Lapeer, Mich. — Mold makers love to brag about their latest CNC machining technology. But for Dennis Hoover, the coolest news is how his company, Quest Industries Inc., has greatly improved its information management systems.
"The future is very bright," Hoover said. "Our efficiencies have gone up tremendously. Our on-time deliveries are skyroketing. Our profitability went up. We no longer worry about work once it hits the floor. We now worry about keeping enough work in the shop. That's the true story."
But it wasn't easy. Hoover learned how much he didn't know about handling data. And changing how work flows through a mold shop has to take into account people, since employees have to accept a new way of doing things.
"It's not 100 percent implemented yet. It's not 100 percent fully understood by everybody yet. But we have come a long way in a short period of time," he said.
Hoover, the company president, and other leaders of Quest Industries told their story during a tour organized by the American Mold Builders Association at the Lapeer mold shop, which made 288 molds for plastics and rubber last year. Quest, founded by Hoover in 2001, now employs about 70 on three shifts. Lapeer is located approximately 60 miles north of Detroit.
Quest opened its doors for the AMBA tour on June 12, the day before the two-day Amerimold conference in Novi, Mich. AMBA ended the tour with a best practices discussion and a reception.
Hoover is a down-to-earth tooling guy, but the topic of information management gets him animated. He set the scene right at the start: "Basically, what this tour is about, it's not about our machines. It's not about how we do things. It's about our processes and our efforts to improve our communication within our company."
Quest began as a prototype and detail machining company. The company grew into a mold building shop serving automotive, medical, defense, aerospace, electronics and other markets.
When the company was small, the shop's program managers could easily schedule jobs on machines.
"But now that we're bigger and we're managing more jobs and they're more complex, it doesn't work," Hoover said.
Hoover said that more seat-of-the-pants method is common.
"Every one of us came from small shops. And the way it was done in small shops, you had one or two key guys. They also scheduled the machines," he said.
But now, programmers are now in charge of managing departments rather than scheduling machines. Quest even uses Skype to communicate internally, so no more long lines of shop floor people waiting to ask program managers questions, General Manager Rick Kaupp said.
The program manager and the scheduler can Skype back and forth to make changes without leaving their work stations.
About a dozen years ago, Quest began using the JobBOSS ERP system. Hoover said it had strengths and weaknesses, like any ERP system. "And it's only as good as the information that you're feeding it. And how you apply it," he said.
For any manufacturing operation, program managers are key people, and that goes for Quest's three program managers.
"They basically take a mold from cradle to grave. They interact with the customers. They oversee the design. They lead the job through the shop and they see it out the door," Hoover said.