M1 ERP Software Provides Strong Foundation for Manufacturer’s Growth
The way Kevin Skau sees it, there are basically two different kinds of ERP software programs: the ones that work for you and the ones that make you work for them.
Skau is Chief Operating Officer of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota-based Design Ready Controls. For the past 12 years, Skau and the rest of the Design Ready Controls team have been happy users of a program that works for them, and then some!
That program is M1 ERP software from ECi Software Solutions. Skau reports it has played a key role in the company’s growth. Design Ready Controls makes control panels and wiring harnesses for OEMs in a broad range of industries—HVAC and building technology, water treatment and pumping, oil and gas, solar, agriculture, packaging, and more.
Most people might not think of control panel manufacturing as a high-growth sector of the economy, but that hasn’t stopped Design Ready Controls from averaging annual sales gains in the 15% range for more than a decade.
In 2006, when the company first went live with M1, there were just 30 employees on the payroll and they operated out of a single location in the farm country of Minnesota.
Fast forward to today and headcount has reached over 300, with manufacturing operations in Wilsonville, Oregon, Richmond, Virginia, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in addition to its Brooklyn Park headquarters.
There are a number of reasons for the company’s impressive growth. A customer-centric culture places a premium on long-term relationships based on solutions that deliver superior value. The company continually reimagines and reinvents processes to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies, and they have demonstrated a consistent willingness to invest in personnel development through robust on-site training, tuition reimbursement for qualifying employees, and clear career paths for talented and ambitious team members.
As the company grows, it deploys more of M1’s ERP capabilities
Near the top of the list of the company’s key growth drivers are the features and functionality that M1 provides. “M1 has been a very important resource for us and it has helped us find better ways of doing many things throughout the company,” says Skau.
The use of M1 at Design Ready Controls is broad and extensive. “When we first started using M1, we didn’t go much beyond the basic financial, purchasing, and inventory control modules,” Skau recalls. Over time, Design Ready Controls has deployed more and more elements of M1 so that today, he reports the company uses nearly every module that’s available. As for Design Ready Controls’ 300 plus employees, somewhere between 225 and 250 interface with M1 in some way on a daily basis, including 40 full licenses.
There were a number of factors that led to the initial decision to use M1, Skau explains. “M1 fit our size and our cost point and we heard some good testimonials from other Minnesota companies who were using the software,” he recalls.
Customization and compatibility with proprietary software ensure everything runs smoothly
Also important was the ease of customization M1 offered. “We have some very talented people in house who have been able to edit the program to meet our specific needs quickly and easily,” Skau explains.
Those people also developed two pieces of proprietary software that play an important role at the company: APE® (Automated Panel Expert) and AME® (Automated Manufacturing Expert).
APE automates the configuration and quotation of control panel builds, including the creation of build schematics, CAD layout drawings, and bills of materials which are pulled into M1, so users can develop quotes and ultimately, job schedules.
Similarly, the AME program interfaces with M1’s Shop Floor Entry module to allow operators to more easily see work instructions, quality checks, and drawings.
“In both cases,” Skau says, “whether we’re pulling data in or connecting it for the user on the shop floor, it all runs very smoothly. The actual process of putting it all together ran just as smoothly. In the ERP world, it’s rare to hear about anything moving fast and getting what you need quickly but that’s what we get with M1,” he says.
M1 is fully integrated, providing immediate access to all applications
M1’s integrated architecture and the way it provides a single access point for a wide range of applications also plays well at Design Ready Controls. “I find it almost comical sometimes that we’ll be faced with a particular challenge that’s getting the best of us and then you load the M1 help screen and realize that 80 percent of what we need is already there and staring us in the face,” he says with a smile.
Skau also gives M1 kudos for its overall ease of use. “I recently hired a new buyer who was using one of the global ERP system solutions and she told me M1 is easier,” he relates. “She picked it up right away and commented that everything is more intuitive with M1. ‘You find features where you’d expect to find them,’ she told me.”
But the technology bells and whistles, while impressive, are not the only reason why M1 has become so important for Design Ready Controls. There’s the people side of the business, too.
An ERP provider with longevity and loyalty is essential for long-term reliable support
“With the bigger software companies, you have the typical large company rollover and you lose something when you’re working with a revolving door of talent,” Skau points out. “The individuals we interface with at M1 have longevity with the company and there’s a lot of loyalty among its people. We met some of their developers recently and one of our own IT employees told me, ‘That’s the same guy who helped us with our first custom script twelve years back.’”
But after twelve years with M1, might it not perhaps be time to start thinking about a change? Not if Kevin Skau has anything to do with it!
“I don’t think M1 will ever go away for us,” says Skau. “M1 is part of what keeps us grounded and I don’t see that changing. Instead, I see it getting more established and stable in the next few years as we utilize more new features to keep us orderly and on the right track.
“I talk to people at other firms—suppliers and customers—whose ERP systems are beating them every day and making them work really hard for what they want. That’s just not an issue with M1. It stays focused on doing the job it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t over-complicate things, and it really does make life go more smoothly for a lot of people here.”