When a long-term customer tells you that his business simply couldn’t function properly without your ERP/MRP software being in place, you know you must be doing something right. Dave Tudor visited Letchworth-based HSM Aero to find out just how pivotal MIETrak Pro from MIE Solutions is to the company’s operations.
HSM Aero is part of the SA (Special Aviation) Group of companies and, not surprisingly, the common theme throughout the entire group is that it serves the aerospace industry – albeit in different ways.
For example, group companies include Satto, which specialises in rapid repair systems for composite and plastic interior components, CabinAir, an aircraft interior solutions specialist, design agency 365 Aerospace, and SA (Specialist Aviation), a major stockist and distributor of rotable, consumable and GSE (ground service equipment).
HSM Aero itself offers comprehensive machining capabilities as well as fabrication, chemical conversion plating and assembly services. Collectively, according to ERP services and IT manager Dan Burborough, the group comprises a total of eight member companies and employs around 300 people.
“Although there is some collaboration between group companies, generally we’re all pretty autonomous and operate as separate cost centres,” he explains. “HSM Aero is slightly different because we target both aerospace and defence; the other businesses are predominantly aerospace focused. A key customer for example is Lockheed Martin.
“The facility here in Letchworth is a manufacturing site occupying 30,000ft² of real estate,” he adds. “We employ 45 members of staff of which around 30 are directly involved with manufacturing and engineering.”
Being heavily biased towards the defence side of aerospace rather than civil meant that HSM Aero wasn’t hit too hard by the pandemic. In a nutshell, the business is a manufacturer of complex machined components and sub-assemblies, comprising a range of skillsets from CNC machining and turning through to sheetmetal and fabrication work, assembly and kitting. The company also has its own paint shop and chemical conversion/heat treatment facilities.
The machine shop is arranged in cells: 3-axis; 5-axis and turning with equipment from Haas, Matsuura and Star. Word on the street is that further investment in a new Matsuura 5-axis machine is on the cards in the near future. In the fabrication shop, the range of services spans MIG and Tig welding, laser profiling, grinding and forming.
Dan Burborough describes the business as a full end to end supply chain solution for the aerospace and defence industries: “Practically everything we manufacture here is multi-process involving machining, fabrication and assembly to varying degrees,” he says. “We’re not a job shop – that’s not our business model at all. Our services are complementary and highly integrated.”
And it’s precisely those required levels of integration within HSM Aero that demands fully functional ERP/MRP software to ensure everything, from an operational and process perspective, dovetails together harmoniously. HSM is a long-term user of MIETrak Pro from MIE Solutions – in fact the relationship actually predates Dan Burborough who has been with the business for three years.
“I think we first installed MIETrak Pro around eight years ago,” he explains, “but certainly during my tenure here the software has been absolutely instrumental in ensuring that we run efficiently as a business.
“From the RFQ (request for quote) through to the final certificate of conformity when the product is despatched, MIETrak is used throughout the entire process. It’s absolutely crucial – we really couldn’t operate for a single day without it,” he enthuses.
Well if that’s not a glowing endorsement, I really don’t know what is. As with any software, outputted data is only as good as the data being fed in – but what Mr Burborough likes about MIETrak is its ability to provide accurate information quickly and easily to users across the entire business. In fact, the only part of MIETrak HSM doesn’t use is the accounting module, preferring instead to stick with Sage.
“I’m asked to provide data to HSM staff and management every single day,” he says. “With MIETrak, what I like is being able to extract information from the various modules and present it to users in a clear, concise format. That could be through a report or via a dashboard on the shopfloor.”
He continues: “When I joined HSM Aero, we were probably using only 50% of the software’s capabilities: we hadn’t introduced APS (Advanced Planning and Scheduling); developed any quickviews or dashboards; and we weren’t using any operator production modules like Kiosk for shop floor data collection and job logging on the machines. Now usage is probably in excess of 80%. MIETrak is such an all-encompassing piece of software and the way in which we use it is constantly evolving.”
Next level support
HSM Aero is constantly pushing the boundaries in its use of MIETrak Pro, the objective being to optimise use of the software in every respect to benefit the business. With this in mind, Dan Burborough and his colleague Dave Cooper have been made superusers. This means they have an enhanced working knowledge of the software through additional training and can use that knowledge to help users with their specific requirements.
Sometimes however, more complex challenges need to be overcome and for HSM, a recent example was the implementation of the scheduling module within MIETrak. Because of the nature of HSM’s work, the sectors it operates in, and the fact that practically all orders are multi-faceted, there was a high degree of customisation and tweaking required. Fortunately MIE was up to the task.
“For detailed work such as this, we have a dedicated project/implementation manager in-house,” explains MIE’s business development manager Tom Trow-Poole. “Nathan Siddle worked closely with Dan to fully understand the process before a solution was implemented. This was no mean feat – it took around six months of extensive evaluation, tweaking and testing to develop a scheduling system that worked for HSM.
“MIETrak Pro is designed to be flexible and all-encompassing and usually our helpdesk will be able to answer any queries that arise,” he asserts. “But sometimes customers need a bit more support and hand holding. Often it’s a case of a customer saying ‘we want to do this. Can MIETrak do it?’ Our job, wherever practical and possible, is to make the software work for the customer.”
“I have to say that MIE’s support is first class,” enthuses Mr Burborough. “Users here rely on me to support them from an IT perspective and in turn I have to rely on MIE to support me. It’s not unusual for me to contact MIE on a daily basis – and I always get fantastic service. It’s a true partnership.”
End to end
There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to ERP/MRP software in the marketplace so it’s only right to look at MIETrak Pro in more detail. This is an end to end ERP/MRP platform and unlike some of its competitors, users get the whole software package rather than selective modules.
Actually, there’s one exception that is a ‘bolt-on’ chargeable module and that’s shop floor data capture which doesn’t come as a core module. HSM Aero use this module extensively on the shopfloor in its machining cells, hooked up to barcode scanners and MIE’s Kiosk Windows-based software interface.
With MIETrak Pro, end to end really does mean that – and it’s designed from the ground up for manufacturing companies. The software takes care of everything from the receipt of an enquiry through to producing a quotation, raising a sales order, producing purchase orders for bills of materials, inventory management, scheduling, despatch and invoicing. Good news for users is that the software is updated regularly with most enhancements being a result of direct feedback from customers.
In addition, there are even modules for accounting, quality assurance (AS 9100, ISO 9001 etc) and organising preventative maintenance schedules for capital equipment. Tom Trow-Poole says that some customers use this for a multitude of things like managing company cars.
Moving forward, Mr Burborough is looking to extend HSM Aero’s use of MIETrak Pro through the use of dashboards: “We’ve been looking at installing dashboards on the shopfloor for some time now,” he says. “Having KPIs and live data visible to staff will help improve efficiency and productivity and the good thing is that this information can also be accessed remotely and via mobile devices.”
Clean in, clean out
So for any businesses looking to invest in an ERP/MRP system, MIE Trak Pro certainly ticks all the right boxes. I’ll leave the final word to Dan Burborough: “From our perspective, there are several reasons why we couldn’t live without MIETrak,” he concludes.
“Firstly, if you work hard to keep your database inputs clean with good data as we do, MIETrak is absolutely fantastic at presenting that data in an informative, easy to use format wherever it’s needed. Crucial decisions are made based on data, and if it’s poor quality it totally defeats the object and can actually damage a business. MIETrak excels in the way it presents information. It’s as simple as that.
“The second aspect is support which really is second to none. The team at MIE is there whenever we need it. Fast response times from very knowledgeable people. This is not only from the helpdesk on a day to day basis but also with more complex projects that we need assistance with.”