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Polishing the Shop Floor

Datasweep Advantage helps manufacturers keep tabs on assembly lines.

Startup Datasweep Inc. is looking to take Web-based supply-chain management capabilities to an area it says is overlooked by the emerging crop of tools in this category: the manufacturing shop floor.

The San Jose, Calif.-based, company, which launched in mid-September, is now shipping Datasweep Advantage, a Web-based supply-chain management tool aimed at companies in build-to-order industries such as high tech and telecommunications, which are building highly customized products with a heavy reliance on contract manufacturers. The new tool suite replaces existing pencil-and-paper shop-floor systems or client/server applications, giving companies a browser-based, real-time window into what's happening on their own shop floor as well as on those of their key suppliers, company officials say. These tools are designed to improve time to market, flexibility, collaboration, and-ultimately--customer service.

"The trend of build-to-order, customized manufacturing is breaking existing shop-floor or legacy systems, which were set up to build 1,000 units, not to track custom units across an extended supply chain," explains Matt Holleran, Datasweep's vice president of marketing.

Specifically, the Datasweep suite can track work orders at the unit level for specific customers in real time; flag and manage product shortages; manage change orders and provide "as built" records to all parties in the supply chain to control quality; and monitor production throughout the product's lifecycle. The software incorporates an integrated data mart so data can be filtered into leading enterprise resource planning and advance planning software such as those from i2 Technologies Inc. or SAP AG. Datasweep was built on Microsoft Corp.'s DNA for Manufacturing platform and works with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 or Oracle 8.0.

Acma Computers Inc., a Freemont, Calif., maker of custom computer systems, tapped the Datasweep suite to improve on-time delivery to customers and track and analyze quality information during the production cycle. Since implementation of the software in its plants in March, Acma has increased on-time delivery of custom units from 78% to 96% and improved final test quality from 90% to 97% right the first time, notes Allen Lee, Acma's president.

Harmonic Inc., an $83.8 million maker of digital and fiber optic systems, is using Datasweep Advantage to automate the monitoring and reporting of quality data on two of its lines. "We were looking for something simple to tell us what the state of the factory is," explains Doug Zody, director of operations engineering for the telecommunications provider, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Prior [to Datasweep], the process was all manual and very time-intensive. The Web-based tool lets us disperse quality data and other factory metrics to a wide variety of Harmonic employees who previously had no way of getting to it."

If Harmonic's pilot is a success, Zody says the company plans to roll out Datasweep Advantage across its entire factory and eventually to its key contract manufacturers. Says Zody: "We're hoping it will allow us to acquire the same quality information we're getting in house with our suppliers." --B.S.
"We are judged by our customers in fairly simple ways
--if we deliver on time and if we deliver 100% of the products ordered," says John Icke, chairman and CEO of ShopLink, in Westwood, Mass., explaining that 80% of ShopLink's customers place a weekly order averaging $100. Web-based supply-chain management is a key tool that the firm uses to satisfy its customers.

ShopLink had been relying on manual processes to route its fleet of 28 trucks, which make close to 800 deliveries daily. By installing Descartes' new Web-centric DeliveryNet.Home fulfillment package customized for home-delivery businesses, Icke says ShopLink can draw tremendous efficiencies by optimizing routes, preventing drivers from getting lost and doing dynamic scheduling to reroute deliveries, for example, in the event of traffic congestion or inclement weather.

Currently, ShopLink employees have to rekey information coming in from the Web-based order-processing system into the Descartes routing software. But phase two of the project, scheduled to kick off in the next few months, will integrate the two systems so order information is dynamically routed from the Web into DeliveryNet.Home for scheduling.

In the final stage, ShopLink plans in February 2000 to put handheld, wireless devices in all its trucks. This will let drivers tap into the firm's central Oracle Corp. databases to access key customer information such as delivery preferences as well as input fresh data such as whether the household has a new baby or pet; this will enable ShopLink to suggest additional products and services. "The new products will help us improve operational efficiencies, but they also provide us with a broader set of tools to gain customer intimacy," explains Icke.

Competitive Edge

For some companies, offering customers Web-based visibility into what's happening with their particular product order or service can be a competitive edge-and open a new revenue stream. Rentway Limited, a truck leasing and fleet management consulting company, for example, plans to leverage its deployment of Descartes' EasyRouter Web-based routing and scheduling software as a new business service. Equipped with just a browser and a phone line, Rentway clients can tap into the tool to dynamically route their leased vehicles. These users pay Rentway a monthly charge for the software for each truck along with a transaction fee each time they generate an optimized route.

"By offering the Descartes system, we've gone from a narrow service offering to broadening our footprint of influence," explains Scott McRorie, national business development manager for Rentway, an Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada division of Trimac Corp. "That differentiates us from competitors in the leasing area, adds tremendous value to existing clients and provides us with an additional revenue stream." Rentway is piloting the Descartes software now and hopes to make it available to its customers in the fourth quarter of 1999.

SMTC Manufacturing Corp.'s use of WebPlan's e-Supply Chain suite is becoming key to how the electronics manufacturing service provider promotes itself to its high-tech customers like Dell Computer Inc. As a major outsourcing partner for many high-tech firms, SMTC produces circuit boards and other components that manufacturers use to assemble finished goods configured to their customers' specifications. This enables Dell and others to work to a build-to-order model, which is more cost efficient than maintaining inventory.

Currently SMTC is rolling out WebPlan's OrderIT Web-based tool to allow its customers to "peer" into its factories to check on the status of orders, which in turn allows these customers to provide better information to their own customers as well as to access SMTC's master production schedule, which helps them better respond to dynamic customer demand. (See story, "Polishing the shop floor.") SMTC also plans to require its own suppliers to use WebPlan's SupplyIT module so customers will have the same visibility into SMTC's extended supply chain.

"We're aiming to be the supply-chain integrator for our customers," notes Phil Woodard, SMTC's senior vice president of enterprise development and integration in Markham, Canada. "The Web-based initiative is truly to integrate customers so they can talk to us and our suppliers in a quick, reactive fashion."

Woodard admits there will be some rough patches. With everyone's work patterns openly accessible to all parties in the chain, any mistakes in planning will be visible right away. Woodard and crew are working to change the perception that hiding that kind of problem is better than sharing it--and resolving it--up and down the supply chain.

Eastman's Hewson also anticipates having to work on the trust issue so everyone is comfortable with information exchange. He suggests modifying business processes so companies can actually take action based on this rapid exchange of data. Says Hewson: "It's no good having a fast interface if once data arrives within the walls of an enterprise, you don't have the equivalent speed with which to take action."

Who knows, maybe the Web-based supply chain tools will be just what companies like Eastman, SMTC, Timberland and others need to win this customer-driven foot race. //

Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer living in Newbury, Mass. She can be reached at bstack@stackpolepartners.com.

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