Establishing good customer relations is something every metal finisher strives for. This is done by providing high-quality services and maintaining effective communications with the customer. Lawrence Ripak of Ripak in West Babylon, N.Y., has built an outstanding reputation in the metal finishing industry by providing high-quality non-destructive testing, or NDT, and metal finishing services and staying close to their customers.
Ripak is owned by Larry Ripak, whose father started the business in 1952. They offer many types of NDT and metal finishing services, including cleaning, anodizing, plating, painting, shot peening, conversion coatings, and others. Ripak processes a wide variety of parts mostly for the aerospace industry, and they have every major certification and accreditation to their name. “Parts can cost $250,000, so accuracy is critical,” said Nick Scarfo, vice president. “The systems we have set up today allow us to function both efficiently and at a very high level of quality.”
A critical element to Ripak’s success is their use of software tools that have been designed and set up to fit their business. Using properly designed software can optimize almost every aspect of the business by providing knowledge and information that is otherwise not easily available. Ripak stays at the forefront of software technology available to metal finishers and uses these tools as the foundation for building a strong business.
For many years Ripak was using a home-grown software system for handling all their customer, order, and process information. In the late 1990s it was apparent that they would need to update their software systems in order to continue to grow their operation and provide a high level of consistency and accuracy. “We looked at 18 different ERP or MRP packages,” Scarfo recalled. “They didn’t do what we needed. They were all geared toward manufacturing.”
Larry Ripak came across an ad touting Cornerstone Systems’ Visual Shop technology. Larry asked Nick to look into Visual Shop, and in fact it turned out to be the last software package they considered. “Visual Shop is a good fit for us,” Scarfo said. “One system handles everything we need it to do.”
In 2000 Ripak began using Visual Shop and over the last 10 years they have continued to improve their productivity and efficiency by utilizing more features in the software package. Gone were the limits of their home-grown system. One example is their old system limited process steps to three lines of text, which is not enough to convey any detailed information about an operation. The ERP and MRP packages were also severely limiting. Scarfo asked one sales rep how they handle multiple part numbers on an order. “I got a blank stare,” he said.
Visual Shop is designed to handle all aspects of Ripak’s business, including quotes, order entry, generating shop floor travelers, shipping, invoicing, and more. It is highly automated, yet flexible to allow changes or exceptions whenever necessary.
Quotations. When Ripak’s Marilyn Saturnino receives a request for a quotation, Visual Shop has a set of tools to ease the burden of coming up with a price. She can run the “part history” report and view any existing pricing for that part, even if it is for a different customer. If it has been priced within the last year, she simply generates a new quote based on that pricing. Otherwise, it goes through a quotation process review so an accurate price can be generated.
Order Entry. The actual order entry process can start using one of several different methods. A customer portal that is included with Visual Shop, called Visual Net, allows customers to enter order information and attach a purchase order right from their plant. Customers not using Visual Net have the option of sending purchase orders using Sharepoint. With either of those two methods, the orders can be entered, have paperwork generated, and be scheduled in lines before the parts arrive at the plant.
One of the order-entry people, Debbie Gordon, has been with Ripak for 13 years and was involved in the transition from Ripak’s home-grown system to Visual Shop. “Visual Shop makes order entry a lot faster,” Gordon said. “It’s mostly checking, and very little entering. It especially helps when the customers have the part numbers, quantities, and purchase order information entered for you already.”
Many orders get entered when the parts arrive at the receiving dock. Jay Purga enters the part and order information into a Visual Shop terminal right at the receiving dock when the customers drop the parts off. This also starts the clock for determining turnaround times. “Entering the part information into Visual Shop is very fast and easy,” Purga said.
Pictures of parts are taken at the receiving dock. These pictures then get put on the shop order traveler. “The pictures really help to make sure the correct paperwork stays with the parts,” Gordon explained. The ability to attach documents to parts is extremely helpful. Approvals and mag techniques are attached to parts, and these automatically print with the order paperwork when that part is used.
Much of the work Ripak receives is for repeat jobs. Every part that comes into the plant has its information stored in the database. Additionally, there is a large library of process masters. These create the framework for generating the steps needed for processing those parts. Process masters are detailed step-by-step instructions and inspection requirements, and they are typically stored by material and specification. Any process master can apply to many different parts. This system allows Ripak to quickly generate shop floor travelers for repeat parts, and to quickly assign the process steps for new parts.
Tracking. Any metal finisher would like to know the location of any given part at any time. Ripak has 800 or more jobs in house at any one time, and monitoring all those orders can be a major challenge. Barcode scanning, combined with Linx terminals for data input, has been a huge help for tracking orders and parts. Each order is scanned at every step, giving Ripak real-time locations for all orders on the floor.
Tracking assures jobs are processed in the correct sequence. If an operator tries to log a step out of sequence, he/she is immediately notified of the problem. Tracking also allows data or inspection results to be entered at the step, which can then be printed on a cert or used in other reports. Through time analysis, tracking also allows detailed job costing analysis to be performed through the costing reports available.
Michael De Los Reyes, production manager, often takes customer calls regarding the status of their parts. “I can very quickly pull up the information for a job by entering part number, P.O. number, or even order quantity. It’s very effective,” he said. “It’s easier, more efficient, and less running around.”
To further improve on efficiency and data collection, Ripak will be updating their tracking system to use Visual Shop’s radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking capabilities. This RFID system allows jobs to be automatically logged into an area or piece of equipment rather than requiring an operator to perform a barcode scan operation. This nearly eliminates the time operators need to spend logging a job, and it results in more accurate production reports.
Order Notes. There is an order note system that allows any information regarding an order to be posted to that order. When De Los Reyes views an order, he will immediately see any notes for that order. If it is being held for any reason, he can give that information to the customer. “It’s especially useful when a job is waiting for customer response such as blueprints or spec requirements”, De Los Reyes said. The notes ensure everyone in the organization is up to speed on what is happening with a job.
Production Optimization. Perhaps even more useful than the real-time location information is the abundance of reports that can be generated from the tracking data. These reports can be used to accurately measure performance from all aspects of Ripak’s operation. Here are some of the reports commonly used by Ripak:
The ‘backlog report” serves several purposes is constantly used by De Los Reyes to monitor all the current production jobs.
The “on-time delivery” and “turnaround” reports are used to continually improve delivery times. These are often shared with the customer as a gauge for Ripak’s performance. “I can e-mail it to customers in a matter of minutes,” De Los Reyes explained.
A “rush list” that prioritizes the jobs is distributed throughout the plant. It can be changed at any time to accommodate changing production needs throughout the day. Ripak bases the rush list from the backlog list, which shows a list of all orders sorted by customer.
Customer Communications. Visual Net is a Web-based customer portal that Ripak is using with several clients and plans to add all of the largest customers. Visual Net allows Ripak’s customers to view their information, including order status, open invoices, and Visual Shop emails. The customers love the ability to be able to check up on their orders at any time, and it results in fewer phone inquiries regarding orders. Visual Net also gives clients the ability to upload purchase orders, blueprints, and other documents for order entry.
Visual Shop has a lot of features for e-mailing reports to customers. After a job has shipped, a copy of the shipping ticket is e-mailed to those customers that desire to see it. For those customers that pick up their own parts, this lets them know that the parts are waiting.
Some customers require an invoice in-hand before picking up parts. Melissa Gismundi creates the invoices immediately after shipping and uses Visual Shop’s invoice e-mailing feature to send the invoice. The customers love the fact that their parts don’t need to be sitting on the dock for days waiting for an invoice to arrive in the mail.
While the backlog list has a lot of use internally, it is also generated for each customer and can be e-mailed to them at any time to see exactly what is in the plant. This gives the customers a chance to review, and they can call and change priorities on their jobs when necessary. Ripak can adjust the rush list to accommodate the changes.
These and other regularly e-mailed reports have been key parts to creating solid relationships between Ripak and their customers. It is a win-win situation for Ripak and their customers because the clients like having the information without having to call in to request it, and it takes almost no effort for Ripak to generate and send the reports. After an e-mail distribution list is set up for a customer, nearly any of the 150+ reports in Visual Shop can be sent by the press of a button.
Quality Assurance. A good quality monitoring and reporting system is essential for running a lean operation and satisfying customer needs. Ripak has a large number of tools available that continually provide information about how well the operation is running. One example is the “reject report,” which can be analyzed to see if process masters need to be changed. “The Visual Shop reports allow us to easily spot trends and see where we need to make improvements,” said Steve Haubeil, quality manager. “The ‘dashboard’ is great because we see the key information immediately when we open Visual Shop.”
Invoicing / A.R. Ripak has many tools available through Visual Shop to streamline the financial aspects of the business. During order entry, the system automatically checks a customer’s credit status and notifies the Order Entry person if there is a problem. Additionally, statements are generated and e-mailed to the customer to allow them to stay on top of their payments. Customers also have access to their invoices and statements through the Visual Net customer portal.
The invoicing process is highly automated. Pricing is assigned to the parts, so the invoice already has that information. Surcharges for things like energy or metal pricing can be built in and automatically put on the invoices. Melissa Gismundi, who handles the invoicing, likes the systems. “It’s easy to use. No tricks,” she said.
As checks come in, Ripak has the ability to deposit them right into their account using a check reader. This saves the daily trip of driving to the bank to make deposits. The checks can be automatically applied to invoices or they can be applied manually.
Before closing out the month, Laura Mihlstin uses the A/R summary information in Visual Shop to check the financial numbers. “The accounts receivables is great with this,” she said. “You can check it to the penny.”
Signature and Remote P.O. Capture. Many of Ripak’s customers provide their own pickup and delivery of their parts. Visual Shop has the ability to collect shipping signatures via signature pad. Additionally, Visual Shop has a smart phone application called Visual Truck that allows signatures to be captured electronically during drop-offs. Visual Truck also allows purchase order images to be collected during pickups and sent to the plant. This allows the order paperwork to be generated before the parts arrive. This gives a huge edge on scheduling.
Document Archiving. Every metal finisher has some type of system for storing records and documents, and it is usually influenced by quality system watchdogs such as Nadcap, ISO, or the aircraft manufacturers’ requirements. Ripak has recently begun using a digital library called Visual Archive that is part of the Visual Shop package. “Some records must be kept for the life of a project, which could be 50 years or more,” Scarfo explained. “The storage space required to contain paper copies of all these documents is enormous. The digital library will be a huge benefit in the years ahead.”
Others agree. “Visual Archive makes filing so easy; all we have to do is put the documents in the scanner and they’re automatically filed,” said Kate Lopera, who handles most of the filing. “We can do searches by order number, P.O., part number, or pretty much anything else.”
Before using Visual Archive, all documents were stored in file cabinets in a very large document storage area. “It takes a long time to find a document in the file cabinet,” Lopera explained. PWith Visual Archive I can find it instantly.” .
Blueprint to Efficiency. Ripak strives to use the technological tools available in its Visual Shop metal finishing software package to the fullest. In doing so, Ripak is able to run a lean operation and fulfill their commitments to their customers in the highest level. If history is an indicator of future trends, you can expect Ripak to be on the front lines of new technology as it becomes available and to continue to be a leader in aerospace services.
About Cornerstone Systems, Inc.
CSI was founded in 1993 by Marshall Handelsman, who has been developing software for the metal finishing industry since the 1970s. His experience went into the development of Visual Shop which was initially released in 1997 and currently has over 350 installations in seven countries. Visual Shop has succeeded because it can adapt to the needs of every type of metal finisher. The software is always evolving as evidenced by the recent introduction of its newly revised Visual Net customer portal. In addition to the software, CSI offers long term support, customization, computer hardware, and networking support.