Applied Solution: Regulatory Compliance Solution Speeds Reporting, Labeling

Chemical manufacturer integrates compliance application with business system, achieves cost savings and higher accuracy

Uniqema, a business unit of ICI Americas, is a leading manufacturer of specialty chemicals, supplying a range of industries in over 90 countries.

Government regulatory bodies keep an eagle eye on the chemicals industry. Like other manufacturers whose products contain chemicals deemed hazardous, Uniqema must develop and provide documents proving regulatory compliance, including the material safety data sheets (MSDS) distributed to customers, the standard labeling required by OSHA, the chemical reports required by the EPA, and the special container marking and labeling required by DOT.

"Compliance reporting is ongoing," says Greg Lindner, technical manager for crop protection additives. EPA chemical reports have multiple deadlines during the year, for instance, and the OSHA MSDS require regular updates. Failure to meet these requirements can result in big penalties. Missing an EPA deadline, for example, can mean fines on the order of $25,000 a day.

Until December 1995, reporting was also arduous. "It was a very manual, very labor intensive process performed by different individuals, coordinating information from different software applications and databases," Lindner says. "There was no one place to get and maintain information. It was gathered up from various sources."

In 1994, in a move off a mainframe, Uniqema (then ICI Surfactants, a part of ICI Chemicals and Polymers) acquired an AS/400 to run a new business system-the BPCS ERP package from System Software Associates (Chicago, Ill.) The AS/400 has been upgraded on a regular basis at Uniqema, most recently to a Model 730, running V4 R3. Its existing regulatory compliance software ran separately on an aging DEC VAX.

Uniqema was also exploring a replacement compliance management package to run on the AS/400. Until one was selected and implemented, the business system ran on the AS/400 and the old regulatory compliance application continued to run on the VAX, with little or no connectivity between them. "Integration was a major issue for us," Lindner says. "We were looking for a solution we could run alongside our business system and not worry about whether System A could talk to System B."

According to Lindner, the search and evaluation took place in two stages. During the first stage, the platform investigation led to 10 potential candidates. "We weeded out the ones that weren't going to pass muster, including a mainframe-based application and upgrading the existing VAX-based system."

Eventually, the choice was among products from Hazox Corp.'s Environmental Health and Safety System, Atrion International's Chemmate and Chempliant. Uniqema chose the Hazox product. "One of the critical decision points was integration," Lindner says. "Hazox was the only system that could offer us a close, reliable link to our AS/400 business system."

The package consists of five modules: MSDS Management, MSDS Distribution, Chemical Reporting, MSDS Formulation and HAZMAT Labeling. On a single set of databases the system keeps track of the composition of chemical products and their distribution, facility inventory levels and physical health and safety data.

Implementation occurred in two phases. The first implementation, of the MSDS Management and MSDS Distribution modules, was completed in early 1996. "The Management module is basically a database with all your documents in it. The Distribution module links those documents with customers and forwards them automatically. Those two were pretty straightforward so we went with them first," Lindner explains.

The remaining modules, bundled together as phase two, were implemented by the end of the year. "We had to wait on labeling. Since our old labeling system was VAX-based there was a lot of reengineering we had to do," Lindner says. "We wanted a brand new system redesigned from the ground up that would perform according to our specific distribution requirements. Hazox helped us build that."

Now integration is transparent. "When it comes to who gets what MSDS, or how many containers of what product goes to which customer, it all comes from BPCS," Lindner says. "Or, for chemical reporting, for example, how much of a particular chemical was at our facility on an average daily balance during the previous year, Hazox links reach back to the standard inventory and distribution information in the business system. We don't have to reenter this data. When Hazox merges business distribution and customer data with the health, safety and chemical regulation data, it generates MSDS, chemical reports and labels."

The most highly customized application, according to Lindner, is the drum labeling system. Orders can be shipped on the same day they're received. Each container must carry labels with industry standard as well as customer specific information regarding the contents. Currently, the three Uniqema plants now online to the Hazox system, (in New Castle, Del., Charlotte, N.C., and Branford, Ontario) ship about 130,000 containers per year. When a fourth plant in Patterson, N.J. is added soon, the volume will increase by an estimated 30,000.

Previously, employees at the shipping locations would have to select the proper label form from an inventory of preprinted label stock, separately key in information from shipping documents and print labels with product information, labels with consignment information and special labels, like bar codes, for each container.

Now, using a combination of thermal transfer and laser printers, the system prints complete labels automatically. A customer database for labeling indicates what information is to be included on a certain customer's labels for each product. "We can print as many as three different types of labels for every customer-product combination, and there is no operator input required," Lindner says. "The system prints out the labels with the data the customer is looking for in the format he wants."

Customer service representatives do updates and changes. "If a customer calls and adds a product or changes a customer code, or if we change a product code, it's done by customer service in real time," Lindner says. "If we print a label that same afternoon we get all the updated data."

Uniqema obtained a payback on its investment in the Hazox system in two years. According to Lindner, savings from the first implementation phase in the first year were 70 percent. Savings from the second phase were roughly 30 percent. This number was lower, he points out, because of the necessary amount of custom coding. In addition, eliminating maintenance of the VAX system represented some major cost savings during the first phase.

"We haven't kept track of the time savings we achieved on the plant floor by reengineering the labeling system," Lindner says. "But we know there are savings, and we know we're getting levels of accuracy and specificity that we never had before. There are also hidden areas where we end up saving quite a bit, like eliminating preprinted label stock.

"We are an innovative company," Lindner continues. "We innovate in a number of ways--logistically and chemically. We feel what we've done with the Hazox system has given us a lot of flexibility to meet our customers' requirements."