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Integrating ERP Systems
Part 4 of 4


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A CASE STUDY—STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Dan River, Inc., is a Virginia-based textile firm with 100+ years of history. In the early 1990s, management decided the existing data sys­tems were an impediment to the growth of the corporation and set forth to replace them. In doing so, they chose to work with a firm called Datatex, from Israel, but now with domestic operations headquartered in Atlanta. Datatex's AS/400-based system, marketed under the acro­nym TIM (Textile Integrated Manufacturing) has been written specifi­cally for the textile industry. Recent enhancements make it suitable for apparel manufacturers as well. When first purchased, TIM's European roots made implementing a challenge, but willingness on the part of Datatex to add modules that aligned with U.S. accounting and market­ing practices overcame those obstacles. As Dan River Apparel Fabrics began to enter more global markets, TIM's international character be­came a strong asset. The software has been in constant use since the implementation began in 1992 and has seen five upgrades via new releases. The use of TIM was recently reaffirmed through its imple­mentation in newly acquired greige and finishing operations.

The strengths of TIM are many and include its industry focus, an ability to customize via tables that control both functionality and data format, enhancements gained through regular maintenance releases, and the maturity resulting from an established global community. TIM's major opportunities for improvement have to do with planning and detailed machine scheduling. Apparel Fabrics has helped to overcome the first by working with Datatex to develop a closed-loop master sched­uling tool by integrating their order simulation module, COBRA, with the existing Production Planning module. Through this enhancement, the user will be able to insert a production plan and explode it onto critical resources. As real orders are booked and exploded, the fore­cast, and its resource requirements, will be returned and a specific product's requirements will be inserted. Thus, the feasibility of the pro­duction plan will be tested and converted to real orders as they are entered and released.

Datatex offered detailed machine scheduling, through a third-party product, but the functionality and package compatibility were left want­ing. Because of this, and the need to better schedule and control newly acquired manufacturing facilities, Apparel Fabrics began to review options to secure a scheduling tool for its weaving operations in Sevierville, Tennessee. It was decided to use the Factory Planner mod­ule within i2, a decision that was made easier because Dan River had purchased it for use in the Home Fashions Division. Factory Planner is the most mature portion of the i2 suite of products and focuses on con­straint balancing and schedule optimization, the characteristics of an APS system. Apparel Fabrics decided to proceed and began to develop a strategy for combining these two products.

What made the integration especially challenging was the merging of a table-driven ERP system, with its innate flexibility, and a PC-based APS system that had totally customizable files and many differ­ent functional attributes based on file and default structures. In fact, defining data structures and stabilizing outputs soon became the big­gest challenge. As a result, Apparel Fabrics compromised package op­timization for the speed of implementation and simplicity of system outputs. This occurred chiefly in the area of routing or path selection.

Theoretically, Factory Planner should be allowed to select the best path­way and resources for the product being scheduled, based on the con­straints in place at the time the order is scheduled. To accomplish this, i2 requires a very specific hierarchy of alternate resources for each routing. The problem confronting

Apparel Fabrics is that optimal flows depend on both bottlenecks and order quantities. As cost and margins are significant to the success of a textile firm, process routings will change from order to order based on lot quantities and operations off different production orders will routinely be merged and, subsequently, split to gain manufacturing economies. Thus, rules embedded in Fac­tory Planners would not accurately model the best alternatives based on different quantities. As such, the flow had to be modeled in TIM first, which supports and accurately costs alternatives, and sent to i2 as the routing for this entity.

Another unique attribute of the Apparel Fabrics installation is the use of pseudo production orders that break greige manufacturing or­ders into subsets. These allow more accurate modeling of shop floor activities without increasing the overhead required to create and track the orders. These sublevel orders allow for the accurate depiction of a production order's critical path. In this manner, the flexibility lost by creating a routing for each order was regained by breaking the activi­ties into substeps that enabled i2 to accurately prioritize events. Thus, careful analysis of the business needs, reviewed in concert with the attributes of the software tool, allowed Apparel Fabrics to achieve the needed benefit swiftly and with a minimum of disruption.

LESSONS LEARNED

After reviewing the implementation, the important factors that facili­tated the expeditious integration of Apparel Fabrics' ERP system to an APS tool were
• defining a vision...and sticking to it
• identifying the required data and its significance
• assuring the accuracy and efficacy of that data
• maintaining the focus and limiting the scope
• simplifying wherever and whenever possible
• involving the users from start to finish.

Easy, right? Wrong! A number of obstacles were confronted and handled, some elegantly and some less so, but by remembering the parameters shown above, progress continued unchecked. The biggest challenge came from outside Datatex and i2 and serves as a key lesson. Apparel Fabrics added the installation of a third system (data collec­tion) to this mix, a beta version no less, and it has created the majority of the headaches. It should be noted that the simultaneous implemen­tation of multiple systems can be painful and should be avoided if pos­sible. Again, a bite at a time makes for a more enjoyable chew.

EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION

Most firms will find themselves using a suite of tools as they progress in their systems' journey, because of the desire to use application spe­cific packages or because of the layering of established and functional systems. If this description fits your situation, you need not panic, be­cause technology will enable you to integrate different packages even more seamlessly in the future. Therefore, unless your strategic objec­tives indicate one supplier be used for all applications, continue the course. Refuse to accept mediocrity or ineptitude on the part of your software, but realize that changing out systems simply to install the "latest and greatest" will too often become a fool's errand.


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