Whilst more and more manufacturers are using all-encompassing software packages to control, link and integrate the various elements of their businesses, some may find the whole concept a little daunting. Through its product MIE Trak Pro and a transparent, ethical ‘keep it simple’ approach, Redditch-based software MIE Solutions aims to change all that as Dave Tudor discovered.
I always find it difficult to give ‘data management’ software products an appropriate name because by their very nature their aim in life is to harness all the constituent parts of a business together so describing them accurately is somewhat challenging.
You’ll often see them branded as ERP/MRP, data management or production control systems but the truth is they can be all of those things. A decent software package will handle the whole shooting match from order enquiry to despatch – and everything in between. MIE refers to its MIE Trak Pro product as a ‘production, scheduling and cost control system’.
Some systems are quite complex. Often they’re module-based and customers can select the functionality they need. Some software developers will happily modify their products to suit specific client applications – an approach that is no doubt effective, but also time consuming and perhaps not suitable for mass markets.
As a business, MIE Systems takes a different approach – when you buy MIE Trak Pro you get the entire package. There are no different versions, variants or choices – it is what it is, one size fits all. Sales director Sam Hawkes explains: “From day one we made the decision not to sell the software in modular format and there are two main reasons behind this approach,” she says.
“Firstly, we don’t believe that customers should have to spend money on part of a package only to realise later that another module is required, resulting in more financial outlay. With MIE Trak Pro, customers pay one price for the initial purchase and that’s it – no hidden costs or extra charges – what you see is what you get.
“The second reason is based around functionality. How is the production scheduling module going to work efficiently if it isn’t aware that the raw material for a job hasn’t arrived or if a machine is down due to maintenance?” she contests. “Similarly, the HR module with MIE Trak Pro means that you’ll know when your operators are on holiday so production capacity can be adjusted accordingly.
“In manufacturing there are many interlinked influential factors that directly affect multiple operations and we firmly believe the system needs to ‘know it all’ in order to function efficiently. The whole ethos behind MIE Trak Pro is to include everything that affects productivity and lead-times. We also listen to our customers; the vast majority of software updates, modifications and enhancements are made as a direct result of feedback from our clients – and because of our non-modular approach, all customers reap the benefits.”
One size fits all
Twelve employee MIE Solutions UK was established in 2007 (after previously been part of Metalsoft since 1998) by sales director Sam Hawkes and technical director Chris Mann but the overall operation is very much a global business. The UK facility works closely in partnership with a sister site located in California on the software development side and there are sales offices located in Chicago, Florida, Mexico, South Africa and Australia. The global user base is around the 10,000 mark.
Many manufacturing companies are recruiting apprentices to combat the epidemic skills shortage that is affecting just about every business in the UK and it’s good to see software developers like MIE adopting the same strategies. There are currently two apprentices on the payroll, hopefully following in the footsteps of their two predecessors who have since been employed full-time by the company. Ms Hawkes is keen to continue with the initiative: “They’re our future at the end of the day,” she observes.
Because it is essentially non-modular MIE has worked hard to make MIE Trak Pro as comprehensive as possible. Actually to be entirely accurate, the product does offer one optional module should customers require it and that’s Shop Floor Data Capture which involves the integration of hardware such as kiosks, barcode readers and touchscreen devices like tablets.
Comprehensive is actually a bit of an understatement because from an operational perspective there’s virtually no stone left unturned by MIE Trak Pro. At the front end there’s modules for Quotations and Estimating and at the back end there’s Shipping and Invoicing but you really need to take a deep breath for ‘middle’ section.
This comprises: Customer Relationship Management (CRM); Sales Order Processing; Job Card/Works Order generation; MRP; Purchasing; Shop Floor Data Capture (optional); Inventory/Stock Control; Production Control; Capacity Planning; Quality Assurance (for ISO 9001 and other quality systems); Scheduling; Repair and Maintenance; Time Clock Management; Costing and Reporting; and Human Resources (HR). MIE Trak Pro will also export data into commonly used accounting packages such as Sage. Integration with Metamation sheetmetal CAD/CAM software is also catered for.
“It’s important to note that not all customers will need all the modules,” Ms Hawkes adds. “In fact some clients will only ever need around 50% of the total functionality offered by the package. However this has never been a problem simply because our pricing is so competitive.”
Up and running
Both Sam Hawkes and technical director Chris Mann have roots in the sheetmetal industry so it’s perhaps no surprise that MIE Trak Pro is particularly successful in the sheetmetal/fabrication sector, but both are keen to emphasise that the generic qualities of the system are totally transferrable and applicable to any manufacturing company. A recent new customer for example is a producer of printed circuit boards; other customers include precision machining subcontractors, automotive companies and plastic injection moulders.
In terms of implementation and installation, there’s no set format with MIE because customer requirements differ significantly: “We regularly come across customers that are still using spreadsheets,” Ms Hawkes affirms. “In those cases we can literally start from scratch and install the system ready for use. With other customers that may already be running existing systems, the process can be staged. In a recent example we were able to dramatically improve a client’s quotation process without detrimentally affecting the other elements of the existing system. The other modules will be phased in over time. I would say though that with 60-70% of our customers it’s a direct switch from one system to another on a specific ‘go live’ date.”
Keeping things simple is a mantra that runs throughout the company at MIE. Some software installations can involve weeks of consultancy, implementation and training but that’s not the case with MIE Trak Pro. In fact after the initial consultation has taken place, the standard installation/training period is just two to three days. After that, the company’s highly capable team of support staff are well-equipped to undertake any hand holding that may be required.
I’ve mentioned this before but to many small SMEs, the idea of purchasing software can appear prohibitively expensive. When any spare cash becomes available to a small subcontractor, it’s quite natural for him or her to want to invest that in new machinery or equipment.
But there are real tangible, operational benefits to purchasing a software system – better utilisation of data, less data duplication errors, greater control over costs and better efficiencies generally to name but a few – but part of MIE Trak Pro’s appeal is the fact that it’s very affordable, and because of the highly transparent way the company operates, there are no hidden costs.
The software itself costs £2,000 per user licence with additional training and ongoing support contracts being ‘a fraction of the price offered by our competitors’ the company claims.
MIE is also very accommodating regarding actually purchasing the software: “We’re a very friendly, flexible company” Ms Hawkes enthuses. “We can offer finance agreements, renting options and flexible payment terms. We really go the extra mile for our customers.”
Survey speaks volumes
It seems its 300+ clients (more than 1,500 individual users would agree. A recent customer survey of around 120 users revealed that 92% rate MIE Trak Pro as being ‘excellent value for money; 98% of users rate the support team as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’; 100% report the support contracts as ‘excellent value for money’; and 84% regard the functionality of the software as being ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.
“Our customers are our best sales tool,” Ms Hawkes says. “In fact we actively encourage new and potential customers to talk to our existing clients to get an unbiased view of what we’re like to do business with.”
The future looks pretty positive for MIE. Year on year growth means that the company has outgrown its current premises and a move to a new facility is imminent. “We’re in a really good position at the moment,” Ms Hawkes concludes. “We’ve enjoyed healthy levels of growth since we began and I really do want to take on more apprentices and staff. Our new offices will be located about a mile and a half from here and will give us three times as much space.”
MIE Solutions UK