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Software Solutions
Tuesday | 16 August, 2016 | 2:18 pm

All considerations

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Above: Invera’s STRATIX software handles flat-rolled processes including cut-to-length, multi-strand blanking and slitting.

Software specifically programmed for metal service makes transitioning easier

August 2016 - When approaching new software, it’s often a matter of “How do I learn this?” and embarking on a time-consuming process of determining how software features fit into pre-existing operations. Programmers frequently find themselves working backward in an attempt to figure out how to adjust rather than expect software to automatically meet their needs. 

According to Ryan Painter at Champagne Metals, when it came to searching for an all-inclusive ERP system, not all software offered the same package. “We learned pretty quickly that most of the software platforms we looked into involved us having to go in and develop and explain to software developers how their software could fit into our business,” says Painter, chief financial officer of the Glenpool, Oklahoma-based metal processor and distributor.

“We started our search thinking we would need to make changes to our processes and adapt to the software,” he continues. Champagne’s search led Painter’s team to Invera Corp. in Houston. “[Their] STRATIX software fit our business model well, offering solutions we didn’t see elsewhere,” he says. “STRATIX really made sense for Champagne because it is software designed for metal service centers. The software fields and terminologies were already a part of the software so we could focus on our business cases and the flow of the work.”

Actively implementing the software was possible as Invera worked intently with Champagne’s IT staff. ”Invera helped in all aspects of the software implementation,” Painter says. “This allowed Champagne to work on training and testing to keep the implementation on schedule.”

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If the correct tags aren’t scanned, the needed shipping documents aren’t generated, allowing Champagne Metals to control the process and avoid mistakes.

Streamlined process

Catering to metals service centers, Invera’s STRATIX software is able to handle flat-rolled processes, including cut to length, multi-strand blanking and slitting. The software also allows for tag tracing, heat number and mill test certification handling. Service centers use the software to keep track of inventory and toll processing jobs, and operators can conduct production planning online. 

“With multistep process handling and online, real-time order status information, customers can keep track of inventory without needing generic part numbers. [They] also have the ability to process an order across multiple warehouses and STRATIX also handles side-cuts and returns to stock,” says Peter Doucet, vice president of consulting at Invera. The software also allows for integrated outside processing and value-added services.

“Because the system is designed for service centers, Champagne Metals did not have to customize or modify STRATIX [in order to handle] sheet products, for example,” explains Doucet. STRATIX automatically enables the entry of gauge, width and length tolerances along with maximum weight per skid. For coil products, tolerances are for gauge and width only, but include tolerances for ID/OD and max coil weights in addition to max skid weight, he adds.

“When using a generic system, these would have to be programmed or customized,” he continues. “With STRATIX, these are out of the box.”

Replacing paper

Updating to the new software reduced waste—especially of paper. “Instead of papers placed into different baskets, it’s all on a screen—the papers were no longer the driving force,” Painter says. ”We have streamlined processes throughout all our locations and branches due to this software.”

Champagne’s old process meant paperwork passed from one department’s basket to another. “We had to sift through those baskets at different desks to find what we were looking for. Now, from start to finish, we can see where any order is at any point during the production process,” Painter says. Better visibility throughout the movement of each job has allowed the company to plan more efficiently, including having a better understanding of what inventory to keep on hand.

While on the shop floor, workers can scan material with handheld devices. Anything being shipped out is scanned “and if the correct tags aren’t scanned, the needed shipping documents aren’t generated,” allowing Champagne to control the process and minimize mistakes, Painter says. 

“We used to have truck loaders perform double-checks to ensure everything was being shipped out as needed,” he continues. “With STRATIX, the system handles that. It knows what should be there and our employees can be on the cut to length lines with the ability to clearly and accurately track what they’ve produced and consumed.”

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Multistep process handling and real-time order status allows for inventory tracking without needing generic part numbers.

Now when a customer asks for an update or status, Champagne can check all the information in real-time. “Seeing when an order is scheduled to be cut or a coil is expected to arrive from the mill required more time prior to going live on STRATIX,” Painter says. Turnaround time and visibility improved and the benefits span from order entry to invoicing. “The software takes the information, presents it correctly and is easy to modify or change if we need to during the process.”

One major difference between setting up STRATIX and non-metal service center-specific software is that users can select standard metal-specific options rather than being forced to spend time customizing the application themselves. “When setting up a machine for the warehouse, the user pulls from a drop-down menu to specify the type of process: slitting, cut-to-length, sawing, plate cutting, heat treatment—as such the implementation and use is more intuitive,” Doucet says.

Ongoing updates

When customers come to Invera in need of a new software system, the installation and startup can last from five to 12 months. “The time is impacted by the size of the company—whether a single branch or many—as well as the variety of operations they handle,” Doucet says. “Does the company handle flat-rolled and bars? Tube and plate processing might take longer than a company that does only flat-rolled or plate processing, for instance.”

Including certain features is based, in part, on customer response, which Doucet says continually evolves. “Customer feedback is received, categorized and reviewed prior to the start of a new release,” he adds.

Metal service centers have a unique proposition, says Doucet. They aren’t strictly distributors of parts or manufacturers so their requirements contain “certain nuances that are not standard in other industries, which makes good but generic systems difficult to implement.” 

“We need that kind of transparency and flexibility as we continue to grow,” says Painter. Champagne Metals turns 20 years old this year and the company shows no signs of slowing down. “We recently doubled our Indiana facility and installed the ‘111,’ the widest non-ferrous cut-to-length line [for aluminum sheet]. We’re growing and reaching new customers every day—we can’t afford to miss out on any opportunities.” MM

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