ERP at the heart of evolution – Carrs Tool Steels & Priority Software

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With a heritage within the steel industry that spans more than a century, Carrs Tool Steels provides a range of conventional, special high performance, and extreme high performance tool steels, as well as aluminium and powder metallurgy products.

The UK steel market has seen profound changes, with the threat of global competition and the demands of sustainable business practices met by the opportunities of new markets and the strength of UK manufacturing innovation. The sector continues to employ more than 33,000 people directly and make a direct contribution to the UK economy of over £2bn with a further £3bn in the supply chain.

Against this backdrop, Carrs has developed a range of new product offerings and increased productivity and profitability through an innovative blend of modern technology, developing and investing in people and creating next-generation business processes.

 

Evolving from Excel

Following a management buy-out (MBO) that founded Carrs Tool Steels as an entity, a project began to assess the viability of replacing an extensively customised, proprietary software system. Following a series of ‘false dawns’ where Carrs faced either a lack of industry-specific functionality or expensive customisations, Carrs looked to deploy a manufacturing-based ERP that could then be easily configured to reflect their unique requirements.

This system would replace the extensive use of spreadsheets that had forced a great deal of manual data entry, exposing Carrs to not only the risk of human error, but also causing slow reporting, and decision-making. Furthermore, there were multiple instances of different records kept in different departments and the presence of departmental silos.

The reliance on paper-based processes and spreadsheets caused customer service issues and accurate delivery dates could not be predicted. Consequently, Carrs kept large levels of stock in inventory.

This approach also caused issues for Carrs as they could not track work that had gone off site or to suppliers for specialist services.

Mark Mullaly, systems manager, Carrs Tool Steel explains: “We faced two critical issues: businesses processes that were mostly inside the head of our production manager and an inability to get an accurate picture of the business at any one time. This led to our realisation that the business needed investment to grow.”

 

Evaluation and implementation

Following a thorough review of the market, Carrs turned to Priority Software and the UK implementation partner, Medatech. Priority ERP was chosen based on its ease of use, notably the ability of the team at Carrs to create quick, easy customisations that tailored the software to the business.

Mullaly continues: “Compared to a lot of the competition, I found Priority so much easier to use and that I could understand it quicker. Whilst Medatech did an excellent job in teaching me parts of the system, I did not have to become an expert in either ERP or Priority Software to get the most from our investment. This is important for two reasons; firstly, it meant the software became more cost-effective. Secondly, I could implement the new software whilst still maintaining ongoing operations.”

 

Evolving to better business

The ability to configure Priority ERP has paid huge dividends by enabling the software to meet Carrs’ specific needs. Carrs will frequently manage over 20,000 pieces of steel, each with a unique combination of size, quality grade and finish. When a customer specifies a given set of requirements, Priority matches these demands against a stock search and can then advise Carrs as to which pieces of steel will be the best candidate. This can even be determined against different criteria such as speed or minimal waste.

Carrs has seen a range of other benefits and improvements enabled by Priority Software. As staffing levels have dropped, Carrs has been able to maintain productivity and profitability with faster, more integrated processes. This has enabled them to develop and maintain their customers’ required delivery dates.

One of the most profound impacts of the Priority ERP has been to help Carrs move to more accurate buying, reducing the capital tied up in ‘buffer’ or ‘just in case’ stock of components. This has meant that inventory closely aligns to actual customer demands.

Priority ERP has also helped Carrs move into new markets and develop new revenue by becoming more agile. As customer demands have shifted, Carrs manages a higher volume of queries for products, but those products are usually of a smaller size. Rather than charge simply by weight, Carrs has now been able to charge more accurately by the processing required.

This has led to the creation of a unique production route for the cutting and milling of each product at quote stage. Based on a simple customisation on top of the ERP, this feeds back into Priority to enable accurate, profitable pricing and reliable delivery dates whilst the sales order is processed.

This improved information and service has been critical in helping Carrs offer added-value services and products. By offering ready-milled blocks, machined on all six faces to engineering tolerances, Carrs has opened a lucrative and keen competitive advantage, supported by the confidence delivered by the Priority ERP.

Carrs now produces a series of monthly reports based on KPIs that track quote to order conversion, on time delivery, the volume of steel dispatched and the value of deals. These have led to a series of monthly improvements, enhancing customer service and profitability.

This agility has also helped to drastically reduce scrap as the Priority system can track all pieces of steel left over and match it to orders.

Mullaly continues: “Priority has produced a sea change in how profitable the company is. We continue to invest in not only our ERP but wider technologies such as handheld devices on the shop floor to reduce the time taken to input into the system, and further improve the productivity of our staff.”

 

Enter COVID

As for so many manufacturers, the initial impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic upon Carrs was dramatic. Whilst some customers closed (often at short notice), others increased the pressure to deliver a stock of material that would allow them to continue for a prolonged period.

Mullaly continues: “Essentially on the 23/3/2020 we had to think differently how we did business. This ranged from working from home for the sales team, to organising zoom meetings and WhatsApp groups, whilst managing new shift patterns, furloughs, and even key worker statuses.”

As the pandemic developed, Carrs was able to reduce stock, but then faced the issue that historical data was no longer useful. As Carrs moved into 2021, insight into the question of if business would return, was vital.

There then followed the challenges of increased demand, stock availability and cashflow. Following on from not only COVID but also Brexit, Carrs has successfully navigated a challenging supply chain with a disjointed movement of goods, the introduction of tariffs as well as quotas and certificates of origin.

As part of this, Carrs has used Priority ERP system to help make the decisions and changes required to survive. Mullaly continues: “At the start of March 2020 no-one in the company, other than me, had remote access to Priority. No-one had ever needed to. Overnight we needed different on-site access for the production staff still on site and remote access for office staff working from home.

“Technically doing so was painless. Alongside existing hardware, we even found that we could successfully deploy Priority on Chromebooks. This helped lessen the risk and cost of enabling remote access to the system.

“Many staff had to cover functions they had previously had little or no experience of. However, it is quite simple to adjust and streamline workflows within Priority, so we could easily adapt the system to the new situation. Additionally, prior to COVID we had used the simple customisation tools within Priority to ensure that all screens were ‘de-cluttered’ so that users are presented only with what is pertinent. This simplifies the process when a user must perform a new or unfamiliar task.”

Carrs Tool Steels’ investment in ERP has yielded a range of benefits that have helped them remain competitive, drawing on a history of innovation to create, optimise and automate world-class business processes. From sustainability and customer service improvements to investment in mobility and further enhancements to productivity, Carrs has shown how ERP can form the backbone of modern manufacturing success that continues to evolve.

This has been demonstrated by the fact that Carrs has not only remained profitable, but now achieves 80% of pre-COVID sales figures, but with approximately two-thirds of its staff.

Mullaly concludes: “Since the day we went live we have experienced virtually 100% operational success for 14 years.  Our continued growth is built on this consistency, which has provided a platform to evolve.”