DeGeest Steel Works, established in 1976, is a steel fabricator for large OEMs providing 100,000’s of different parts to a host of small to large OEMs. DeGeest Steel Works laser cuts, saws, punches, drills, taps, bends, welds, paints and assembles various parts that end up in machines used all over the world.
A wall of filing cabinets sits on one side of a large room at DeGeest Steel Works. Inside, drawings of over 100,000 master parts and sub parts are filed away. Each one is filled with programming notes and instructions. Although DeGeest had the latest shop software, many of its processes were still manual.
“I would come in at 5:00 every morning and manually prioritize orders in a complicated, burdensome method that wasn’t very efficient, to say the least,” said Derek DeGeest, third generation Vice President of DeGeest Steel Works.
“Often, time was spent looking for missing or misfiled documents and tracking down a print that was already out in the shop being used for another order.”
Something had to change. DeGeest knew he either had to hire someone and train them to do what he was doing – without previous knowledge of the shop’s manufacturing processes – or find a way to automate. If he automated the process, he knew the most critical and challenging task would be integrating with the existing enterprise shop software and leveraging the knowledge and data the company already had.
Partnering with Marco, DeGeest purchased M-Files, an Enterprise Content Management system that the company now uses to store its drawings. Using the platform, a custom job build program was developed that acts as a liaison between M-Files and DeGeests’ enterprise shop software. This connection allowed for the automation of processes that once took hours to complete.
The new process includes QR codes that identify the status of each part and its steps. By simply scanning the QR code, the status of the part is updated automatically. With hundreds of steps and parts in process on a daily basis, this was a significant achievement for the company. Before the process was automated, paper printouts had to be filed in the wall of filing cabinets. Now they’re scanned and recycled, saving at least two hours a day.
In addition, the new system allows the status for an order, assembly or part can be identified immediately. Managers in shipping, welding and fabrication have real-time access to data they can use to manage their work as it continues to grow. This reduces errors and gives DeGeest immediate visibility into the status of orders. When a customer calls about an order, it’s easy to see what’s been done and what needs to be done. It also enables DeGeest to give instant and accurate timeframes for completion.
“All of this automation is great. We’re very happy with the efficiencies gained in the office. I estimate it saves us at least 60 hours a week. We started out with the goal of solving a front-office bottleneck, but we were surprised with the huge change we saw on the shop floor as well,” explained DeGeest.
As a result, all of the fabrication departments began running more efficiently. “Because orders were not piling up in the office waiting to be started, they were all in process. This meant more efficient nests on our lasers and saws...and less tooling changes on our brake presses. Scheduling became much easier, problems popped up less often, and rush jobs could be handled much quicker. Our capacity almost doubled with the same operators and with less stress,” said DeGeest.
Unfortunately, the streamlining of these processes created new bottlenecks. Orders and parts were coming out faster than the company could handle downstream, creating a new challenge. This led to another collaboration with Marco to develop an inventory control system that dynamically assigned a parts location at the time of creation.
Some of the pallets and assemblies weigh up to 4,000 lbs., so the system had to be intelligent enough to allocate a bay on the floor for the heavier parts, up high for long and tall parts, multiple pallets for large assemblies and bins for small parts. This efficiency allowed the company to reallocate another 80 hours of employee time towards other jobs in the shop.
“Our company has always focused on supporting our customers and delivering on our promise to be an extension of their business. Before we implemented M-Files, we accomplished this by working more hours, a lot of firefighting and a fair amount of problem solving to keep everyone satisfied. With our M-Files custom programs, we’ve streamlined our workflows and order management, which allows us to operate with smooth and predictable processes. That allows me to focus on the business instead of always working in it,” admitted DeGeest.
“We’re very excited about the future of our company as we grow and implement more lean initiatives from the data we’re creating with M-Files. The more efficient we become, the better we can serve our customers – getting orders out quickly and accurately. This contributes to our success...and theirs.”