Diving Deeper into Manufacturing – The Road Trip Part III

Stop two on my journey through the Midwest was to the distribution center of O&K Technologies America in Grand Rapids, Michigan. O&K Technologies Co. LTD is a mid-sized Korean manufacturer that makes the small engines you might find in a Magna mirror or another automobile part made by Johnson Controls. In other words, they make the guts of car parts. Why did I visit another manufacturer in Michigan? It just so happens another college roommate of mine runs this facility, and it again allowed me an in-depth look at their operations.

Mike (afore mentioned former roommate) started the day by giving me a tour of the facility. Mike is in charge of the entire operation in Grand Rapids, so he knew everything that went through his warehouse. Also, because Mike is on top of his business, everything was in its place down to the smallest detail. Mike explained the importance of knowing everything on hand, not only because it's good business practice, but it also helps him be efficient since there are few hands at this location on a daily basis.

After finishing the tour, Mike took me though his daily process. That was where the fun began. As he showed me his computer systems, I saw something familiar. No matter what size company you work for, similar issues arise. Mike had systems in place that didn't talk to each other. He had customer orders that came through numerous EDI systems, and after he searched for all of them, he had to go into his company's internal accounting software, MAS 90 by Sage, and re-enter the orders prior to creating invoices and packing slips to fulfill the orders. Finally, after re-entering the data into MAS 90, Mike again entered inventory data into an Excel spreadsheet that is created weekly and stored on his company server. These steps cause a lot of redundancy. Interestingly though, Mike's not the exception, he's more like the rule for both mid-sized and small businesses. Having fully integrated software systems is extremely expensive and once you have already gotten started with a program, it seems easier and less costly to just add on to what you currently do, rather than switch completely. Also, once you get comfortable with your current system, it's hard to make the leap to something new because change isn't easy.

Mike was very comfortable with the systems in place. He could navigate through them quickly because he's used to them and good at what he does. But when I asked how much time he spends daily on his current process due to redundancy and re-entry of data, Mike said 1.5 hours. This may not sound all that bad since he typically works a 10-hour day, but over the course of a year, that equates to 7.5 weeks of redundancy! That sounds a little more significant, right? Again, O&K Technologies isn't unique with this issue. Every company goes though some of these types of pains. When time is our most limited resource, we really have to be sure our systems meet our needs.

At Stitch Labs, we focus our efforts on helping our customers drive efficiency. We realize most of our customers have fewer than five people, so resources are extremely limited and they don't want to spend a lot of time on redundancy. While no software solution is perfect, we are striving to be the go-to supplier for small businesses that design, make and sell products. We continue to work with our customers to make Stitch Labs better on a regular basis and have great plans on the horizon. Some of the current features and benefits are:

· Multi-user internet access – users can access real-time data from anywhere

· Advanced search and filter functions – find what you need with ease

· Dynamic categorization of product lines – create your entire product catalog in minutes

· Download line sheets with one click – send prospective and current customers product details

· Inventory management – keep track of what you have on hand and committed to orders

· Order fulfillment – manage invoices, packing slips, payments and packages

· Internal email functions – email invoices directly from Stitch Labs to get paid faster

Finally, in order to make life easier for customers, we launched our expense tracking function last week. After many discussions with customers, we realized it's easier for both expenses and AR to be in the same place, so we made it happen. Also, it's in line with our values, so it was an easy decision. Our next step is all about helping our customers analyze their business. We can't wait to launch that function.

My road trip has been great so far. Both Hadley and O&K Technologies America were excellent hosts. I've been learning a lot and I'm looking forward to my next stop at Anfinsen in the Chicagoland area. Stay tuned.

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