Celebrating 100 years of operation in 2008, Wheelabrator Group is one of the world’s largest and most established manufacturers of surface preparation equipment and technologies. The company engineers and builds custom surface cleaning and finishing equipment in seven manufacturing facilities across Europe and North America. This includes highly specialized airblast, peening, and wheelblast equipment and industrial painting systems for customers in industries ranging from construction to aerospace.
In 1973, Wheelabrator Group embarked on a journey of growth through acquisition. Over the past 35 years, the company has added 10 industrial equipment manufacturing companies to its portfolio, all of which have been rebranded to carry the Wheelabrator name.
This tremendous growth gave rise to several operational challenges, especially as each of the newly acquired companies relied on its own localized IT infrastructure. In this environment, coordinating business processes, from quote bid and installation to production scheduling and project costing, became extremely difficult. In addition, disparate systems made capturing consolidated business data and communicating real-time inventory information to vendors, suppliers, and customers practically impossible. Lack of system integration also precluded the use of an automated workflow, which meant that employees often relied on time-consuming manual processes to manage production tasks and track order status. The company’s business model intensified the impact of these challenges. Customers engage Wheelabrator to create bespoke pieces of equipment or to modify or refurbish existing machines. So, instead of relying on a series of repeatable manufacturing processes, the company must continuously adapt its production environment to accommodate frequent change requests. In fact, to meet customer delivery targets, the company routinely relies on parallel engineering and manufacturing. In this scenario, production staff begin building equipment while engineers design and test new components. In many cases, the local production management systems used at newly assimilated Wheelabrator subsidiaries lacked the flexibility to synchronize these complex processes, occasionally leading to project delays and cost overruns.
For Wheelabrator executives, all of these factors underscored the need to standardize the company’s global operations on a world-class enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. They were looking for a solution that offered built-in project-management capabilities for industrial equipment manufacturing, integration with existing line-of-business and industry-specific systems, and cost-effective customizations to meet complex process–flow requirements and future growth needs.
Over the course of six months, Wheelabrator executives evaluated a range of tier-one ERP solutions based on four main selection criteria:
- Comprehensive industrial equipment manufacturing project management functionality
- Specialty engineering system integration and cost-effective solution modification
- Ability to centrally administer the solution and deploy it internationally
- Support from industry experts and a clear product road map
After a thorough, broad-based comparison, company leaders narrowed the list to three prospective solutions: SAP B1, Baan, and Microsoft Dynamics AX. The company ultimately chose Microsoft Dynamics AX and implemented the software for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, which builds on the standard functionality in Microsoft Dynamics AX to meet unique industry challenges. “We determined that Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing was a good match to our requirements,” says Phillip Hawthorne, CIO of Wheelabrator. “The support for our engineer-to-order business model and the overall flexibility of the solution made Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing a good fit for our needs.”
Developing the Wheelabrator Core Model
Wheelabrator turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Columbus IT, global experts in delivering industrial equipment manufacturing ERP solutions. In close collaboration with industry specialists from Microsoft Gold Certified Partner To-Increase, the Columbus IT team helped Wheelabrator implement Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing at its six operational facilities in the United Kingdom. Wheelabrator worked with the Columbus IT team to create the Wheelabrator core model for Microsoft Dynamics AX, a deployment template designed to transform the Wheelabrator business process flow to make it more efficient. The goal for the Wheelabrator core model was to facilitate the shift from a standard, linear production process to a more flexible, project-oriented environment. Taking advantage of the built-in project-manufacturing capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, the Wheelabrator core model improves the flow of information across all lines of business, making it easier for managers to track items throughout the production life cycle. “We’ve known for some time that a project-based approach makes more sense to handle custom industrial equipment manufacturing,” says Hawthorne.