The new reality

From augmented reality to increased manufacturing efficiency, Roberto Canassa, director of IT at Emplas, argues that regardless of the platform, technology must deliver better customer experience.

The window industry is very fragmented. We still rely on volume – frames per week – as a measure of success, when what we should be measuring is our ability to not just meet customer need but how effective we are at giving the customer what they want.

We need to understand what the customer values, how we meet and can measure it, and the key points that underpin the delivery of our customer promise.

The connected factory isn’t about machinery or IT systems and software, it’s about what they give us in understanding and visibility, and how we pass on the benefits of that to the customer in better service or lower costs.

There are three ‘tiers’ to this process. First, understand the customer, what they value and your own proposition in relation to it. Secondly, measure what you deliver against this base line. And thirdly, drive operational efficiencies to add value to your customer offer.

This is why IT and software are so important. We can measure customer experience from the receipt of their very first order, our own performance in manufacture and service, right up to the point of delivery.

Emplas’ has been an early-adopter of technology. We launched our online ordering system and Window Designer in 2003, our Door Designer early in 2016, and U-Design (Ultraframe’s conservatory design software) in 2015.

Accessed via our Online Portal or EVA (the Emplas Virtual Assistant) launched in 2014, installers can log on from any PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, to access a secure quoting and order processing system. Orders can be tracked in real time as they progress right up to the point of delivery.

Quotation software automatically pulls in relevant data, automatically applying discounts, cutting the time to create a quote to minutes. These are stored ready to order, which can again be triggered automatically. Most importantly, everything is integrated, data is inputted once and once only.

It’s another example of how fragmented the industry is. The industry in general uses multiple systems to quote, to order, to track data. We have removed the requirement to input data into multiple platforms by integrating them.

EVA is a ‘middleware’ platform, it pulls in data and information from multiple software platforms, integrates it, scrubs it, makes sense of it and delivers data that our customers can use to inform their business strategies.

Emplas is applying the same principles to fabrication. We completed a major extension adding around a third again to our manufacturing facility at the end of 2017 – the new development housing new lines, loading bays and offices.

This was accompanied by a £1.4 million spend on machinery to add a second Schirmer machining and cutting centre, multiple Rotox welders and saws, bringing our weekly capacity up to 2,500 frames on a single shift. All of this was underpinned by a corresponding investment in our IT infrastructure and systems.

We are in the process of introducing Microsoft BI across the business as part of our IT strategy to increase visibility across the business. It empowers the user to ‘slice and dice’ the data, customising it to the requirements of the individual user from a single data source.

We input the data once and we can manipulate and apply filters to support any number of analyses, which gives us full visibility across the business.

That’s very important in understanding and measuring how we deliver what the customer wants – not just what the customer needs.

This means that Emplas production schedule is not only managed through a central system but the outputs and data generated as part of the production cycle are also collated – information it is using to deliver new efficiencies and better customer experience. This includes production modelling to identify challenges ahead of time.

We manufacture lots of different products – we buy some products in, lead times are different. In recognising this we can work out what we need to do and when, ahead of day zero – delivery day – so that we guarantee that we deliver on time and in full.

This process exploits our barcode tracking system to identify delivery critical ‘stage gates’ which the product must pass through by a certain time to guarantee that its ready for delivery. If a product misses a gate, it will trigger an alert on the system, flagging potential problems earlier in the production cycle so that log-jams can be identified and corrective action taken before it impacts on the customer.

It gives us a map. We can see what’s green, what’s red and potential problems, and correct them before they actually become problems.

We want to be a little like a swan on the surface of the lake. It needs to look effortless, when under the surface we have a lot of systems in place to make sure that we’re continually operating efficiently to achieve ‘day zero’ and guaranteed delivery.

The influence of IT and software will grow as the industry moves forward, highlighting the potential applications of augmented reality in retail. This superimposes computer generated images on the users ‘real-world’ view.

From an e-commerce perspective, augmented reality has the potential to have a huge impact on retail, transforming our approach as an industry.

We’re committed to using and levering the potential benefits that edge technologies can deliver for our customers. Augmented reality has a multitude of potential applications.