Software that Simplifies

Rather than overwhelm, organization makes multiple orders manageable.

The dropped cell phone call, or just as bad—choppy, incoherent reception—can be detrimental to business. To keep you connected, cell towers are built with antennas and electronic communications equipment. As wireless technology and services expand, service center and processor O’Brien Steel has upgraded its computer system to Invera’s Stratix ERP to continue providing components for this equipment and streamline operations.

“As cell networks change—like going from 3G to 4G—phone companies will need to add more antennas and equipment,” says Joe O’Brien, sales manager at O’Brien Steel, Peoria, Illinois. “We expect that demand to continue to grow and, as a result, the type of antennas needed for cell phone usage.”

In addition to parts for cell towers, O’Brien Steel helps manufacture components for mining and construction, heavy machinery and construction equipment. For its latest project, O’Brien Steel is producing steel plates that will be used in the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. 

The company processes carbon steel ranging from sheet through 10-inch-thick plate. “Our wheelhouse is in the 1⁄2-inch to 6-inch range,” O’Brien says. The company uses oxy gas burning plasma and laser cutting with +/- 0.01 inch-tolerances. “On the typical part we hold tolerances +/- 1⁄16 inch,” he adds.

O’Brien began working with Houston-based Invera Corp., which also has a Montreal Quebec, Canada branch, in the early 1990s. “In October 2012, we officially signed up for Stratix and began the implementation process,” O’Brien says. “After nine months, we went live in May 2013.”

Managing multi-step processes

Stratix allows companies to manage flow from the production floor to the customer while keeping track of every step in between. “The routing is essentially the backbone of the fulfillment process. Using routing, material flows from one processing step to the next,” explains Ray Vasson, vice president of sales at Invera. “The software accumulates the value-added costs whether for order processing in a single warehouse or across multiple warehouses—everything flows from one step to another.”

Unlike traditional software options, where individual steps are separate or tied together by a paper trail, Stratix eliminates manual input. “Multi-step jobs are linked together, which allows work-in-process material to flow from one step to the next. The production schedule also provides multi-step visibility,” Vasson says. Capacity planning checks also confirm customer-requested due dates when an order is taken.

Whenever there is paper involved—writing down the processing results between steps or having to give those to different departments—information can get lost. “You don’t need to print paper all the time, manage that manually, and have it sitting there only to fall through the cracks,” Vasson says. “We built a lot of functions so there are seamless online views for each department down the production chain. The shipping person knows right away what’s being produced, and when the picking and processing areas have line-ups, [Stratix] shows what they need picked and processed on the screen and in real time.” 

Being online eliminates the need for hard copies of transfers and orders. Each step appears as soon as it is entered. “Paper becomes outdated [and] old news, as soon as you print it,” Vasson adds. “This way the information is live all the time and the correct information is conveyed to the customer requesting an order status or viewing the status online in our web-based customer portal.”

Keeping track this closely is essential to prevent orders—especially smaller-sized—from being overlooked. “Every single order is on a schedule, which allows us to be proactive in expediting an order before it goes late,” O’Brien says. “We can always see what’s coming next and everything that needs to be done on any given day. Stratix has WiFi capabilities so our operators can use handheld scanners when they pull inventory, which really reduces error because there is no manual data entry, no room for human error.”

“It’s not just about entering the order, it’s also about the execution of the order in a very efficient manner,” Vasson says. “Providing scheduling and easy-to-use shop floor production recording, coupled with wireless PDA functions, has really helped our customers roll Stratix out in their warehouses. The service center’s customer ultimately benefits with orders that are fulfilled efficiently, and with salespeople that can provide real-time status information to those customers.”

The production features of the multiple-step process have been especially helpful, says O’Brien. “Fifty to 60 percent of our business are multi-step orders—it’s not just one job or material that gets shipped out, it’s a number of things,” he says. “Stratix lets us see the status of an order in real time. If we need to burn or shotblast a part or drill, at any time, we can see what step of the process it’s in. [Stratix] gives us functionality and ability.”

Rerouting, nesting options

Stratix also provides features to streamline outside processing. “When these types of orders are entered, we automatically generate the outside processing purchase order based on the routing, and all transfer requirements are automatically created to send the material to and from the outside processor,” explains Vasson. “This cuts the amount of time required for these orders by a big percentage. We have some customers in the OCTG, bar and tube industry that have really taken advantage of this functionality, where a single order item might require four or five outside processing steps.”

 Stratix offers an additional feature, one that took a year-and-a-half of development to accomplish—integration with plate nesting software SigmaNest. “A lot of companies working with plate, like O’Brien Steel, already use SigmaNest, so the ability for Stratix to push orders back and forth—including diagrams for plates, remnants and drops—is a feature we invested in as value-added service.”

SigmaNest and Stratix are partially integrated now but O’Brien Steel plans to complete the full integration early summer 2014. Company leaders believe the integration will make its nesting process much more efficient and help reduce plate drop inventory.

The types of jobs O’Brien Steel receives vary with each day and each customer. “Every part can be completely different from thickness to size,” O’Brien says. “We recently shipped a part that was 3 inches thick by 144 inches wide and 300 inches long and weighed 35,000 pounds. It included four different processes of burning, including cleaning, shotblasting and beveling. Stratix has really allowed us to notate part-specific quality information, including what is needed to fulfill customer requirements. We can see each process and sequence it so it can be routed through the shop” and meet the delivery schedule.

Acquiring orders is just as important as getting them out the door on time. “Our sales department finds the software useful from a quoting end,” O’Brien says. “Sales is able to price out different processes and, as sales manager, I’m able to respond to these in a timely manner, which is critical to my department. I’m very happy with these types of features.

“Stratix has certainly given us the ability to improve quote turnaround time, especially on processed parts,” O’Brien continues. “Our company has really evolved into a multi-step processing and plate processing operation and Stratix has been a good match in helping us achieve that.”


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