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Custom extensions enhance ERP system usability for global manufacturer

Overview

Customer

European division of a global US manufacturing group. $500m turnover.

Business Problem

ERP system needed to be more flexible for data entry, searching and categorisation.

Exmos Solution

Develop a web based system to sit on top of the ERP database.

Tools used

  • Macola ERP
  • SQL Server
  • Dotnet Framework
  • IIS/ASP.NET
  • C#

Benefits

  • Improved searching
  • Improved data entry
  • Improved data categorisation

Abstract

A manufacturing company's move to their corporate ERP system would bring a number of advantages. At the same time they would lose some key functionality that their existing bespoke system offered. Exmos offered a solution in the form of a web based application to sit on top of the ERP database and provide this missing functionality and at the same time, created some enhanced functionality that the package did not offer.

Business Problem

This global manufacturing company was moving to the corporate ERP system as a result of an acquisition.

Loss of Functionality

Having run their own bespoke business system for a considerable number of years, there were concerns about some elements of key functionality they would lose.

They were also concerned about the somewhat inflexible searching capability for item master (parts) records - something that was paramount in being able to avoid creating duplicate records. With their equipment containing several thousand parts and each job being bespoke to the customer in question, duplicate parts were of considerable concern.

Speed of Data Entry

Creation of these item master records would also be an additional overhead for their engineering department and there was a strong desire to make this effort as unobtrusive as possible. This also raised an issue over item master numbering as this module of the ERP system had no sequential numbering capability. With the main item master database comprising several different numbering schemes (components, equipment, spares, modules etc), this had to be handled manually by looking up the last number as the reference. With multiple engineers all contending for that "next number", the potential for conflict was considerable. This in turn made the process slow, which would have a direct impact on the hours for each job and ultimately profit.

Additional Information

Categorisation of item master records was also not as extensive as they required. In addition, the description fields for the item master records were limited to two lots of thirty characters. With the equipment being manufactured containing some very complex components, this did not provide sufficient description to allow easy distinction between a lot of very similar (but very different) components.

Job Costing

Lastly, job costing was a considerable issue. The ERP system only had the option for standard costing. While this was suitable for other companies in their group (making more standardised equipment), it fell short of the requirements for custom equipment manufacturer.

Exmos Solution

Web Application

A new web application was designed to sit both on top of and alongside the existing ERP system.

On Top

The web application was on top of the ERP system in the sense that it provided a new mechanism to interact with the existing data.

Alongside

The application also had to store new information while not contaminating the ERP database with new tables, queries etc. This was solved by creating the new database entities in a separate database with only the most minimal hooks into the ERP database. It is also very easy to disconnect the extensions database so that upgrades/patches are not impacted in any way by the presence of these hooks.

Full Text Search

Having to search for components based on what the description starts with, or some characters it contains has become a completely alien method of searching. People are now expectant of the type of search they see on the Internet from sites such as Google, Yahoo etc. The ordering of words in a description should not affect their ability to find the component.

A full text search capability was created using a completely custom indexing engine to facilitate searching for engineering terms and dimensions. The indexing fires in real-time and operates on the data irrespective of whether it was entered through the new web application or the existing ERP client.

Extended Engineering Descriptions

An enhanced notes/descriptions feature was added to allow for the simple cut/paste of textual data from the very verbose bill of materials. This text is also immediately indexed and then searched as part of the full text searching function. These extended notes are also automatically added to each item line on the purchase orders.

Enhanced Data Entry

Each item master entry required working through a number of different screens and sometimes repeated data entry. The web application wraps this all up into a single input and takes care of most of the defaults that are appropriate to this company (but which could not be defaulted in the ERP client).

Additionally, a completely customisable numbering system was also incorporated. By merely selecting a category, the application then determines the next sequence number for that category. Multiple people can be working on data entry for the same categories and not have to contemplate what the next reference number will be. The numbering module can handle simple numeric sequences, or more complex alpha numeric ones.

Job Costing

By utilising past experience and job costing methodologies, it has been possible to start looking at more appropriate job costing for this ERP system. While still very much in the early stages, already information is being presented that was impossible to see before. By presenting this in a web interface, the addition of charts/graphs makes the data considerably easier to interpret.

From viewing a job cost item, it is possible to then hyperlink off to a web rendered version of the purchase order, shop order etc that generated those costs. Previously this would have involved the printing of many paper reports.

Business Benefits

The business benefits are numerous and benefit different people in the company in different ways.

Engineering

Engineers benefit from the quicker creation of item masters and through the sophisticated search capability are able to minimise the chances of creating duplicate items.

Sales, Estimating, Finance

Many different areas of the business utilise the job costing and project tracking elements of the system.

Sales will use it to help track the progress of a job and this is especially useful for tracking purchasing status on their spare parts business.

Estimating use it not only to check on the progress of current jobs, but also to view prior job costs which assists in current estimating.

Finance and management have better visibility of job costs as they accumulate.

The solution continues to be developed and enhanced. Some of these developments are the continuation of bringing in prior functionality from the previous business system. Other developments are starting to utilise additional information/data that the ERP system makes available, but presenting it in an easy to use, visually rich and easily navigable manner.

The system is starting to be used by the manufacturing company's parent in the US. Other companies in the group are earmarked to utilise some or all of the features.

Tools Used

  • Macola ERP
  • SQL Server
  • Dotnet Framework
  • IIS/ASP.NET
  • C#