Build An Enterprise Around Production

Faced with updating a customized mainframe system for Y2K, an automotive parts manufacturer opts for a new enterprise system. Unlike its legacy system that evolved from a financial package, Trayer Products implemented a system that had production at its core.

If you have ever been aboard an old brig or a new sailboat, you can appreciate the teamwork it takes to keep the craft running efficiently. Members of the crew know their particular roles. They all speak the same language. They move as one. They are harmonious.

Contrast that image with a system that is, well, not as efficient. For example, consider the AS/400-based enterprise system at Trayer Products, Inc. Headquartered in Elmira, NY, the 280-employee company produces suspension parts for heavy-truck manufacturers, such as Ford and Caterpillar. For the past 10 years, Trayer Products ran its enterprise with a series of customized programs designed for the company's mainframe.

The programs were supposed to work in harmony, but this was not the case. "The different parts of the system did not form a completely integrated package. Each part was designed without regard to the others. Essentially, we jury-rigged the parts to get them to work together," says Mike Lavarnway, supervisor of information services at Trayer Products. "We knew we needed an integrated package to automate our operations."

Production: The Heart Of The System
In the back of their minds, Trayer Products executives knew the company needed a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. But, it was the specter of Y2K that brought the issue to the forefront. "Because we had a customized system, it took a long time to make any changes to it. You can just imagine how long it would have taken to change all the lines of code in the system to make it Y2K-compliant," states Lavarnway. "It was more cost-effective to implement a new system and scrap the old one."

As a tier one supplier to heavy-truck manufacturers, Trayer Products wanted an ERP system that was built around production. This was in contrast to the company's legacy system, which had financials at its core. After a thorough evaluation period, Trayer Products opted to implement Visual Manufacturing from Lilly Software Associates, Inc. "The software is built around production, which includes parts usage and shop orders," comments Lavarnway. "Financials and shipping are both driven by production data. And, customer orders are entered directly into the production system. The entire system is integrated with production."

Lavarnway says Visual Manufacturing will also enable Trayer Products to automate warehouse management. At this time, however, the company is only in the planning stages. Trayer Products does use Visual Manufacturing to track raw materials as they come into the facility. Steel, for instance, is tracked by location within the plant. Or, a shipment of steel can be assigned to a production job as soon as the material is received.

Electronic Data Interchange Links Supplier To Customers
Trayer Products communicates daily with its larger vendors through electronic data interchange (EDI) transmissions. It was an "absolute requirement" that the company have an ERP system that could handle this process. The company uses TrustedLink STX from Harbinger Corporation for EDI transmissions that include material releases, shipping schedules, purchase orders, and order changes. "We download the electronic transmissions from our customers once a day. The orders are imported directly into the Visual Manufacturing order table," explains Lavarnway. "On the shipping side, we are required to send ASNs (advanced shipping notices) to most of our customers. With one of our customers (Caterpillar), we are using EDI to send invoices."

Each of Trayer Products' large customers requires products and pallets be labeled according to certain established standards. Printers from FARGO Electronics and Zebra Technologies are used to produce the labels. However, if the content of a pallet does not match the bar code label, Trayer Products can be fined by its customers. "Our major customers would hit us about once a month. With the new system, that number has dropped to once every three to four months. When we do a physical inventory count, we have to make adjustments for such things as loss, misplacement, and inaccurate record keeping. We have cut that adjustment number by at least 50% with the new system," says Lavarnway. "We will always have to make some adjustments. However, the current adjustments are significantly less."

Ed Hess