ERP System Speeds Production Cycle for ADC

Advertising Display Co.'s ERP package cuts production time and serves as an effective marketing tool.

Advertising Display Co. (ADC) makes the product displays that tempt shoppers from retail counters and points of purchase. Headquartered in Lyndhurst, N.J., with manufacturing facilities in three other states, ADC is a full service company, offering customers concept and design services, as well as printing and delivery of the finished display.

"In the consumer products industry, customers are demanding the latest products earlier than ever, and this trend only promises to continue," says Marc Mackin, ADC's director of information services. "Lead times are only going to get shorter, so we have to take every step we can to make our processes as efficient as possible."

Until recently, the turn-around time from initial work order to shipment (including the ordering of all components and materials) was three weeks. Thanks to numerous process and system changes, ADC has reduced that turn-around time to five days.

At the heart of these changes at ADC is a new ERP system from Lilly Software Associates (Hampton, N.H.). ADC started evaluating ERP products in January 1998, and took a full eight months to select Lilly's Visual Manufacturing in September.

"Visual Manufacturing is a full-service ERP package intended specifically for the job shop market," Mackin says. "It's a very visual client/server application and was the best fit we found for our needs."

ADC considered a number of other ERP packages-- including those from such well-known providers as J.D. Edwards, Baan, and BPCS -but ultimately, decided on Visual Manufacturing in part because of its ties to the AS/400. Although ADC's final decision was not specifically hardware driven, Mackin wanted to remain on the AS/400 platform, and Visual Manufacturing scored extra points in the selection process because it could operate on ADC's AS/400 53S running V4 R3.

"We already had AS/400 development expertise in house," Mackin explains. "And IBM has made some incredible advances to maintain the AS/400's viability."

Where ADC users previously relied on a cumbersome green-screen legacy system to access data, they now have immediate access to information about any job at any stage of production. As soon as an estimate becomes a work order, for instance, the system uses a visual presentation much like file cards for each of the components that make up the finished job. Behind them are more cards for all of the operations and materials required for each component. Data updates and communication between facilities is by frame relay via T1 lines.

"It works perfectly for our users," Mackin says. "It's incredibly simple, but under the covers it dynamically links all the information you need about a given vendor, purchase or job. It gives you graphical visibility to the status of a job. And as you make progress in terms of purchasing and production, histogram graphs appear on the cards showing the stage of completion for that component. I can point to any component and issue a purchase order, or recap the job cost at any time."

One of the system's strengths is its scheduling module, according to Mackin. "In our business, flexibility is critical because changes happen all the time. Waiting for approvals, for instance, can hold up production. If we stuck to a rigid schedule we'd create major starts and stops in the plant," he says.

The scheduling system is linked to all the information about each job, the required resources and the desired completion dates. Jobs can be rescheduled by moving them graphically on the screen.

"You can see potential trouble, or where you have slack time," Mackin says. "For example, in our Dayton, Ohio, corrugated paper plant there's a daily meeting to review the approval status and readiness of each job. They literally went from putting cards on a magnetic board to dragging and dropping on a screen."

The production and scheduling modules are fully integrated with the financial and billing modules. The only piece of Visual Manufacturing ADC does not yet have is distribution, which is not currently available for the AS/400, although ADC's legacy distribution and logistics system automatically updates the Lilly package. "For now, we can continue to use our existing logistics system and migrate in stages," Mackin says.

The primary benefit of the new system has been the simplification of normal business processes like billing, shipping and purchasing. "It simplifies activity that must go on, like purchasing. It could take a project manager hours to process purchase orders for a given job. It takes minutes now," he says. "The graphical interface means less keystrokes for everyone."

ADC's future plans include more innovation such as an extranet capability under development now that will link ADC's Lotus Domino applications with Visual Manufacturing to give ADC's customers-and their end customers-order visibility over the Internet.

As Mackin explains, the plan is to have the system support both active and passive requests. A customer can ask and receive a direct response to a specific question, for example, or request that they be e-mailed automatically later-such as when a job reaches a certain stage or the product ships. "The prototype system is being developed now," he says. "We expect to have it up and running within six months."

The company is so pleased with the early success of the implementation, according to Mackin, that ADC has been showing off the new system to its customers. "Our philosophy is to use our system as a marketing tool," he says. "This means listening to the marketplace and bringing new technology to the table that will make not only our customers' lives easier but our own as well.

"I've been working in medium-sized companies for years, and with the AS/400 since it first came out. In my view, ADC's commitment to the technology is impressive," Mackin says. "Management can see the reaction of our customer base to the implementation of a new technology. So a lot of the upgrades, like the choice of Visual Manufacturing, have been driven by customer response."