As part of the year-long celebration of its 30th anniversary, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, is highlighting different milestones in its history through a series of articles. This month’s article features the focus that Team 1 Plastics has always had on Information Technology.
Since its inception in 1987, Information Technology (IT) has been an integral part of Team 1 Plastics. And, most of the software utilized through the years was created in house by the company’s co-owner and Vice President, Gary Grigowski, who learned to write programming code in BASIC before he went to engineering college.
“Though I’ve written most of our systems,” Grigowski said. “Others have contributed throughout the years, including former Team Members, Vijay Ramamoorthi and Brendan McCarthy, as well as our current IT Manager, Joshua Nye. My goal is to try to be less involved in the actual coding and focus my efforts in architecture and design.”
Having this in-house talent allows Team 1 Plastics to look at IT differently than many companies. Rather than try to make a vendor’s “off-the-shelf” software package fit Team 1, Grigowski explained that Team 1’s perspective is to let “the problem lead the software solution. We see a problem and we say, ‘How do we think this should work operationally?’ and then we say, ‘How can IT support that?’ And, then we create a software solution to provide that support.”
And the complexity of the software has greatly changed over the years. “The software at the beginning of the company was really basic,” Grigowski said. “Programming was done through a DOS-based software package called SmartWare. We ran it on a Leading Edge computer that was a knock-off of the original IBM PCs. Then, we spent $500 to get a 20 Megabyte hard drive, and we thought that we would never fill it up. After all,” he added, laughing, “Why in the world would you need more than 20 Megabytes?” (For you non-geek readers, that was funny because the desktop computer you are using to read this article probably has 25,000 times more storage than 20 Megabytes, and all that the storage probably cost around $75.)
One of the biggest changes to Team 1’s software programming was the release of Microsoft Windows 3.1 and Microsoft Access. “We began developing in Microsoft Access which, for us, has been a really powerful tool.” The company stored its data in Microsoft Access databases for many years until it became evident that there was a need for a more robust database system. “So now,” Grigowski said, “almost all of the back end data is stored in Microsoft Sequel Server (SQL). That’s what handles the databases themselves. SQL allows us to easily put information on the web as well as on SharePoint.”
And, Team 1 Plastics is a long-time user of SharePoint, a collaborate software. Grigowski estimated that the company has been using SharePoint for nearly 15 years. He thinks it may have even been the first version of SharePoint. “Early on,” he said, “we recognized the power of being able to use metatags for all of our data and to look at our documents in different views.”
Now, Team 1 Plastics has a full ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, called TOPICS (Team One Plastics Information Control System) which was developed completely in house. Although, Grigowski admitted, “I didn’t even know that it was an ERP system until somebody told me that it was. We were just trying to solve problems. And, then eventually, we backed up for a moment, and we realized that this thing is touching just about everything from quotation to shipping.”
Other than the Accounting and Maintenance Scheduling functions, the TOPICS software includes every aspect of Team 1’s business -- from Quotation to Scheduling and Forecasting to Customer Orders to Production Monitoring (ProMon) to Quality Control to Shipping and Invoicing.
And, Team 1’s IT Department continues to enhance the software to solve problems. Grigowski said that they are currently working on a major upgrade to ProMon which they hope to release in fall of 2017. Grigowski and Nye have surveyed the users of ProMon, “asking everyone what do you wish ProMon would do or what do you wish it would stop doing. And we’re trying to incorporate as much as we can into this next version.”
In addition, Team 1 is in the process of moving select portions of the company’s data to the cloud. They began that process by moving the company’s email to the cloud, and a small portion of SharePoint is now in the cloud. Grigowski said that once the company has more and more data in the cloud, it makes it easier to send the data to mobile devices, which is one of the next major IT milestones for the company.
“We are going to start to have more focus on mobile, especially, if we can start delivering data to smart phones.” Grigowski said. He envisions that in the future, Team 1’s IT software will be able to do things such as tie together several independent sensors on an injection molding press, to draw a conclusion about how the process is running, and then to deliver that information to the Process Engineer’s mobile device who can then make better decisions without needing to be in the plant.
Looking back over the last 30 years, Grigowski thinks that the biggest change concerning technology is that most people today are very comfortable interacting with technology and computers. And looking forward to the next 30 years, “It’s hard to say where exactly our 24/7 wired-in social media scene is going to take things, but it will undoubtedly impact how businesses, including Team 1 Plastics, are run.”