· Paul Brown · blog · 5 min read

How Factory Superstar Started

How we came to be.

How we came to be.

I’m Paul. I never set out to make Factory Superstar.

I used to work as an engineer in oil exploration. I got fed up with being away all the time so started a furniture manufacturing business.

Our products were great and in high demand, but I ran into constant issues with growing the business. I had all these designs that we had the machinery and know-how to make, and had customers crying out for a quality supplier, but found that introducing new products consumed huge amounts of administrative resources (keeping track of inventory, assigning work to staff, tracking performance, tracking which products are going where and in what priority, to name a few).

I tried out lots of different systems. I tried Progress Plus, Katana, MRPeasy, Monday, Prodsmart, and maybe ten other systems. I desperately wanted them to work. I’m quite happy telling you the names of the ones I tried because Factory Superstar wouldn’t exist if they had in any way solved my problems. It was as if the people who made these systems had never even been near a small manufacturing business.

So I gradually developed my own systems to get things under control. I started with a relatively simple computer programme that generated cut lists and allowed the office to view the priority of orders. We printed the cut lists out and put them in trays for the team to collect – one tray for priority orders, one for normal priority, and another for finished orders. It worked fine, but the team would end up picking out the easier jobs from the pile of papers so the order of the work got messed up.

Eventually, in 2017, I paid $10 a month for website hosting to an obscure address that ran the software, and $25 for a second hand computer monitor from ebay. I fitted it to the wall in the workshop with a Raspberry Pi ($40, being used right now in my old workshop, 6 years later) attached to it that loaded the website, and this did away with all the printing. (I remember one of the guy’s faces when I first told the team they’d be using the screen: eyes wide, sheer panic – he was great at welding but had no idea how to use a computer and was worried he’d not be able to do his job. Whenever we think of adding features it needs to be simple enough for that guy).

I added more screens for each process and it was fine like this for a while, but visitors to the workshop would be more interested in the screens than the furniture so eventually I asked around to see if other businesses would want the software. It turns out there are lots of people and businesses in the same situation I found myself in.

So I spent two years redeveloping the system so it could be easily used by any other small manufacturer, and during that time Factory Superstar pretty much ran the production for me. I then sold most of my furniture making business so I could focus on making one thing great. Thus Factory Superstar was born.

Factory Superstar is not a big software company – it’s a family business owned by my wife and me. I find it difficult to put my aim for the system into words, so I’ll have to make do with an example:

When I was working in oil exploration, I’d sit in an office on the rig and every so often glance at a screen. On the screen were several line graphs with lots of lines, rotated vertically. We were in the middle of the ocean swaying and heaving in 20 foot swell, and a mile above the sea floor, and the drill bit was another two miles beneath the sea floor and another mile away to the north, and the rock it was drilling hadn’t seen light in 50 million years. All that was plotted on those graphs were basic input parameters like pump rate and pressure, and how much weight the ‘crane’ was holding, but from those graphs – despite all the impossible-sounding sources of uncertainty – you could tell in a split second exactly what type of rock that lump-of-metal drill bit was drilling and its exact location to within a foot. You could look at those lines and know exactly what to do – turn this dial this way or that way, and everything would be fine.

So, in a convoluted way, that’s my aim for Factory Superstar: to turn manufacturing businesses into those graphs where you can see at a glance what needs to be done. You’d know you need to increase your marketing spend by 5%, add a couple of hours overtime next week, or tell the guys not to use so much bubble wrap. You then have all the rest of your time to do what everybody who runs a manufacturing business actually wants to do: make things, and grow your business.

Maybe we’re not quite there yet, but we’re close, and getting closer all the time.

I hope you feel free to contact me if you have any issues with the system, or any criticism of it, or whatever – it will help us get closer to that aim. I know how much Factory Superstar can transform manufacturing businesses, but starting any new system can be daunting – don’t struggle to set it up alone, get in touch and we’ll help you out.

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