While Australia has seen a lot of sheet metal manufacturing work going overseas, Brett Mackieson is adamant his company Elsum Engineering is staying right here. And he is investing in the right technology to make sure of it.

With more than 15 years’ experience in both IT and manufacturing, Mackieson knows exactly what he wants from enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. As General Manager at Elsum, he sought a solution that would ensure the company remained competitive and on track to meet its growth projections.

“We have plans to be around a long time” says Mackieson. “So there was an imperative for us to meet a changing marketplace.”

With competitive pressures in manufacturing increasing, Elsum needed to ensure that staff were all on the same page, with dynamic, real-time information, and that they continued to meet customer expectations on all fronts. Given their continued commitment to growth, there was also a strong need for scalability.

“We do customised work too and often are faced with short delivery cycles,” explains Mackieson. “We need systems that enable quick, scheduled production, when the customer requirements demand it. We were keen to look at ERP systems as a means to integrate our information needs across the entire company with an integrated software application.”

Based in Bayswater North, Melbourne, Elsum has supplied industry with thousands of sheet metal products – anything from simple bracketry, panelling and polished brightware, to complex welded chassis assemblies – for more than 30 years. Cutting-edge in-house facilities and accredited supply chain network enable Elsum to provide a genuine turnkey service specialising in small-to-medium volume, component design and optimisation, and manufacture. The right ERP software is key to Elsum’s needs.

“It’s integral to our business,” says Mackieson. “Before we installed ERP software, I saw a bunch of sub-systems that did not talk to each other. I set out to satisfy our needs, including short lead times, quick turnaround, high quality.

“We went to the market looking for a solution in a complex manufacturing environment where there might be 400 customer orders at any time and 10-15,000 components as well as disparate materials to deal with, and where there is some very expensive, high end technology at play.

“You want to squeeze the efficiencies and gain productivity improvements. We run a 24-hour operation. Moving to an ERP; where the whole company runs on one system, you need to ensure stability. Even 10 minutes downtime is costly; uptime is critical.”

“Our brief was simple: here’s what our business does. You show us how it’s going to work.”

Mackieson says that the process produced some surprises: “We pulled some random case studies to test suppliers and found some ridiculous price points. M1 ticked all the boxes for our particular needs.”

Customisation was also a factor: “We look at future proofing, an ability to customise and how the software was going to behave. Is it modularised? Is it built-in units? We needed to see an ability to roll out different units and modules, for example Quality Assurance, as a plug-in to the same framework.”

Mackieson points out that, with four mid-sized manufacturing plants on site, there is a major investment in equipment. Therefore the ability to customise the software to the company’s applications was key.

“We have a lot of high-end technology from Japan operating 24/7. Our production runs are real-time; the system works in real time over multiple plants.”

Elsum has established itself as a leader in the Australian landscape, with a strong international export presence. The company deals with both small and large OEMs and fabricators, including vehicle giant Kenworth Trucks. Elsum handles new and existing sheet metal requirements, from one-offs to high-volume production. With full ISO 9001:2000 accreditation, Elsum benchmarks its quality performance against a target of 50 defects for every million components manufactured – regardless of volume, supported by design, engineering and production staff experts.

The company has in-house technologies that embrace 2D and 3D CAD modelling capability, automated 2D and 3D laser cutting, computer-controlled seven-axis bending and forming, and quality control and “mistake proofing” of customer product. Mackieson says its manufacturing flexibility is a competitive advantage.

“Our customers appreciate Elsum’s ability to service not only scheduled order delivery but more demanding ordering styles,” he says. “Customers provide a drawing, a spec; we deliver a finished product. With our sophisticated ERP and live shop-floor tracking system we manage the most simple and sophisticated production requirements and volumes to arrive at our customer’s door on time, every day. That’s what customers like Kenworth demand.”

Mackieson says that a company like Elsum, facing an increasingly competitive landscape where offshore labour costs are much lower than in Australia, still needs to maintain optimal flexibility and quality.

“That’s vital,” he says. “What I like about M1 is that you come up with a set of business rules and then you fill in the dots. It’s the open-ended framework that will make us super users of M1. Going forward, I want to be refining M1 rather than changing; it is a core part of our business.”