Excel Connection is ECI’s First Customer Excellence Award Winner

M1 Enables Manufacturer to Improve Processes and Respond to Industry Disruptions

Winner of ECI’s inaugural Customer Excellence Award Winner for superior business efficiency, customer experience, and overall performance, Excel Connection is a custom manufacturer for a wide variety of products for electrical distribution systems.

Started in 1986 by Joseph Marshall, their custom products range from single wire assemblies to the design and manufacturing process for complex multi-wire harnesses and heavy-gauge assemblies. Their competitive selling propositions help customers by reducing overall costs, shortening lead times, streamlining time and costs in purchasing, efficiently managing inventories, and providing production flow continuity. Currently, they occupy a 30,000 square foot facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and can grow another 30,000 based on their recent track record.

Expedited jobs were causing delays in customer stocked work orders and diminishing employee morale

Excel, like many other businesses, was using a very old ERP system. There was a lack of insight into the status of jobs, materials data, and daily shipments. Reports took hours to run, outdated paper schedules went unused, so employees were often not working on correct jobs, and there was no understanding of the hours available in production and time available to expedite customer jobs. In short, they were operating on an infinite production schedule.

Excel would add expedited jobs daily. The lack of communication and information had employees in a constant state of reaction, requiring them to stop working on jobs and move to jobs that needed to get out fast. It meant Excel wasn’t working on Customer Stocked work orders to get Make-to-Order jobs out first. This constant movement to hot jobs led to customer stocking deliveries with shortages and late shipments on customer jobs. It was not good for customers, employee morale, or the expected quality level as employees rushed to finish jobs.

The decision to upgrade an ERP system is a huge project that can be challenging. “We wanted to grow and remain competitive in the global economy,” said Colleen Weber, Business Manager for Excel. “So, we decided to investigate new software.” After a long search and demonstrations by six vendors, they chose M1 from ECI Software Solutions as the system that would help them grow, improve, and automate many manual processes.

Monitor grids provided insight into production, improved workflow, and increased capacity by 40%

Excel immediately took advantage of M1’s visual lean management capability by adding monitors with custom grids in each work center. It eliminated paper schedules, which improved organization, workflow, and increased efficiencies and capacity by 40%, resulting in jobs being completed one to two weeks early! The monitor grids are used company-wide on computers in each work center and are interactive. They sort jobs by priority, monitor raw materials parts for ontime arrival, identify bottlenecks, and provides insight into job times to ensure shipments arrive on time for customers.

And that was just the beginning of the improvements. Customer delivery for stocking programs being short parts is a thing of the past. The number of stock jobs closed late has reduced by 40%. Made-to-order jobs have gone from 20% late to 5% late due to raw material lead times. Overtime was averaging 600 to 800 hours per month and is now under 200 hours. Excel was able to downsize it’s temporary workforce by prioritizing the order which jobs were worked on. Obsolete and slow-moving inventory has gone from $100K to $40K. Efficiencies are up from 64% to 95%.

“It’s just been, really, a beautiful system compared to what we had before,” says Colleen. “We used to wait three hours for reports to run out of our old system!” The best part—they now have the capacity to take on new customers and continue to grow.

M1’s customization flexibility is ideal for the way Excel does business

“Beyond optimizing our business as a whole, M1 helps us see and prioritize jobs as we scaled up our production of essential supplies in the early months of the pandemic,” said Colleen. “We made the best decision by choosing M1 to grow with. Because the flexibility to customize to our business needs is now at the touch of a fingertip. If you can imagine it, you can customize M1 to reach the goals you’re aiming for.”

Excel has continued to work on custom enhancements to M1 to improve several areas. “We have added custom fields and features, start page reports, and graphs to give us up-to-date information to make better decisions,” relates Colleen.

In addition, they have added custom enhancements to the estimating module to address pricing needs, which have sped up the process of quoting using an editable grid to setup up part price breaks. “We know that we do quoting in the system, and we’ve revised the whole quoting system to reflect our custom needs,” relates Colleen. “And now that people are actually utilizing that and able to simulate how we quoted before M1, we can now take the quotes and convert them to sales orders.”

The ability to see each line level quantity and make changes in a grid spreadsheet eliminates moving back and forth on the tree and gives insight into changes immediately. Converting quotes to part setup and entering sales orders has improved the speed and accuracy of data entry from customer drawings. “We are looking into adding the CAD module to further efficiencies for the engineering area in setting up new parts,” Colleen added.

Further enhancements have been made to Shop Floor Entry to capture reworked parts returned to production after final quality inspections. Previously, it required a manual entry into an Excel spreadsheet to track quality issues, but it didn’t always get updated. Using Shop Floor Entry to capture rework and scrap, Excel receives this information in job costs, can identify similar quality issues, and train individuals who consistently build nonconformances. “There’s a lot of scrap that happens on the floor. And we never really tracked that before. With M1, we’re now able to try to automate that process of reworking and capturing that cost in our jobs,” says Colleen.

In addition to Production Monitor grids, Excel has set up individual user’s start pages with pertinent KPI tables segregated to action and review items, bar graphs, pie charts, and calendars. All items and data on the start page are refreshed on a customizable interval to give users real-time access to data. In turn, management can proactively approach situations instead of reacting after the fact. For example, the A/R Invoice Calendar gives users insight into real-time sales and allows management to move jobs in or out, ensuring Excel meets or exceeds monthly sales goals.

M1 also helps the company to simplify processes, reducing time and labor costs

M1 made the company more efficient by simplifying processes. For example, Excel implemented call management and lead management. If a call leads to a quote, then to a job, then to a sale, it’s all integrated into the platform.

When it comes to assembly, there is now a drop-down list to choose from the steps in the process for each component. Colleen reported that “With M1, we can improve and automate the process of assembly sequences and tracking the cost of scrap materials.”

M1 enables the team to respond to industry disruptions, from tariffs to COVID-19

M1 has empowered Excel to be agile in responding to events and disruptions in the industry. This has been particularly so as it navigated tariffs. Excel did an enhancement with M1 because it didn’t want to take the prices of raw materials off; they wanted to know the real price. So, they added a tariff field, allowing employees to add what they paid per part to cover the cost when quoting to customers.

Excel also didn’t want to increase prices when possible, so they tracked with/ without what the tariff was charging. When they resold jobs, they needed to factor that in. “Our customers appreciated the transparency because it was a cost being passed along,” said Colleen.

During the pandemic, Excel was an essential business because it provides harnesses to railroads, water treatment, hospitals, and utility companies. During COVID-19, it was especially important as they supplied the wires for ventilator manufacturers. “Getting parts and supplies to our customers on time was critical, and M1 helped us,” Colleen remarked.

Excel saw an uptick in sales from February through April. It was able to handle the uptick with fewer employees because of M1. Management could see what jobs were being worked on (ensuring employees were prioritizing correctly) and shipping on time because the M1 monitors fed the data they needed. “Our people didn’t have to run around and find out where the job was or how far along it was, across several sites. With M1, our production managers could just look into the platform for updates, so we were able to deliver parts to our customers consistently on time,” Colleen explained. “M1 really helped us with the fact that we’ve got those monitors up there, we can see who’s clocked into jobs, which jobs they are working on by priority, which jobs it’s needed to ship on time. It very much helped us manage that extra bump of business.”

Overall, Excel is very happy with their ERP software. Concludes Colleen,“Streamlining operations, customizing to the way we do business, simplifying processes, and allowing us to conquer adverse circumstances and still serve our customers well—that’s what M1 has done for us!”