MMS Blog

Facilitating Remote Work, Social Distancing with ERP Systems

As more companies are implementing remote work and social distancing policies amid the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturers are considering what steps they can take to protect their employees. According to ProShop ERP founder Paul Van Metre, ERP systems can be used to facilitate remote work for many job shop employees, and social distancing for those employees for whom remote work isn’t an option. However, before implementing work from home policies, there are some steps shops should take to prepare.

The first thing shops need to consider is whether their ERP system is cloud-based or a client-server system. “If it is web-based, then they're already set up to be able to access it from any device, including if they have to work from home,” Mr. Van Metre says. All they need is a browser. Shops using client-server-based ERP programs will need a secure way to access the program remotely. They should set up a virtual private network (VPN) for any employees who will be working from home and ensure it can handle everyone who needs to use it. “If they can install the software anywhere without incurring more cost, then they could install their ERP system on a home computer or on a laptop but only access it and use it once they're connected into their local network,” he suggests. It’s worth noting that many ERP systems will only let users log in from a single location at one time, so to access it from home, users would have to ensure they’ve closed out their sessions and logged out at work before they can open and use it on a home computer or laptop. “They could do some kind of remote desktop application where they're still actually using their work computer, but they're just driving it from a keyboard and mouse at their house,” he adds. “I think that comes down to just their preference of how they want to do it.” Either way, Mr. Van Metre says it’s important for shops to set these processes up and test them in advance. Employees should also ensure that their internet access is robust enough to handle their needs.

Growing Closer: Machine Shops and 3D Printing for Production

How many data points constitute a trend?

It’s a question that has been on my mind since writing about an additive manufacturing (AM) production business called 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing near Indianapolis. That story, which will be published this May in our sister publication Additive Manufacturing, is about CNC as a business strategy for additive manufacturing. The basic premise is this: The owner’s decision to purchase a fully stocked machine shop and locate it under the same roof as its printing facility may have benefits that extend beyond simple cost savings during the post-processing phase of 3D-printed metal parts.

Coping with the Coronavirus — One Shop Manager’s Thinking

“Don’t panic. We are all in this together.” That was one of the comments I received from Mike, president of a job shop in Grand Rapids. I got to know Mike last year when I visited his shop. Two things impressed me. For one, the shop is well-managed, making superb use of its machining technology and its skilled, loyal workforce. For another, the shop culture there is strong. The people form a cohesive, conscientious team.

Off the top of my head, I jotted down a few questions about coping with the crisis over the coronavirus (COVID-19) and emailed them to Mike (and several other shop owners I respect and could think of quickly). I was interested in their views and was looking for good thinking and useful advice. Mike came through with these answers in a flash.

The Coronavirus: Tips to Keep Manufacturing Employees Safe

Manufacturing is a type of work that does not provide a natural work-from-home option. Shops and plants are still producing, and employees are still at work in these facilities. However, steps can be taken to guard against coronavirus transmission in these sites. Jason Ray, co-founder and CEO of Paperless Parts Inc. (software for quoting and shop communication) sent me this list of key steps shops should take (if they haven’t already done so) to help ensure employees are safe:

He also mentioned that some of his customers are experiencing interruptions in operations and have reached out to Paperless Parts to help identify job shops that can support their production. “We have started making these connections for them by asking other customers if they can take work from shops in need of assistance. The staff here has a good sense of how to match the shops in need with others that have the right capabilities and capacity,” he says.

Mold Maker Announces 5-Part Coronavirus Response

Modern Machine Shop and other Gardner Business Media properties have been seeking insight about how the manufacturers we cover are responding to the ongoing pandemic, but in some cases, there has been no need to ask. The most discerning manufacturers have been proactive about not only responding to the virus, but also communicating the details of that response, both internally and throughout newly disrupted supply chains.

One example is Precise Tooling Solutions, a mold manufacturer that has appeared in MMS both in a feature article about shop management and, more recently, in a commentary about recent manufacturing tariffs. On March 16, the Columbus, Indiana shop sent a mass email detailing its response and emphasizing that it was still open for business. The following excerpt details five specific actions: