Network Polymers knew what they wanted in an ERP solution: a combined ERP and MES solution – with no third party add-ons or bolted together programs.
Network Polymers, Inc. is a leading provider of thermoplastic resins and alloys such as ABS, ASA and polycarbonates. The company has grown into the fourth largest producer of ABS and ASA in North America, but this growth did not come without a fair share of growing pains.
A Compound Problem
Before investing in IQMS’ manufacturing ERP software, EnterpriseIQ, Network Polymers was struggling to run its business through five different programs: Microsoft Dynamics SL,Vicinity Manufacturing, FRx, Microsoft Forecaster and Excel. Noticeably problematic was the customization necessary to interface these five disparate systems, causing procedural issues and preventing system updates. Digging deeper, Network Polymers realized it lacked the critical tools necessary for future success, particularly in the areas of enterprise-wide data transparency and accurate inventory tracking:
The combination of Network Polymers’ multiple business systems had created a one-way data exchange scenario, so daily manual interactions (complete with natural human entry error) were inevitable. Reporting was difficult due to data segregation and critical information regarding quality control holds was not clearly visible, resulting in bad production runs and costly shipping errors. Any accurate figures Network Polymers was able to obtain were dated. Without real-time information, employees felt uninformed and decision making was inefficient and untimely.
One of Network Polymers’ most fundamental challenges lay in the lack of integration between its inventory program and its manufacturing module that handled Bills of Materials (BOMs) and formulations. Without that integration, Network Polymers had few MRP capabilities and no cost accounting. Additionally, physical inventory at Network Polymers was a laborious process, taking five to seven days to count, double check counts, manually enter data, analyze variances and create adjustment batches. Production reporting was only allowed at the end of the run, and coupled with the delayed delivery of data, meant good product did not often appear in the system, limiting the shipping department with poor visibility into the status of finished goods.
Finding a New Formula for the Future
When the decision was made to start searching for a new ERP vendor, Network Polymers knew what they wanted. The ideal ERP software solution would be one total system – a combined ERP and MES solution – with no third party add-ons or bolted together programs. This comprehensive system would streamline processes from order entry through shipping and would offer a complete financial package with cost accounting.
Network Polymers hoped that a comprehensive system with an integrated, real-time database would increase company-wide communication and provide all users with the same information. Ideally, Network Polymers hoped to eliminate debates about what the “real” data was, make decisions more rapidly and confidently, and eliminate the majority of time-consuming meetings.
The company reviewed online demonstrations of more than a dozen ERP solutions. Everyone was allowed a say and the vote narrowed it down to two or three viable solutions.
After the ERP finalists conducted on-site visits, the choice was clear: EnterpriseIQ from IQMS had all the elements that Network Polymers desired, plus more. EnterpriseIQ was a complete, integrated system with no third-party add-on solutions, it offered features specific to the compounding industry and it was affordable. As an unforeseen bonus, EnterpriseIQ allowed Network Polymers to develop improved procedures to work with the system, rather than customizing a system to work with its outdated processes.
Blending EnterpriseIQ and Network Polymers Together
Network Polymers began implementation of IQMS in September of 2010. In addition to scrubbing five systems and learning a new one, Network Polymers was revising its operations and procedures to become a more efficient company. On January 3, 2011, only four short months after installation, Network Polymers went live with EnterpriseIQ.
“Immediately after implementation, it was chaos,” said Scott Arnopolin, director of supply chain and technology at Network Polymers. “Like many other companies experience, change is difficult at Network Polymers.”
But despite some initial stumbles as the company experienced a learning curve, overall results were positive.
Inventory location visibility and up-to-the-minute on-hand accuracy immediately increased, as well as the ability to track box-by-box production as it was occurring. Network Polymers began tweaking and optimizing its new procedures, while enjoying the benefits of a transparent production schedule.
Three months later delivered a much brighter prognosis for Network Polymers, with better data, better decision making capabilities and improved inventory management. At the six month mark, Network Polymers’ entire production staff agreed to embrace the use of scanners. This new technology allowed employees to allocate materials to jobs for less downtime and increased material control, as well as delivered Network Polymers’ first successful physical inventory as daily procedures became more routine.
For greater shop floor control, Network Polymers invested in IQMS’ RealTime Production Monitoring module. Completely integrated with EnterpriseIQ, RealTime Production Monitoring tracks all aspects of production (total parts created, production time, downtime, rejects and parts remaining) immediately as goods are being made. Through this enhanced shop floor monitoring, Network Polymers began experiencing increased inventory turns, more proactive decision making and more accurate inventory levels due to transparent, up-to-the-minute material movements and disposition.
As procedures became more routine, Network Polymers’ employees discovered a new level of efficiency by following EnterpriseIQ’s natural system flow, rather than attempting to customize the software to fit their old ways. The customer service department began moving toward a paperless environment, eliminating folders and storing all information in the system. Additionally, the company saw an increase in reporting requests from employees who desired more data analysis to become better at their jobs.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Improvements at Network Polymers continued over the course of the remaining year. When the company looked back in review, the benefits gained from day one were clear:
Every problem challenging Network Polymers in the past was solved. With its new integrated, real-time solution, Network Polymers’ time is now spent analyzing data, rather than wasted double checking that the data is accurate before it can be evaluated.
This increase in better and more timely decision making has resulted in improved productivity of its employees with fewer meetings, more individual analysis and greater accountability.
In fact, employees are 50 percent more productive and efficient in their day to day responsibilities than before because they no longer need to track down information through individuals or paperwork – all the information they need is in one central place, right at their fingertips. Network Polymers has also reduced its paper usage and retention by more than 50 percent across the board and continues to move toward becoming a completely paperless operation.
Network Polymers is experiencing the joy of a complete financial package with better cost accounting and more efficient invoicing and purchasing orders options. The company has decreased the time it takes to create purchase order (PO) requisitions and enjoys how the system tracks its PO requests versus its old, file-based paper system.
A night and day change in the visibility and traceability of flagged, non-confirming materials also occurred at Network Polymers. Across the shop floor, Network Polymers significantly reduced the risk of using non-conforming raw materials in production and non-allocatable inventory locations have prevented its shipping department from accidentally sending a potentially flawed finished good out the door.
Second only to more timely and improved decision making, Network Polymers’ other top improvement was seen in the area of inventory management. As a result of increased visibility into inventory locations and transactions, EnterpriseIQ virtually eliminated Network Polymers’ overstock of raw materials, reduced on-hand inventory and provided better control over just in time deliveries. More importantly, inventory turns have increased by at least 25 percent in three major feedstocks: SAN increased from six turns per year to more than 12, ABS rubber from about 10 turns per year to almost 12 and ASA Rubber went from 6.4 to 6.7 turns.
Network Polymers decided to invest in IQMS’ Warehouse Management System (WMS) and through the use of barcodes and hand-held scanners, physical inventory time decreased from five to seven days to just 1.5 days (a 75 percent savings of time), with the greatest inventory accuracy results ever. Network Polymers can also now completely cycle count its entire plant in two to three days, rather than two to three weeks. In addition to assisting with physical inventory, the WMS module has increased manufacturing production run efficiency due to increased inventory location accuracy, resulting in less time spent running around looking for raw materials.
“The WMS module, along with barcoding and scanners, has increased our efficiency in the plant beyond our expectations. Materials are where the inventory module shows that they are, which allows us to spend less time scurrying around our plant looking for materials moved outside of the system,” said Arnopolin. “Shipping and receiving materials is a breeze as well utilizing the barcodes and scanners. We have not missed a shipment, nor have we mis-shipped a product, since going live with EnterpriseIQ!”
Finally, Network Polymers has become increasingly more proactive in material ordering because greater visibility into inventory levels allows for better control of raw material flow. Network Polymers now has a superior ability to increase, expedite, decrease and de-expedite raw materials than ever before. Inventory levels are much more manageable as they have been reduced from more than 11 million pounds to an average of six million pounds due to MRP and accuracy of the data.
“We are still finding new ways to benefit from the system as well as ways the system can be improved for us,”said Arnopolin. “The system has eliminated most of the manual processes and calculations we deal with, saving us time and allowing us to spend that time addressing more critical issues.”