The starring role in any manufacturing company belongs to the products that are produced. However, the supporting cast, especially information technology (IT), is quickly coming out from behind the scenes and taking center stage to ensure companies have all essential information readily available to optimize operations and the business overall.
This is certainly the case at Cooper Standard. As a growing automotive supplier, there is an immense and growing demand for more information to create greater insight into the business. To meet this need, the Company is installing business processes aimed at accelerating world-class performance. There is a thirst for information of all types: how processes are performing, whether its people-centric processes or machine-centric processes, in our manufacturing plants; information on how products perform; as well as the recipes and design characteristics that improve quality, product performance and manufacturability.
In the past, IT typically fulfilled these needs by generating reporting capability from the existing business systems or implementing new business systems where none existed before. In addition to expanding our business solution set, we now also have to expand the scope of our digital footprint and set up our manufacturing facilities to tell us how the manufacturing and material handling processes are performing. We have to manage information as a business asset that is growing in its value to us by fueling innovation and continuous improvement. Finally, we have to seamlessly integrate these processes and information assets to leverage the opportunities they afford.
This is a journey that all world-class manufacturing companies are taking, but getting it right for your business is key. While there are many technologies available to be leveraged, IT and the business needs to stay true to balancing a sound vision and roadmap, while being pragmatic in applying these enabling technologies. Focusing on current and real business opportunities, structuring initiatives to get a continual stream of returns, and avoiding the hype and frenzy coming from the marketplace are all critical.
Here is what Cooper Standard is doing in IT to address these challenges of and opportunities for our business:
Standardize & Adopt
First, we are implementing standard core business systems to enable common global best practice. Like the master script of a stage production, everyone must work off the same master plan, no matter their role in the production. This includes following these standardize best practice processes globally, which creates faster response to changes in the business and provides a go-to template for integrating new acquisitions.
As one example, Cooper Standard has selected a set of six global solutions that cover our core commercial business processes that we are in the final stages of implementing. These six solutions are replacing 14 disparate legacy ERP systems and providing new opportunities for our product design and program launch process, HR and talent management, and financial planning and consolidation. We are also newly focusing on defining the standard solution set for our manufacturing execution systems and building global technology roadmaps and strategies for our Industry 4.0 journey.
Digitize & Optimize
To continuously improve the speed and efficiency of our work processes, we need to close the traps and gaps in and between processes through automating and capturing each process step and workflow digitally so the process progression is efficient, transparent and able to measure and correct itself. This effort to go fully digital replaces the mass reliance on emails and spreadsheets that our business uses in and between processes to cover the gaps. It is labor intensive, slow and prone to error.
Digitizing processes creates full automation (low touch) and the ability to learn what result can be expected, alert us when intervention is required, or better yet, make the necessary adjustments learned and leveraged to prevent unintended results.
Digital processes create valuable information that can be analyzed and modeled to spur further product and process innovation. IT needs to address the means for the capture and storage of the increased volume of data generated from PLCs, sensors, scales, flow meters, etc. that control our manufacturing and material handling equipment, as well as the infrastructure in our facilities.
This optimization effort is a continuous process of launching discrete initiatives prioritized with the business. We recently implemented a full digital process for indirect procurement across our North America region. Full digital automation of the indirect procurement process was implemented for requisitioners, approvers, buyers, accounts payable and suppliers to achieve significant savings in purchase costs and transparency for better utilization analytics.
Manage Information Assets to Create Value
More data is available now than any time in the past. As processes, services and things become data generators, they provide opportunities for us to learn and improve our business. In the past, data was always looked at as an input or output supporting a business process. Now, the role of data has elevated in that it is becoming a value-added asset in and of itself.
Raw data alone, collected in any IT system, does not necessarily have any value if it cannot be utilized by downstream processes or aggregated to analyze trends and patterns for improving performance. To get value from our business data, we need to better manage the life cycle of shared business data (customers, suppliers, part numbers, work cells, etc.) to allow its global consolidation to support real time business performance measurement and analytics.
For Cooper Standard, this involves:
• Determining the business data that needs to be consistent across the set of standardized business solutions;
• Identifying the source system for each data asset and developing common codification selection values and a governance structure for business ownership and maintenance; and
• Creating the digital processes to integrate information from source systems to destination systems to assure integrity of data across business solutions.
For real time data collected at higher frequencies (from devices), a means to house this immense volume of data is necessary. While more data will be captured than will initially be able to be used, it is vital to keep this stored history available for future predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and modeling opportunities.
At Cooper Standard, the IT team has embraced its heightened role as the critical member of the supporting cast. We are fully engaged in Cooper Standard’s journey to world-class across all of its business processes.