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Meeting Customers’ Metal Specifications

Are you up to spec? Service centers need systems that help them meet ever-tightening customer specifications.

Service centers go to great lengths to ensure the material they process and deliver will meet their customer’s requirements. For some customers, and in particular some industries, requirements go beyond physical tolerances and surface conditions to include industry- or customer-specific metal standards. These standards typically encompass chemical and mechanical property ranges that provide the customer with the necessary metal properties for forming, welding, bending, strength, and other treatments. To ensure the material conforms to their requirements, customers frequently specify one or more metal standards when placing orders with service centers. 

To meet this challenge, service centers look to metal industry ERP systems to provide integrated functions that enable material to be purchased and sold to specific metal standards, ensuring their inventories can fulfill their customer’s requirements. Without a high level of integration, the process becomes manually intensive, error prone and can lead to costly mistakes, customer returns and, in the end, poor customer service.

Metal standards are established by various societies and organizations such as ASTM, SAE, MIL, EN, JIS and DIN. Each organization publishes standard chemical and mechanical properties for the various grades of steel and metal. In addition, certain large end-users have created their own standards, which often include more restrictive or purpose-specific standards. For example, GE, Ford and GM each have their own unique standards for the material they purchase. 

Setting the standard
For the service center, the process begins with establishing in the ERP system the various industry and customer standards to which the inventory must conform. This includes the minimum and maximum values for the chemical and mechanical properties in each standard.

Purchasing: When entering a purchase order, buyers should be able to specify the various standards to which they are purchasing the material. These standards need to be clearly shown on the purchase order that is mailed, e-mailed or faxed to the vendor. The standards specified on the purchase order must be passed on to the inventory when received so that the system can validate the standards against the actual test results.

Quality control: When the material is received, the system should provide the ability to verify that the properties of the material (from the mill test certificates) conform to the various metal standards specified by providing a pass/fail result for each standard. Given that one PO or product can be expected to meet more than one standard, the system should allow any item to be certified to any number of metal standards. 

To facilitate the process, a modern ERP system would have a gateway or exchange mechanism that allows, where possible, for the chemical and mechanical values to be electronically imported, as an alternative to the manual entry. This makes the entry process much faster and more accurate.

This process is also very important for companies that send their own test certificates with the shipment (in place of or addition to a copy of the original mill test certificate), as the system will pick up any entry errors that would otherwise be printed on their test ­certificates and potentially create ­customer returns. For companies that do not wish to record the actual chemical and mechanical properties, the system should allow for the recording of the material standards without any verification.

Inventory search: Metal ERP systems designed to meet this specific business requirement will allow sales and production staff to easily find material that matches a customer’s standards. Search options should include metal standards (such as ASTM 1031, MIL-T 9047, etc.) as well as the option to enter one or more chemical and mechanical properties and compare it to the customer’s acceptable result range. These features ensure that personnel can quickly identify what items can be used for a customer order without having to page though multiple inventory screens and visually scan for the right information. 

Sales order entry: When entering sales orders, sales staff should be able to specify on the sales order the metal standards required by each customer. Alternatively, customers may provide their minimum and maximum values for selected chemical and mechanical properties. Once the metal standards are specified on the sales order or quote, the system should automatically filter any inventory lookups done from the quote or sales order, to ensure that any material reserved to the order will match the customer’s requirements. Some systems provide a feature where the user is warned if the material selected does not match the customers’ specifications or alternatively blocks the reservation of any material that does not meet the specification. 

Production: For some service centers, the material selection is left up to the warehouse staff that picks the material for shipment or processing. In these cases, it is important that the system display for selection or print on the pick list only the material that meets all the requirements of every order on a specific job. For example, if three orders were grouped together on a single plate cutting job, each order could have the same or different material specifications. 

For companies that are required to meet exacting customer requirements, the integration of metal standard verification is critical and provides the following benefits:

n Improved customer service—Customer service is improved by ensuring that only material that meets their requirements is shipped to them.

n Certification accuracy—En­sures any company test certificate contains accurate chemical and mechanical properties that are within the customer’s specifications.

n  Increased productivity—Sales and production staff spend less time searching for material that meets customer requirements as the system automatically filters out stock that does not meet the specifications.

n Cost reduction—Eliminates costly mistakes caused by picking, processing or shipping material that does not meet customer requirements.

n Improved quality—Provides a more streamlined and automated quality assurance process that eliminates manual verification of standards.

Invera, Newtown Square, Pa., offers the STRATIX enterprise management system designed specifically for metal service centers. For more information, visit www.invera.com.

  
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Saturday, August 30, 2014