But for now, Collins leaves us with a shout out to the vision of Marcia Coulson and her husband, William Coulson:

Those two are true innovators. They're true entrepreneurs. They have a vision. They go after it. They see what needs to be done in order to grow.

Updated November 16, 4:45pm PT with a few tweaks for clarity.

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