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July 8, 2024 in Operations Technology / IIoT

How the right ERP can streamline operations and optimize data for manufacturing businesses.

AarKel Tool and Die Inc. opened its doors in 1977 as a one-plant facility producing plastic injection and diecast tooling. But, over the last few years in particular, the company has grown “at a very rapid pace,” says Kevin Bechard, the group manager for information technology at the company.

Based in Wallaceburg, Ont., AarKel is now among the top five tool and die shops in North America, with in-house 3D printing of metal. The business encompasses several separate companies and nine plants in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., as well as a design and engineering office in India.

AarKel Tool and Die, based in Wallaceburg, Ont.

It’s a lot of moving parts to manage, but Bechard says the company’s decision to implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has made all the difference by providing a foundation for consolidating all of AarKel’s data at each location in one easily accessible place.

“I’m just a simple guy,” he says. “I’m not going to talk to you about the bells and whistles. But when you have a system powerful enough to hold all your data, you don’t have that duplication of effort going on; you don’t have the problem of clerical errors and you have access to real-time data. Having real-time KPIs has been nothing short of astounding for all our businesses.”

Bechard offers the following advice to companies seeking an ERP that can grow along with them:

  1. Conduct due diligence

“Get references in your industry, and do some on-site visits to those references,” advises Bechard. “And always ask the tough questions – it’s easier to do that before you buy the product than after.”

  1. Think long-term

Implementing an ERP system takes a commitment of time and money, and it can involve significant changes to your organization’s processes, technologies, and culture. “You don’t want to have to re-train employees again with a new system,” Bechard says. “So, it’s wise to think long-term.”

When it comes to choosing ERP software that can help your company grow over time, Bechard contends, it’s wise to opt for a system with a proven ability to anticipate its clients’ needs and provide cutting-edge solutions. “They need to be embedding technology into their products so that your business processes can embrace it,” he says. “That way you slowly migrate to better things.”

  1. Choose a customizable system designed specifically for your manufacturing industry

The tool-and-die manufacturing industry isn’t huge and it has some unique requirements, points out Bechard. In 1996, AarKel implemented ERP software from Epicor, which operates on the assumption that all businesses are unique. It allows users to personalize their approach according to their business and the country or countries where they operate.

What’s more, Epicor consults with its clients regularly to ensure it is meeting the needs of the many industries it has designed solutions for, from rubbers and plastics and metal fabrication to industrial machinery and aerospace and defense. Although the ERP’s core functionality has been there from the beginning, Bechard says, the company continues adding features that increase its usefulness for AarKel Group.

Its project module, for example, has been invaluable for improving collaboration, reducing miscommunication and errors, and ensuring projects stay on track.

“One project encompasses data from many different modules,” Bechard explains. “We used to build special dashboards to bring together the quotes and the sales orders and all the other information for a project.” The project module, he continues, allows the company to “bring a whole bunch of pieces of information together and manage the data in a way that works best for us, so we can manage our KPIs and we know where we’re at.”

  1. Consider the data

One of the key advantages of an ERP system for Bechard is the ease of accessing real-time data for better decision-making. With real-time data at his fingertips, he says, he can easily assess whether his company has the capacity to produce a necessary component internally, or if he will have to outsource it.

Similarly, he can find out instantly how much different sites within the AarKel umbrella are paying for various products, enabling him to maximize procurement pricing. “When you’re set up like that, you can optimize how your group performs,” Bechard says.

Some ERP systems, Bechard points out, “try to build you a million reports and hope that one of them will meet your needs. But in my opinion, you need a system that puts you in charge of the information and gives you a great toolkit for easily displaying it in a format that works for your company.”

With Epicor, he says, the team can customize reports (as well as forms) to meet job-specific goals and requirements. “You might have 40 fields on the screen and let’s say only 10 of them are important to you,” explains Bechard. You can eliminate irrelevant fields, he says, rendering reports more targeted and less confusing.

  1. Options for the future

When onboarding a new company recently, the AarKel team opted to implement the cloud-based version of Epicor’s ERP software at that particular site. “Based on our prior experience with a company that has already been moved to the cloud, and seeing how well that works, the latest company is also going to the cloud. After that, the rest of the companies will follow,” he says.

Not only does transitioning to a cloud-based system mitigate hardware costs and reduce the risks associated with security, Bechard says, but it also allows him to spend his time and energy on things that really impact AarKel’s bottom line. “It helps me to focus more on business processes, procedures and helping the company become more profitable,” he explains.

Ultimately, Bechard says, “we’re not architects in the same way that Epicor is with big data centers, redundancy and failover.” All these key things would require a huge investment if they were handled internally. And, he says, “we’d be focusing time and attention on technology-related things that, in my opinion, Epicor can do better.”

Bechard makes it clear that he doesn’t feel he has lost any control over his data with the cloud-based version – it’s simply more readily accessible and safer. “I log on with my phone or laptop, and all the information appears there anytime, anywhere,” he says. “And I don’t have to worry about firewall configuration [and other security issues].”

As a side benefit, he adds, the cloud-based version has a way of keeping both management and employees more engaged with the software. “Oftentimes you get a version of software in your organization and you’re all happy with it, so a sense of complacency develops,” Bechard says. “It becomes the last thing you think about upgrading, because you are satisfied with your existing system.”

With Epicor’s cloud-based version, on the other hand, software upgrades arrive automatically a couple of times a year. “It gets you looking at the new functionality provided by Epicor,” Bechard points out. Ultimately, “that keeps people moving forward and embracing new things that can help optimize your business.”

To learn more about AarKel Tool and Die Inc., visit AarKel.com.

Learn more about Epicor solutions for manufacturers.


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