ERP system boosts efficiency for spare parts maker

One year, a simple upgrade and the roll out of new IBM server systems are all it took for automotive parts maker, Schukra Lumbar Systems, to enhance operational efficiency, while saving money and time.

Schukra has put in place an automated IT infrastructure that it says integrates the main aspects of its business.

The company was live on version 6.02 of SSA BPCS -- an ERP system from enterprise software vendor SSA Global Technologies.

By upgrading to the latest BPCS v.8.2 and migrating from Unix to the IBM iSeries platform, Shukra improved operational efficiency, and experienced significant cost savings, MIS director Laura Ryall said.

The upgrade also enabled the company to replace its old Peartree system (PTS), which handled supplier and customer EDI by integrating the EDI system into the BPCS core.

"[The upgrade] changed the face of our organization ... getting people to actually apply their skills rather than spend all their time putting in data. [Now we have] better planning, better inventory, better lead-time -- we can manage everything better," Ryall said.

The launch of the upgraded ERP system reduced by 90 percent the time spent on MRP (materials requirements planning) sessions -- from several hours down to five minutes. Data recovery processes were also cut down by 30 percent, and order planning activities went from three hours to less than 30 minutes.

Schukra is a subsidiary of Leggett and Platt, a global manufacturer of engineered components for various industries, operating around 21 manufacturing facilities worldwide.

Schukra may have implemented the upgrade and launched the new system successfully "without one hiccup", but the process definitely posed several challenges, Ryall said.

For instance, Schukra's programmers -- who were Oracle-proficient -- had to change their programming language to RPG after migrating from Unix to iSeries, she said. But Ryall acknowledged it was a path worth taking in order to maximize the potential of an iSeries-based BPCS system.

"The [old BPCS] was not maintained by the MIS and user groups to the level it should have been. It [resided] on an old Unix platform and was an old version, yet BPCS was designed to run on the iSeries. [BPCS] takes advantage of the utilities, the functionality, the transaction-based design of the iSeries," Ryall said.

Ryall also justified moving from an Oracle to an RPG pool of programmers as a cost-effective approach considering Oracle professionals "are difficult to find and they are expensive".

The PTS, which handled Schukra's EDI before the upgrade, was also a problem because it was not linked to the BPCS system, so the company decided to integrate its EDI into the ERP.

Today, both customer and supplier EDI goes through the ERP system and creeps through the entire business process like a spider's web, ensuring the flow of accurate and consistent information every step of the way, Ryall said.

"It [has] strengthened the relationship in the supply chain side of business. People are getting clearer information and their confidence in that information has significantly increased. It's very traceable and if [our customers and suppliers] are advanced enough, they can take that data in and feed it in their system without having to do dual data entry."

SSA Global CTO Cory Eaves said the strength of his company's business applications is its focus on the mid-market and the manufacturing industry. This clear product and market road map enables SSA Global to help customers "be more responsive to their customers".

SSA Global is adhering to a demand-driven product strategy, Eaves said. "That means having a clear picture of demand, being able to model a forecast of demand, being able -- inside the ERP -- to translate these demands to customer orders, do the production, and have good logistics and warehouse management systems at the other end to get [the orders] to the customers."

Eaves said SSA Global will focus product development on simplifying business processes to allow its customers - more than 80 percent of which belong to the manufacturing industry -- a more efficient supply chain and provide better service to their customers.

"We're introducing a lot of these innovation and technologies in our current product. The first step is that customers have to get current and stay current," Eaves said.

Schukra has been an SSA BPCS user for 10 years, Ryall said. The recent upgrade has enabled the manufacturer to extend the system's capabilities, such as taking advantage of IBM's WebSphere technology. This would allow Ryall's MIS unit to deploy Web-based applications to Schukra's other manufacturing facilities and manage them from the Windsor location.

She said deploying Web-based technology would be cost-effective, quick, and easy, with no installation involved, "it's just a question of training".

"The reason for bringing this [system] to the level we're at right now is that we needed to have a strong performance and therefore be stronger to provide to the other facilities. I don't care wherever it is in the world -- we can do it. That was the strategy," Ryall said.

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