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March 2019 Automation Hero: Kevin Skau of Design Ready Controls

About Kevin:

Kevin Skau is the Chief Operating Officer of Design Ready Controls, a control panel manufacturer headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota – designing and manufacturing control panels for high-volume OEMs in a variety of industries.

Congratulations on the award, Kevin! As Automation Hero, what processes or tasks have you automated at Design Ready Controls?

Currently, we have automated the return of dynamic lead times from EazyStock and the transfer of historical and daily data between EazyStock and our ERP system, ECi M1. Design Ready Controls has been using ECi M1 for over 13 years – managing inventory by using min/max replenishment parameters. We are adjusting the structure of our inventory management so it is controlled through reorder point replenishment instead.

What was the “red flag” that made you realize it was time for a change?

Over the years, the percentage of jobs missing something has been too high and causing a lot of delays. We have metrics and reports that notify us when parts are missing or causing a delay, and we are always chasing parts to complete jobs. We have implemented and tried a few methods, but nothing has helped. I heard about “digital inventory management” for the first time while I was visiting another control panel manufacturer and appreciated the approach. I then started searching for a solution for digital inventory management and came across EazyStock.

 How has your role evolved since you added automation?

The automation of inventory management provided a solution at a much higher level. The biggest advantage for me now is having visibility into everything, allowing for better developed and planned schedules. In the past, it was difficult completing jobs with parts constantly missing – EazyStock has given people hope. We can trust the automation and are becoming more efficient, which is what Design Ready Control prides on being.

How has Design Ready Controls benefitted from automation?

When Design Ready Controls was smaller, you could stay late one night, draw up a design and get it done. But now we’ve grown beyond that approach and need automation to continue our growth and expansion.

What other automation tools do you use?

Design Ready Controls has a patented piece of software called Automated Panel Expert (APE®). It’s an engineering tool that automates documentation creation and design for control panels – eliminating the need for us to have dedicated engineers tasked with these responsibilities. Our customer base has high volumes and high variation and we have APE, which gives us the ability to handle and overcome these challenges.

We are always open to implementing automation wherever we can see the value for it. Our first experiences with automation were with engineering, then going paperless and now automating equipment on the production floor. It’s funny, 10 years ago there was not a thought around automating inventory management. Now due to our growth and where we are, we realize how important material flow is and including automation for it.

Where do you see the future of automation going?

Our journey with exploring and implementing automation will always be step-by-step. When I think about the future of automation, I’m obviously focused on wanting to see what is truly relevant to Design Ready Controls. I believe we have reached a plateau for our equipment automation on our production floor. Our manufacturing still relies heavily on hand tools and people. This is a gap for us where automation doesn’t seem to exist for something like wiring assemblies. However, we look at capacity and labor planning – there is a demand.

Any final comments?

The functionalities of EazyStock are applicable in different ways. The software has shown us the challenges of onboarding new business. It’s counterintuitive, because EazyStock works a lot with historical data and we are constantly working with new customers lacking historical data. We have found that launching new business with EazyStock has made things easier. Now, we can easily identify the challenges we will face while onboarding a customer – now we’re asking the right questions and bringing up the right topic discussions to make it a successful launch.

Thank you for your insight, Kevin!

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