Why get a custom app?

I’m often asked, when I meet people and talk to them about what we do, “why get a custom app?”. Or, more directly, “why would anyone buy a custom app?” I then take a sip of my drink as I know that this question is usually followed by its evil twin, “aren’t they expensive?”

These are actually two very good questions to ask, and the answer is often yes. Custom apps can be expensive, if your only point of comparison with a piece of off-the-shelf software is the sticker price. However, you need to assess a custom app based on the efficiencies and savings it is designed to achieve. 

To illustrate this point, let’s look at a typical example of a manufacturing process in a company that makes plastic toys:

A typical process

Icon for schedulerThe scheduler uses a scheduling app to place an order on a specific machine on a particular date and time.

Icon for schedulerThe scheduler prints the order details from the scheduling app on the relevant day, along with all of the other orders for the day.

The supervisor walks to the office and collects the order details from the scheduler.

At the relevant time, the supervisor walks to the manufacturing area and gives the order details to the operator.

Icon for operatorOn an order log (paper), the operator writes the time and the counter number from the machine. The operator then starts the order.​

Icon for operatorAs the order is made, the operator writes on the order log the time of any stoppages (such as for breaks or machine breakdown) and the quantity of any scrap that is produced.​

Icon for operatorWhen the order is complete, the operator writes down the completion time and gives the order log to the supervisor.​

The supervisor walks back to the office and tells the scheduler that the order is complete.

Icon for schedulerIf necessary, the scheduler manually adjusts the remaining order schedule in the scheduling app, moving every order to accommodate the changes.

The supervisor walks to the computer in their office and types the details of the order into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet works out the rate at which the product in the order has been made.

The supervisor copies the order data to a second spreadsheet that contains order data grouped by operator, so that the productivity of every operator can be evaluated.

The supervisor copies the order data to a third spreadsheet that contains order data grouped by machine, so that the productivity of every machine can be evaluated.

The supervisor copies the order data to a fourth spreadsheet that contains order data grouped by day, so that the productivity of every day can be evaluated.

The supervisor emails the spreadsheets to the manager.

Icon for managerThe manager takes the various spreadsheets and compiles additional summary spreadsheets: for example, weekly, monthly and yearly figures that can demonstrate whether productivity targets have been met.

The results

This process is not in any way uncommon. It uses a significant amount of paper, often to move data from one system to another or to get it to places where there are no computers (e.g. beside the production machines). For example, the scheduler gives orders to the supervisor and the supervisor hands the details of a particular order to the operator. In addition, time spent on the order and any scrap produced is first recorded on a paper form.

Each of the different software applications, from the order production schedule to the various spreadsheets, are separate and disconnected. And there are a few different roles involved, from the production scheduler to the supervisor to the operative and on to the manager. The supervisor has to provide some of the connections, walking from office to manufacturing area and back to collect data from the scheduler, give it to the operator then return data to the scheduler and ultimately the manager.

As a result, there is considerable duplication of data, as pieces of information are copied from one medium to another. This provides numerous potential points of failure, such as the possibility of errors through manual data entry or even the misplacing of data. And this manual data entry and duplication is clearly labour wasted. 

And finally, the manager is unable to get production summaries until the relevant data have been processed through numerous spreadsheets.

The solution is a custom app

The solution is to have one custom app that incorporates all the functions needed to support the order production process, one that meets the needs of every role in the process:

Icon for schedulerThe scheduler uses the custom app to place an order on a specific machine on a particular date and time.

In the same custom app, on an iPad next to the relevant machine, the supervisor selects the order.

Icon for operatorIn the same custom app on the iPad, the operator taps the start button, the stop button if taking a break, then the ‘complete’ button. The operator also enters any scrap.​

Icon for schedulerThe scheduler sees the progress of the order in real-time in the same custom app. When the order is complete, the app auto-adjusts the remaining order schedule (though the scheduler can also move orders manually).

The supervisor sees real-time progress on all production machines in the same custom app, on an iPad or back in the office on a computer. The supervisor can therefore spot any problems early.

Icon for managerThe manager uses the same custom app to see summary data grouped by product, machine or operator; and daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. The manager can do this at any time and see real-time, up-to-date numbers.

The benefits of a custom app

The benefits of a custom app are:

I hope this helps you to decide whether a custom app would be helpful to your organization. We would be very happy to discuss this further with you; why not contact us today!

This post answers the basic questions: why get a custom app? What problems does a custom app solve? What are the benefits?