Streamlining Operations with Software Integration

Getting various software programs to talk to each other and work together is the key to a truly efficient system.

The ability of the ERP System to integrate and communicate with another device, such as a Kasto automated storage and retrieval system offers numerous advantages.
Smart manufacturers and distributors know that time invested in improving business practices and procedures is time well spent. Software integration is a prime example of an advancement that can lead to real bottom-line results. Integration allows significant time and money savings and improved customer service capabilities through streamlining of operations and improved information accuracy.

In today’s metal industry, service centers typically use more than one piece of software in their day-to-day operations. Examples of these tools include nesting programs, on-line banking software, GPS tracking, and automated storage and retrieval systems. Though effective as stand-alone modules, these separate business programs are not intrinsically compatible with the overall ERP system.

Integration of the modules with the parent ERP system not only eliminates a number of issues that can plague metal warehouse operations, but can also provide significant improvements in operating efficiencies and therefore customer satisfaction.

Proper integration can address common tribulations, including incorrect selection and cutting of materials, improper billing and inventory balance discrepancies. The most dramatic improvements, however, can be realized through the overall modernization of operations, ultimately propelling the business ahead of the competition.  

Integration techniques: a KASTO case study

To illustrate the benefits of integration, the following describes the integration of a KASTO automated storage and retrieval system with a service center’s ERP system. The techniques and benefits described can be loosely applied to other types of integration.

KASTO offers storage and retrieval systems equipped with a gantry crane to automatically deliver the requested material to outfeed stations. These systems can manage both long and flat products.

Typically, software applications provide a built-in mechanism to assist in linking with the ERP system for effective streamlining of practices. In the case of KASTO, one of the mechanisms for communication involves transferring telegrams (messages) back and forth.

In order to facilitate integration, software developers such as 4GL Solutions are required to tie in with the established communication mechanism. This tie-in should be parameter-driven and designed in a generic fashion so that it can be hooked into various areas of the system. Integration involves an understanding of the interface and the inherent differences between the software’s record layout and the record organization of the ERP system. When passing information that is not compatible, the communication record will either be rejected or will just not work. Any differences must be addressed by customized database modification and specialized indexing techniques.

Next, development of the communication engine is completed, as typically the databases will reside on different servers. It must be determined how information will be passed between the two systems. Different techniques such as FTP, TCP/IP, and file system mounting can be used.

Finally, the developers must work to understand the business operations to determine where to link the interface, based on specific requirements. For example, the ERP system can interface with KASTO directly from an order-planning screen or through scanning of barcodes on the shop floor.

Proper integration eliminates manual effort (keeping track of inventory transactions on paper, manual inventory adjustments, etc.). Warehouse personnel are no longer required to enter information, and can now simply release the data that has already been entered on the order desk. Employee errors are minimized and movements are streamlined. The learning curve becomes much shorter if new personnel are hired. The picking process is drastically accelerated.

For many businesses, warehouse operations have become the focus for achieving competitive advantage. Optimization of technologies by way of software ­integration can be the first step in the race to the finish line.
 

4GL Solutions, Markham, Ontario, Canada, offers the Steel Manager III ERP package for steel service and processing centers. For more information, visit 4GL Solutions at www.4glsol.com.

 
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Thursday, June 30, 2016