Another manufacturer that found a creative solution to the lean-ERP mismatch is Durabuilt Windows and Doors, which operates a 180,000-square-foot plant staffed by 450 employees.

Durabuilt uses a proprietary version of Cantor, an ERP system developed by Helsinki-based Glaston Corp. Durabuilt calls its customized version Duraquote 360. The company has been using the ERP system since 2008 and has been practicing lean management principles for three years.

One of the first things Durabuilt's IT staff of four had to do was to adapt the ERP system to support the plant's adoption of lean-management principles.

"We had modified our assembly line to a single-piece flow, and we had to configure the ERP to support that," says Randhawa, the general manager. "Even the workflow on the floor was set for ERP -- we had to produce 50 or 100 boxes before we could go on to the next order," he says. Now, instead of having batches of parts sitting around in boxes waiting for hours to be used, the parts are brought to the line when needed.

Randhawa is quick to assert that ERP is essential to the company's lean effort.

"If we didn't have an ERP system, our lean initiatives wouldn't work," he says. Before Durabuilt had an ERP system, the company had sent paper documents to purchasing to order materials and then to receiving to wait for the materials to come in.

"Now we have no transfer of papers, and the order for materials goes straight to the supplier," he says, with some going electronically and some via fax. "It's a faster process, and we're not missing anything due to human error. And now we have materials lead time built into the system, so we can provide an accurate delivery date to the customer up front."

Typically, orders are entered into the ERP system by salespeople. The orders go to the scheduling department, where a team of 17 schedulers can batch the order to be made all at once if it's time sensitive or in phases if it's a subdivision that only needs a certain number of doors and windows every few weeks or so.