Diving Deeper into Manufacturing – The Road Trip Part IV

The final stop on my tour was to Anfinsen Plastic Molding in Oswego, IL. Anfinsen is another mid-sized manufacturing facility, but this time; there were no auto parts involved. Anfinsen deals in plastics. They also assemble displays you have probably seen thousands of times, but never knew where they came from. From cigarette racks to your local Taco Bell, Anfinsen has had their hand in displays all across the country. Why did we choose Anfinsen? Not only because they're excellent at what they do, but my business partner Michelle's father owns the company. So again, knowing people in the manufacturing world pays off.

John Frieders (Operations Manager) was so kind as to give me a tour of the facility and it was there I saw efficiency in action. John showed me how they set up their manufacturing lines and how they verify quality control. We also discussed how the company has approximately 50 full time employees, but can ramp up or down based on the amount of work that needs to be done. Having flexibility allows Anfinsen to minimize overhead when necessary to drive costs down. John also walked me through several examples of past jobs that were found to be inefficient and how the people in the company put their heads together to find better ways to get the job done. It may have been something simple like raising a table higher or using a different tool, but sometimes making slight adjustments can really drive greater efficiency. That's the name of the game in manufacturing. It's about getting the most out of as few resources as possible, and time is a very limited resource.

John made it a point to discuss how the infrastructure Anfinsen has in place really helps them operate smoothly. Not only do they have operational software as the backbone of the company, but they have also come up with creative ways to back up that software to be sure no mistakes are made. For example, checklists are created in the assembly process so a person can physically check the assembly to verify that each part has been added. Also, they've come up with a perforated sticker that allows parts of the sticker to be peeled off and saved as a product is moved through the facility and prepared for shipment. It's these processes that allow Anfinsen to be sure they have a handle on both the quality of their work and the inventory they have in their warehouse. When I asked John what goals they had in place for themselves when it came to quality or shipments, he was very clear. "We don't miss ship dates," he said. I tried to get him to budge and give me a number, but he was adamant and not going to crack.

Finally, John and I discussed the ERP software they use to run their operation. It's called Made 2 Manage. John said it runs everything from inventory to shipments. Like other companies, it's the bloodline of their organization. He said the majority of software in the manufacturing industry follows Oliver Wight's MRP (Material requirements planning) principles to manage the manufacturing process and Made 2 Manage is no different. When I asked him what he liked best and what was the most frustrating about Made 2 Manage, he told me having real time data was the best part about it, and not being able to create custom reports was the most frustrating. This sounded very familiar to what I heard from Hadley when I visited them earlier in the week.

How do I correlate what I found at Anfinsen to what we hear on a daily basis from our customers? Some ideas that come to mind are efficiency, quality, and how software ties into both. Just like our customers at Stitch Labs, Anfinsen tries to get as much out of their resources as possible. In many cases with Stitch Labs' customers, it boils down to time and people limitations. There's never enough time in the day to get everything done, so getting creative becomes a necessity in some aspects of the business. When it comes to quality, there can be no substitute. Be it operational quality, or product quality, customers want a product that meets or exceeds expectations. Lastly, the software a company chooses can have a major effect on the business. It has to fit the organizations personality and their needs. If it is more of a headache than a helper, it's time to find something new. But if it's the right fit, it can drive both your efficiency and quality in the right direction.

So now my road trip has come to an end and I feel like I got a real education about how mid-sized manufacturing works. It's nice to know that some of the same problems that plague our current customers are not isolated to them. I saw a lot of issues when I worked for Fortune 500 manufacturers and it's evident to me now that a lot of similar issues exist regardless of the company's size. It's up to the company to not only get creative with their processes, but pick the right software to help them run their business.

A special thank you is necessary to all three companies I visited last week. To Hadley, O&K Technologies America and Anfinsen, we greatly appreciate you allowing us into your world. We'll be sure to keep learning back in the lab so we can help companies avoid some of this issues we've seen this week. And if you ever want to talk about how we can make our software more effective, we're all ears.


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