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RCM Industries
RCM Industries aluminum diecastings

Exceeding Expectations – All the Way to Industry 4.0

Feb. 1, 2022
An aluminum diecaster selected the best available ERP and found a way to expand its management and application of real-time data, to achieve operational efficiency.

Other than philosophers and tech wizards, who expected Industry 4.0 to emerge as a manufacturing priority? Metalcasting executives and plant managers put their focus on product quality and enterprise management – not anticipating the expanding demand for increasing volumes of current and compatible data.

But RCM Industries made the right call 16 years ago when it subscribed to B&L Information Systems’ Odyssey ERP software, concluding it was “the best ERP system specifically tailored to the foundry and diecasting industry.” At that time the Chicago-based aluminum diecasting producer was not looking for the level of data automation and consistency that would be available to them as Industry 4.0 developed into a manufacturing objective. RCM’s expectation was simply to adopt an enterprise-resource planning tool (ERP) that would accurately manage financial and production data.

As data automation in manufacturing became more and more important, RCM recognized that Odyssey offered the ability to integrate with third-party Industry 4.0 applications – and achieve a level of functionality that went well beyond their initial expectations.

RCM started in 1951 as a single plant but today it consists of four operations producing high-pressure aluminum diecastings, with CNC machining and finishing capabilities too. The plants – in Illinois and North and South Carolina – use data in distinctly different ways and integrating all that data had become a significant difficulty. Not only were there inconsistencies in the data generated by the four plants but compiling and outputting data in real-time simply was not part of the process. This led to serious challenges for RCM managers’ short-term decision-making.

Dan Twarog, RCM president, now describes Odyssey as “a great spreadsheet eliminator.”

Early on, the business essentially used Odyssey only for accounting, but as the RCM team developed confidence in that particular application, they began to see numerous other benefits available by adopting more of the capabilities offered by the Odyssey suite and using those various functions strategically. Twarog, based on his previous experience as president of the North American Die Casting Association, saw opportunities to leverage Odyssey’s functionality to integrate data in real-time and across multiple plants.

Ethan Hamblen, executive vice president, referred to this advanced integration as “the flywheel effect”: “We now have a single source of data – from diecasting production, CNC machining, and finishing to outsourced services and even scrap. The more you use the data output from your ERP, the more the organization demands that data be input into the ERP.

“For the first time,” he continued, “it truly feels like we are operating as a single company, and not four different plants. Not only are we generating data in real-time, but we have the critical information we need to see the whole picture – the kind of actionable data essential to enhanced efficiency and profitability.”

RCM was able to achieve data automation by partnering with BGRI LLC., a vendor at the Machine Execution System (MES) level of Industry 4.0 (comparable to Level 3 in the ISA Standards.) BGRI’s Unifact product provided the ability to connect machine PLCs to Odyssey. Now, production data can flow directly into the ERP from the HPDC machines.

Both Twarog and Hamblen cited multiple ways that Odyssey has promoted substantive improvement in RCM’s operational efficiency. Hamblen noted that 10 years ago, the time required to input data was about 90 minutes per day per plant. “Since we’ve fully implemented the MES-Odyssey connection, that number is now zero – our production data flows directly from the PLC into Odyssey, updating every hour.”

ERP is designed to communicate with other systems, and many manufacturers have adopted a two-layer approach to manage their organizations: information technology systems like ERP and operational technology systems like MES. Orders are created and scheduled in ERP, and then executed in MES. The production data collected in MES is exported back to ERP at regular intervals.

MES may operate across multiple functional areas. For example: managing product definitions across the order execution, production analysis, and downtime management for overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), product quality, or materials tracking and tracing. MES creates the “as-built” record, capturing the data, processes and outcomes of the manufacturing process. Then, MES acts as middleware, which will process the data from the machines and convert it to usable input for users and the ERP system. The source data is the diecasting machine’s control system, which, in addition to user-entered data from the Odyssey Quality Module and Maintenance Module, provides associated production information.

The enhanced efficiency that RCM is enjoying goes beyond the base Odyssey ERP platform, which provides essential data for financials, purchasing, delivery, human resource allocation and sales. By integrating a robust MES system into the platform, RCM is able to monitor products currently being manufactured and send that data to other systems. Downtime, for example, is an important efficiency metric. RCM is capturing 100% of downtime because that data is coming directly from the machine signal.

Another prime example is the measurement and control of scrap – a persistent challenge for metalcasters. Hamblen said RCM has been able to reduce scrap significantly thanks to consistency in order tracking from the initial shop order generated by Odyssey, through the entire production process, including scrap codes, downtime, etc.

“Now, we have the real-time data to stop machines faster and address any potential failures immediately. No more continuing to run machines in hopes that an operator saw the paper check sheet that indicated a failed inspection; no more loss of efficiency through inconsistencies in the production process or data generation,” Hamblen said.

The single data source provided by Odyssey has revolutionized RCM’s costing accuracy, according to Twarog. “Before, there was no consistency between plants, or even sufficient data within a single plant, to provide trustworthy information.

“Now we have that confidence because we have real-time reality checks on how efficiently we are operating,” Twarog explained. “Sometimes in the past, we would quote a job based simply on how we had estimated it previously. Now we can be more aggressive in our quoting because we have confidence in our numbers. And that gives us a real competitive edge.

“The bottom line,” he continued, “is maintaining that competitive edge. The casual user of an ERP system, like Odyssey, might be satisfied simply to have 10,000-foot information. We’re not. We want the most detailed information available in real time. What were our sales today? How much scrap did we have yesterday? What kind of total revenue have we generated? How much revenue was generated by each department? Whatever data we can access – from estimating and sales through production and delivery – that’s what we want. That’s what will make us a better, more efficient company.

“Right now, we are probably ahead of our competitors in leveraging the data Odyssey provides. In time, I have no doubt other producers will have access to this kind of technology. But the real differentiator will be how they use this data. So, we feel confident that we have the skills to better maximize the robust, real-time information Odyssey provides.”

Jim Eaton is the vice president of Business Development at B&L Information Systems.
Ethan Hamblen is the executive vice president at RCM Industries, and Rajesh Reddy is the founder of BGR Integrations.