7/15/2002 | 4 MINUTE READ

Shop Floor Computers Help Machine Shop Manager Growth

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The management team at this CNC machining facility realized that the company's shop software was inadequate to manage the rapid growth the company was experiencing.

The management team at CNC machining specialists Suburban Manufacturing Co. (Eastlake, Ohio), realized that the company's shop software was inadequate to manage the rapid growth the company was experiencing. The customer base had already increased to the extent that a move to larger plant facilities was being planned, and further growth was anticipated. It was evident that Suburban could not continue to provide quality and service to its customers without better control of shop operations.

Separate databases, spreadsheets and specialized software programs were being used for shipping, scheduling, purchasing, inventory control and job costing. Each program was used by a different manager. "We had to ask 21 people to find out what was going on with a job," says Nick Carlozzi, general manager. "No one had the full story. We needed to get the management team as well as shop employees on the same page." This was important for the company, where the team approach to management requires that not only managers, but also shop supervisors and employees, share job information.

After researching several systems, Suburban selected real-time job shop management software from Realtrac (Irvine, California) and implemented it at its former facilities in Euclid, Ohio. This provided an opportunity for everyone to get used to the software and work out necessary changes in operational procedures before the company's scheduled move. "We soon found that Realtrac made it easy to track where a job is and what's been done," says Andy Evanchuck, operations manager and Realtrac system administrator.

Initially, one Realtrac bar code micro terminal was installed on the shop floor. Although this made it easy to collect real-time shop data, Suburban wanted a system where its 33 shop employees could see everything about a job and what was going on in the shop. Also, the company's shop is organized so that four shopfloor captains coordinate groups of similar work centers, and the bar code terminal did not allow the captains and machinists to provide feedback concerning specific job operations. Upon discussing this with Realtrac, Suburban learned that Realtrac was developing a new Shop Floor Client module that would allow employees to use networked PCs on the shop floor.

After moving to its new facilities, Suburban installed two Shop Floor Client stations using existing network cabling. Realtrac provided a special computer stand that made it easy for a standing employee to use the station. According to Suburban's machine operators, logging on and off a job is a simple process, even for someone with little or no computer experience. The process can be accomplished almost exclusively using the computer mouse, avoiding the need to use the keyboard. Additionally, the real-time visibility of job and shop information provided by the system helps everyone concerned to manage priorities and know that the right jobs are being processed.

About 90 percent of Suburban's work is repeat jobs. Stan Krevh, quality control manager, says that one of the most important benefits of Realtrac is that "when you repeat a job, all necessary information will be there." The Shop Floor Client allows a machine operator to record comments about router operations, which will be important when the parts are run again. Using a digital camera to take pictures of parts and setups, Suburban is now starting to use Realtrac's multi-media capability. A machine operator using the Shop Floor Client can view pictures to make sure the right part is being processed and that the machine is set up to provide the most efficient processing.

Mr. Krevh thinks that Realtrac will help Suburban achieve the goal of a paperless factory. Managers and workers often have difficulty locating the company's numerous word processing and spreadsheet documents pertaining to quality control. The company is in the process of using Realtrac to attach the documents to individual jobs so that they can readily be available for viewing. "This greatly facilitates our ability to meet ISO quality requirements," says Mr. Krevh.

Suburban's computer network allows extensive use of Realtrac by managers as well as personnel in the shipping and receiving, accounting, and maintenance departments. Rick Grice, president, thinks that the main benefit of Realtrac is the "real-time visibility concerning everything happening in the shop. It makes everyone more efficient." He has urged that priority be given to expanding use of Realtrac's multi-media and inventory control capabilities. The building of an inventory database of finished and partially finished parts is now in process, and it will eventually be expanded to include raw material, tooling and plant supplies. Suburban's plans also include taking advantage of Realtrac's integration with Peachtree Accounting software to eliminate duplicate data entry of invoices, purchase orders and customer and vendor information.

Mr. Evanchuck is pleased with the consideration Realtrac has given Suburban's needs. For example, at Suburban's suggestion, the Shop Floor Client now immediately alerts an employee when he or she has logged on or off an operation correctly.

"We have built our reputation by adapting to any market niche and responding on time to customer needs with quality work," says Mr. Evanchuck. "Realtrac is helping us maintain these standards and will be even more important in the future."