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Volume 7   Issue 3               March 2006

Software Savvy

Do You Have an Invisible Advantage?
by Ron Crowl

Automating your manufacturing business does not guarantee success. Yet you would be hard-pressed to find a leading manufacturer that lacks an integrated manufacturing system.

There are pitfalls to implementing manufacturing technology in your organization. One is filtering out real benefits from vendor promises. Another is clinging to outdated perceptions of manufacturing technology that are inflexible and offer little payback. A third (for all but the most resourceful producers) is the initially enticing, but almost always impractical, internal development of custom applications. 

With such challenges, you might be tempted to forgo investigating proven possibilities. Or, you could step into the gap between promises and pessimism, determine what will work for your organization and forge a seemingly invisible yet real and sustainable advantage.

Buzz Versus Real Benefits

The basic benefits of today’s integrated manufacturing systems are too well-proven to ignore: reductions in labor, energy and waste; optimized use of raw materials; improvements in quality and consistency; and time savings. Advanced benefits include improved customer service, reduced risk, increased agility and faster implementation of plans.

Still, the buzz for manufacturing technology is always ahead of what most companies implement. Vendors want to sell you their technology. The media wants to talk about what is new. 

Rather than accept generalities, look for evidence of benefits that will make a difference in your plant. What are the hard measures of success? How long does it really take to implement and get up to speed? Is training and support readily available?

Gain Testimonies 

Other door and window companies can be your best sources of information about any automation technology. 

Look between the public statements. Managers and owners can be as reluctant to confess to large failed technology investments as they are to promote advantages gained through effective automation implementation. 

Some managers hold an outdated perception of the shortcomings of plant and business automation. They might have been burned by oversold solutions. They might have failed to invest in training or implementation support. 

Systems might not be quite as beneficial or easy to use as some vendors communicate. But they are by no means as flawed as someone might say whose investments failed to meet lofty expectations five years ago or today.

Avoiding Insanity

Today, trying to create your own integrated fenestration system, to move information from estimate to shipping to invoicing, is insane. 

Offended? My apologies. But the odds are you will spend many times more than the cost of a proven industry specific system, get less, be online years later and incur higher ongoing support costs. Isn’t that crazy? 

Most manufacturers don’t intend to create an integrated manufacturing system. They automate one process here, another there. Then they want to connect them, add more features and on and on. If they’d recognized this in advance, they might have investigated alternatives. 

There is another trap. No matter that they make similar products using similar equipment and sell to similar customers through similar channels, some manufacturers insist their operations are unique. Only custom systems will work. 

Encourage this idea in your competitors. They will invest their time, resources and focus in software development, where things take longer, cost more and do less than planned. And because they typically lack the time to add features and usability equivalent to commercial applications, you’ll still be ahead. 

The truth is that 90 or 95 or even 99 percent of your fenestration integration needs are identical to everyone else’s—and even to other make-to-order or mass-customization producers. That other 10 or 5 or 1 percent? That’s what separates you from the competition. 

Once you get up your system up to speed, you should be able to engage in continuous tweaking and improvement of quality, efficiency, customer service and profits. 

You need vision and the means to implement it. If you have both, you possess a sustainable and invisible advantage.

Ron Crowl serves as president of FeneTech Inc. in Aurora, Ohio. He can be reached at ron_crowl@fenetech.com.

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.