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Change + System + Planning = Growth & Success


By Eugene N. Neigoff

Moldmaking Technology
January, 1999

How often have we heard the story of a company's key employee dying or leaving unexpectedly, resulting in complete havoc for the business? Following is the true story of one mold shop's response to an unexpected change, which may have caused irreparable damage had the company not quickly united and faced the challenges head on.



Key employee passes away or leaves
. . . Records are lost
. . . . . . The response to customers' needs suffers.



The implementation of a new computer scheduling system.

The Problem Emerges
Hommer Tool & Mfg., Inc. (Arlington Heights, IL) is a 15-year-old manufacturer of custom round components for the injection molding industry. It has grown from a one-person shop, started by Jim Hommer in rented space, to an organization of more than 30 employees in a 12,000-square foot, state-of-the-art, air-conditioned facility.

On July 11, 1998, the general manager of Hommer Tool walked into work and announced that he won the $26,000,000.00 Illinois State Lottery and was retiring. For 14 years, this general manager ran the company by maintaining scheduling and shop operations through a private, mental database. He scheduled the shop, and arranged and promised deliveries - he was the planning department of Hommer Tool. His departure raised many questions regarding the future of the company.

  • Who would take his place?
  • Who should schedule the production?
  • Who would make the necessary delivery promises?

The Adventure Begins
As president, Jim Hommer had to respond to these issues immediately to put the business back on the track. He decided that the newly upgraded computer systems, Dataworks Vista, would be put to full use and become the back-bone of the company. Not only would it be used for the billing, purchasing and accounting, it would now be the primary scheduler and process control watchdog.

Key decisions were still being made while individuals moved into new positions with added responsibilities. Jim Hommer assigned his son, Jim Hommer Jr., to be the director of operations. His new responsibilities included the implementation of necessary systems and procedures to support shop operations and scheduling. To assist him Jim Sr. hired an experienced shop operations manager - who was knowledgeable in computer systems implementation and planning - as a consultant.

Dan Knudsen, the previous operations supervisor, became the new director of sales. Dan now handles the top 20 percent of the customer base - estimating and acting as customer liaison - plus any special customer handholding related to this event.

To ensure that the other 80 percent of the customer base was not forgotten, one of the group leaders, Rick Skaja, was promoted to oversee the processing of orders. He knew the system and was make an estimator, purchasing agent and process planner - his knowledge and ability matched the position perfectly.

A six-month adventure of making the system and the shop work began. This meant that Hommer Tool had to use the restraints built into a good system to produce a better company. It was a hard road - people had to break old habits and develop an understanding that working within the system was the only way. People are always trying to find the easiest way to do a job, and although it may be simpler for them, they are creating unnecessary work for others. In many cases, the "work-arounds" suggested by the users were custom-programmed into the software and are now part of the system.

Software Led the Way To Scheduling Success
By using the existing computer system and Vista software, the company was able to improve its response to customer questions and maintain a 95 percent in-time delivery record. Better job tracking and the use of "hard-and-fast" rules of scheduling shortened lead times.

Today, any sales associate or manager can use up-to-the-minute data and provide the customer with a full status report on any and all jobs in the shop at that time:

  • Where the job is.
  • How many pieces are completed and at which operation.
  • When the job is scheduled to go for the next operation.
  • The projected delivery date, if changed.
All of this requested information is accessible within seconds of the customer asking the question - on one screen with a couple clicks of the mouse. This is service.

Hommer Tool has been able to improve its service to larger accounts by faxing them a list of all of the open quotes the customer has on file. On numerous occasions when a customer's workload is especially hectic, they have used this report to ensure that critical parts are on order and not lost in the cracks. This helps Hommer Tool support the customer in a special manner with minimal added effort, while reducing the communication problems associated with missed orders.

Scheduling reports allow all group leaders to know what the next job is - this means they no longer have to find the general manager to decide which job is next; they follow the schedule put out by the system. This also means that the company can look for capacity restraints and plan ahead - smoothing the workflow as much as possible. Every company knows that the more responsive it is to the needs of its customers, employees and the changes caused by outside events, the more loyalty the company will have from its customers, vendors and employees.

When to Jump from the "Frying Pan Into the Fire"
Most small- to mid-sized companies approach the scheduling issue with a canned software packages but then stop at that point. Why? Managers don't want to give up the inherent power that is related to the position of scheduler. They thrive on the ability to show favoritism to special accounts and to be able to do what they want. Most managers believe this type of system will inhibit them from doing as they wish. This thinking is invalid - the only thing a scheduling system does is show you the effect the change will have on the rest of the plan.

As an old shop superintendent once said, "I will try and tell you when you are going to jump from the 'frying pan into the fire,' but it's your decision." That is the function of a good scheduling system - it will show you the schedule, what effects your changes will have and allow you to make the final decision.

Initially, because Hommer Tool is a job shop that does not make a product for inventory, it used the inventory module of Vista not only to track its raw materials, but also to track the perishable tooling. The company was then able to reduce its tooling costs by following the usage and negotiating special deals with its vendors based on accurate and actual usage.

This allowed Hommer's vendors to improve their inventory control and manitain a better safety stock to support Hommer. Today all material used in the shop is issued and charged to the job as used.

The future of Hommer Tool & Mfg., Inc. is looking up. The company is growing and developing new customers. Growth for 1998 will be in the seven to 10 percent range and this is without adding new employees. The company is targeting ISO 9002 certification by the year 2000.

For more information contact Susan Menn (Marketing Manager) at Hommer Tool & Manufacturing, Inc. (Arlington Heights) at 847-394-3355.

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