Ring Masters, LLC, an industry leader and longstanding player in the in the retaining ring market, has just completed a successful implementation of Steel Viking (SV) Enterprise Software developed by Fidelis Partners, Inc.
Ring Masters had originally implemented a mainline software package in 2004. While the software met the company’s basic needs for a number of years, the software vendor was falling short in the area of technical support and extension of the software to work for Ring Masters’ way of doing business.
Ring Masters understood that in order to improve command of its business, it required more detailed, timely, and accurate information from its software. It also needed a partner who would work closely to understand its operations and tailor the software to a more efficient way of doing business. Having experienced the canned software implementation and not recognizing the complete value it had anticipated, Ring Masters chose Fidelis Partners and Steel Viking for the next go-around.
According to Kent Shutey, Ring Masters Vice President, “Going with Fidelis and Steel Viking was a major decision for our company. While Fidelis is not a large firm and that brought some reservation, we were highly attracted to the agility of the solution, the company’s track record of customer success, and Fidelis’ willingness to roll up its sleeves and tackle our challenges alongside us.”
The implementation project kicked off on October 1, 2011 with an aggressive goal of completely cutting over all core modules by January 1, 2012. The company would then implement some key value-added modules in subsequent, focused releases.
In October and November 2011, the Fidelis and Ring Masters teams worked rapidly and collectively to modify and test the software against Ring Masters’ requirements.
“We had performed a ‘Software Discovery’ project with Fidelis earlier in the year, “ says Rick Johnston, Ring Masters’ Technical Project Manager. “That was a good move, as we were well prepared with line item software requirements heading into the implementation. We made adjustments during software development and testing of course. But we had 80% of our needs clearly laid out when we hit the ground on the implementation.”
“Go Live” Challenges
Moving to a new software platform presented some major challenges for the business, including 1) legacy data conversion, 2) plant floor personnel transition, and 3) proper inventory counting and labeling.
In the area of data conversion from the legacy software to Steel Viking, Fidelis mapped all pertinent data from the legacy system into Steel Viking so that nothing had to be re-keyed into the software during the ‘go live’.
When necessary, Mark Etter, Ring Masters Quality Manager, played a key role in standardizing and scrubbing key part, routing, and raw materials data before its import into Steel Viking. Says Mr. Johnston, “We saw the data conversion as a key opportunity to standardize on some critical data such as routing operations and standard package quantities.”
The capture of time and attendance and production on the plant floor represented a major transition for the company. The Ring Masters team worked together to determine how to manage this transition aggressively yet thoughtfully, knowing that sending a positive message about the move to the plant floor employees was important to success.
“Some were a little apprehensive about such a major, one-time shift to plant floor automation, as most of our plant floor employees had not been exposed to this before.” says Mr. Shutey. “However, it was clear that there were long term advantages to automating the plant floor and we went for it. Once we took the plunge, we worked closely to train and support the employees as they learned how to bar code, clock into and out of operations, and record piece counts. For the most part, the employees were receptive to the change and that smoothed the transition. Now, we are capturing vital costing information that we can use to measure our profitability.”
Possibly the most daunting task within the implementation was the physical inventory and bar code labeling of all raw material and work in process inventory, which had to be accomplished within a tight, 2-day window. Ring Masters had formerly tracked its material at a lot-level as required by its customers, but the Steel Viking implementation, including related bar-coding of each material item, brought that tracking to a more precise unit-level.
Understanding completely that failure to label inventory properly would result in an inventory ‘train wreck’, Ring Masters entrusted this process to Materials Manager Marya Robison and Materials Handler Jack Stansloski. Together in late December 2011, this capable team iterated three times through physical inventory counting, systems integration and reporting, and reconciliation so that Ring Masters could head into the new software era with a trusted base of data.
Mr. Johnston knew that foremost, the Ring Masters shipping and accounting functions had to work seamlessly on the first day of the implementation. To this end, he rigorously tested and required fine-tuning of the software’s shipping process up to the final ‘go live’ date.
Mr. Johnston speaks to the integration of the software into shipping. “There is a lot of pressure on Fred Herman, our shipping supervisor, to continue delivering on-time product to the customer in the midst of a system implementation. We were introducing new software with bar coding and the reporting of packing operations all at once on January 1 and Fred could not miss a beat. Day 1 went pretty well and before long, Fred was creating shipments in rapid-fire fashion using the software’s bar coding features. The software also now auto-creates certain documents that formerly, Fred had waited for the office to produce. This solution fits our shipping process very well.”
Tom Klein, Ring Masters Controller, also dealt with major change as part of the implementation. Ring Masters implemented Quickbooks for its general ledger functions and Mr. Klein had not worked with this software before. Says Mr. Shutey, “Tom had to work through several questions around A/R, A/P, and inventory valuation with the interface between Steel Viking and Quickbooks. During the implementation, we had a few accounting issues to work through, but they were generally minor. Fidelis provided all the support we needed along the way.”
“All things considered, the implementation went quite well. “Fidelis stayed in the trenches with us for two weeks until everything was running smoothly.”
Materials Management and Scheduling
Marya Robison, Ring Masters Materials Manager, plays a vital role within the Ring Masters organization as the central point for the planning of raw materials, scheduling of production shop orders, recording of payables, time and attendance management, and planning of outside operations.
Phase 1 of the software implementation involved Mrs. Robison’s expertise at almost all levels. Formerly, due to the limitations of the legacy software, Mrs. Robison had developed her own software tools to facilitate scheduling, materials requirements planning, and time and attendance tracking. The Steel Viking implementation simplified much of that.
“Materials planning and scheduling is remarkably easier with Steel Viking.” according to Mr. Johnston. “Marya now has software tools and reports at her disposal that allow quick, informed decisions. I am also pleased with how quickly additional features can be rolled out as requested.”
Streamlined Order Capture
Linda Miller, Customer Relations Manager, is a key conduit between Ring Masters and its customers. Mrs. Miller handles the company’s order management function and works to ensure that pricing is correctly established and committed ship dates are met on the whole.
Phase 2 of the project was focused on Mrs. Miller’s needs, both providing key order management tools and automating the download of customer purchase orders and releases from major EDI and portal-based customer data sources.
In February 2012, Steel Viking updates were rolled out that delivered significant time saving for the order management function. Says Mr. Shutey, “Before Steel Viking, Linda was spending up to two days per week manually entering and verifying customer order downloads from a variety of EDI and portal-based sources. The automation of this download for three or four of our major customers has literally reduced this effort to a few hours. The Steel Viking rollout has delivered tremendous efficiencies to this area and allows Linda to devote far less time to data entry and more time to customer relations and order fulfillment.”
Quoting and Estimating
Pat Zimmerman and Bill Jasinski run the Ring Masters Engineering and Quoting functions. Over time, they had developed a highly accurate Excel-based quoting model for quoting new business or re-quoting existing business. While the model served the company well, it required the manual entry of ring characteristics that were already captured in the software and the manual look-up and entry of longstanding production measurements by operation and ring attribute.
The goal of Phase 3 of the implementation was to leverage this Excel-based quoting model and integrate it into Steel Viking, to minimize any manual look-up of production metrics, data re-entry, and customer quote delivery. Phase 3 delivered in April 2012.
“Pat and Bill understand quoting well and had developed a very detailed, thoughtful quoting model.”, says Mr. Shutey. “We saw a great opportunity to streamline the process of formulating quotes, merging the business content of their model and integrating it into Steel Viking to minimize any clerical work on their part. We haven’t changed the content of our quoting process. We have just removed the manual tasks and accelerated the process considerably.”
Quality and Maintenance
Mr. Etter, Quality Manager, had numerous requirements around quality control and plant maintenance.
Phase 4 of the implementation, delivered in May 2012, addressed Mr. Etter’s needs. This included the automatic linking of material certifications to shipping paperwork, the full plant floor automation of the plant maintenance function, and the delivery of important quality reports, including vendor on time delivery, customer on time delivery, new business, and engineering change orders.
Mr. Shutey comments, “I am really encouraged that Ring Masters now has, in one place, all data by which we can drive operational improvement. Some of the functions and reports now available out of Steel Viking used to take me many hours to produce each month.”
Management Reporting and Business Intelligence
“We operate in a very competitive environment and it is important that our team is made aware of critical information around production, inventory, and delivery on a near-immediate basis.“ says Mr. Shutey.
As part of the implementation, Mr. Shutey stressed the ability of the software solution to push critical information to the mobile devices of appropriate personnel, keeping all parties in the loop so that necessary follow-up action could be taken.
According to Mr. Shutey, “We knew that with the Steel Viking implementation we would have solid, detailed data at our disposal. The scheduled data push with associated ‘business intelligence’ has improved our ability to serve our customers. Already, we have seen positive results of this technology, both in terms of its facilitation of cross-team communication and the timely resolution of critical business needs.”
Says Mr. Johnston, “No software implementation is perfect. But by all measures, Ring Masters views this implementation as a rousing success. I was impressed with how we all worked together as a team to make it happen.”
Mr. Shutey concludes, “The project was a success in that we met all predefined requirements and came in on time and on budget. We are now well-positioned to extend the Steel Viking software as needed at Ring Masters to meet our changing business needs.”