Applied Solution: ERP System Flushes Bottleneck At Bradley Corp.

AS/400 and ERP cut the production cycle from 10 days to just over one

Founded in 1921, Milwaukee-based Bradley Corporation is a one-stop shop for industrial washroom equipment. At four factory locations, the privately held company manufactures plumbing fixtures and products for institutional and industrial use-everything from showers and washfountains to toilet partitions, plastic lockers and accessories.

According to Bob Tremlett, vice president of IT, Bradley underwent an extensive reengineering of its operations in both the office environment and the shop floor in 1993. The end result was a new computing platform and new application software.

"We knew we needed a new computer system but we didn't want to automate our old way of doing things," Tremlett says. "We examined every process and task to see if it added value, and made significant changes before putting in a new computer system. If we'd done it the other way round, we would only have computerized inefficient processes."

The old platform was an IBM 4381 mainframe that was difficult to maintain and costly to operate. "We frequently had the operating system go down and couldn't determine what caused it," says Tremlett. "From an applications perspective, we had several disjointed systems that we had modified extensively. Order information, for example, would have to be keyed twice-for accounting and for the shop floor. Obviously, one of our objectives was to develop a more integrated system."

A particular problem for Bradley was a production bottleneck for its custom, assemble-to-order products. "Our plumbing fixtures have a lot of features and options," Tremlett says. "Previously, when we got an order, we would send it to our engineering department and they would come up with a bill of materials for that configuration. That process would average about ten days. One of our requirements for new software was a configurator that would shorten the time from receipt of order to the time we released it to the shop floor," he explains.

For the new platform, Bradley considered both AS/400 and Unix. "It was a dual decision between picking the application software and deciding on the platform," Tremlett says. "There were more robust application software packages available for the AS/400 than for Unix, and we decided that the AS/400 was more reliable and maintainable. In the mainframe world we needed full-time operators around the clock, six days a week. In the AS/400 world we don't need operators."

Bradley then began an extended search for application software. According to Tremlett, an initial selection of 50 products was narrowed to 12, then six, and, finally three, based on integrated core applications, hardware platform and implementation track record. "For each one we went through a standard process of visiting the vendors' headquarters, visiting one of their customers and a week of internal demonstrations and simulations," Tremlett says.

Ultimately, the company decided on the Frontier (then called HFA) ERP product from Friedman Corporation (Deerfield, Illinois). "It was a unanimous choice," Tremlett says. "We had 60 Bradley employees involved in testing at different times and they all thought Friedman was easier to use. Friedman was a smaller company than the other vendors so we thought we would have a better working relationship, which has been the case. Plus, we thought it offered the best configurator in the marketplace."

Bradley went live with Frontier in 1997, initially running it on an AS/400 500, which has since been upgraded to a Model 170.

Today, when an order for an assemble-to-order product is received, a screen asks the order entry clerk questions describing features and options. The answers specify the materials and exactly how an order is to be assembled. The order then goes to a scheduling report for the next day, which is sent directly to the shop floor.

"We're paperless out there, now," Tremlett says. "We used to have a shop packet containing drawings, routing information and a bill of materials that would accompany the order. Now the foreman can just check the schedule. When the order is complete the system automatically tells the shipping dock that it's ready to be shipped. After it ships, the system produces an invoice that includes freight costs, and this flows to receivables. It's all tightly integrated. We've gone from 10 days to a day and a quarter to fill an order and our on-time delivery rate is over 90 percent."

Clearly, there have been benefits, but in Bradley's circumstances they're hard to quantify, says Tremlett. "Normally, you would do a cost-justification up front. We didn't, because we knew we had to do something. Also, in some areas it's hard to say how much was due to Friedman and how much to the business reengineering. But through the combination of the new ERP system and the business reengineering, our inventory levels and space requirements on the shop floor have dropped."

"One key benefit of the new system is that it has allowed us to increase sales without adding staff," Tremlett says. "It has also enabled us to decrease our lead-times and increase our on-time deliveries." Three years ago, Bradley's customers would place orders well in advance and hope that Bradley would be able to generate the order when needed. Now they don't have to make the final decision so far in advance. Our future plans include offering customers access to order status information and order entry via our Web site.

"The first year we put the system in place was a rewarding one for us," Tremlett says. "Not only had we completed the implementation of the new system, but it was a record year in sales and profits. Every year since then has been even better."