Sometimes a company has had an ERP program for many years. The company has been working successfully with it, has adapted it to new developments again and again with new releases and in-house programming and then, all of a sudden, nothing works. It has been programmed out of commission. Then the company has to act immediately. This is what happened at the Gleich group.
The Gleich Aluminium Group is a family business founded in 1980 in Kaltenkirchen, which is located north of Hamburg. Its core business is the development, production and worldwide distribution of extremely low-distortion, dimensionally-stable and homogeneous aluminum precision and mold plates. Its customers come from mechanical engineering, the laser and optical industry, the medical technology sector, and mold and tool making fields. In addition to the plates of the company's own brand name product G.AL® Aluminum, Gleich Aluminium offers an assortment of aluminum rolled plates and aluminum rods. Customized processing services round out the group's the product range. The products are custom made as cuttings, blanks and rings, with contour cuts, completely finished CNC components and with special surface coatings.
The company sells more than 20,000 tons of its own brand name product G.AL® Aluminum worldwide each year. With 180 employees it generates sales of approximately 75 million euros, approximately 50 percent in Germany, 25 percent in the EU and 25 percent in the North and South America. "The share from Asia is rather small, but will grow in the future," says CEO Roland Gleich with confidence. The group consists of eight business units: the holding company and the main works in Kaltenkirchen with central plate production, service centers and sales offices in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Austria as well as a CNC machining center.
"Our ERP story began in 2002 with Microsoft Dynamics AX, which we introduced throughout the company in stages", Gleich recalls, "Before we moved to Dynamics NAV in 2015, we had gone through three release changes over time. After the various adjustments, the group even found itself with a constellation with two different Axapta versions that could no longer communicate with each other. We had literally broken the program with our programming." In this situation, in 2013 an accounting system was implemented in order to reconnect the companies at least in that field. So there were three separate programs in the end. "At this point, we had to act," said Gleich. Together with two employees from IT and the then commercial director, he brought together a small project group to implement a new uniform ERP system.
Initially, the project team set down framework conditions for selecting an IT partner. One factor was the size of the partner: "We definitely did not want a partner who only has a programmer or two", said Gleich. Another criterion was the partner being located close to the company. "We did not want to have people coming by plane every time. We had that with a solution center from the Stuttgart area for many years," explains the CEO. Of course, experience, expertise and market position played an important role. Finally, the team asked several Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV vendors to present their solutions. The unanimous opinion of the team members was that the presentation of the Hamburg branch of COSMO CONSULT Group was by far the most professional. Europe's largest Microsoft ERP partner met the criteria in terms of size, competence and market position and could draw on much expertise and years of experience, so that the security of the investment and future viability were ensured.
The decision was therefore quickly made to work with the COSMO CONSULT Group and the standard ERP Microsoft Dynamics NAV. In October 2014, the implementation of the project began. Although there are certain similarities between Dynamics AX and NAV, the program workflow and the program logic did require things to be rethought, so that the implementation was like a complete new installation. Because previously the company had always made the mistake of significantly customizing the program, it now wanted to stay as close as possible to the standard. "Only in very exceptional cases, did we want to customize the program. The aim was to exploit what the program can really do well," said Gleich about the direction they wanted to move in. Adjustments could not be avoided, however, because the warehouse management system with partially integrated production had to be integrated with Dynamics NAV. Most of the customization involved the programming of the corresponding interfaces. Otherwise, the core processes were not altered, but rather the application was expanded to include some convenience features. "That was actually automation and making things simpler. Where we previously had to press five buttons, it was now only just one", said Gleich.
COSMO CONSULT also supplemented the standard ERP with a series of self-developed industry modules that are certified by Microsoft, such as cc|configure-to-order, that can be integrated seamlessly into Dynamics NAV. One highlight is the tool cc|steel & metal, or cc|sam for short, a solution that takes into account the specifics of the metal industry. This tool makes inventory management possible in multiple units, for example for plates taking into account thickness, number and weight. A consistent document management system for different kinds of certificates is connected to various archive systems and directly linked to the product items. Dynamic variations are also possible for a master article: For an article of any size, the tool automatically creates a new article, when, for example, a new combination of width and length or processing and surface is input. A very important function in the eyes of the CEO is the management of credit insurance and the automatic maintenance of the credit limit.
Other significant improvements will be achieved with the workflow module, the first functions of which are already being used successfully. "Through the workflow module, we have integrated our employees in defined processes. We effectively prevent there being detours that disrupt the regulated workflow and pose risks, said Gleich. The automation of the processes makes the procedures more secure and also reduces the error rate significantly. It was also possible to achieve substantial improvements in warehouse management and thus in the material valuation. Previously, the inventory valuation had been done with a self-made solution that required a lot of both labor and time. Today, Kasto is integrated as high-bay warehouse and material flow system, but the value-based storage is being carried out in Dynamics NAV. "This means we can now look at cost units with no problems whatsoever. Previously, we could match the individual costs to orders only with great manual effort. Now we have the basis for individual calculations. This is a real added value for sales", said Gleich.
The rapid success was ultimately also due to the fact that Roland Gleich had made the IT launch a top priority of the leadership. "Within six months we not only replaced one program, but actually two programs and the financial accounting and migrated several companies. This required intensive cooperation between us and by our ambitious IT partner", said Gleich, summing up the project. And there were immediately noticeable successes. This led to significant increases in capacity and higher performance with the same number of employees. The sales staff can capture their orders much more quickly, which makes it possible to be much more active in the market in the future.
"An important point, is that we now have up-to-date data to guide the company, which previously we had to piece together laboriously. We just always know better where we stand", said Gleich, listing further improvements. There are also a few items that are still on the management's wish list, such as personnel management and time recording, that the company wants to implement with its IT partner. The issue of "Industry 4.0", as the trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing is called in Germany, is on the list of topics to work on. The CEO sees introducing an SAP interface to cooperate better with preferential customers as a first step, that is to say simply merging its own system with their systems. This also applies to the suppliers and partners with whom the company could work together to offer a wider range of products within very short processing times on an electronic basis. "And after our previous experience and common successes with them, we have seen that COSMO CONSULT is the right partner for our plans," said Roland Gleich confidently.