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Software Solutions
Tuesday | 08 November, 2016 | 2:02 pm

Proven performance

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Epicor’s ERP software is installed throughout Anchor Fabrication’s production operations for maximum visibility on every order.

Sister companies streamline data gathering, analysis and action triggers through fast, flexible ERP platform

November 2016 - When communications break down between the sales office and engineering or from the production shop to the shipping department, a key piece of an order can be unintentionally sidelined or the order isn’t specified or billed properly. Such scenarios frustrate company owners and employees and waste time and money.

Anchor Fabrication, established in 1990, is a contract manufacturer that has grown to serve several major metal-consuming industries from its 375,000-square-foot campus in Fort Worth, Texas. Anchor combines project management, engineering, cutting, welding, forming, machining, painting and assembly to craft products of any scope—from scratch to full assembly. Typical fabrications include those used on flatbed trailers, forklift trucks, campers and locomotives.

Tom Delicati, director of IT at Anchor Fabrication, credits the company’s owner and CEO for having the foresight, back in 2006, that “a true ERP system was needed. We were running our business with software that he felt could not grow with us.” And as Anchor started up or acquired other fabrication operations, “we didn’t want to live in multiple systems, and didn’t want to have to shop for another system in a few years.”

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The use of enterprise resource planning software has helped Anchor Fabrication to manage complex issues on the shop floor. Shown: A robowelding unit.

The first phase of Epicor’s ERP system was installed in 2007. Delicati, who had experience with the software, was hired in late 2008 to “use my knowledge to improve what we already started. They loaded all their files and were live, but did not feel they used all of its potential. We started to improve the process,” gaining uniformity wherever possible—for example, in the appearance of each transaction on screen.

When, in 2009, Anchor opened up a second business, it was prepared to “operate multiple companies within the same software platform. We had as many as six companies at once on Epicor. We are now down to four that are running it but we have another business migrating to Epicor in the next 12 months. With each acquisition or startup, we are able to work them in,” Delicati says.

Epicor ERP adapts to suit the needs of the business rather than the business struggling to conform its business practices around the software. Epicor continues to be effective and efficient as the user scales up.

Companywide, the number of transactions Anchor processes rose from 180,000 in 2014 to more than 300,000 in 2016. Epicor has helped Anchor’s workforce to “seamlessly handle the extra work without the need to hire extra staff.” For instance, one employee processes all accounts receivable invoices and in four to five hours a day despite the ever-increasing volume.

Epicor excels at “marrying office solutions with the complex issues found on the shop floor,” Delicati says. Employees at any Anchor division can review complete customer histories and order details with “one concise set of tools that loads incredibly fast and is accessible anywhere.” Having access to details on the production floor saves nearly two hours per day, per operator, compared with having to run multiple systems that failed to work congruently, he says.

Continuous improvement

In the fabrication world, says Delicati, some peers remain “comfortable with what they were using in 1995: ‘If it ain’t broke...’ But we perform continuous improvements everywhere and by staying on the latest and greatest version [of software], and being poised for the next upgrade, we have the tools available” to continue growing and surpassing the competition.

Anchor especially leverages the technology to improve flow on its shop floors. “Tools from Epicor are immediately functional for us to improve our output —speed to market—so we are more nimble. It’s not just an out-of-the-box package. We can make it mimic how we do things on the shop floor. I don’t want to funnel operations into a static platform. We get the software to wrap around the operations.”

Continuous improvement means ever changing, Delicati adds. “We have to do better, faster, stronger. I may try something new this week.”

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Epicor services high-production machine shops as well as sheet metal shops that build very large assemblies.

Mouse clicks

Over the past year, Anchor has “made huge strides on the estimating side. We can progress from a bar napkin model to a full-blown welded assembly. We funnel all the inputs through the Epicor estimating tool. It has greatly reduced quoting time. That’s huge for us.”

Everything that comes out of the estimating tools Epicor provides is already in Anchor’s database. There is a single point of entry and the tools help estimators manage the cost and pricing parameters for each order.

Prior to employing these tools, “we were entering the manufacturing data in multiple places like spreadsheets, on paper, and again while entering a sales order. Now we can move smoothly from a finished estimate to a sales order, and into production jobs in as little as six mouse clicks,” says Delicati. For one customer that is at capacity, “whoever comes back quickest with a quote—usually by the end of the day—gets the bid. We have become better players in that arena,” he says. 

Once the bid is awarded, it matters a great deal “how fast can you get working on it.” Before Epicor, “a purchase order went through sales order entry within a day or two, then we built out all the parts to be produced, which took another day or two. Then we approached the purchasing department to request bids from suppliers and went through our engineering team to work on a design—that’s another two days—then finally the order moved to the production floor. That was a week of preproduction time.”

Now, Delicati explains, the initial order is “broken out as parallel tasks that are worked at simultaneously, and order entry time is down to three or four hours. Whereas we were waiting four days to give the order to purchasing or engineering, they now get it the same day.” That, he says, demonstrates the flexibility of the tools. “To know the software can support you is huge. We feel like there isn’t anything we cannot do or cannot try with this software.”

Sweet spot

Kathie Poindexter, a senior product marketing manager for Epicor ERP, says metal fabrication has, for the last 40 years, “held a sweet spot in our hearts. It’s where Epicor got its start; the heritage of where the current product came from was developed in a fab shop.”

The company is ready to serve a shifting marketplace—one that is clearly much more global, one that is embracing automation, one that recognizes the changing demographics of consumer markets—while offering specific solutions.

“We service businesses from high-production machine shops to sheet metal manufacturers that build very large assemblies, one-offs or weldments. We maintain and support that through our technology,” Poindexter  says. Using configurable workflows and configurable screens, customers “can build a system starting with our base that’s 90 percent already there for them.”

Yet they can, on their own, change a workflow, design a sub-application supporting how they do things. “That’s a differentiator. In the old days,” she says, “customization was bad. Any time you had a client customize, they were locked into that version of the product or had to pay for it every time there was an update.”

Customers are now insulated from those steps, and the associated costs, because they are moving to the cloud. “In essence, they wake up one morning and we upgraded the product and it’s completely invisible to them. That’s a huge value proposition because they don’t have to think about it. We have transitioned out of the idea that work happens only within four walls and only during business hours,” Poindexter says. MM

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