There's nothing like smart use of technology to bring a company closer to its customers, as Batesville Casket can attest. Up until a few years ago, the Batesville, Indiana-based maker of burial caskets and cremation products relied heavily on the knowledge of its line workers in assembling its products. While that worked for nearly 100 years, a trend toward customization and the maturing of manufacturing industry IT signaled a needed change.
That's when Batesville's production plant in Manchester, Tennessee, which manufactures steel caskets, stepped up. Tapping into the production and order data stored in Batesville's Oracle database and accessed via the company's then-new JD Edwards EnterpriseOne system, plant management embarked on a project dubbed "We Care," putting that technology to work to tighten customer relationships and improve production efficiency.
It started with the fact that the new JD Edwards system allowed the facility to see historical data on orders in more detail than ever before. Using that data, the plant's staff began to pull up issues and complaints raised by its funeral home customers, and then follow up by directly contacting those customers to find out how problems might be resolved. That information was, in turn, entered back into the JD Edwards system and relayed to the production line to improve customer satisfaction.
Of course, none of this would work without providing an interface to the production line crews, so each workstation on all of Batesville's plant floors is equipped with a touch-screen monitor. A graphical interface lets line workers easily access detailed order information and schematics, showing them the parts they need to use to build a given casket along with a diagram of how the completed casket should look. "It's kind of like going to Taco Bell," says the Manchester plant's director of operations, Mary Jo Cartwright. "Your order shows up on the screen, and they know how to build it."
That's become more important in an age of customization, as those making funeral arrangements look to personalize caskets. Whereas in the past, line workers relied on their familiarity with a limited product line during assembly, Batesville no longer can count on that human knowledge. "If you had somebody on the line who had to fill in because somebody else was out," says Cartwright, "then you'd run the risk that the fill-in didn't have the same tribal knowledge."
Not only do the touch screens allow workers to be certain they're assembling every casket correctly, but they also allow plant management to alert line workers in real time to any issues that come up during the follow-up with customers.
While the technology behind the Manchester plant's "We Care" project is available to each of Batesville's plants, Cartwright says that what has separated the Manchester facility from the rest of the company is the way in which the plant's staff has embraced putting those tools to use. "You need to have both working hand in hand," she says.
The staff's acceptance of the technology has yielded enviable results, enabling the plant to reduce customer disappointments, improve on-time delivery, and increase customer satisfaction, says Cartwright. It is this exceptional performance that earned Batesville recognition from a panel of manufacturing industry experts at Managing Automation's Progressive Manufacturing Summit and Awards.
Eventually, Cartwright hopes to tie in the plant's suppliers so that parts can be identified by the system upon delivery. She also sees potential for linking consumers directly into the system via their funeral home, so that orders could be scheduled directly to the appropriate plant rather than through Batesville's main corporate systems, which currently handle plant scheduling.
For now, the staff at the Manchester plant can take pride in the acknowledgement of their peers. Says Cartwright, "Getting recognition for a lot of dedicated employees always goes a long way."