Material Sciences Corporation (MSC), headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, USA, is a world-class supplier of engineered material solutions for acoustical and coated metal applications to automotive, appliance, electronic and telecom equipment manufacturers worldwide. Customers include most U.S. automobile, major appliance and disk drive manufacturers. MSC used Visual LANSA Framework to extend MAPICS with Web access for customers and outside processors, a wireless shipping release system and other enhancements. LANSA EDI Direct is also used to exchange EDI transactions with business partners.
Bob Needles, an independent consultant currently acting as IT project leader at Material Science Corporation, says, "The customer support portal has raised customer service and the outside processor portal has streamlined production reporting and delivery. Partners now report production on the day goods are produced and enter shipment details when material ships. Billing is triggered automatically and finalized within 15 minutes of the shipment. The whole delivery and invoice cycle went from 7 days, to one day, to 15 minutes."
The customer support portal has raised customer service and the whole delivery and invoice cycle went from 7 days, to one day to 15 minutes
- The Challenge
- Streamlining Communication with Web and EDI
- A Wireless Shipping Release System
- The Future
- Company and System Information
MSC specializes in developing noise and vibration reducing coated metals and superior protective and decorative coatings used in a diverse range of applications including vehicle body and dash panels, cabinets for refrigerators and other appliances, covers for hard disk drives, brackets for computer servers, brake shims for disc brakes, roofing panels and building materials.
MSC partners with outside processors who take MSC material for additional processing and while inventory, billing and order fulfillment remains under control of MSC, shipping to the customer is generally directly from the outside processors.
"This model requires a lot of communication with both partners and customers," explains Needles. "It used to take 7 to 10 days to record outside production as inventory and then another 7 days on average to record shipment to customers."
"As a result, recorded inventory was never up-to-date and billing lagged behind the shipments. We wanted to streamline this by offering Web or EDI access to our partners and also give customers access to orders, shipments and inventory details over the Web rather than running and emailing reports in response to phone calls."
Before joining MSC, Needles had evaluated tools that could build Web applications for the iSeries. "I saw a LANSA demo where a 5250 application was built that was also truly Web-enabled, not just screen scraped. What really convinced me was LANSA's Repository architecture and its ability to generate code for green-screen, Windows, Web and B2B Integration," says Needles. “LANSA was also a good fit as it could build further and gradually replace MSC’s Synon based CASE environment."
I saw a LANSA demo where a 5250 application was built that was also truly Web-enabled, not just screen scraped. What really convinced me was LANSA's Repository architecture and its ability to generate code for green-screen, Windows, Web or batch applications
Streamlining Communication with Web and EDI
MSC’s first LANSA-based Web project was a customer service portal to give customers access to inventory, raw material, orders and shipment information in MAPICS.
MSC was one of the first adopters of the Visual LANSA Framework. "Initially we used regular Visual LANSA Web development, but with the Visual LANSA Framework we could more quickly prototype, develop and deploy applications," continues Needles. "We had to get used to some new concepts, but we liked its enormous productivity and the MS Outlook style and consistency of applications it creates."
"The site has raised the level of customer service we provide, especially to our customers who are in a different time zone," says Needles. "And we no longer have to produce action reports for customers."
For the partners that use EDI, usually the larger processors and customers, MSC used LANSA EDI Direct to automate advance shipping notices and other transactions. "At the time, MAPICS did not support all the EDI transactions that MSC needed. So, we either had to contract a company to custom-build those transactions, or find an alternative,” explains Needles.
"While the costs were similar, LANSA’s EDI Direct provided the flexibility and control to deliver a dynamic solution that can expand to meet future requirements, unlike custom development where we would be locked in and get charged for subsequent modifications."
"LANSA EDI Direct gave us an easy interface to do our own document translation mapping, transaction process monitoring and error handling. It also helped us configure to the EDI standards and versions used by our partners."
For its smaller non-EDI partners, MSC used Visual LANSA to create a self-service Web site to let them register production, enter customer shipments, receive-in-transit and other inventory transfer information.
"Now partners report production on the day goods are produced, either using EDI or the Web. We eliminated the 7 to 10 days delay for getting inventory recorded and took it to one day. Partners also enter shipment details on the day, cutting down our billing time from 7 days to one."
"Initially, when partners entered shipment details the system would send an email to a customer representative to create a customer invoice. Now the billing process is triggered automatically and finalized within 15 minutes of the shipment. So, we went from 7 days, to one day to 15 minutes. The whole delivery and invoice cycle has become much faster," says Needles.
LANSA’s EDI Direct provided the flexibility and control to deliver a dynamic solution that can expand to meet future requirements, unlike custom development where we would be locked in and get charged for subsequent modifications
A Wireless Shipping Release System
MSC has also built many other applications with Visual LANSA Framework, including a Hold-For-Inspection (HFI) solution to manage the procedure of examining goods, a Claims system that manages customer claims and returned goods that replaced procedures based on printed Excel reports. The Claims application is integrated with MAPICS and creates reports in PDF format, which allows for easy storing, forwarding and linking with relevant applications.
MSC also built a more accurate shipping release system to handle the dispatch of processed material from its warehouses. Previously the system only allowed one active pick-list per order, material handlers used printed pick lists that showed all of the potential material to be shipped and marked off what was actually shipped. Once marked up, administration staff keyed in the data off the pick-lists to generate shipping transactions and more paperwork.
"Material handlers might mark the wrong line as picked or administration staff misinterpret the handler's handwriting," says Needles. "So staff might have to transfer inventory back into the system, because it was erroneously shipped or marked as shipped."
MSC decided to extend MAPICS with a custom shipping release system using Visual LANSA Framework and Web Application Modules (WAMS). A Web interface, rather than a Windows interface, was used to simplify deployment. "We used LANSA's XML/XSL-based WAM technology to separate business logic from presentation and the WYSIWYG editor made it easy to paint the layout for both handheld Symbol devices for warehouse staff and traditional screens used by administration."
The system lets customer service representatives create multiple shipments for customer orders. At some locations, a traffic scheduling application also allows the scheduling of the pickup. When a truck arrives to pick up the order, it is clocked-in and the driver is given a bar-coded release form. The truck then moves on to a material handler, who scans the release barcode with a wireless handheld Symbol device that displays the location of goods to be picked for the first shipment. The material handler scans the goods as they are loaded onto the truck and details of the next shipment are displayed. The handler then goes out with his forklift to get the next load and repeats the same process until all the goods are scanned and loaded on the truck.
When the truck is ready to go, the material handler presses the process button and a completed packing list is printed for the driver to sign for receipt and the LANSA-based system creates inventory transactions and calls a MAPICS routine to have the shipment processed.
"The Shipping Release system allows us to build as many shipments as needed and tie them to the orders in MAPICS. The solution is real-time and far more accurate. We now get things right the first time around," says Needles.
"The handler just scans the release form, picks the coils and scans each coil as it is loaded. There are no pieces of paper shuffled back and forth and there is no data-entry. The number of missed shipments, other shipping problems and the costs of fixing them has been reduced significantly."
The Shipping Release system allows us to build as many shipments as needed and tie them to the order. The solution is real-time and far more accurate. We now get things right the first time around
"LANSA's real-time integration with MAPICS, the productivity of Visual LANSA Framework and the flexibility of LANSA EDI Direct have been the keys to delivering the applications to meet MSC processing requirements," says Needles."
"The LANSA applications are tightly integrated with MAPICS where they need to be. For example when we bring material back from a customer claim, LANSA updates the customer file in MAPICS directly, while it uses MAPICS APIs to process the inventory transactions."
"Our immediate priority is to consolidate all four of MSC's plants on one iSeries running MAPICS and do all custom code and B2B extensions with Visual LANSA Framework. That is our target model. Three plants are already consolidated on a single IBM system i5, but there still is a mixture of systems.
"By the end of this year we will have also significantly increased the number and volume of EDI transactions handled by LANSA EDI Direct, building further on our integration with MAPICS. This will bring significant efficiencies across the organization and all its plants," concludes Needles.
LANSA's real-time integration with MAPICS, the productivity of Visual LANSA Framework and the flexibility of LANSA EDI Direct have been the keys to delivering the applications to meet MSC processing requirements
Company and System Information
- Material Sciences Corporation (MSC), headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, USA, was founded in 1971 and went public in 1984. MSC 's Engineered Materials and Solutions Group (EMS) is a world-class supplier of engineered material solutions. The EMS Group applies its expertise in metal composite technology to solve design challenges for automotive, appliance, electronic and telecom equipment manufacturers worldwide.
- MSC's 700 employees and a network of partners work to solve customer specific problems, overcoming technical barriers and enhancing performance.
- For more information visit: www.matsci.com
- MSC uses IBM system i5.
- MSC is extending and gradually replacing its Synon programs with LANSA.
- The LANSA based systems integrate with MAPICS release 7. As a reporting standard, MSC uses Visual LANSA to create reports as Excel files or PDF documents and dynamically generate links to the files for download. All reports have recently been stamped as Sarbanes-Oxley compliant. MAPICS reports are also generated with LANSA Reporter a reporting tool specifically for high volume DB2/400 data.
- LANSA Reporter is an advanced Client/Server reporting system for retrieving, processing, transforming and presenting iSeries data. It provides tight integration with LANSA's Repository to allow LANSA customers and business partners to leverage their investment in LANSA for information retrieval.
- LANSA Reporter is developed by LANSA partner Momentum Utilities, who specialize in the development, supply and support of data retrieval and presentation products for the IBM iSeries market.
- LANSA EDI Direct maps and translates EDI transaction sets into backend ERP systems and interface files. Built to integrate seamlessly with other LANSA products, such as LANSA Data Secure Direct (LANSA's AS2 solution) for EDI over the Internet, LANSA EDI Direct provides comprehensive validation and error monitoring and handling capabilities as well as a multi-platform environment and client/server administration.
- The Visual LANSA Framework is a design framework that empowers LANSA business developers to create highly graphical Windows and Web applications.
- Part of the Visual LANSA IDE, Visual LANSA Framework, is designed to boost developer productivity by providing an easy-to-use and easy-to-deploy Microsoft Outlook-style application framework. In addition, it supports the rapid prototype, design, implementation and deployment of common commercially-focused applications.