Auto parts maker standardizes data collection on the shop floor: an auto-parts maker uses screen mapping to take its MAPICS system mobile

Auto parts maker standardizes data collection on the shop floor: an auto-parts maker uses screen mapping to take its MAPICS system mobile

Brian Albright

Acquisitions can bring corporate headaches, not the least of which is integrating disparate information technology across multiple facilities. In the wake of several acquisitions, Dearborn, Mich.-based automotive supplier Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. found itself with multiple bar code scanning technologies in its 22 North American plants. The company used them mostly for shipping and receiving; reporting was largely paper based. Unfortunately, the scanning solutions were incompatible.

“We had four different bar code scanning technologies, and they were not doing a good job,” says Bruce Knoll, director of information systems for Meridian, a leading supplier of front- and rear-end modules, consoles, instrument panels, and other automotive components. A more comprehensive technology was needed, not only to increase operational efficiency but to support and complement the Meridian management systems that were being initiated on the shop floor.

In addition, Meridian was implementing the MAPICS enterprise resource planning system across its manufacturing facilities. The company needed a software solution that could overlay the MAPICS system, the company’s BPCS software, and Agilisys Inc.’s AC Manager electronic data interchange solution.

Using a new screen mapping system, Meridian has standardized its data collection system and extended MAPICS to the shop floor, all without creating custom code. The wireless bar code system has eliminated much of the manual key entry associated with the paper-based system. It provides real-time inventory data and label generation and improved inventory and work-in-process tracking for the company.

Not an IT Project

In addition to standardizing its data collection efforts, Meridian needed to meet established Materials Management Operations Guidelines (MMOG), a best practices methodology for the shop floor established by Ford. In December 2001, Meridian formed an eight-member steering committee to address MMOG compliance and comprehensive traceability goals and requirements.

Along with Knoll, the committee included the materials manager, two division managers, and representatives from purchasing and finance.

“One key point is that this was not an IT project,” Knoll says. “We had a sponsor in management and a very company-focused drive to the project.”

Three of the eight members were dedicated to selecting a new bar code scanning technology that would work with MAPICS and the Agilisys EDI package. After a six-month review and planning process that included visiting company sites to determine specific needs, the scanning group presented its requirements.

“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 handheld [devices]. We didn’t want to have to rewrite what we were already doing.”

Unfortunately, finding the right solution wasn’t as easy as Knoll’s group had hoped. “When we went looking for scanning packages, we knew the main players,” says Knoll. “None of them did what we needed.”

Looking for more options, Meridian asked MAPICS for help. The ERP vendor recommended the QuikTrac screen mapping and data collection software from Integrated Barcoding Systems (IBS).

Knoll contacted IBS, and the company provided a demo and the name of a local QuikTrac customer. Finally, IBS provided Meridian with a trial version to test with the company’s own operations.

The project committee presented the business case and unanimous recommendation for the new system to management, which approved the solution.

Employees Guide System

Meridian followed a modeling process for each of its 22 facilities. They set up a small-scale working model of each plant floor using Symbol Technologies PDT6846 two-dimensional (2D) bar code scanners. “We used Lego bricks and Play-Doh to make the models,” says Knoll. “We simulated receipt, storage, shipping–everything. The workers could really see how it worked.”

After the three-month modeling process, Knoll moved to the shop floor, setting up pilots one department at a time. When the pilot began, system planners had included only 10 MAPICS transaction screens for presentation on the bar code scanners. But employees came up with some other functions.

“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.” Workers now 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. IBS provided help in developing the additional functionality and assisted with further training for Meridian support personnel.

The first plantwide conversion was completed in April 2003.

End-to-End Tracking

When parts arrive at Meridian, workers use handheld scanners to read carton labels and receive inventory into the system (15-20 scanners are deployed at each location). If an order arrives without a bar code or with one that is unreadable, workers create Code 39 bar-coded labels for the shipment by using wireless Zebra Technologies Zebra 105 printers. Previously, labels were printed in batch, on printers located in supervisors’ offices, and then distributed later.

All labels used at Meridian comply with Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) format guidelines and are designed with TL Ashford’s labeling software. Meridian uses a combination of bar code scanners and mobile computers from Symbol Technologies and Intermec Technologies Corp., operating on Symbol’s Spectrum One wireless local area network.

Once received, parts are assigned a location through the MAPICS system. Forklift drivers use that information to put away the inventory, they scan 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 are facilitated through information scanned into the handhelds as workers are prompted through the mapped screens.

Smooth Implementation

Seven of Meridian’s 22 plants have been brought on line with the new system. The company plans to bring the remainder of plants on within the next two years.

According to Knoll, final return-on-investment analysis will have to wait until all plants are connected to the new system. Productivity and efficiency implications are significant, but Knoll says that system transactions per month range from 3,000 to 5,000 for the smaller facilities and from 8,000 to 10,000 for the larger ones. Before the upgrade, every transaction was paper-based; manual key-entry into the system was required. Automation will save time and reduce errors.

So far, the implementations have gone smoothly at the first seven plants, and Meridian continues to discover benefits. The plants can now generate scannable pick lists, and shipments are verified against orders via the bar code scanners. All phases of part production are labeled and tracked, and labels are generated in standard pack quantities for more accurate transactions.

Meridian can also cycle count and take inventory by using the scanner. Some locations can use the Kanban production methodology now to support just-in-time applications as well.

“Our workers are excited to be doing something new,” says Knoll. “They are able to see the benefits of the system–how it cuts down on paperwork, how the transactions happen in real time, how easy it is to access data.

“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.”

At A Glance

User:

Meridian Automotive Systems, Inc. Dearborn, Mich.

Application:

Plantwide parts tracking, from receiving through assembly to shipping, in real time

Components:

* Bar code printing and scanning

* Data collection and screen mapping software

* Bar code label design software

* Wireless communications

* Electronic data interchange

Benefits:

* System automates thousands of previously paper-based transactions daily

* Real-time transactions

* Real-time label generation

* All phases of part production are labeled and tracked

* Improved shelf-life control and tracking

* Better inventory management

* Pick-list capability and scanning of the pick list

Web Resources

You can get more information on the Automotive Industry Action Group at www.aiag.org

Extra! Extra!

For further reading on this and related topics, see these articles, available at www.frontlinetoday.com/102003links:

“Where Should You Invest” January 2003

“Auto Parts Supplier To ExtendCMS AS/400 Applications” November 2002

Company Information

Agilisys Inc.

Alpharetta, Ga.

678-393-5000

www.agilisys.com

Integrated Bar Coding Systems

Adrian, Mich.

517-266-7771

www.intbarcode.com

Intermec Technologies Corp.

Everett, Wash.

425-348-2600

www.intermec.com

MAPICS

Alpharetta, Ga.

888-362-7427

www.mapics.com

Symbol Technologies Inc.

Holtsville, N.Y.

800-722-6234

www.symbol.com

TL Ashford

Covington, Ky.

800-541-4893

www.as400-barcode.com

Zebra Technologies Corp.

Vernon Hills, Ill.

800-423-0422

www.zebra.com

www.frontlinetoday.com

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group