The COVID-19 pandemic pushed manufacturers to rapidly shift gears, from addressing work-from-home policies to managing extreme swings in demand and uncertain supply chains. In the process, it highlighted an aspect of manufacturing ERP that was not as visible in more normal times— business continuity.
It’s not that an ERP system‘s ability to mitigate abrupt business changes hasn’t been noted in the past. For instance, it plays a central role during a change of ownership or other natural disruptions, such as a fire or flood. However, the extensive reliance on ERP solutions to maintain widespread, fundamental business continuity we saw during COVID-19 has never been experienced on such a large scale.
During the COVID-19 response, ERP kept entire industries in operation with its ability to sustain business operations through remote access, automated reporting, electronic data exchange, and real-time factory controls. Never in the history of ERP have we seen it play a more significant role in the continuance and sustaining of manufacturing operations worldwide.
Knowing that, let’s take a deeper look at how manufacturers are capitalizing on DELMIAwork’s ERP software functionality to maintain business continuity and sustain operations during and beyond COVID-19:
- Empowering employees working from both home and the office
- Keeping production at the facility on track despite labor and material shortages
- Managing rapid shifts in demand patterns
Empowering Employees to Work at Home
Businesses across all spectrums are managing the number of people coming into their plants and offices and maximizing the number working from home. In a manufacturing environment, it’s typically front office personnel who work from home, such as those in administrative, planning, and design roles.
For companies with a DELMIAworks ERP system in place, the shift to front office personnel working from home, driven by COVID-19 prevention measures, has not caused major business disruptions. Their front-office teams can access their ERP system at home and run the business from there. As a result, they maintain complete business visibility and can continue to interact with customers and suppliers.
A good example is Mar-Bal Inc., a leading manufacturer headquartered near Cleveland, OH. Mar-Bal’s teams can access their DELMIAworks manufacturing ERP system anywhere from their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops to see which jobs are running, determine the inventory on hand, or check on order status and completion progress within seconds. This helps Mar-Bal become indispensable to its customers who rely on the manufacturer for timely updates and delivery. In the midst of COVID-19, Mar-Bal facilities were up and running.
Modern ERP solutions have even minimized the need to have IT professionals onsite since many of today’s solutions are hosted or managed in the cloud. As a result, systems can be maintained from any remote location, creating yet another group of employees that can do their jobs away from the factory.
A case in point is Ventura Manufacturing, an award-winning company that serves a range of markets globally. Headquartered in Zeeland, Michigan, it has multiple local plants, and facilities in China, Hungary, and Mexico. Using the DELMIAworks Hosted Managed Service, the company has minimized the need for local ERP system support. Additionally, the corporate office can remotely run daily global reports with updates from all of its facilities while cutting the time to run reports by up to 50%. Despite COVID-19, Ventura’s international facilities were operational.
Keeping Production on Track
Having front-office personnel work from home is one thing. But, running a factory floor from home is an entirely different challenge. A small number of factories can run nearly lights out, but many must be staffed with operators and material handlers. In these factories, it becomes a question of how few people are required to be at work at any one time.
Manufacturing ERP systems minimize the number of onsite shop floor staff by precisely scheduling work, dispositioning materials, and monitoring equipment for output quality, and maintenance issues in real-time. In other words, manufacturers are managing the shop floor by exception rather than rote supervision.
Real-time production monitoring is usually held out as an example of the ultimate in manufacturing control. Yet, today it stands out as a critical tool for production continuity with a minimum of onsite workers.
One company of note is Eldon James, a world-class manufacturer of medical connection solutions. Today, the company is running lights-out manufacturing shifts across 27 injection molding machines, greatly reducing the need for onsite, shop floor employees. Eldon James has accomplished this by combining real-time production monitoring with its manufacturing execution system (MES) and quality management functionality. Throughout COVID-19, Eldon James’ customer service, operations, and logistics continued without disruption.
Similarly, Mar-Bal relies on real-time remote access and production monitoring to keep production on track and inform its production, sales, and service teams on order status, shipping, delivery, and service updates. Having an immediate view enables Mar-Bal to excel at being responsive and helpful to its customers.
Managing Shifts in Demand
Certainly, one impact of COVID-19 for many manufacturers was a sudden shift in demand patterns.
While some saw a drop-off, many others are saw spikes in demand. One such manufacturer is Core Technology Molding of Greensboro, North Carolina, which has strategically invested in multiple industries. While automotive orders slowed, the company uses insights from its DELMIAworks ERP system to adjust production and meet the rising demand among its medical product and pharmaceutical customers as they respond to COVID-19 healthcare needs.
Another manufacturer is Monoflo of Winchester, Virginia, a producer of reusable packaging. Many food and drug retailers and online retailers, use its containers in their logistics operations. Several of these customers moved up orders previously slated for later in the year to accommodate current demand. Even as Monoflo faced staffing restraints related to COVID-19, the automation provided by its DELMIAworks ERP system is enabling the manufacturer to meet the increased demand.
The demand fluctuations have greatly shifted the production inertia of many businesses. Raw materials supplies must be adapted; schedules and tooling changes are required, and different personnel are needed at different times. At the same time, off-shore factory closures have impacted the availability of materials and components from some suppliers.
Manually compensating and planning for sudden shifts or new suppliers could be weeks-long efforts—leading to delays that manufacturers can’t afford. By contrast, with today’s manufacturing ERP systems, re-planning, re-scheduling, and re-provisioning are nearly instantaneous. And just as importantly, these functions can be accomplished from remote locations.
A northwestern Pennsylvania-based manufacturer serving many of the world’s largest mass merchandisers is a good example of using manufacturing ERP software to rapidly respond to changing patterns in demand. In the wake of COVID-19 disrupting some of its suppliers’ operations, it turned to alternate suppliers. The company uses DELMIAworks manufacturing ERP system for demand pattern analysis and demand planning as it works with its network of suppliers and negotiates new buying agreements. The manufacturer is also addressing the challenge by aggregating purchasing with members of its supplier network and purchasing components immediately while also keeping costs under control.
After this period of disruption, factories and their workforces face new challenges – worker reluctance to return to the workplace, workforce and raw material shortages, long lead times, and increased prices.
To meet these challenges head-on manufacturers are again turning to their ERP systems for the tools and information to:
- Accurately forecast demand to allow maximum production lead times
- Automate supplier collaboration
- Optimize raw materials inventory despite scarcities
- Schedule production accurately despite increased labor and material constraints
- Deploy additional real-time production monitoring controls to compensate for labor costs and shortages
- Optimize finished goods inventory to accommodate less predictable raw materials availability
- Maximize worker productivity with timely and readily accessible work instructions
How manufacturers think about their ERP systems has been forever changed. In addition to their well-understood values of maximizing profitably, ensuring top-notch customer service, and delivering quality products, ERP solutions will now be known for their unique ability to maintain business continuity in the face of sudden change. As a result, ERP software is now recognized as an essential business safety net to respond to and overcome unforeseen events.