Moldmaker Finds 10 Steps to Automation Process

An engineer-to-order ERP system may seem pricey at first, but the bottom-line results are the vital signs of every good moldmaker.

Weber Manufacturing Limited is a preferred full-service tool supplier for plastic molders around the world. With three unique technical divisions - Weber Tool and Mold, Nickel Tooling Technology and NVD Nickel Products - Weber offers a wide choice of tooling materials and unique mold construction options in the moldmaking industry.

Located in Midland, Ontario, Weber has 200 employees spread across three divisions. Weber has a large presence in the automotive market, but also supplies molds and tooling to door, bathtub and sink manufacturers, as well as the aircraft industry.

A separate division maintains technology to provide nickel shell tooling. This type of tooling allows for production tooling to be up to 50 percent lighter - making it easier to move and change tooling in production lines - while still maintaining the steel tool strength.

Recently, the entire enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was re-evaluated for 18 months. According to Doug Gould of Weber, "A simple 10-step process was used to make the difficult decision. Other moldmaking companies providing custom solutions can review the same steps before deciding what system is right for them."

The 10-Step Process

Understand the True Nature of ERP Implementation
ERP is a business undertaking, not a technology project. The ERP system is a tool that will affect every part of a moldmaking business. It will affect business processes and may lead to cultural changes within the organization. Clearly defined business objectives for the new system are essential during the selection process and must be defined at the beginning of the implementation.

Present the Project to Your Entire Organization Early in the Process
Remove any mystery or potential fear associated with the implementation of a new ERP system. Since everyone will be affected by it, people should be aware of it. Over and over again during the implementation, the business reasons for implementing the new system must be reinforced, including the fact that the pain required by the implementation is justified based on the business benefits that the system will yield.

Choose the Right People to Lead the Implementation Project
The implementation team must include a wide range of disciplines and should have representation from every level of the organization. One person must be appointed as the leader of this team. That leader must have a broad understanding of the business and of the business objectives for implementing the system. Generally speaking, an IT person is not the best person to lead the implementation. Similarly, while the team should have the full backing of top management, top management should not lead the implementation.

Define the Roles and Responsibilities of the Implementation Team
The effort required to implement the ERP system is great. Determine whether the team members will be responsible for their normal day-to-day duties during the implementation or whether those duties can be handed off to someone else during the implementation. One of the most important roles of the implementation team is to serve as ambassadors for the ERP system to the rest of the organization. They must work to build acceptance of the new system throughout the organization.

Understand the Role of Top Management
Top management must articulate the business case for implementing the new ERP system. This information should be shared with everyone in the organization. Top management also must make sure that the implementation team is focusing on these goals as part of the implementation process. Finally, top management must stand behind the implementation team and publicly support its efforts.

Manage the Elements of the Implementation
The implementation is about improving a moldmaker's business; it is not just a technology initiative. Since the implementation will affect all parts of a moldmaking business, one must evaluate how the business processes will be affected by the new system. It may be necessary to change some processes, even if they have been practiced for a long time. Also, attention must be given to the human element of the implementation. People will naturally resist some of the changes required by the new system and some people will fear that the new system will adversely affect them. Address these concerns.

Follow the Implementation Plan
The ERP vendor's implementation plan is just as important as its ERP system. If the system cannot be successfully implemented, it will do you no good, no matter how well it fits a customized moldmaking business. The ERP vendor must have a tried-and-true implementation methodology. Let the ERP vendor lead the implementation process and follow the vendor's plan.

Communicate
The implementation team should communicate to the rest of the organization on a regular basis, updating everyone about the implementation's status. Also, the implementation will require personnel outside the implementation team to participate in data modeling, training and other meetings involving the ERP vendor's professional services personnel. Make sure that these participants fully understand the objectives of each activity in which they will participate.

Utilize Your ERP Vendor's Professional Services
Professional services are not cheap, but they are essential. In order to achieve the desired business results of the implementation, use the expertise of your vendor's professional services personnel. There is often a temptation to reduce implementation expenses by attempting to limit the use of professional services. Companies that minimize their use of professional services personnel put the moldmaking business at great risk and set themselves up to fail. Even if an outside consultant is hired with hundreds of ERP implementations, the vendor's expertise cannot be overestimated.

Map Internal Processes and Document Procedures
This requires a lot of time and effort, but the companies that achieve the greatest results map their business processes to the system in a graphical format. There are two benefits of this. First, it provides a sanity check for those processes. Seeing processes graphically enables companies to identify and improve bad processes. Second, having a graphical representation of business processes helps all people understand the integrated nature of the business. Having documenting procedures (step-by-step usage of the system at the departmental level) tends to provide a sense of comfort to end users as they prepare to go live with the new system, providing them all of the information they need to do their jobs with the new system.

Doug Gould has seen Weber face several ineffective ERP implementations and would not name names. "We have taken more than 18 months to make sure that we have found a vendor who understands moldmaking, and while no one is perfect, the roadmap of installations make me feel much better about our selection."

Many custom moldmaking firms must find a way to afford the implementation of an engineer-to-order ERP system like Weber. The bottom-line results, including improved cash flow, are the vital signs of every good moldmaker.

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