Swiss bathtub specialist Schmidlin relies on the VlexPlus ERP competency in variants

Wilhelm Schmidlin AG is a family run business with around 80 employees, founded in 1947 and specialised in the development and production of top quality steel and enamel baths and shower tubs, shower surfaces and washing stands. The company has state-of-the-art production plants, its own press plant and a new enamelling facility with efficient robotic production lines, conveyer systems and furnaces, opened in 2009. In addition to its standard range of approx.

20,000 different models, Schmidlin also produces special types tailor-made to customer requirements. Approximately half the Swiss steel baths and shower tubs are manufactured in the Schmidlin factory in Oberarth, canton Schwyz. To more effectively manage the approximately 20,000 models and 1,000,000 variants, to improve the transparency of the production processes and to enable the integrated representation of all workflows, this traditional Swiss company introduced the web based VlexPlus ERP system by VLEXsoftware+consulting gmbh, designed to meet the needs of the industry, in 2015. This bathtub specialist thereby created the foundation for reorganisation of the variant processes, since then benefiting from considerably reduced data maintenance, transparency of all processes, high reliability of supply and overall automated configuration processes in Sales, Production and Procurement.

The Schmidlin production plant in Oberarth, Switzerland, where the company is headquartered.
Initial situation

Outdated system lacking transparency and consistency

Although the existing company software, a hardly maintained 1991 Client-Server based in-house development, was still running and stable, it was unable to meet the growing demands of effectiveness, customer orientation and reliability of supply. The existing system could not offer faster throughput, nor was it able to handle the required number of variants in Production and Sales, which was the reason behind many years of complex workarounds. “The prices and conditions relating to individual variants had to be manually calculated and checked. The transparency and consistency needed for reliable process control was also lacking. The system was not able, for example, to show whether the required raw material had been re-ordered or when it would be in stock again if a member of the Sales staff needed to confirm a delivery deadline to a customer”, says Urs Wullschleger, managing the company together with his brother Beat Wullschleger since 2007.

Management consequently decided in 2014 to replace the old system with an overall system that would be state-of-the-art and trendsetting. After the preliminary evaluation of different solutions and 1-day workshops with the suppliers, the choice finally fell on the Comarch ERP based VlexPlus variants system. “Our decision was simplified considerably towards the end, since VlexPlus offered not only a state-of-the-art base, independent of technology and platform, but also, to us as a producer of variants, the most mature solution by far – the variant logic is consistent throughout and convenient to use, starting from the structure of the article master, via the associated work steps and designations and down to pricing”, justifies Managing Director Beat Wullschleger. Data transfer was fast and without a hitch, since not much data was migrated from the legacy system. The first-time definition of the configuration system with all the underlying conditions and dependencies for the manufacture of the many variants was more complex, however, since all of this had to be set up from scratch. The new VlexPlus system was finally launched, among other, in the divisions Production, Sales administration, Procurement, Stores, Logistics, Product management, Finance and Controlling on 1 April 2015.

The range of services offered by Schmidlin includes, among other things, bathtubs, shower trays, shower surfaces and washbasins - configured as standard or individually to order.
Decision-making process

Looking for a flexible system, highly competent in the handling of variants

The requirements for the new ERP system were initially developed in the course of many internal workshops and documented in detailed specifications for the subsequent tendering process. The new system needed to specifically offer a powerful product configurator with thoroughly integrated production and sales processes, including also integrated warehouse management. It was required to allow the efficient manufacture of batch size 1 orders to enable the economic production of even individual pieces.

The flexibility required in the face of changing demands rendered it necessary that adaptations to the variant configurator and interface control systems should be simple and without the need for external service providers. Tracking of work in progress was required to offer constant transparency of the production and order processes and to ad hoc also show the current status of articles. After the preliminary evaluation of different solutions and 1-day workshops with the suppliers, the choice finally fell on the Comarch ERP based VlexPlus variants system. “Our decision was simplified considerably towards the end, since VlexPlus offered not only a state-of-the-art base, independent of technology and platform, but also, to us as a producer of variants, the most mature solution by far – the variant logic is consistent throughout and convenient to use, starting from the structure of the article master, via the associated work steps and designations and down to pricing”, justifies Managing Director Beat Wullschleger.

Improvements in transparency and reliability of supply

Since no system for the control of variant configuration previously existed, every possible variant comprising several articles had previously been compiled. More than 30,000 variants had in this way been stored in the former system. “Since VlexPlus creates only a few base articles with assigned product attributes and specifications in the system, the article master is now clearly organised and easy to maintain. Many processes are furthermore largely automated nowadays, significantly facilitating pricing, procurement, quotations and selling”, states a satisfied Urs Wullschleger. “We are now in a position where we can almost fully define the requirements of our customers in VlexPlus and transfer these to an offer at the touch of a button. The gain in transparency offered by our control cockpits and "Work-in-progress tracking" represents the most important added value for us, since especially our customers will benefit by up to date information and top reliability of supply.”

Trendsetting industry 4.0 solution through incorporation of robotics

Consistent representation of all important processes via VlexPlus also contributes to a massive increase in the reliability of stock information. The ERP system, for instance, has an interface to the enamelling facility Factory Control System (FCS). The FCS monitors all products and orders in an SQL database and has real time links to the Power & Free conveyor system and robotics via programmable logical control (PLC). The order will be printed in data matrix (QR) code via VlexPlus and added to the product. It contains all the relevant product information which will then be combined with the machine data from the linked FCS system and written to an RFID chip when the article is assigned. Starting from this step, the individual products will be automatically conveyed, whereby the specific coating lines and robot programmes for the finishing of the products will be called just-in-time. The FCS will report any change of order status back to VlexPlus via the interface.

Currently the new system is used by 30 employees every day. Future planning includes the extension of warehouse administration by mobile devices and to link the external product information management to the VlexPlus system. Output documentation will also in future be available not only in German, but also in English, Italian and French.

The Qlikview comprehensive business intelligence system will moreover be introduced in the first 6 months of 2017, linked to the ERP via a bidirectional interface. This will allow the successive inclusion of other potentials spanning all fields of business.

Beat and Urs Wullschleger

What the customer says

Our decision was simplified considerably towards the end, since VlexPlus offered not only a state-of-the-art base, independent of technology and platform, but also, to us as a producer of variants, the most mature solution by far – the variant logic is consistent throughout and convenient to use, starting from the structure of the article master, via the associated work steps and designations and down to pricing”, justifies Managing Director Beat Wullschleger (on the right).
Beat and Urs Wullschleger
Management Board members and responsible for the ERP project