Magazine Article | December 1, 2003

Orders In ... Products Out?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Orders stuck in queue meant lost productivity for this manufacturer. Now, work orders get to the production floor 75% faster with a workflow solution.

Integrated Solutions, December 2003

When you think about the characteristics that make up a successful company, one characteristic that may spring to mind is work orders coming in and products going out - in an uninterrupted fashion. Business and IT managers alike know, however, that there are many events that must happen perfectly to make it occur that way. First, because of industry standards and regulations such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) there may be a strict process the work order must travel through prior to making it to the shop floor. During this process, multiple departments will verify the viability of the order, confirm the customer's credit, and determine where the order will be filled. In today's world, this may be a necessary process in order to do business. But, manually routing orders through multiple hands can become the bane of your salespeople's and production managers' existence. And, if not nipped in the bud, it can put undue stress for your production people to make up for the lost time that occurred in the pre-production stages.

Bruno Independent Living Aids (Bruno) (Oconomowoc, WI) saw signs of this happening a few years ago on occasions when salespeople pointed the finger at production managers and accused them of not doing their jobs properly. Fortunately for the durable medical equipment manufacturer, it spotted the problem and fixed it before things got out of hand. In Bruno's business, customers, who comprise authorized dealers located throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, require two things: quick turnaround on orders and assurance that Bruno can consistently turn out a quality product. One challenge Bruno faces is that its products are highly customized according to its end users' needs. These end users have varying statures, physical handicaps, and stylistic preferences. Because its products are customized, you won't find warehouses full of Bruno wheelchair lifts (or scooters, power chairs, automotive turning seats, etc.). This means the majority of its products are made on demand. The second challenge Bruno faces is that customers want assurance that the company can consistently produce quality products. There has to be proof that parts are manufactured according to strict specifications, machined within specific tolerances, and quality checked before going out the door.

ISO Certification Yields Longer Paper Trail
To meet quality standard demands, Bruno pursued ISO 9001 certification. One of the main requirements for ISO certification is that documents have to be controlled; that is, the quality control manager has to be aware of the existence and location of every quality-related document. An order for a wheelchair lift, for example, may pass through six employees before making its way to the production floor. Each step along the way would require the appropriate person's initials and a date stamp to confirm that the order had gone through the proper channels.

As the company continued to grow, managing this process became cumbersome and time consuming. And, on occasions when work order delays occurred, the finger pointing began.

Document Management Brings Order To Audit Trail
Bruno knew it had to get away from managing a paper audit trail and looked at document management solution alternatives. With the help of document management integrator MTM, Inc. (Madison, WI), Bruno found the right alternative. The manufacturer implemented Hyland Software, Inc.'s (Westlake, OH) OnBase production document imaging software with Fujitsu 4097D duplex document scanners. Additionally, it deployed Cardiff Software, Inc.'s (Vista, CA) TELEform OCR (optical character recognition) and ICR (intelligent character recognition) capture software along with Cardiff's LiquidOffice business process automation software. Together, these document management components transformed Bruno's paper audit trail into an electronic workflow solution.

Now, when orders are received, via fax, e-mail, or over the phone, information is entered into an electronic order form in LiquidOffice. The LiquidOffice software facilitates the transfer of the electronic document through the different approval steps and retains electronic signatures and dates of approval. Using automated alerts, LiquidOffice ensures orders are acted upon in a timely fashion. The software can be programmed to alert additional personnel if a document isn't handled in a specific time frame. Rather than having to track down a physical piece of paper, salespeople can view the up-to-the-minute status of an order by logging onto the company's intranet. Special viewing rights built into the application allow employees or workgroups to see only information pertinent to their job responsibilities.

"The document management solution has enabled us to reduce our average order processing time from 8 hours to 2 hours," says Bob Herold, MIS director at Bruno. "By getting orders to the shop floor that much quicker, we are able to fulfill orders that much sooner." The solution offers the company far more than just a 6-hour reduction in order processing. Order accuracy has improved by 10%, and the number of order forms Bruno has to manage has been reduced from 34 to 26. "Once forms become electronic, a whole new level of functionality becomes available," says Herold. "For instance, we've been able to incorporate business rules into the workflow process that make it nearly impossible to wrongly configure an order." For example, an order for a wheelchair lift to be installed in a Ford Escort will not get past the first step in the workflow process, because that equipment and device combination has been predefined as an invalid combination.

Enhance Document Management With ERP, CRM
Recently, Bruno added a module called Application Enabler to its OnBase solution. The module acts as an integration tool among Bruno's document management repository and its ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) solutions without any programming involved. "Application Enabler is a Windows-based tool that enables users to set up relationships between our document management repository and corresponding fields in our ERP and CRM applications," says Herold. "For instance, if a customer care representative is in the CRM program and wants more information about the status of a specific customer invoice, all he needs to do is double-click on the invoice number and an image of the invoice is launched on his screen." This integration saves users from having to toggle between applications and has helped the company reduce its average customer call significantly. Overall, the Application Enabler module saves users an average of 45 minutes per day, which has resulted in a less than 12-month payback, a statistic that keeps customers and salespeople happy and eliminates any finger pointing.