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:
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.”
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.
To streamline its production process and accelerate delivery to customers, Wheelabrator needed a tighter link between its engineering and manufacturing processes. This enables engineers to design and test while production staff assemble equipment on the shop floor. Because engineers and production managers work in the same system, they can exchange information quicker than was previously possible, improving the efficiency and accuracy of the production process. “Given the evolutionary nature of custom manufacturing, the ability to quickly implement change requests is essential,” states Hawthorne.
Wheelabrator relies on the core model to track project costs more efficiently, from the original quote to the delivery of equipment to a customer. This means that production personnel can easily identify and address process inefficiencies. Further, managers can quickly access current production data to increase the effectiveness of inventory planning and management efforts. “With improved visibility into all of our projects, we have a much more realistic and accurate picture of the total cost of any given project,” says Hawthorne. “This gives us more precise insight and helps us make accurate decisions around when to subcontract out a portion of a project.”
In addition to the UK implementation, Wheelabrator worked with Columbus IT to implement the core model at its facilities in Germany, taking advantage of the multisite, multilanguage capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics AX to streamline the deployment process. “The flexibility of Microsoft Dynamics AX made it cost effective to localize the customizations that we developed for the U.K. deployment,” says Hawthorne. With help from Columbus IT and To-Increase, Wheelabrator achieved an average deployment time of six months. “The industry expertise of the team from Columbus IT and To-Increase played a major role in helping us enhance and extend the built-in functionality of Microsoft Dynamics AX to meet our needs,” says Hawthorne. As Wheelabrator continues its phased rollout of the core model to additional subsidiaries in Europe, the company is evaluating implementations in several other regions throughout its global network.
With Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, Wheelabrator has centralized its IT infrastructure to increase operational efficiency and improve visibility while expanding its capacity for growth and streamlining its global operations. “The Wheelabrator core model built on Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing is the key to restructuring our global operation to be more efficient and responsive to our customers,” says Hawthorne.
Wheelabrator expects to achieve shorter cycle times by using Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, resulting in faster product delivery. The system serves as a single point of entry for multiple roles throughout the organization, from sales to customer service, enabling employees to share business intelligence or communicate project-status information in less time. “Because people from all of our major departments work in the same system, they can collaborate and exchange critical business information with ease,” says Hawthorne.
Wheelabrator now has a single view of multiple facilities and easy access to detailed information across departments within a single location. The Wheelabrator and Columbus IT teams structured the Wheelabrator core model around a projectbased approach to manufacturing so that managers can easily find summary information on any given project and drill down to access details. This facilitates responsive customer interaction and speeds up the process of troubleshooting and resolving technical problems. Using the Wheelabrator core model, the company has also gained increased visibility into project costs, enabling improved budget forecasting and resource allocation. “Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing gives us a much clearer picture of all the input costs across our supply chain,” says Hawthorne.
By developing the Wheelabrator core model for Microsoft Dynamics AX for Industrial Equipment Manufacturing and deploying it at several international locations, the company has strengthened its capacity for continued growth. Now, as Wheelabrator executives evaluate the prospect of expanding into new markets, they can compare the costs associated with implementing the solution with expected revenues from that location to make better-informed decisions.