Software Enhances Door Makers’ Customization

Eggers Industries changed their approach to custom door manufacturing, and found that by automating their custom wood products information flow, their profits could flow too.

By Jennifer Lower

 

How does a custom door maker elicit repeat orders form its customers? “Start with a quality line of products. Then guarantee ship dates and offer a ten percent discount if a door order ships late,” says Dick Forsythe, CFO of Eggers Industries Inc.

For a company with finely tuned internal processes, this is one lofty proposition that will payoff with customer loyalty. However, Eggers only recently began automating processes to help the company upgrade its efficiency.

For years, Eggers was encumbered by manual systems to fulfill customer orders for products with an infinite number of styles and variations. Delivery guarantees were jeopardized by inaccuracies in order processing and shop floor schedule delays. When Eggers wrote up a customer order it commonly took a couple of weeks for the order to get entered and hand-delivered to the shop floor. At times the shop became overloaded with orders because the manual schedule erroneously conveyed available capacity. As a result, Eggers could not get the throughput to make good on some of its delivery promises.

Eggers, a manufacturer of architectural plywood doors for the top tier of the custom door market, has a rich history of wood products. In 1884, the company set up shop in Two Rivers, WI, to make baskets for farmers to carry produce to market. The company transitioned from baskets to plywood for World War I airplanes, then to bowling alley gutters and architectural paneling for office buildings, airplanes and yachts. Today, Eggers still produces architectural paneling at the original plant, along with conference room tables and custom architectural doors. Another Two Rivers plant manufactures custom plywood for the office systems, library and store fixture markets. A third plant in Neenah, WI, manufactures both fire-rated and non-fire-rated architectural wood doors as well as other specialty doors. Eggers architectural wood products are prevalent in commercial buildings such as hospitals, schools, courthouses, professional offices, hotels and sports arenas.

 

         
         
     
    Eggers Industries utilizes advanced software to help improve efficiency when constructing large-scale customized projects. This yacht, constructed by Burger Boat, features complete interior work by Eggers. The company used quartered fiddleback anigre to accent the other woods in the wheelhouse area.    

Addressing Automation

The consequences of maintaining an extensive custom product line without automation included laborious manufacturing planning and scheduling, with extensive hands-on manipulation of the schedule to update and expedite orders. Obtaining reliable production status reports was a problem, particularly as scheduling changes occurred on the shop floor. Manually prepared documentation was rarely tailored to its functional use; it was not unusual for one set of paperwork to serve as an acknowledgement, router and shipping document.

Eggers Industries had been operating on a legacy system developed in the 80s and an order entry system that was written for doors in the mid-90s. A separate system running at the office furniture plant was losing steam and external support had ceased to exist.

“All three divisions were using different systems and could produce an array of reports, but they were silos of information,” says Forsythe. “It was impossible to put together a cohesive, information-based analysis of how the business was doing.”

Driven to better satisfy customer delivery promises, Eggers identified the key to improving efficiency: automate both order processing and plant floor operations.

According to vice-president of manufacturing Jerry Claybrook, there were severe limitations that the company needed to overcome in order to automate successfully.

“Doors and plywood are dimensional products and, in most cases, orders involve custom configurations,” says Claybrook. “For example, in our stile and rail door brochure we offer infinite selections, which makes every order unique. We needed a mechanism to speed up order entry and reduce product specification errors. Driving order information through to our manufacturing processes was a natural extension. Solving these problems together, but with a single solution, would boost our efficiency and reduce lead times.”

Eggers’ challenge was to find an integrated, packaged software solution that sufficiently met the custom dimensional product requirements of the architectural plywood and door industry. To support the order entry process, the system needed a comprehensive product identifier that could handle every conceivable product configuration. Order processing information needed to reliably feed into manufacturing planning and scheduling activities. From there, the system would have to demonstrate a standard way of running production through the shop, tracking jobs and accurately predicting production times. Eggers sought an IBM AS/400-based solution to make use of its current AS/400 system that employees already successfully used.

The Selection Process

To narrow the field of software vendors to those with the most appropriate solutions, Eggers turned to the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership for consulting assistance. Eggers also reviewed industry and manufacturing trade journals to identify potential software packages. An internal team formed from all disciplines of the organization steered the priorities for the new system. Through a software program entitled Soft Select and with the help of the Wisconsin consultants, a list of possible software solutions were compiled.

The short list of software vendors received a questionnaire asking them to match their capabilities to Eggers’ requirements. Based on the responses, Eggers invited five vendors to present a generic demonstration of their product and three finalists emerged. Each finalist received a 1-1/2-in. thick request for proposal detailing all the functions, features and report capabilities required in the software, plus a wish list of desirable features. Finalists also were sent Eggers’ flowcharted processes and a sample order, so the next round of software demonstrations could be tailored to apply Eggers sample data within the system.

“When the three vendors came for their full-day demos, we wanted the data to be real,” says Forsythe. “We assembled representatives from all our departments, including production workers, sales administration, and clerical staff, to get them excited. Group decision making helped employees feel in control of their destiny. It also intimately involved them in seeing to a successful implementation.”

By utilizing actual company figures and asking software companies to show exactly how their software would integrate with the company’s products, Eggers was able to determine which application would best fit their needs.

“We tried to identify the solution that fit us best right out of the box. We were prepared to work hard to standardize our processes and avoid making software modifications,” says Forsythe. “In doing so, we could keep current with the vendor’s new releases and take advantage of added functionality. When we got through the detailed demonstrations and spoke to industry references, we clearly saw that one software package particularly fit our industry. The most developed configurator for use with Eggers’ dimensional products was contained in Frontier, an integrated software solution available from Friedman Corp.”

Implementation: Process-Driven Collaboration

Staying on task with an aggressive implementation schedule called for a structured plan. The Frontier system is complemented by Friedman’s Compass implementation methodology, designed to comprehensively address product installation, simulation, and user training.

“When you’re implementing an integrated system, it’s important to remember how process changes can impact other parts of the organization,” says Forsythe. “Whenever we consider a policy change, it is circulated among members of the group to gauge the impact on other areas. Then we try out the policy before it is instituted.”

Inevitably, process changes will occur during a transition from manual to automated operations. At Eggers the adjustment is less daunting when process improvements are measurable. For example, to write an order and develop a router previously took two separate steps. With configuration-based software, when an order is entered into the system it creates the schedule in seconds versus hours, enabling order entry personnel to provide an available-to-promise date. The router developed by the system reduces lead times by up to a week, and reliably determines production time and tracks orders on the shop floor.

         
         
     
    Custom boardroom tables such as this one, featuring amarillo and maple burl, with cherry inlays, can now be produced side-by-side with door orders at Eggers. Software has enabled the company to deligate orders and retain quality for both line production as well as custom work.    

With Eggers on-time shipping guarantee for doors, the value placed on accurate order data and production visibility is monumental.

“We expect order data in Frontier to be accurate, so we can plan plant capacity more effectively,” says Claybrook. “It also helps pinpoint when bottlenecks are likely to occur. We can move people between work centers, for example from machining to finishing, when orders get stacked up. Also, if the target ship date for an order is in jeopardy, the software lets us develop scenarios to see how changing the schedule will impact other orders in queue.”

Running parallel to the software implementation was the installation of a second AS/400 plus local and wide area networks. Eggers is also implementing products that interface with Frontier for a complete “best of breed” solution, including Infinium payroll and human resources packages, Cognos PC-based reporting and analysis tools and Optio Software pre-printed forms.

Results of Automation

Moving from a manual information-bound order entry system should measurably reduce order entry complexity and time. Forsythe notes that “the volume of orders that could be processed was limited by the physical time required to write them. It took highly trained individuals who knew literally hundreds of things about our products to write up an order. With the software package that we have in place now, the order entry process is more routine and requires less training, freeing up experienced employees to take on higher value tasks.”

By reducing the time needed to enter information the company has also found other benefits from the system besides the reduced training needed for order entry.

“Manual order entry left so much opportunity for production errors,” says Claybrook. “We spent more time on the shop floor reading an order than making it. The system has taken a step out of order entry and, as a result, cut lead-time by a week. More importantly, we expect to reduce errors, customer complaints and rework.”

The system also provides great flexibility for analyzing production and sales data. “The silo effect is on its way out,” says Forsythe. “We have the capacity to analyze sales by product using different codes in the configurator, providing variations by product classification. And, we use these analysis for discovering production efficiencies and slicing and dicing the sales data, and measuring margins by product and by customer.”

Judging by Eggers’ historical success using limited automation, senior management has a good feel for the business. But while the system is useful to validate hunches, its greatest strength lies in providing in-depth knowledge about the business. Automation is neutralizing the restrictions that hindered growth, enabling Eggers to rise to new challenges with its configurable wood products.

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