Most of us could never conceive of the incredible amounts of data amassed in the manufacturing of wire.
But because Rea Magnet Wire’s products are used in intricate, high-functioning capacities—such as car motors, transformers and electrical substations—every inch is tracked, measured and inspected, and those tens of thousands of data points are uploaded and shared in a common database.
Vice President of Information Technology Dennis Rausch’s focus has been integrating and centralizing the company systems used to manage this data while preventing the ever-present “IT sprawl.”
“I applied the term ‘urban sprawl’—where neighborhoods grow without plan or constraints—to what can happen in information technology,” says Rausch. “I’m compelled to be proactive to prevent the sprawl from taking over.”
Continuous flow and harmonized data
Headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Rea Magnet Wire is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of copper, aluminum and brass insulated magnet wire and bare wire. These products are used throughout the automotive industry, as well as in transformers, substations, other types of power supplies, and electronics.
Due to the nature of the company’s product and its focus on “continuous flow manufacturing”—or manufacturing a product from start to finish in one production line, rather than in batches—Rausch’s flagship project has been transforming a “very basic” ERP system to one that is interconnected and datacentric.
Most recently, this has involved upgrading to a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), which connects enterprise networks over large geographic distances. The project increased bandwidth by two to five times at each of the company’s sites, according to Rausch, cut telecom bills by 40 percent, and further reduced the “IT sprawl” that can occur with the expansion of physical footprints and technical capacities.
Today, the company’s five plants, spanning the U.S. and Mexico, continuously interact with some 16,500 data points collected every 30 seconds. Throughout all this, Rausch and his team are heavily involved on the shop floor, working closely with engineers.
For example, at one plant hundreds of wire lines might be running in parallel; as this occurs, workers cut off pieces to make measurements, stretch the wire and perform electromechanical tests—all of which is recorded.
At the same time, instruments and sensors monitor speed, temperature and environmental factors and scan for defects such as “bare spots, blisters or other imperfections on every inch of wire,” Rausch explains, even as material whisks along at 100 feet per minute.
Once a spool is completed, but before it goes into inventory, all that data is analyzed and compared with work order specifications and the wire is weighed and measured. Inventory systems are then updated within minutes, and when a spool is delivered, Rea provides a certificate of analysis with all of this detailed information.
“We can give customers hard evidence, ‘Here’s what happened to your spool of wire,’” says Rausch. “That’s important to them.”
Lean, efficient, data-crunching
But Rausch’s is a vision of constant improvement—so he is looking to further reduce lead times for Rea’s made-to-order products.
Working with company engineers, his team is looking to automate and integrate certain activities—such as basic engineering and design specifications—so that orders can be turned around in hours instead of days. This goes hand-in-hand with presenting ever more user-friendly customer self-service portals, he adds.
The biggest challenge, though, involves managing the wealth of data while enabling real-time data integration (or as close to that as possible).
Tools such as Excel spreadsheets simply don’t cut it anymore—as he notes, you end up with “millions of rows of data hundreds of columns across”—so his department is evaluating business analytics, dashboards and analytical databases.
Among the tools applied is ISS Group’s QAD® EA technology, which links high-volume transactional data without the need for excessive application or data structure changes, explains ISS CEO Andy Weinstein. Rea also recently implemented ISS Group’s iPurchase® to handle supplier-related transactions, procurement and communication. As a result, Rea is “achieving full visibility, control and management of their procurement spend,” says Weinstein.
Magnet wire? That’s not very glamorous
A 25-year veteran of the company, Rausch initially started out as a programmer. He is proud to be part of the “25-year club,” he says, noting that of the 220 people at the Lafayette facility alone, that club is comprised of 42 active employees.
“The culture at Rea is amazing: That is the very first point that distinguishes it from other companies,” he says. “It is refreshing to work for people who have great compassion towards employees, as well as a long-term plan.”
And while the company is no doubt successful at retaining people, the initial challenge is getting talent through the door. An infusion of skilled workers is especially important for Rausch, who runs a highly-technical team that writes much of its own code.
But because of the nature of the business, and the fact that it is an 85-year-old mainstay in northwest Indiana, “People might walk by the building and think, ‘That doesn’t seem like a glamorous or interesting place to work.’ But it actually is,” Rausch says.
As a means of recruitment, Rea has begun to partner with local schools, hiring students part-time or in internship capacities. Rausch points to one recent student-led IT project: Because Rea’s products are large and heavy, they are shipped via freight, using tracking systems that aren’t as customer-oriented as traditional carriers such as UPS or FedEx. But an intern successfully worked with carrier partners to integrate tracking capabilities into the company’s transportation management system.
“IT keeps showing up in more places, from BI analytics down to air compressors on our data network—and everything in between,” Rausch says. “It is spreading throughout the company. Maintaining all those systems keeps getting harder and harder—it’s a constant challenge.”
But it’s a “sprawl” he remains dedicated to curbing.
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