SIDDCO Plastics' head of IT breaks down impact of Epicor ERP

ACN takes a day trip to SIDDCO Plastics’ facility in the Hamriyah Free Zone

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SIDDCO Plastics' head of IT breaks down impact of Epicor ERP Saymaad Mansoor, head of IT, SIDDCO Group
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  July 20, 2017

Often enough, the trick towards ensuring the reliable and consistent delivery of a high quality product or service, is to ensure that you have on hand, the very latest and cutting-edge technologies in the market. This can mean different things for many businesses, but in the case of SIDDCO Plastics Industries (SPL), the answer lay with identifying a rock solid process management software capable of integrating and providing visibility across all aspects of its operation. This meant an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

However, the choice for a robust and reliable ERP system, would not only have to work for SPL, but it would have to be a successful solution that could be introduced across the entire SIDDCO Group. So begun a long and arduous journey.

The company’s first exploration of ERP dates back to 2012, where it introduced a system that would later prove to be lacking in depth. While very production and engineering orientated, the software lacked capabilities around financing, as well as an effective reporting function.

“We were not able to do the proper financing, reporting, budget and forecasting, as we wanted to do. Then came the challenge that we were expanding as a group as well. We were starting operations in Oman and we were starting operations in Italy as well. So we needed something that would cater to the entire group,” comments Saymaad Mansoor, head of IT, SIDDCO Group.

“We wanted something different, something that which was more production centric, but also had the features which were being offered by major ERP providers in the market,” he adds.

After a short deliberation period exploring the various options in the market, SPL selected Epicor ERP to form the new IT foundation, which would usher their business into a new era. Beginning initially with a six-month implementation target, the team at SPL found a lot of customisation was needed in order to match the needs of the business.

“We started the customisation of the product in 2014, and it took us 10 - 12 months to do all the customisation. We’ve done a lot of customisation in terms of business process management and we’ve done a lot of tweaking on the actual forms and reporting as well,” comments Mansoor.

In terms of modules under Epicor ERP, SPL first focused on production and engineering, before moving on to shop floor reporting, quality control and logistics. The company then implemented servicemen management, CRM, customer management and supply management, before shifting the focus towards finance, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. The last module to be added was forecasting.

According to the head of IT, the biggest benefit of Epicor ERP is the fact that it addresses a “traceability” issue that has long-plagued the company. Prior to the start of the project implementation back in 2014, SPL would often run into the problem of not being able to trace back the product lifecycle. In instances where there was a complaint from a customer of a defective product, it was incredibly difficult to identify where exactly along the process something was going wrong.

“It was really hard to track products back to the actual order or production date when it was being done. But with Epicor, we’ve have a massive load of data available in the system. We can now trace it back to the actual production date, and we have details of master batch and material,” explains Mansoor.

“We have better control now over the parameters working in the plant. We know what is happening.”

Other improvements of Epicor ERP include enhanced interconnectivity and communication between demand and supply chain elements, the introduction of analytics, as well as improved visibility and integration across all departments. Management also has better control in overseeing user access and visibility of data based on roles.

Mansoor also points out a reduction of routine work undertaken by data operators and accountants, particularly around reporting, which has sped up significantly following the implementation.

Whereas in the old setup, the production team would have to submit reports manually, following a shift on the machines, the introduction of data extraction tools and dashboards have made it much easier for employees to share reports with management.

Where a single report may have taken up to two to three days to complete, it can now be processed and completed in less than a minute. This has had a dramatic impact on spent man-hours.

“If you were to quantify the saving on man-hours, it would roughly be 30 - 40%, but you also have to keep in mind that the time that is freed up is used for proactive activities … In regards to the ROI, I think it would be between a range of 20 to 25%,” explains Faisal Usman Memon, finance manager, SIDDCO Group.

To introduce Epicor ERP into the business, SPL originally brought on board two separate implementation partners back in 2014, but found in both cases the collaboration to be difficult.

According to the Group’s head of IT, both partners were so unfamiliar with the nature of the business that it took many months to bring them up to speed before they could even attempt to start the implementation.

Unsatisfied at the pace of which the Epicor ERP deployment was going, the decision was undertaken by SPL to conduct the implementation themselves. By taking everything in-house however, a new challenges arose, particularly with the incorporation of Epicor ERP 9, which was based on Progress 4GL, an obsolete programming language.

“We don’t really have good quality Progress engineers available in the market. That was a big challenge. Apart from that, we also didn’t have people who worked on Epicor and manufacturing,” explains Mansoor.

“There were not a lot people who were implementing manufacturing in the UAE. So finding people with actual experience was another challenge for us.”

To manage in the immediacy, the team at SPL familiarised themselves with Progress, undertaking online courses in order to learn how to program what they needed to operate their respective systems.

This soon changed for the better with the launch of Epicor ERP 10, which is based on the C Sharp programming language that was developed by Microsoft within its .Net initiative.

The introduction of Epicor ERP 10 brought on a number of enhancements that helped speed up and the streamline entire implementation process. For example, the updated platform came standard with native access with SQL servers, which in turn enabled the SPL IT team to communicate variables directly to SQL and run stored procedures.

Another improvement lay with the Java VM agents which are multi-threaded, as opposed to the single-thread utilised in Epicor ERP 9. This led to substantial improvement in performance, particularly with the processing of large records.

With Epicor ERP deployed and running smoothly, the team at SPL have shifted their focus to other projects, one in particular is adoption of sensors to improve the maintenance process. To accomplish this, SPL is working closely with Epicor partner, Mattec, to introduce its Manufacturing Execution System (MES).

Expected to go live in 2018, the project will see the deployment of sensors that will communicate with SPL’s plant and directly with the machines on the manufacturing floor.

“The sensors from Mattec will be all around the plant itself and all around the machines. You will have the actually information of humidity, temperature and other particles flowing in the air. Plus the noise of the plant. This is a major issue because we want to reduce the noise levels in the plant to help the environment,” explains the Group’s head of IT.

“When you have data pouring in from so many sensors, you can precisely identify the trigger points that lead to non-optimum conditions. Having those sensors would enable our production and maintenance to fine tune the machines, so that all the variables are exactly where they should be,” adds Memon.

In addition to the elimination of manual data entries by the company’s maintenance team, Mattec MES will help collate the data necessary for SPL to receive reports related to preventive and breakdown maintenance.

It will also be able to record the amount of time invested in by the various teams, whether that be the production, maintenance, or engineering crew. This helps to create a comprehensive record of the machine’s use and the number of man-hours put in by the company’s employees.

From a finance perspective, Mattec MES adds even more sources of data for accountability and traceability.

“Previously when we had a lot of sophisticated systems, you were notified separately on your sales, cost issues .... Epicor is a holistic system and finance translates everything. It puts production, inventory sale into numbers,” explains Memon.

“So previously you had all those disparate systems and if there was a variance in the profitability, it would not be easy to identify. Epicor has helped me is to directly organise variants and cost of sales. I can identify inefficiency, breakdown on certain machines, the manpower spent, and the materials spent on a particular machine.”

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