Weathering a "perfect storm" of change with digital technology
January 21, 2014— Sylvan Lake, Alberta
The 17,000-square-foot manufacturing plant of Alberta-based Fiber-Werx International has processed everything from aircraft to electric car parts, oil tanks and waterpark slides. This nine-employee custom fiberglass manufacturer, which takes on tough jobs that competitors tend to avoid, has seen consistent growth over the past four years and lived through a sea change in systems.
Focusing on custom manufacturing and repair projects means the company cannot always predict workload, so planning and scheduling in the past was often based on best-guess estimates. Its remarkable growth led to roadblocks in process flow, scheduling, tracking and delivery.
With the help of the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP), a program delivered by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC-IRAP), everything changed. Today, operations run smoothly on a digital platform, and Scott Getschel, Fiber-Werx president and CEO reports "a complete turnaround. Without DTAPP's help, we would not have been able to survive a "perfect storm" of expansion and transition."
The digital technology advantage
Among the biggest effects of the relationship with DTAPP are time savings and efficiency. For example, instead of being physically on the plant floor all day, Getschel can control many of the operations remotely. This buys him time to strategically analyze processes and identify what needs to change to make things flow better. He also interacts online with plant operators and supervisors armed with tablets that perform communications functions digitally. These are linked to a barcode system for identifying and tracking repairs and manufactured products. Barcodes on parts needing repairs, for example, allow workers to simply scan in the items, punch in on a job when they start on it and punch out when they go on to something else. Through this system, supervisors can also request supplies as they run low.
"With the barcode system, we are tracking jobs more accurately than we've ever done in the past," he says. "On a repair, we know what pieces are in the plant, the batch numbers, completion date, who worked on it, and the time it took to do each step of the manual process."
The key to handling the company's production and customer service challenges was to integrate existing systems into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. But progress had halted because the systems in the plant were not aligned.
NRC Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) George Bacioiu helped Getschel realign the systems based on industrial engineering principles. "This systematic approach to preparing the organization for digital technology implementation was critical to success," he says. "Once that was done, it freed up a great deal of capacity, which allows them to confidently develop new products and pursue new clients."
"The tremendous support from DTAPP and IRAP has allowed me to not only continue my operations, but also opened the doors to a very bright future." — Scott Getschel, Fiber-Werx president and CEO
The human element
Bacioiu notes that one of the major contributors to Getschel's success in digitizing his company's operations was getting employee buy-in from the very start. "He not only communicated well with them, but also engaged them in every aspect of the transformation." This included reorganizing departments, promoting from within, holding twice-daily production meetings and hiring consultants to conduct training sessions so everyone was "speaking the same language." DTAPP also helped Fiber-Werx attract and hire specialists in various parts of the process to complement Getschel's skills and work with advanced tools.
Getschel confirms that staff are proud of their accomplishment in "going through the wringer" as NRC-IRAP helped Fiber-Werx move in a different direction. He attributes productivity increases to this pride and teamwork, and sees it as an important factor in moving the company forward. "The tremendous support from DTAPP and IRAP has allowed me to not only continue my operations, but also opened the doors to a very bright future."
Once the company's digital technology backbone has been fully integrated, Getschel can see his company growing at least tenfold. This will translate into job creation, new revenue streams for Canadians, and inbound international business. Digital technology has helped Fiber-Werx take many steps forward so far, including:
- productivity increased by 15 percent
- manufacturing costs dropped by 10 percent
- setup time for individual projects reduced by five percent
- time spent on document recovery cut by 60 percent
- wastage cut by at least 10 percent
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