Argent International (Novi, Michigan) manufactures custom engineered adhesive-backed components for the automotive and industrial markets. While communication at the company's facility was good, Argent, which is highly customer focused, wanted to further enhance its communication between shifts and between departments. Like most companies, many of Argent's manufacturing employees have diverse backgrounds, contributing to the communication challenge. In addition, Argent felt that electronically automating information between shifts and between employees could improve productivity through greater data accuracy.
Realtime information collection and interpretation—right on the factory floor—would give Argent a "snap shot" of its operations at any time with touch of a computer screen. The company wanted a system that could easily locate people, equipment and jobs with a user-friendly solution that could adapt to a multicultural environment.
As a designer and converter of pressure sensitive adhesives and material composites to the automotive and industrial markets, Argent wanted work smarter, not harder. "We wanted to utilize leading edge automation technologies to increase productivity and realize other efficiencies," says Linda Sedik, the company's IT director. "It was our chance to start fresh with the new ERP system." Coming off of a heavily modified system with many ancillary software packages, Argent determined that any add-on software packages would have to integrate cleanly.
Seeking a solution that provided realtime labor and costing information, Ms. Sedik and her colleagues turned to Factivity from MDSS, Inc. Factivity is an advanced Manufacturing Execution System (MES) that performs data collection directly from the factory floor with touch screen computers located at the site of each critical process. Because every process is tracked electronically, information that is critical to manufacturing efficiency is at Argent's fingertips. And because the system operates in "real time," changes—such as customer quantities and delivery dates—can be automatically adjusted with a new allocation of resources. In addition to providing automated data collection, Factivity measures productivity and responds quickly to changing customer and order requirements.
"The features that impressed us with Factivity were the touch-screen technology, its clean, color-coded computer screens and the ability to customize the screens to accommodate different languages," says Ms. Sedik. "We knew we needed something easy because of the language barrier in our factory."
Of equal importance was Factivity's ability to quickly bolt on to Argent's ERP system. Ms. Sedik's team originally explored bar-coding solutions, but it kept coming back to Factivity because of the intuitive screen layout and user friendliness.
Training its 86 line operators on 27 different stations was a relatively simple task. "Individually, we spent about 3 hours per employee to go through every screen," explains Mr. Pearce. "With six to eight folks in a class, this took about 2 weeks, and we were very pleased with how quickly they adapted."
To get the data entered on a timely basis, Argent equipped each of the stations with a computer in a dust-free cabinet. "We didn't want people to have to pile up at one or two terminals to sign in and put their jobs in the queue," Mr. Pearce says.
"While the integration of Factivity from a factory floor standpoint was relatively flawless and easy to install, the area that gave us our biggest challenge was having our ERP system send data down to Factivity," says Ms. Sedik. "This was handled quickly because of the support we received from MDSS throughout the implementation. When we had questions as to why something wasn't processing correctly, they were right there with the answer. They were very flexible with their schedule and even flew up to help us at our facility in Michigan at a moments notice."
Once the system was implemented, the most obvious benefit was the continuous stream of quality data flowing from the factory floor. "We have so much good data, we are now in the process of determining how to use all of it," Mr. Pearce says.
Additionally, data entry employees were reassigned to other projects, because Factivity eliminated the 2 to 3 hours a day each spent entering and deciphering handwritten data. Thus, the company could dedicate these employees to other processes. Moreover, customer service no longer has to walk through the multiple-step process to find the status of a job. The Factivity terminal readily gives them the exact location and provides the customer with an accurate completion date.
An increased awareness of Argent's manufacturing operations has allowed departments to collaborate more accurately before a job gets to the floor. "In particular, our engineering department has greatly benefited from Factivity. We're now able to recheck our routings, standards and rates on our machines prior to a job coming down to the floor, where problems really become a headache," explains Mr. Pearce.
"Factivity has provided visibility into our manufacturing process and has significantly increased communications between operations, engineering and other key departments, adds Argent vice president John Haapala. "Bottom line, we have increased our productivity, people are adding more value to the business, and we have become more flexible to respond quicker to our customers."