Since many manufacturers operate without an ERP system, the answer to this question is obviously, No, an ERP system is not as necessary as digestion. However, they do seem to be a common evolutionary path for many manufacturers, and recently a morning was well-spent exploring ERP implementation at a SIG in Windsor.
At the December SIG in Windsor, held at Stratus Plastics International, local manufacturers met to talk about enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Those in the room were at different stages of their ERP implementation. Some had had a fully functioning ERP for many years, others were well into the pilot stage, and others were still in early stages of their implementation.
We were able to draw several insights from our conversation. The first is that an ERP system requires the total commitment of the company and that an ERP will restructure the company. To capture its potential, all activities should be mapped to the ERP, although some functions are difficult to include in the ERP, for example HR. Participants noted that any amount of customization will have incredible payoffs in productivity.
We talked about activities that take place before, during, and after the implementation period. At the very earliest stages of thinking about an ERP system, reflect on those ERPs that you interact with from your customers or from your suppliers. What works? What doesn’t work? Then think about stories that you’ve heard about ERP implementations that went wrong (or that went well); what can you learn from those stories? What are the drivers of your decision? Are your customers pushing you to invest in an ERP system? Do you have the money available now (but not later)? Do you have staff with expertise who are pushing you in this direction? When you’re ready to begin your implementation, members agreed that it’s incredibly important to have your personnel in place with sufficient time to devote to this extremely large project.
During an implementation you need a team devoted to the project, not one person. Training must begin almost immediately and continue throughout the process. The pilot stage can range from as short as a month to many months. It is during the pilot phase that you’ll really understand what organization-wide training needs to take place and who needs to be trained.
When the pilot is over, you might logically assume that you might be in the final stages. However, the experience of those present shows that once your ERP is in place you’ll want to keep adding to it. We were told that the more you tie in, the more productivity gains you will discover. You’ll find there’s no going back. Eventually you’ll find yourself moving toward a quality management system that goes beyond the ERP system. You will look at your maintenance differently, and will likely start moving toward predictive maintenance based on information provided by the ERP. If you can develop a guru on your staff who will help you to mine your data you will find that you’ll be able to fine tune your business in ways you couldn’t imagine.
While the group was generally enthusiastic about ERP systems, there were a few words of caution. Training goes on throughout the life of your ERP. Not only will new hires need to be trained in the system, but all employees will need to be a retrained as the system develops or as they move to and from job functions. It’s very important to document all of your processes to help with your training, and so that when you start something new you have a reference point.
As is usual at our SIGs, there was a lot more discussed than what is presented in this blog. In addition to ERP topics not reported here, we also spent time talking about laser engraving of barcodes, collaborative robots, and camera technology. If any of this sounds interesting to you, please join us at our next SIG where you can get all the details and take part in all our discussions.
Many thanks to our host, Stratus Plastics International, for their frank discussion of their ERP implementation and for the tour of their facilities. To all of you reading this, have a very happy holiday.