Meridian Automotive bringing MAPICS to handhelds in 22 plants through screen mapping
Meridian Automotive Systems, Inc. of Dearborn, Mich., had a communications problem. Actually, it was a good news/bad news situation for this leading supplier of technologically advanced front- and rear-end modules, lighting, exterior composites, console modules, instrument panels and other interior systems to automobile and truck manufacturers. The good news was, the company was growing through acquisition. The bad news was the systems it acquired were not entirely compatible. With 22 plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico supplying original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and major Tier One parts suppliers, it was essential for Meridian to get everyone speaking the same language.
Meridian needed a software solution that would “sit over top” of the MAPICS ERP system the company planned to implement to manage its plants, according to Bruce Knoll, Director of Information Systems for Meridian Automotive Systems – in other words, one that needed no custom code to deliver the benefits of MAPICS to its users on the shop floor. The only product Meridian could find to do the job was QuikTrac® screen mapping and data collection/management software from Integrated Barcoding Systems (IBS) of Adrian, Mich. Meridian combined the QuikTrac solution with wireless hand-held scanners and printers to produce a responsive, real-time plant-wide tracking system used for everything from receiving through shipping.
“We had four different bar code scanning systems, and they were not doing a good job,” says Knoll. Besides being incompatible and with much of the reporting “very paper-based,” the systems were typically being used only in shipping and receiving departments. A more comprehensive solution was needed, not only to increase operational efficiency as well as support and compliment the Meridian management systems that were being initiated on the shop floor, but to meet the established Materials Management Operations Guidelines (MMOG), a best practices methodology for the shop floor introduced by Ford, and presently being adopted by other major car makers.
CAREFUL RESEARCH UNCOVERS PERFECT SOLUTION
An eight-person steering committee, of which Knoll was a member, came together in December 2001 with its sights set on meeting MMOG compliance and comprehensive traceability goals and requirements. Three of the eight members were dedicated to selecting a new bar code scanning system that would work with MAPICS and the electronic data interchange (EDI) package to be chosen.
After a six-month review and planning process that included visiting company sites to determine specific needs, the scanning group knew what it required. “Our goal with the scanning was to not have software ‘off to the side’ of MAPICS,” says Knoll. “MAPICS does the transactions we needed, and we wanted those screens on the handhelds. We didn’t want to have to rewrite what we were already doing.”
Unfortunately, Knoll and his fellow committee members found addressing that need to be a bit of a tall order. “When we went looking for scanning packages, we knew the main players,” says Knoll. “We took a look, but none of them did what we needed.”
Looking for more options, Meridian turned to the MAPICS Company itself, which in turn sent a request for help out to its own representatives. The answer that came back was there was only one product that could give them the seamless communication and screen migration that they needed: QuikTrac from IBS.
Knoll contacted IBS. The company provided a demo and the name of a local company which was already using QuikTrac. Finally, IBS provided Meridian with a trial version to make sure it was in fact the right product for the parts supplier.
Knoll and his team members were sold. “QuikTrac navigates through MAPICS to the screens the user would normally access and presents them to the user. There’s no custom code. You can’t find that in the other scanning packages,” says Knoll.
ROLLOUT BEGINS, YIELDS UNEXPECTED RESULTS, EXPECTED SUCCESS
With that important piece of the system in place, the steering committee began the serious and complex work of planning a 22-plant rollout. Committed to doing it right, Meridian followed a modeling process for each plant, setting up a small-scale working model of each plant floor using Symbol Technologies PDT6846 two-dimensional (2D) bar code scanners. “We used Lego’s® and Play-Doh®” to make the models,” says Knoll. “We simulated receipt, storage, shipping, everything. The workers could really see how it worked.”
After using that for three months, they moved to the real shop floor, setting up a pilot in one department and doing live transactions for one week, then expanding to another department.
A surprising thing happened in the first plant. When the pilot began, system planners had only 10 MAPICS transactions screens, in both English and Spanish, selected for presentation on the scanners. Workers, however, had other ideas. “We started scanning out on the floor, and it was a huge success,” says Knoll. “The plant people came to us asking if they could have more.” Planners responded by adding screens, and currently workers have access to more than 50 screens in MAPICS, the EDI system and some custom programs. Most of the screens are transaction-based, but some are used for inquiries such as quantity on hand. Because of the volume of additional screens requested, IBS stepped in to help, also aiding in the initial start-up and further training for Meridian support personnel.
The first plant-wide conversion was completed April 2003.
When parts arrive at Meridian, workers use the hand-held scanners, 15 to 20 in each plant, to read carton labels and receive inventory into the system. If an order arrives without a bar code or with one that is unreadable, workers create on-demand, just the right amount of Code 39 bar-coded labels necessary to apply to it, using wireless Zebra Technologies Zebra 105 printers. Previously, labels were printed in batch, on printers located in supervisors’ offices and then had to be distributed later, a time and consumables waste.
All labels used at Meridian comply with Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) format guidelines and are designed with TL Ashford’s labeling software. Real-time wireless communications are achieved throughout the plants using Symbol Technologies’ Spectrum One network.
Once received, the parts are assigned a location through the MAPICS system. Forklift workers use that information to put away the inventory, scanning Code 39 bar-coded bin labels to confirm the location. Whenever parts are relocated, whether to be used for product assembly or order fulfillment, scanning records that movement into the system. When a new product is assembled from stored parts, a new bar code label identifies the finished goods. Finally, a shipping label is generated when an order is filled, and EDI transactions (using Agilysys’ AC Manager) are facilitated through information scanned into the handhelds as workers are prompted through the mapped screens.
MOVING ON, PLANT BY PLANT
Through Meridian’s meticulous planning and execution, six of its 22 plants have been brought on line with the new system. The company plans to bring the remainder of plants on over the next two years, with eight, the goal for 2004.
Data gathering from the plants that have gone live is ongoing. So far, all indications are that processes are flowing smoothly, and the benefits are many. They include:
– Real-time transactions – especially important with receiving and production reporting
– Real-time label generation
– Labels are generated in standard pack quantities for more accurate transactions
– All phases of part production are labeled and tracked
– Improved shelf-life control and tracking (via scanner transactions and inquiries)
– Better control of inventory movement
– Easier storage location identification through bar-coded signs
– Ability to use Kanban systems (a production methodology) in some locations in support of Just-in-Time (JIT) applications
– Now have pick list capability and scanning of the pick lists
– Shipments are verified against orders through the scanners
– Schedule attainment can be quickly obtained because of the real-time transactions
– Can cycle count and perform inventory procedures using the scanners
And, while final return-on-investment analysis will have to wait until all plants are connected to the new system in about two years, Knoll notes that average transactions per month range from 3,000 to 5,000 for the smaller facilities, and 8,000 to 10,000 for the larger ones – an impressive volume of work conducted via the hand helds in real time. The implications for increased productivity and efficiency become even clearer when one realizes that every transactions previously was paper-based and had to be hand-entered into the system at a later date, with all the potential for error.
“This has definitely been more successful than we anticipated,” says Knoll. “It’s gone beyond our expectations. Our workers are excited to be doing something new. They are able to see the benefits of the system, how it cuts down on their paperwork, how the transactions happen in real time, how easy it is to access data.”
QuikTrac contributed substantially to that success, he notes. “The screen mapping was very simple to set up and get going. We did that ourselves initially, IBS helped us with the volume when we were adding all those screens.
“IBS was very helpful. We worked closely with Andy Jacobs, IBS president Also Ray Toren, Sales & Service Consultant, for the first testing and training – I can’t say enough about Ray. He knows their product inside and out,” Knoll adds.
And so, the rollout continues at Meridian Automotive Systems, one model at a time, one department, one plant at a time – and as many mapped screens as workers need in their hand helds.
“We will meet our goal of having standardized practices on our shop floor, as outlined in MMOG,” declares Knoll. “That means our divisional managers can go from plant to plant and deal with the same processes each time. That is very important to us.”
The messages are clear: Finding the right product is helping Meridian achieve best practices, which ultimately will lead the company to the best bottom line.