“Customers want to be assured their delivery will be on their dock when we scheduled it to be there.” —Rosemary Brester, President and CEO, Hobart Machined Products
Small manufacturer revamps to keep huge customers like Boeing happy
It’s not that aerospace giant Boeing isn’t sympathetic about the challenges facing its smaller suppliers such as Hobart Machined Products. But when Boeing needs to know the status of an order for a precision-machined part, it doesn’t really matter that Hobart is just a 25-person, family-owned business.
“Customers want to be assured their delivery will be on their dock on the date we scheduled it to be there,” says Rosemary Brester, Hobart’s president and CEO. “If we’ve changed schedules or a machine’s stopped working, our customers need to know immediately.”
Until recently, however, it was difficult and increasingly expensive for Hobart to provide that kind of critical information to customers in a timely fashion. Like many small build-to-order manufacturers, Hobart historically used manual processes—paper travelers attached to parts—to track work in process. When a customer would call to check on the status of a delivery, Hobart would have to scramble to come up with an answer. With as many as 50 different high-precision machined parts in production at any given time, Hobart found it was using more and more manpower to do so.
A year and a half ago, Hobart undertook an ambitious project aimed at giving customers like Boeing and internal managers real–time, work-in-process visibility. Now deployed in the company’s aerospace products production plant, the system has allowed Hobart to accurately estimate the completion time of each customer order, avoiding delivery delays and improving customer satisfaction. At the same time, the system has allowed Hobart to reduce manual labor costs and expediting expenses.
The system is based on the Edge Application and Sensor Engine and other tools from Omnitrol Networks Inc. The Omnitrol platform integrates with bar codes and sensors on parts and equipment, giving Hobart managers and customers visibility into the location and status of work orders as they move through the plant. The system allows Hobart to quickly identify and correct production bottlenecks, and to update in real time the status of each order. The system also automates the receipt of orders and the reservation of parts required for new orders. And it sends alerts when additional parts are needed.
The system, which went into operation in February 2010, paid for itself in the first six months by allowing Hobart to redirect manual labor and reduce expediting of parts. More importantly, the system has allowed Hobart to provide better customer service, something that Brester expects will lead to more business: “We were one of the first small suppliers to do something like this, and our customers have really noticed.”