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Steel Buildings Manufacturer Integrates Its Engineering Flow

Norm Chambers All our products rely on nonresidential new construction, and that market in this country is more than 45 percent below average right now. We've had three consecutive years of decline, and in 2009, we were at risk of bankruptcy. The question was: What are we going to do to survive? And we answered that by asking: What are we going to do with technology?

Because without technology, we wouldn't have been able to reduce the number of plants we had while maintaining all our brands and sales channels.

Eric Brown Starting two years ago, we began rolling out an integrated building-component engineering system. This integrates orders from drawing up estimates for customers through engineering details and ultimately to the computer-controlled machines that cut and shape steel on plant floors. Totally automated-no manual hand-offs and no disconnects.

Chambers The notion was to get to a point from a technology perspective where any one of our plants can fabricate for any one of our 10 brands. We can look at where a building is to be delivered and make the components in the plant closest to the delivery site. This hub-and-spoke approach is transformational for us. Half the manufacturing costs have gone away, but we can still produce with eight plants what we used to do with 16.

Brown Every county's building codes are programmed in. Before, those had to be looked up in books. We've automated clash detection, when components of a building overlap in ways they shouldn't. Engineers can fix those on the fly, and the system will redraw the building with the corrections. All the information automatically downloads to the machines that cut and bend steel. Before, you'd print bills of materials and designs, and everybody would have to work from those printouts and drawings.

Chambers The engineering system has sped up our delivery and improved quality. Customers used to have to wait weeks to get their drawings; we can now provide them in five days. No one else can do that. All those things would not have been possible if not for our commitment to IT as a strategic part of our business.

Brown This has been a conservative industry, but younger people are taking over the family businesses we work with, and they-along with the people we're hiring-are looking for applications that will run on mobile platforms. We've got to keep up, and we're rewriting our engineering system for low-complexity buildings so it can run on iPads and Android devices.

As told to Rick Pastore, VP of Editorial and Programs at the CIO Executive Council.

Read more about cio role in CIO's CIO Role Drilldown.


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