Cloud-Based ERP Consolidates Quoting, Enables Mobile Management

E2 Shop cloud-based enterprise resource planning software from Shoptech improved the quoting process at an Ohio machine shop and enabled off-site management.

The machine tool is the heart of a job shop, but while a beating heart can keep the body breathing, it takes a brain to get any work done. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software provides a shop with the interconnected nervous system that enables it to organize and plan its business effectively. With the advent of cloud technology, it can even improve a manager’s work-life balance through mobile access to shop data. Using cloud-based ERP software from Shoptech Software Corp. (Glastonbury, Connecticut), one job shop has been able to consolidate its management systems into a single platform the manager can operate from a phone.

When two engineers struck out on their own in 1998, they founded X-Mil Inc. in Mt. Orab, Ohio. Now managed by Erica Carpenter, the daughter of one of the co-founders, X-Mil is a job shop specializing in turning, milling, welding and assembly. The company has grown to a productive machine shop with 18 employees and more than a dozen turning and milling centers, performing work for the aerospace, oil and coal industries. It even fully machines and assembles roller-coaster braking systems. When Ms. Carpenter stepped into her current position, however, she recognized serious process inefficiencies.

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For years, the shop used accounting software to keep track of its business, but there are limitations to that software when it comes to running a machine shop. Ms. Carpenter soon found that it did nothing to help with scheduling or estimating job costs. While the company’s finances were accessible, material prices, spindle times, machine usage and routing times were physically filed away in hard copies. New orders involved a complicated procedure of getting estimates from machinists, contacting material suppliers and performing calculations to develop an estimate, which could take an hour and delay her other work. Moreover, the multi-step process meant there were many points in which a piece of incomplete data could throw off the quote significantly. This time sink ate into her work, frequently causing her to endure longer hours and spend time away from family, a painful reality for many shop owners. She looked everywhere for a solution, not knowing she would eventually find it in the cloud.

In 2010, Ms. Carpenter considered Shoptech’s E2 ERP software, which integrates various aspects of business management into a single platform. In a machine shop, this includes modules for accounting, estimating, scheduling, machine data and more. Hoping to cut some time out of the process with a simple conversion from her accounting software, E2 checked all of her boxes. The first thing that attracted her to the software was its simple user interface. “Everything is just where you’d expect it to be,” she says. “It’s easy to navigate.” The accounting information easily transferred over to the new system, and she could integrate the quality-control module with the new accounting and data-collection systems.

Ms. Carpenter quickly noticed improvements. Having the routing and scheduling systems connected to her accounting platform enabled X-Mil to provide more efficient quoting, as she could look at the time, machine space, routing and material cost for any job with the click of a mouse. The machinists would update the system with the status of each part and every machine, so the system consistently had up-to-date information. When a job calls for specialty materials or items that need to be manufactured off-site, the software alerts users when the orders need to be placed to avoid late jobs due to transportation times. The system has proven especially helpful for jobs that need immediate attention, as Ms. Carpenter can quickly identify the machine space available, know how long it will take to set up and alert her team to the changes. The lengthy quoting process fell to a matter of minutes, leaving Ms. Carpenter free to focus on the rest of her duties.

That said, the system required the shop to purchase and maintain on-site servers, which can be a sizable expense, especially for small operations. In Ms. Carpenter’s case, the cost of backing up data compounded this. “I once drove to the shop at 2 a.m. thinking that I had forgotten to back up the previous day’s data,” Ms. Carpenter says. “I worried a fire or electrical surge would cost me thousands of dollars in data.” While the ERP software had streamlined the management of her shop, managing her data-management software remained a source of stress that distracted her and diminished her valued time away from the office. Fortunately, Shoptech had the solution.

X-Mil recently became an early adopter of Shoptech’s cloud-based E2 Shop ERP system. As a result, on-site servers are no longer required. Now, all ERP data is automatically uploaded directly to an online storage system protected by the IT security firm Rackspace, with no backup required. “Our customers’ data security is our biggest concern,” Shoptech Marketing Manager Derrick Lambdin says. “That’s why we work with a security firm that has a spotless track record and a decade of experience.” Connecting the employees and machines to the system involved simply buying some iPads and installing the E2 Shop app on them. The machinists enter information into the tablets, and Ms. Carpenter can utilize that real-time information to manage the shop.

E2 Shop also enabled X-Mil to cut out inefficiencies during multiple stages of production. For starters, it provided a useful way to keep schedules and reports current. “A schedule is outdated the moment you print it,” Ms. Carpenter says. “We used to constantly have to print new reports, but now the new reports automatically go to the iPads on the shop floor.” This includes updated CAD files. With consistently up-to-date reports, the daily company meetings, which used to take machinists away from the shop floor for as much as an hour and a half, have dropped to 15 minutes with only two people. This alone saved the shop hours every week. Furthermore, as a cloud-based program, Ms. Carpenter is able to access the ERP software from an app on her phone. 

As a manager of a small shop, Ms. Carpenter wears many hats: accounting, IT and human resources. With a young daughter, she also has a family to manage. “I saw my father put long hours into the shop, even sleeping there some nights,” she explains. “Cloud-based ERP means I’m just as effective managing the shop whether I’m on-site or elsewhere.” With E2 Shop, Ms. Carpenter was able to impose structure on the chaos of a job shop and react fluidly to the many demands of her many jobs from anywhere in or out of the office.

The browser-based system also removes the need to delay work while updates install, and all IT concerns are handled by Shoptech. It removes the danger of data corruption in on-site servers, and it enables mobile monitoring of machine data from phones and other devices, freeing Ms. Carpenter to take regular trips to a lake with her family while she stays in contact with the shop. “I would never go back from the cloud,” she says. Finally, she has found a balance that helps her enjoy the life she has worked to build. For her, having the data on-hand at all times brings peace of mind.