By Patricia E. Moody
We’ve been covering Cirtronics, an employee-owned (ESOP) contract manufacturer in Southern New Hampshire, since before the pandemic struck. And we touched base again in late summer to see how things were changing as a result of COVID-19. Now, more than eight months into the pandemic, we reached out for an update, and can report that they’ve continued to move ahead. As personnel have started to return to the office, more safeguards have been deployed and integrated into daily life.
Since Cirtronics’ customer base includes defense, robotics and MedTech/life science companies like Ava Robotics (a spinoff of iRobot), Brooks Automation, FLIR Endeavor, Convergent Dental and GatesAir, the company was deemed an essential business. CEO Dave Patterson noted that the company experienced no shutdown, furloughs or layoffs due to the pandemic crisis.
Our last report focused on the business as a whole. For this update, we asked Cirtronics’ IT director Jeff Homer and global sourcing and procurement leader Lenny Lacerte for an update on how IT and supply chain are adapting, and found that the core systems are still holding strong, and Cirtronics’ strategy of tailoring to customer needs is still foundational to the way work gets done.
1. What supply chain and logistics software are you using?
Jeff Homer: Silicon Expert, Factory Logix, ECI Software Solutions Max (formerly Exact Max)
2. Have you been able to continue using the same software as pre-pandemic or have you had to change, add or switch to another? For example, we have seen one tech company that has moved back to Excel spreadsheets because their supply chain became so unreliable.
Homer: IT has generally remained the same with the exception of deploying and supporting remote workstations, security and support. As a company, we rapidly picked up the use of Zoom to help keep us connected and communicating fluidly. With so many employees working from home, and without the ability to bring customers safely in-house, we’ve relied very heavily on Zoom, and are still using it since we’ve found it gives us an edge in communicating quickly, face to face, and with a wider range of prospects than we might have if we were limited to in-person visits. We also still have staggered shifts so our remote workforce needs to stay connected.
Lenny Lacerte: In terms of our sourcing software, nothing has changed. We’ve continued to use the same platforms, and communicate directly with our suppliers on a regular basis due to the nature of the projects we take on. Our sourcing strategy depends on the needs of each customer, so we leverage our software, of course, but also our relationships with our suppliers to create the best-fit strategy for a specific project in terms of throughput, quality goals and timeline.
3. How many suppliers does Cirtronics have?
Lacerte: We have 735 active suppliers, the majority of them are U.S.-based with some having factories abroad. They are located all over the world, including China and Mexico. They supply cables, sheet metal, machined parts, plastics and PCBs along with many electronic components. Since we build everything from boards to full systems, our sourcing needs are wide ranging from components through formed sheet metal.
In terms of missed commitments, only a small percentage of our suppliers have missed commitments — and it was not just one kind of part. For example, we have had some shipping delays out of Hong Kong, likely due to the significant decrease in numbers of commercial flights.
4. Are your major suppliers working on a different software system and if so, does it communicate well and seamlessly with yours or are there "integration issues?"
Homer: Integration issues are avoided by either working with compatible systems or file formats. We do various levels of EDI (electronic data interchange) with our suppliers that are capable.
Lacerte: Most of our suppliers work with different software than we do. We send information as flat files (uniform format) so they are able to use our data.
5. Has your supply management situation gotten better or worse since the pandemic lock down, approximately March 2020?
Lacerte: Our supply chain has stabilized. We are only seeing a few spot issues with product delays due to the pandemic. For example, we had a situation where we were going to have challenges getting sheet metal products out of Canada from one of our suppliers. We were made aware of this issue early on through our scheduled weekly calls with that supplier. We were able to source the part we needed from another supplier locally who is also a partner of ours. We worked with the company in Canada to get the raw formed material shipped, and had it sent to our local supplier where they completed the necessary work to get us product in the form needed and on time. It was our strong relationships with both suppliers that allowed us to get this accomplished.
6. What is the one most important piece of your IT strategy that absolutely MUST not fail?
Homer: Flexibility. By flexibility, we could mean adapting to new communications platforms that our partners may use or how we quickly provide users with the software tools that are needed if we’re confronted with new requirements. In other words, flexibility is reflected in our ability to work with employees, customers and suppliers to identify the best solutions that address all our needs and keep the flow of information running smoothly.
As a contract manufacturer, flexibility is a Cirtronics strength. Since communication within the company is strong, and communication with both customers and suppliers is frequent and ongoing, any issues, changes or requests can be addressed quickly. In contract manufacturing customer needs are far-ranging so IT systems must be varied and flexible to provide tailored reporting and tracking. IT is central to the entire organization.
At Cirtronics, the IT department is not tucked away. Located in the main office space, the IT team is accessible to everyone and IT systems are distributed through every department in the organization. IT has even been involved in implementing the safeguards that on-site employees use every day — inside the automatic doors there are now no-touch thermal scanners and badge checks. The IT team built a FileMaker system to replace paper logs with a system that uses employee badges and is touch-free. Once temperature-taking and the COVID questionnaires became a requirement, these processes were seamlessly integrated into everyday workflow for employees, implemented by IT as part of the digital ESD log process.
Cirtronics’ employee-owners at every level feel that they've successfully adapted to challenges, even as those challenges included parts delays, or supporting a successful mass migration to a largely remote workforce, and then welcoming that workforce back on-site the safest possible way.
Named a "Pioneering Woman in Manufacturing" by Fortune magazine, Patricia E. Moody is a manufacturing management consultant and author.
Views and opinions shared in Target Online are the author's and do not necessarily reflect AME policies and positions.