So what technology are metal distribution and processing companies looking for as they move into the next generation of software? With functionality like EDI, workflow mapping, and process optimization available in modern ERP systems like iMetal what else could drive a business to improved profitability?
Companies discuss the ease of implementing a new system, but then if you pick the right system, implementation and ongoing functionality improvements come as part of the package. The days of companies having to write customized functionality to ensure that their ERP solution works for them, and not they work for it, are over.
So how do you find out what is the next great thing in software for service centers, what is the magic bullet? Well one of the ways to find out is to ask them.
In a survey carried out across a wide range of service centres, the functionality request that came back clearly as the favorite was the ability to communicate with the shop floor via tablets and smartphones. Making the collection of data the movement of batches and processing as simple as possible for shop floor operatives.
So why is it that a technology already available not desired by companies? Many companies can already use hand-held scanners for bar code retrieval, terminals for updating systems and in some cases tablets with customized screens for data collection.
The answer seems to be in the next generation of employee who is heading for the metals sector.
Future generations of employees may not necessarily have the same work ethic or commitment as the employee of today. Gerry McGovern in his article Millennial Attitude* states that “millennials” are the least engaged entity within the US workforce, 70% of them do not feel in the right job and most will leave their jobs within the first three years, costing employers an average of $20,000 each.
They don’t particularly want job security because they believe it doesn’t exist anymore. What they want is the ability to train and develop and have a work environment that reflects their life environment with the same cool tools and “ease-of-use”. If correct, (and his comments are backed up by other sources) it means employers looking for new staff will struggle to train, retain or even employ the next generation if their systems are not up-to-date, make life easy and provide validation.
Therefore, the question of ease of use on the shop floor spreads to the whole system. With the requirement for data entry still high priority but also to be matched by flexible easy-to-use systems that can be run from smartphones or tablets. Couple this with the move of systems to the cloud, increases in home working and mobile data availability starts to become key.
With Android proving to be the mobile operating system of choice due to many factors companies like Honeywell are providing mobile devices running on Android. If you combine this with the ability to carry a subset of the database on the device it means operators can work outside of the range of WiFi connections, carry out tasks and update the main system upon their return to WiFi range. Incorporating hand-held devices with simple to use graphical icons for quickly recording production and material movement can simplify operations and improve productivity in the warehouse.
Finally, the introduction of voice recognition and image recognition means that some of the assumptions that we have made about the way our staff work may have to change.
It is on this basis that tests are currently being carried out where systems are controlled by the voice, and products are recognized by graphical images allowing physical inventories and material picking to be done whilst the controller has visibility of the operator’s activities. Sounds like science fiction, well it wasn’t that long ago that the telephone was a device that was attached to the wall and powered by cable.
The iMetal team are currently working on proof of concept developments with a number of selected customers to make these functions available in the next generation of the software.
*A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation