- Created: 2017-09-04
ERP solutions bring manufacturers enhanced competitiveness by strengthening company connections
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief
Making the right connections in life can go a long way. They can snag you a table at the hottest restaurant in town, get you backstage access to concerts and even help you land your dream job. The right connections can also transform a business – especially when those connections are digital ones.
Today’s ERP systems – enterprise resource planning enabled by software and technology – bring disparate departments closer together, get equipment and computers talking to one another, and open up doors to new information and insight. Actually, in the grand scheme of things, digital connections aren’t much different than human ones.
At Gullco International Ltd., a manufacturer of welding and cutting systems, making stronger internal connections became a top priority as the company continued to reach out to new markets. It had already been an international business, but over the years, its global business units have expanded. Today, more than 100 employees represent the company in 80 countries.
When Gullco opened its doors in 1954, it was a small family-owned outfit. It functioned like a well-oiled machine, but more recently, management determined that outdated systems were slowing employees down.
The sales team was spending too much time dealing with software hiccups when they could have been interacting with customers. Employees from one department felt like they didn’t know much about activities happening in other departments. Management was desperate for a new way to leverage all of the data it was gathering. Despite being an overused corporate buzzword, the lack of “synergy” was palpable.
Gullco products are used in a variety of industries, such as infrastructure and construction.
To remedy the disconnect that Gullco business leaders had identified within its internal systems and departments, the company began investigating ERP software. Looking for a competitive yet cost-effective solution, Gullco found one at Epicor Software Corp., a software development company dedicated to fulfilling the needs of manufacturing, distribution, retail and service organizations.
Beyond the goals of finding a competitive and cost-effective ERP system, the company had specific key performance objectives in mind. Nick Drake, Gullco’s marketing manager, says that being goal-oriented is a key to success when implementing an ERP system. For Gullco, establishing consistency was on the top of the to-do list, and it just happened to be something that Epicor excelled at.
Gullco International, established in 1954 and headquartered in Newmarket, Ontario, has benefited from various modernization initiatives, such as implementing its new Epicor ERP system.
“Streamlining processes and aligning all of Gullco’s branches was a main goal,” he says. “Having paperwork, such as invoices and proposals, looking the same was a key component. A lot of international companies work with us, so we wanted customers to have a similar experience whether they were working with U.K. Gullco or with Canadian Gullco. You wouldn’t want an experience in Canada to be excellent, but then an experience elsewhere to be clunky or not as aesthetically pleasing. It was important for us to use this one piece of software to unify the branches under one main umbrella.”
That one piece of software is Epicor’s signature ERP solution, which Gullco implemented in 2013. Drake says the software has all of the pieces of the puzzle in terms of creating the consistency the company had been seeking. With its various modules, the system is able to step in and help in every area where the older systems were lacking.
Here, a Gullco KAT oscillation carriage is being used to weld tank floors at a customer’s facility.
Mine for data
The team at Gullco understands that quality time with customers is essential, and Drake explains that creating that quality time is difficult when a company is lacking a clear picture of the entire sales funnel. The time drain that can result from dealing with outdated sales programs is never acceptable and ultimately will only erode customer relationships.
“We were using three different programs that were fairly antiquated,” he says. “The business flow was OK, but not great. There was no way for management to talk to sales, and something as simple as setting up a quote and turning it into a sales order wasn’t as cut and dry as it should have been.”
Now, the sales department is able to follow a quote through its entire lifespan – from producing a job order through completion to shipping and invoicing. The ERP system produces a window into the entire path, including where a quote originated and where it is bound to land.
This detailed insight is helpful, especially when a customer calls with questions about order status. Sales representatives can offer answers on the fly with just the click of a button.
“Before, we had to pull info out of one program and export it into another,” Drake says. “With the Epicor system, we’ve been able to cut down on these types of activities – activities that weren’t productive or profitable for our business. The more time you can spend selling and refining your product is time well spent.”
Ease of data extraction is incredibly beneficial in terms of quickly pulling up sales-related data, but it also allows users to see how their business units are operating – from a micro level all the way to a 30,000-ft. view.
“We need to see our overall internal business trends – whether we are winning or losing quotes,” he says. “With that insight, it’s easier to pinpoint areas for improvement. All of that is built into the software.”
The ERP system also facilitates decision-making by analyzing sound, data-driven information. Through the system, Gullco can easily categorize and sort data to help establish product pricing and even product mixes. Similarly, risk management is given a shot in the arm thanks to the data organization and visibility the system provides. The collaboration that the ERP system enables across multiple departments also lends a hand in those efforts.
Although the benefits of implementing an ERP system are clear, transformation doesn’t happen overnight. For starters, it’s imperative to choose the right type of ERP system.
“One of the important focuses for us was that the ERP software be centered on manufacturing,” Drake explains. “As it turned out, a lot of the other options were focused more on accounting. We manufacture and design our own products, so it was important to have software centered around that.”
Other important questions to ask before embarking on an implementation include: Are the resources available to oversee the implementation and training? Are employees ready for change? Are expectations logical and achievable?
“One of the honest and real aspects of adopting an ERP system is push-back,” Drake says. “Any company that’s going to adopt an ERP system needs to be aware of that potential. People don’t always like change. Across the board, from young to old, there will be a spectrum of acceptance, so it’s important to think about the change management that may be involved.”
It’s also recommended to think about the level of training that will be involved. For Gullco, training was facilitated by Six S Partners, a firm dedicated to helping manufacturing companies implement Epicor products with ease. Six S brings expert product knowledge to the table along with operational best practices to deliver smooth implementations and employee-wide training.
“There are complex processes within the Epicor software, but once our employees began training, they started to realize consistencies between the different modules,” Drake explains. “Initially, one of the big hurdles was centering our expectations on the idea that first we needed to learn how the basic functioning works. Once we understood that this is what a modern-day system looks like, we were able to quickly move on from those initial hurdles. And Six S Partners helped with that.”
The straightforward functionality of Epicor’s software also helped. The breadth of the Epicor software is wide, but thanks to consistencies across the system’s various modules, users can problem solve their way through new or unfamiliar processes.
“In every single module, you can right click on a field of data to gain additional information, such as a part number or a customer account ID,” Drake says. “Things started to pick up when employees recognized consistencies such as that – even people without a high degree of computer competency.”
Gullco’s advanced oscillation package is geared toward improving weld quality in automatic mechanized welding operations. It minimizes weld defects, such as poor penetration, incomplete fusion, overlap and undercut.
Relish the improvements
From its employees to its customers, Gullco has experienced a host of benefits since rolling out its ERP system. Drake could easily go on and on describing the ways in which the company has improved. For starters, he says that the woes of double entry have been eliminated.
“Before we implemented the ERP system, we had to ship from our manufacturing software and receive from our sales software and then all of that had to be managed by accounting,” he explains. “Now, we’re able to tie everything together and keep up with the flow of things. This also allows us to produce products earlier to get into customer hands quicker. We’ve gone from two-week deliveries to being able to build and ship in the same day. Every customer has realized the benefit from this.”
Environmental benefits are also possible. Gullco has cut its paper usage in half because there’s so much more information available at users’ fingertips.
As a manufacturer of welding products, Gullco chose Epicor’s ERP system in part because of its focus on the manufacturing industry’s needs.
“We were printing a 50-page report two times a day, but now we can rely on real-time, customizable dashboards where the production manager just hits refresh and everything that needs to be produced is on the list and anything that’s already done has been removed,” Drake says. “That’s part of the reason we’ve been able to improve our delivery times.”
Although Gullco has never offshored its work, Drake says that companies focused on keeping manufacturing in North America should consider an ERP solution. To stay ahead of the game, profitable and forward-thinking, new software has the ability to keep business leaders in the right mindset.
“Implementing the ERP system proved that we had the initiative to keep heading in the right direction,” he says. “And that’s especially true when you can consider it less of a cost and more as an investment.”
Gullco products are used worldwide. Here, a welder in Israel leverages one of Gullco’s KAT welding systems.
Drake concludes that the overall project highlights so much more than just implementing new software. He says it’s about learning the nuances of a business through the nuances of the software.
“Gullco is a family business and as part of that family, it’s been a great experience because I’ve been able to get a good look at the future of the company,” he says. “And that future is bright.”