Why Aren’t You Using Barcodes Yet?
Barcodes have been around for a long time, and there is nothing particularly new about the technology. What’s surprising about barcodes is how many service centers still fail to take advantage of them.
By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief
Mobile computing is “the latest thing” in service center software as wireless, web-enabled tablets and smart phones migrate from the sales department to the warehouse and all points in between. So why the focus on an old technology like barcodes? Mobile devices make scanning barcodes cheap and easy, and service centers that don’t take advantage of barcodes are wasting a big opportunity, say software vendors.
“There are a few service centers on the cutting edge, but the majority are behind when it comes to using barcodes,” says Shawne O’Connor, a director at Paragon Consulting Services, Baltimore, Md., maker of Metalware enterprise software.
While it has been around for decades, barcode technology still is not fully utilized in the service center business, agree George Walton, president, and Paul Parsons, vice president of sales and marketing, for 4GL Solutions, Stouffville, Ontario, which offers the Steel Manager III ERP system. “Most large service centers use barcodes, but they represent a small portion of all the metal centers in North America. Even the smallest service center can stand to benefit. In fact, it may even be more critical to a smaller company to make sure they are managing their inventory properly,” Walton adds.
Service centers that have implemented barcoding in their operations have a distinct advantage over those that have not, vendors say. Barcoding functionality allows metal centers to significantly improve the speed in which inventory can be received and managed while reducing errors and decreasing labor costs. Barcoding can be used at all phases—receiving, inquiry, picking, counting, processing, shipping—increasing efficiency and accuracy.
Despite the obvious advantages, metal centers sometimes are reluctant to implement such technology due to a few misconceptions, vendors note. Security is a common concern. Some fear that giving plant personnel access to the ERP system might compromise sensitive data. In actuality, ERP systems have multiple layers of security built into the software that restrict users from any sensitive information. Only the functions they need to perform their day-to-day tasks are available on their handheld computers.
Another concern is the belief that using mobile devices in the plant will be too complex and difficult for the staff. In reality, the learning curve for handhelds is a short one. “If you can train plant workers to operate a big piece of equipment in your warehouse, you can certainly train them to use a handheld device,” O’Connor says.
In some cases, language is a barrier. Some vendors offer software that presents the information in Spanish and other languages.
Using barcodes, even on a basic level, can offer marketing advantages. “Generating a bar code tag that you put on your material as it goes out the door is very inexpensive, but it elevates your company in the eyes of the customer,” O’Connor says.
Computing comes to the big screen
The industry’s software suppliers have devoted much time and energy over the past few years to adapting their products for mobile computing. “We have been working on browser compatibility so our customers can use multiple devices to employ our applications over the Internet. They can do their work much more efficiently than in the past, at work or at home, using tablets and smart phones,” says Gary Marzec, director of supply chain management at Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Canonsburg, Pa. Other vendors echoed his comment.
Mobile computing is particularly valuable for outside sales professionals. Before each sales call, they can access the latest order activity, sales history, standard discounts and other details on each account so they can make the best use of their time with the customer.
“You can be anywhere in the world, tab into a browser and get right into the system to process transactions,” says Parsons at 4GL. “There is nothing more professional than pulling out an iPad, punching in a quote, and watching the customer receive the email while you are still sitting in front of him."
Making information accessible is one step. Making it accessible in a form that is easy to understand and use is another. Various vendors have designed “dashboards” that combine essential business intelligence into a single, easy-to-interpret window. More recently, some have enabled that window to be displayed on a large video screen in the sales department or warehouse so everyone can monitor what is happening in real time.
To cite one example, OpenTrac from Northrop Grumman shows the status of shipments, the next order to be loaded, the availability of trucks and inventory, and other critical information on a large-screen display designed for warehouse operations.
With Enmark’s new Sales Dashboard, companies can display important information on a graphical, rotating screen in strategic areas of the company, says John Bilek president of Enmark Systems, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., maker of Eniteo software. “Now we are putting big screens in the sales department or scheduling area, which shows everyone where you stand. It puts the information where you need it.”
Data presentation has gone from on-screen dashboards to on-wall big-screens that present data for everyone to see in a snapshot format, agrees Brian David, director of sales at Compusource Corp., La Palma, Calif., maker of MetalCentric software.
Overall, vendors say, business is good. Now that the economy has turned the corner, lots of service centers are looking to upgrade their software. “People have adjusted to the market and they want to see if they can get more out of their intellectual property,” David says. “New software is a way to do that.”
Bilek speaks for many vendors when he expresses his frustration with the slow rate of technology adoption in the service center industry. Mobile computing is currently evolving, but barcodes have been around for decades. “Change is hard for service centers, but I don’t think people fully understand the value of today’s systems. If you believe that technology is the backbone of your business, what are you waiting for?” he asks.
Recent software enhancements
4GL Solutions, Stouffville, Ontario—4GL Solutions offers Steel Manager III, an ERP system for the metals industry that includes full functionality for inventory management, sales, processing, picking, shipping, accounting and reporting. 4GL software is now accessible using a web browser on a notebook computer, smart phone or tablet. Equipped with a mobile device, outside salespeople can view all quotes and orders for each customer; schedule follow-up dates for quotes; record reason codes for all lost quotes to produce a month-end report for management showing why quotes did not turn into orders; view the total units, sales dollars, margin and margin percentage for individual customers; and see top customers by product line, which is helpful in determining who to contact to sell overstocks, etc.
Bayern Software, Indianapolis, Ind.—Bayern Software is integrating its new Capstone ERP software with two popular accounting systems—QuickBooks Online and Sage 100. All points of integration will be seamless and transparent to the user, and no duplicate entry will be required. In addition, Capstone will be integrated with FastCAM’s “Black Box” optimization engine, which was successfully integrated with Bayern’s legacy application STEEL PLUS last year. Capstone will pass both output and input data to FastCAM’s optimization engine, which will quickly return optimized results that Capstone will interpret and return to the user in the form of a Material Optimization report.
Compusource Corp., La Palma, Calif.—MetalCentric from Compusource is a fully integrated metal distribution and accounting ERP system. MetalCentric offers the tools necessary to manage a service center business including contact management, customer service, order processing, production, inventory management and purchasing. Recent product development at Compusource has focused on enhancements to barcode functionality and business
Enmark Systems, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.—Eniteo from Enmark is a fully integrated ERP system for distribution, processing, toll processing and warehousing of all types of metal. The Windows-based program utilizes advanced technology including barcode scanning, touch-screen shop floor and Microsoft Cloud services. Enmark’s Web Access allows service centers to supply their customers with 24/7 access to information including material test reports, open accounts payable and even inventory. Enmark’s Multi-Stage Processing Module allows customers to run inventory through a number of processing work stations with complete traceability.
Invera, Newtown Square, Pa.—Invera offers the STRATIX ERP system designed specifically for metals service centers, metals processors, tube/bar mills and toll processors. In addition to sales, distribution and accounting functionality, STRATIX addresses multi-step, multi-location production operations with integrated planning and production scheduling. Recent software enhancements include integrated length nesting for production planning and automated scanning of proof of deliveries. New mobile computing functions include improvements to the INVEX-SALES & CRM application that allow outside sales staff to enter quotes and orders while on the road without having to access the main system. New logistics functionality is designed specifically for customers who take ownership of material at a foreign mill or port. The software helps them track the movement and cost of the inventory throughout the multiple transport cycles, enabling sales and purchasing to know exactly where the material is and when it will arrive at its final destination.
Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Canonsburg, Pa.—Northrop Grumman offers the OpenTrac suite of supply chain software solutions tailored for service centers, toll processors and metals producers. OpenTrac’s Shipping Plan Module allows each order to be tracked and monitored from the time the order is placed and picked to the time the customer receives it. It includes a number of modules to optimize the shipping experience including order placement, order fulfillment, load planning, shipment scheduling, load management and shipment confirmation.
Ontrak Software, Indian Land, S.C.—Ontrak is a fully integrated sales, purchasing and inventory control software designed specifically for service centers that uses a web-based approach to give users access to the system anytime, from anywhere in the world, with only an Internet connection. A major addition this year is an interface with QuickBooks and Peachtree third-party financial account-
Paragon Consulting Services, Inc., Baltimore, Md.—Paragon offers Metalware, Metalware Express and MetalNet. New to its suite of ERP programs is Reveal, a customer relationship management module. This web-based system works in real time with Metalware to maximize marketing and sales force effectiveness. Unlike third-party programs, Reveal is tightly integrated with Metalware. Reveal automatically migrates all the customer data from an old system and ties into Outlook for email and calendar updates.
SigmaTEK Systems, Cincinnati, Ohio—SigmaNEST
contains a number of new features making cutting machine programming even more effective. Split Window allows simultaneous viewing of different areas of the workspace. Parts may also be nested across the split windows onto other sheets. This provides quick nesting of parts onto multiple sheets. With Audit Configuration, users can now configure auditing when certain events occur with sheet inventory. Audits can be configured to trigger when a specified field, such as thickness, is inserted, updated or deleted. Program History displays details of completed programs. With the Future Remnants feature, remnants created when the program is posted now display in the Sheets List. Because these remnants are not yet added to inventory, they are flagged red as future remnants. Parts cannot be nested onto these remnants until the program is updated.