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The IT Director Who Guided Hitachi to 'One Common Code Set'—From Norman, OK

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing
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Michelle Mertens, who serves as IT director for Hitachi computer products at the company’s campus in Norman, Okla., spoke this week at Dassault Systèmes’s 3DExperience Forum North America event, in Hollywood, Fla. (Photo by Brett Brune)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—The 70-acre Hitachi campus in Norman, Okla., where Michelle Mertens serves as IT director for Hitachi computer products employs just 400 people. And while that pales in comparison to the more than 700 people Hitachi employs in Asia, her factory led a worldwide initiative under which Hitachi unified its shop floor systems, she said here this week at Dassault Systèmes’s 3DExperience Forum North America event.

“One of the things I’d always found unique about our facility in Norman was we were very independent,” she said. “Aside from the actual engineering and the design pieces, we were completely empowered to run the systems that we wanted to run, run the processes as we liked, and really be autonomous.”

Hitachi’s plant in France was historically also “completely independent” of the plant in Japan, she added.

With globalization, “we needed to stop doing the same products three ways” in the name of efficiency, Mertens said. And when she implemented Dassault Systèmes’s DELMIA Apriso software to produce hardware pieces for the Americas, the opportunity to make some tech changes for the global enterprise presented itself—in 2013.

Challenges, of course, immediately presented themselves, too.

“As we tried to make everything lean [to gain] cost efficiencies, having three different engineering teams working independently in order to define the processes, the cut-ins, and even the sourcing for procurement was a big challenge.”

Getting everyone to give up paper and Excel spreadsheets was another challenge.

But, she added, “just being able to have a common scheme at the end of the day allowed us to leverage a tremendous amount of benefit.”

Years ago, she said, upgrades and customizations were “painful,” Mertens said. “If we had to do a deviation on the floor very quickly, it was very difficult to respond from a systematic standpoint. And introducing Apriso, with its flexible toolkit, really has made a difference to allow not just our IT teams to respond but actually to empower our engineering teams to go in there and do the definitions and changes that they need to do.”

Hitachi also needed a tool that supported new product introductions. Apriso’s production, quality and warehouse features also helped the manufacturer move off of its rigid systems in the U.S., as well as the homegrown systems in France and aging infrastructure and architecture in Japan.

A big cultural shift was needed with business process owners.

None of the three plants had engaged much with business process owners in the past. “IT came in and did the system, they took care of all the testing and rolled it out, and it was what it was,” she said. “So we had to come to these teams using some of our implementation models that we’ve used for our previous MESs, as well as for our previous ERPs, and truly give them the ownership and the empowerment.”

Cummins was a “huge help,” Mertens said. Executives from that manufacturer helped “guide us through how to take what we had done locally and merge it into a global footprint.”

After helping some business process owners—the process engineer for the print circuit board line is one example—gain a better understanding of their own “local food chains,” and fostering an environment in which all of the business process owners felt equal when they gathered in one room, Hitachi was able to deploy a solution “that really focused on the user experience,” she said.

Mertens also took pains to familiarize the engineers in Oklahoma who are “in the dirt, playing with everything” with their their partners in Asia and Europe.

In the process, she “killed the travel budget,” she said, laughing. “It was very important to me, as the global project manager, that we build that trust because this needed to be sustainable.”

Now, there is less explaining why a change needs to be made at a plant across one pond or another. “The trust is there. The understanding is there. So that face-to-face was very important to us” because it allowed for bonding.

Hitachi’s “center of excellence” afforded a “single point collaboration,” she said.

Now, the company has “multiple instances across our factories, but one common code set,” Mertens said. “So the processes are defined one time. Any changes to the schemas, to the databases are done one way.”

The standardization and shift of focus to user efficiencies and the overall experience, “where we’re defining the processes,” meant a very welcome move away from being “controlled by the tools,” she added. “Now, we are able to actually do what we feel is best for our shop floor.”

In her presentation at the forum here this week, Mertens acknowledged that “it’s a pretty big deal to take a domestic footprint and deploy it globally to Japanese companies.”

One big benefit of the Apriso rollout globally at Hitachi: New product introduction has been accelerated, she said.

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