At Irwin Seating Company, we take pride in manufacturing products to the highest standards of quality. We are a fourth-generation, family-owned business first founded in 1907. Through the years, we have been continually innovating to provide a better product for our customers and to make our processes more streamlined.
When we began working with the Plex manufacturing platform, we saw a wealth of opportunities to continue to improve our process. These improvements were instrumental in Irwin Seating Company winning the 2020 Plex Impact award for Product/Technology Innovation.
This award recognizes all the hard work and tireless efforts that our IT Team made the past year to really focus on continuous improvement and pushing the boundaries of what we could do within and around Plex.
The four area of innovations that were recognized:
Plex Configuration Templates
"All of our chairs are built to order. Each seating client's needs are unique, and we build to suit them," says Irwin IT director, John Perna. "Each piece and part is different. It's unique, and we only make it once. After we create it, we never make it again."
Irwin uses a configure price quote (CPQ) system to manage orders. However, the system was not capable of easily generating the manufacturing rules dynamically or accurately to handle the changes in product offerings. Every project taken on uses a different combination of parts to fit each client’s unique needs.
This presented a problem: "How can we leverage our existing technologies, but add a more modern design to it?" Perna says.
"We went from Four Full-Time IT Data Entry personnel manually creating parts in Plex, to less than a half time data entry personnel updating only special part orders," he says. "By working with Plex, we cut our costs while improving our accuracy."
"Back when I started in 2017, just for the IT department, there was $215,000 in costs, just for mistakes from data entry errors," says Perna. "Last year, it was less than $40,000. This year, we have zero so far."
It was a big job, but our IT department accomplished it all within a year. The pandemic, ironically, slowed things down enough that our team could focus on these improvements. As a result, we've emerged a more efficient, more effective manufacturer.
Retire on Open
Managing inventory effectively is a must. Our products contain a long list of bill of materials components which are both shipped separately to clients and used in our production. As an example, we ship bolts with our product, but we also use them onsite when making individual seat parts. Retire on Open allows us to focus on the inventory for parts that are expensive rather than smaller, cheaper parts like bolts. The result is a more organized, more informative inventory.
In the past, if someone on the floor needed parts or materials, they would put out a request on the PA. A materials handler would hear the request, then come in person to find out what they needed. Then, they would go to retrieve the needed supplies.
"So," John says, "We asked ourselves: Why don't we just create an app where they can send out a request?"
In cooperation with Cella Technologies, we developed an app that allows team members to request what they need. They can message the forklifts and whoever is closest can get the order. Directly connecting with Plex also increases our ability to ensure that the correct part number is delivered. The real time dashboard gives us insight into the number of requests being made, as well as who completes them and when.
As a result, our material handles can save 10 to 20 minutes a trip, which is a substantial time savings.
There used to be a struggle with products winding up scattered throughout the warehouse. There was no visibility into future warehouse capacity requirements. And, there was a gap in the Plex program relating to our specific manufacturing complexity.
We also partnered with Cella Technologies to develop a solution that determines exactly where inventory needs to go and to group orders and like products together. This application eliminates the labor-intensive process around moving finished goods from our production facility to our warehouse and the placement of those goods in the right locations. We've completely eliminated the issue of lost or scattered products and achieved 100% inventory accuracy. With accurate inventory, we no longer need to cycle mount, which is a great time savings.
At every opportunity, Irwin Seating is improving our process to cut down excess labor, save material costs and make a better product for our customers. Even as a century-old company, we embrace transformation, because the right transformations mean improvement. We approach every job, big or small, with the same dedication to quality. Using Plex and other innovative technologies allows us to work better, so we can continue to provide the high quality that our customers expect. We're proud of the work our IT department did, and happy to accept an award that recognizes their innovation.