Meeting Product Lifecycles: Electronics Manufacturer Accelerates New Product Introduction
At a Glance
An electronics manufacturer and aerospace supplier eliminated stand-alone manual and paper-based systems once used to manage production processes.
The company automates management of Bills of Materials, Engineering Change Orders, engineering work instructions, quality specifications and more.
The company is better able to respond to changing market and customer requirements.
Plex Cloud ERP was a key component in the company’s growth and allowed it to successfully manage a 50 percent growth rate.
About Phoenix Logistics
Phoenix Logistics, Inc. manufactures integrated data transmission solutions for global military and aerospace markets. Services include the design, manufacture and test of high-frequency connectors, cable assemblies, and components.
Electronic applications include supplying data bus components for the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbitor’s mission to the moon; high frequency subassemblies for the International Space Station; and electronics for multiple helicopter, fighter and transport platforms.
Electronics manufacturers such as Phoenix Logistics are under constant pressure to meet demands for innovative assemblies and products while increasing efficiency and quality.
Customers continue to tighten product lifecycles. Regulatory, customer and sustainability mandates continue to grow more complex for Phoenix Logistics.
Phoenix Logistics must operate as efficiently as possible to maintain margins and thrive in this ever-changing industry. It’s imperative to gain visibility into operations and better manage supply-chain processes to ensure regulatory compliance.
In previous years, Phoenix Logistics relied on nearly 40 stand-alone spreadsheets to track customer orders, accounting, parts traceability, inventory, shipping and other key areas — literally silos of information with no linking of data across business areas.
The company stored production source documents in tens of filing cabinets, managed by one full-time administrative clerk dedicated to the sole task of document handling.
Document Control Challenges
One of the most significant limitations with the previous methods was complying with AS9100 production requirements for lot traceability. AS9100 is an international aerospace standard which stipulates full lot traceability documentation requirements.
Compliance was difficult, because the company stored paper documents tracing the source of key materials and processes such as platings, cables, and other components in file cabinets in a large room. It took a clerk three to four days to search and pull Bills of Materials (BOMs) and assembly procedures from the hundreds of file folders. There was no standard document control, and it was difficult to track BOM or process instruction revisions.
“With the paper ECRs, there was a high likelihood for errors, duplicate data entry, lost papers and other inefficiencies.”
Processing customer orders was also inefficient. When Phoenix Logistics received a customer order issued by Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Boeing or other OEMs, workers keyed the order data into a stand-alone system. Prior to generating a work order for the shop floor, the Purchase Order data was verified and then re-verified when the work order was issued to the shop floor, again when products came off the floor, and one final time before the order was shipped.
Another challenge was that Engineering Change Request (ECR) documents were manually routed within the plant for approvals and manual handling. Paper forms traveled more than a mile within the plant for handwritten signatures. As with any paper-based system, there was a high likelihood for error, duplicate and triplicate data entry, lost papers and other inefficiencies.
A Better Way
To avoid the hassles of manual processing and to increase efficiency, Phoenix Logistics implemented Plex Cloud ERP, a multi-tenant Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. With more than 350 functions accessed using a Web browser, Plex offers fully integrated manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) features such as full lot traceability, workflow, accounting, order entry and tracking, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and more.
According to Ben Sommerville, Phoenix Logistics Chief Operating Officer, the SaaS model let the company avoid the cost and effort to maintain stand-alone solutions. “Our goal was to outsource the IT function so we can concentrate fully on our core business. Plex let us avoid upfront investments in costly infrastructure like servers, data security and licenses. Plex Systems would keep us current with the most recent version of the software, which let us avoid the headaches of version control.”
Equally noteworthy was that the fully integrated Plex Cloud ERP functions linked together previously stand-alone business functions including shop floor, traceability, customer orders, accounting and more.
Implementation began in January 2008 with the accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory, purchasing and shipping functions and continued later in the year with inventory and work-flow management.
Automated Real-Time Traceability
One of the biggest benefits delivered by Plex Cloud ERP is the paperless, integrated real-time traceability. The automated traceability systemaccurately tracks individual containers and/or pieces as they flow through the manufacturing process, letting the company isolate problems with pinpoint precision. Real-time, detailed historical information related to production, inspection, genealogy, and usage is available in seconds instead of days as it was with the paper files once stored away in filing cabinets.
Because full and detailed traceability is built into the Plex inventory system, it’s simple to comply with AS9100 requirements. The Plex traceability tree automatically tracks in real time the complete genealogy of all inventory containers, providing both an upstream and downstream trace.
As a testament to the improved methods, Phoenix Logistics easily passed a quarterly manufacturing process audit recently conducted by Boeing. Notes Sommerville, “We can easily trace the source of production materials in seconds, can isolate issues faster, and automatically generate audit reports, which frees up our administrative clerk for more meaningful tasks that add value to our process.”
Efficient Process Flow
Work instructions, checksheets, and other key documents are created and stored within the system, fully replacing the reams of non-standardized paper instructions. The company is confident it is accessing the most current, approved documents — document control is now completely automated.
“ECRs flow automatically and in real time.”
ECRs flow automatically and in real time. No longer do paper ECR forms travel over a mile for approvals. The ECR function provides an online system for company personnel to submit change requests to engineering. The system tracks the ECR, manages the work flow, organizes and controls the drawings, and maintains on-going documentation of the change. Phoenix Logistics production associates now call up the ECR directly on the shop floor for a further streamlined production process.
Automated BOMs, ECOs, and other key manufacturing documents let the manufacturer reduce errors and end inefficient manual data handling. Electronic approvals, a detailed history of any changes, and automated version control help the company easily meet mandates for detailed production reporting.
The detailed, real-time information lets the company improve its performance. Production Associates access the system to see current customer scorecards regarding quality and delivery performance. Operators drill down to see the source of any issue, making it more straightforward to implement corrective actions related to shipping performance, supplier management, engineering documentation, requirements or any other area that could be the cause of performance issues. States Sommerville, “This level of detail was simply not available in the past.”
The full-time document control clerk is no longer burdened with nonvalue administrative work, and was reassigned to make a more valuable contribution to the company.
All told, Phoenix Logistics experienced numerous benefits since installing Plex Cloud ERP. States Sommerville, “The most impressive result is that Plex was a key component in the company’s growth and allowed us to successfully manage a 50 percent growth rate this year.” Additionally, paper costs have been drastically reduced, since the company no longer prints and stores over 20,000 pages of documentation each month as it did in the past.