At a Glance:
- This paper describes the efficiencies and operational improvements Plex Cloud ERP enables for a large Midwest casting foundry.
- After being told by SAP that it wasn’t even possible to bring an ERP system on board, Vassar Foundry’s new owner, Revstone, proves them wrong with Plex.
- Now able to track consumption of raw materials, Vassar achieves inventory reductions of 30 to 50 percent.
- Company cuts manual labor by half, makes first profit in a decade, and achieves ROI of 456 percent.
About Vassar Foundry
When the nearly bankrupt Grede Foundry in Vassar, Michigan, was purchased by Revstone for its Metavation Division, the sale brought relief to a community that had already seen too many businesses close their doors.
And it was the beginning of a journey for the new owners of the casting foundry. It was clear that standard manufacturing processes and controls were sorely lacking in the company’s day-to-day operations.
There was no formal tracking of the recipes used for castings, no way to create bills of materials, and no way to understand how much raw material was being consumed in operations. The company had no management or shop floor systems in place. These problems were not news to management. Grede’s financially costly, yet futile, attempts to implement a SAP ERP system months earlier was one of the main reasons for the near-bankruptcy that opened the door for the foundry’s sale in the first place.
On the Road to Improvement
According to Revstone’s IT Business Application Manager Janice D’Amico, it was a no-brainer to bring Plex in as the ERP system for Vassar.
Revstone, and its Metavation Division, had been using Plex Cloud ERP at most of its other nearly 50 global facilities. D’Amico knew the solution to be effective, not only in helping manage the complexities of multi-site operations but also in controlling processes and improving performance on each individual shop floor.
Plex was launched within only a few months. And the cost, via a monthly subscription fee, was far less than what Grede had spent for the failed SAP solution.
Plex provides Vassar with the meaningful, timely, comprehensive information needed to effectively manage inventory, track production, maintain equipment, and monitor and improve quality. Because the system is completely integrated, it helps improve performance in virtually every operation at the foundry.
Plex Manufacturing ERP is a cloud model, which means that it is hosted at highly secure off-premise data centers. Vassar supplies only basic Internet connections and inexpensive personal computers, and there’s no need for onsite maintenance.
Unique Challenges Require Agile Solution
Casting foundry processes present an array of challenges that simply cannot be met using standard off-the-shelf ERP systems.
The process begins with the arrival of raw materials, primarily pig iron, carb iron, shredded steel, and remelt. The materials are stored at “melt decks.” Castings are created using 22 gray-iron molds, each weighing between 12 and 42 pounds and able to produce between 4 and 24 separate castings. As the molds travel down the conveyor belts, metal is poured into them. The castings are then cooled on hanging racks before being stored and shipped.
One of the main challenges for foundries is tracking consumption of raw materials. The difficulty is due to how they are measured. They arrive measured in pounds, but the measurements must be converted to “pieces” as the molds are cast.
Plex’s “process router” enables Vassar to manage this easily. It tracks raw materials, and uses barcode label processes to track the molds. All materials arrive in a single, shared location where they are automatically tracked as purchased components, labeled with barcodes and routed to molds. At the machines where molds are loaded and poured, employees simply scan the labels which identify where the materials came from, and the machines correlate the materials’ weight to the unit measures of the molds.
With this process now in place, Vassar is able to control its inventory, track costs, and achieve on-time delivery.
Better Data, Better Decision-Making
Plex Cloud ERP tracks the exact combinations of raw materials, or “recipes,” for each mold. Management receives detailed records of raw material consumption, not only on a daily basis, but in real time at each “pour.”
“When working with molten metal, the atmospheres, temperatures, and other variables can greatly affect how much you consume,” noted D’Amico, “so it’s critical that we obtain detailed data at each pour.”
Plex Systems’ partner Kors Engineering developed PLC integration at the melt deck to track accurate consumption of each mold. This data can then be analyzed and used by management to monitor and control the environment in order to optimize production, understand exact material consumption, and create the highest quality molds.
Plex Cloud ERP has enabled Vassar to dramatically improve its performance. For example, now that it has real-time, accurate data on inventory consumption, the company has been able to reduce inventories of raw material, work-in- process and finished goods by between 30 and 50 percent.
Also, with many manual processes replaced with automated barcode processes, the company was able to trim labor in operations by half.
Vassar now has the accurate, real-time information it needs to minimize scrap and improve throughput, and it continues to explore new ways to use Plex to improve operations and profitability.
From a cost standpoint, the launch of Plex was highly successful. The company now saves more than $145,000 annually thanks to the solution. Vassar Casting achieved its first year-end profit in 10 years after its launch. And, perhaps most impressive, the company achieved a return on investment of 456 percent within just the first year.
Meanwhile, others in the industry have taken notice of the company’s progress. “Other casting foundries have come in to study our processes,” explained D’Amico. “They look at the Plex process router, for instance, and tell us they’ve never seen anything like it.”
“When the SAP team failed at implementing its ERP system, Grede was told that it just wasn’t possible to bring an ERP into the foundry’s operations,” she recalled. “Yet, here we are with Plex not only meeting our needs, but helping us turn the company around.”
“I guess the key was to bring in the right solution.”