We’ve all watched glamorous ads on national TV during the Super Bowl or some equally grand national spectacle. We’re talking about the types of ads that tout full customization and automation with real-time production. They describe an amazing future where customers order cars via their mobile phones and robots build cars in real-time and according to exact customer desires. Yes, global IT behemoths like IBM, Microsoft, SAP, et al. will one day enable a truly wonderful world. And maybe one day, we’ll all get a chance to experience a glimmer of instantaneous automation.
Well, actually, the days of (nearly) instant customization and end-to-end automation are closer than you might think. And you don’t have to look too far to find it. You won’t find it in multinational IT firms or global car companies, though. You’ll see it being executed regularly by many small and mid-sized fenestration companies.
Yes, the fenestration industry is actively employing end-to-end automation from its order entry to design, build, ship, and invoice processes. There are dozens of window and door manufacturers receiving orders for customized products and then designing and producing these products in a manner that is pretty darn close to what those national TV ads are showing.
We’re in the middle of a phenomenal adoption of complete factory automation, and it’s fundamentally changing industry economics.
In this white paper, we’ll follow the adoption of two critical productivity tools that enable this automation path for fenestration businesses. The first is the adoption of fenestration ERP software, which ties together and automates the processes of order entry, design, and invoicing. The second is the connection of the ERP system to factory automation equipment, such as TigerStop lineal positioners. These extend automation directly into the factory, allowing custom orders to be designed and then built in near real-time.
Customized Workflow with ERP Software—Not a Pipe Dream
You might be asking yourself why TigerStop—a factory automation machine company—is spending time in their white paper to describe ERP software of all things.
The answer, in the case of the fenestration industry, is quite simple. Some fantastic software is available to fenestration businesses, and it can holistically automate much of the workflow required to build customized windows and doors. This software can be pre-configured with specific designs that manufacturers chose to offer. The designs, which are customizable on dimensions or other parameters, are tied to BOMs that are also dynamic (changing as a function of the specific design). The BOMs pull information from pre-configured material lists with precise material costing and manufacturing stock and utilization rates.
With material, material costs, and other overhead all tied to the custom designs, this software can play an important role in generating estimates and/or proposals. And once a job is won and completed, the software can invoice too.
What Does That Look Like?
Let’s look at the workflow of a make-believe fenestration company—let’s call it WindowTreats—using this software.
WindowTreats gets an inquiry for the replacement of energy-efficient windows for an apartment complex. The WindowTreats estimator visits the complex and takes many pictures and measurements, which are brought back to the WindowTreats designers.
The designers, using the CAD functionality of their ERP software, design window packages that fit the dimensions required. They can work on several different design options, and the costs of their customized designs are compiled automatically in the software via the pre-configured costed BOMs. The WindowTreats ERP system quickly and accurately generates estimates for the custom job—including all of the design options.
Once the order is won, WindowTreats designers instruct the software to release the order to production. Meanwhile, the ERP software confirms raw material supplies and alerts purchasers to order more if needed. The ERP software then provides the factory with assembly and sub-assembly drawings for the custom order. Then production begins.
Finally, with production done and the windows ready to ship, WindowTreats ERP software automatically invoices the customer and tracks payment.
So the ERP software at WindowTreats plays a significant role in design, estimating, production initiation, and billing. For big custom jobs, this automation is the enabler. Think of the productivity gains and the accuracy improvements. Design, estimating, purchasing, billing, and such can all be automated with fewer manual handoffs. That means much greater accuracy and less time spent.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, but would you be surprised to hear there is a missing link in our description of this fantastic workflow? Indeed, in spite of the automation described, which can seamlessly translate customer requirements from design to billing, the handoff to manufacturing is still mostly manual. This is where TigerStop factory automation plays a role.
Full Business and Factory Automation—Achievable Here and Now
The software at WindowTreats did an outstanding job of automating and managing the workflow of the data. Measurements, costs, BOMs, designs, bills, and so forth all work well in the ERP software. But at some point, this data must get translated into actual windows and doors. And if this translation/handoff is a manual process, a fenestration company may have added valuable automation around an error-prone and inefficient manufacturing process. It would be like re-roofing three-fourths of your house with a great leakproof and efficient roofing system but leaving the old, leaky roof on the remaining quarter. You’re still going to come home to a leaky roof—it’s a miserable feeling.
The good news is that TigerStop factory automation solutions provide the link to fully automate the handoff to manufacturing. Fenestration companies recognize TigerStop for the measuring automation and accuracy that TigerStop machines can provide. No longer do cut-off operators use tape measures or manual gauge systems, which are slow and often inaccurate.
With TigerStop, the user enters their part dimension into a keypad (dimensions to 1/100 of an inch can be entered), and that cut or machined part will be accurate to that dimension every time. TigerStops save thousands of companies around the world millions and millions of dollars from lost productivity and poor quality every day.
But that’s only the first step with the TigerStop (admittedly, though, it’s a big one). What many of the best fenestration companies realize is that with the measurement or positioning of the cut-off operations automated or computerized, now the data from their sophisticated ERP systems can also be transferred to the factory in an automated way as well.
The Flawless Handoff
Every single TigerStop contains an API (application programming interface) that ERP companies can use to transfer production data for their custom designs directly to the TigerStops on the factory floor. So when custom design orders are released to the factory, the actual build lists are transferred directly to the TigerStops with no paperwork or manual intervention. The user doesn’t even need to enter the dimensions into the keypad.
Let’s go back to our fictional company, WindowTreats, which just installed a great ERP system. Let’s see how adding the data connection to the TigerStops in the factory improves their workflow:
Now, when WindowTreats tells its software to release orders to the factory, the work orders (cut lists, machining lists, etc.) are transferred directly to the TigerStops in the plant. The operator simply starts working on the TigerStop, instructing the machine to download work orders from the network. Then the operator begins processing the first downloaded work order (and the factory scheduler can control the priority of each work order).
So in this case, there is no manual handoff of data or drawings. It is end-to-end, 100 percent, factory automation. And this ability exists with every single TigerStop that WindowTreats or any fenestration company has in its factory. Companies use TigerStops daily to save time and scrap—but there is an incredible opportunity to employ TigerStops as part of a complete factory automation solution.
Want to Learn More?
Those in the fenestration industry are in an incredibly exciting and interesting position right now. They have the ability to truly achieve end-to-end factory and business automation. In our own humble way, TigerStop makes the TV advertisements of the multibillion-dollar IT firms a reality every day.
The best part is that this capability exists in all the software and TigerStop factory automation machines. We don’t have to develop anything new because the resources already exist. TigerStop wants to help you make this happen. We want to bring full factory automation to every plant, big or small.
If you’d like to learn more about how TigerStop can be part of your full factory automation solution, don’t hesitate to give us a call or send us an email. We’ll get right back to you. We’ll be happy to have an in-depth technical discussion about how our systems may work in your environment with your specific application.