Magazine Article | December 1, 2001

Countdown To WMS Success

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

When a vendor dropped support for its WMS product, Owens Corning acted fast. The manufacturer selected and implemented a new warehouse management system in under 12 months.

Integrated Solutions, December 2001

There's nothing like a hard deadline to inspire crisp decision making and quick action. You can't stop the countdown clock as it methodically ticks off the seconds and evaporates days from the calendar. There is no respite. There is only a task that must be completed and a looming deadline.

For the project team at Owens Corning (Toledo, OH), the clock started running when it received some bad news from one of its legacy system vendors. For 12 years, the manufacturer of fiberglass and composite materials used a self-described "pseudo WMS" (warehouse management system) to manage inventory at seven sites within one of the company's business units. There was no doubt the company could benefit from a new WMS solution, but Owens Corning had little reason to make such a significant change. Then, the legacy system vendor called. "Our vendor promised to support its product for one more year, but after that, support would be discontinued. So, we had a burning platform under us and 12 months to do something about it," recalls Barry Burnham, project manager at Owens Corning.

WMS Must Interface With ERP System
Needing to shave time from the overall implementation, Owens Corning worked with consultant and integrator eSYNC International to expedite the vendor analysis and selection process. From the scores of potential WMS solutions, eSYNC and Owens Corning quickly narrowed the field to a short list of five vendors. "We run SAP R/3, and any WMS we selected had to interface with that enterprise system. That eliminated a lot of potential vendors right away," states Burnham. "After looking at scripted demos from the top five vendors, we chose Provia Software."

By that time, five months had elapsed and the clock was still ticking. After tweaking the critical interfaces between Provia's WMS and SAP's ERP (enterprise resource planning) system over the next few months, Owens Corning was ready to move forward. The first implementation of the WMS would encompass one of the overall seven warehouse sites.

The manufacturing process at Owens Corning runs on a 24/7 basis and that means production, put away, and shipping never stop for the more than 600 employees on the warehouse floors. In situations similar to this, it's not uncommon for manufacturers to run both old and new systems in parallel. Once all of the bugs are worked out of the new system, the old system is shut down. "We did a lot of testing on the new system, but we chose not to run it in parallel. Instead, we opted for a big bang approach where we cut over to the new system and went live," explains Burnham. Even with this approach, the company experienced only 2.5 hours to 12 hours of downtime at each of the seven sites.

Millions Of Square Feet Down, Millions To Go
Owens Corning first implemented Provia's WMS at one of its sites. The project was completed within the 12-month deadline, but there were six sites left within the business unit that needed a new WMS as well. In the following four months, each of those sites was up and running with Provia's WMS solution. In all of those cases, employees use handheld bar code readers from LXE Inc. that receive and transmit data using RF (radio frequency) technology.

Looking back at the project, Owens Corning estimates that nearly 2.5 million square feet of warehouse space are now under the management of a new WMS. Because the company was running a "pseudo WMS," productivity gains related to the new system were somewhat muted. "The legacy system was pretty efficient, so we didn't pick up significant gains in employee productivity. However, the new system has allowed us to increase space utilization, reduce travel times, and track materials more effectively," comments Burnham.

The successful completion of this WMS project has led Owens Corning to take on several others. Currently, Provia's solution is being rolled out to another business unit within the company where warehouses are managed with manual processes. "In terms of warehouse accuracy and productivity, we will see some big gains with that project," adds Burnham. For this project, eSYNC is again lending its expertise. Owens Corning is working with the consultant to benchmark its current implementations and help it leverage its new technology in all future projects.

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