The French MES software provider has results to show, and one foot on the ground in North America. Here comes the second foot.
PARIS—Alpha-3i has a foothold in the U.S.: Akron, OH-based A. Schulman Group, a supplier of high-performance plastic compounds, composites and resins, and Parma, OH-based GrafTech, a maker of carbon and graphite products, are already “big customers” of the French firm, Alpha-3i CEO Pierre Bornand said.
On top of that, Bornand about 15 months ago signed on with IMCO Software, which is promoting Alpha-3i software in North America, “and especially in the U.S,” he said, noting that he has one employee working at IMCO.
But Bornand is intent on aggressive growth in the U.S., so he is taking part in Business France’s first accelerator “dedicated to the industry of the future in North America,” he said. The company his father founded in 1996 now employs 45 people, including Coralie Blanc, who will travel to Toronto and Detroit to speak with manufacturing executives next month. But he fully expects to employ 55 people 18 months from now.
“We’ve discovered the market. Now we have a better idea of how to develop our offer for this market,” he said. “In ‘phase two,’ we will have two people in the United States and one colleague here in France will be dedicated to North America activity. So participating in the accelerator program is a very good opportunity for us—to gather new information and meet some potential new customers and partners.”
The 10-month-long accelerator program is specialized in monitoring and control technology, as well as data analytics. Business France is orienting the eight “laureates” it selected for a few days here before jetting off to Detroit and Toronto for a 10-day immersion program that begins Nov 12.
Bornand, 41, is still principally working with the software his father created: CIMAG. CIM stands for computer integrated manufacturing. And AG means acquisition gestion, French for acquisition management.
Although the product is more than 20 years old, it has timeless appeal—because it works on time measurement in all industrial activities, including machine operators, he said.
The software can still be considered disruptive because the technology behind it, as well as its functional coverage, has evolved over time. “We are offering something quite large in terms of functional coverage. At the origin of the software, it was only one function. Today, we have 14 different modules inside our software. We cover everything from the raw material warehouse to the customer shipment, including the maintenance phase on different machines,” Bornand said. “Our main idea is to cover all the different needs of an industrial customer, related to the workshop.”
Alpha-3i, which has no external financing, also understands the importance of tech partnerships.
Its IMCO partnership is not only commercial but also technical: IMCO is also an IT company that provides a technical interface used between enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and manufacturing execution system (MES) software. “Their idea, by integrating the CIMAG software, is to offer also a larger portfolio and a larger number of functionality to their customers,” he said.
Alpha-3i also struck up a partnership with hardware provider Zebra.
That lets Alpha-3i provide customers with bar code readers and mobile computers and RFID readers, Bornand said.
All this helps when he weighs the competition. Competitors include: other pure MES players like Wonderware, from Schneider Electric’s office in Lake Forest, CA; ERP providers that offer MES functionalities, and automation providers that offer MES functionalities like Siemens in Europe and Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee, WI.
CIMAG’s differentiator is specificity: “We provide added value for machine-data acquisition, for example, and also for operator management,” he said, noting that by integrating his MES software with the ERP in place, CIMAG can collect all the data related to production in real time. “Secondly, we cover all 11 functionalities of the MESA ISA 95 standard.
“Altogether, we are providing 14 different modules, and with these 14 modules we are covering all industrial departments in the factory, including production, maintenance, quality and the supply chain, to provide an integrated production flow. We provide the whole chain, which is uncommon for the market.”
Companies Business France puts Bornand in touch with are sure to hear about Alby-sur-Chéran, France-based Alpha-3i’s work with A. Schulman’s ELIAN site, as well as plumbing, heating and water quality products maker SOCLA, which is part of North Andover, MA-based Watts Water Technologies’ water safety and flow control division.
Six months after it began using several modules inside CIMAG, including real-time production monitoring, Oyonnax, France-based ELIAN decreased its lead time to four from seven days. “It’s a very, very big added value for them,” Bornand said. “Now, they can deliver in a very, very short time. It’s very unusual in the plastics market to deliver in a few days. Normally, it’s a few weeks.”
Six months after Mery, France-based SOCLA began using the CIMAG scheduling module, it reduced the number of planners it employed by 50%. That involved automating scheduling and directly interfacing it with the ERP system SOCLA was using, he said. “The fact that we are reducing the number of hours people spend on manual tasks, such as entering information into the ERP system and planning in Excel spreadsheets, is a big added value of the MES software.”
In the U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico, Bornand will focus next on aerospace companies, he said.
“The aerospace market is a very good fit four our solution: The level of scheduling needs to be very accurate. With the aerospace market, a work order is not one million parts; it’s maybe 20 or 30 parts. So you need a lot of agility and flexibility in the workshop. CIMAG software offers especially good and efficient support for this kind of industrial organization.”