Datatex and Dan River Apparel Fabrics - Ten Years and Counting

  • Written By: Bob Beecy
  • Published On: June 21 2002



Datatex and Dan River Apparel Fabrics Ten Years and Counting

Featured Author - Bob Beecy - June 21, 2002

Introduction

The year 2002 marked a significant anniversary for Datatex, S. A. and Dan River's Apparel Fabrics Division. It was precisely ten years ago, in early 1992, that Apparel Fabrics took possession of Datatex's TIM package (Textile Integrated Manufacturing) and began the process of implementing an ERP system that had been specifically designed to meet the needs of a textile processing firm.

Dan River Apparel Fabrics Division is one of three business units of Dan River, Inc., a textile manufacturer with annual sales of $650MM. The Apparel Fabrics Division, with annual sales of $130MM, is a fully integrated manufacturer of fancy, yarn-dyed cotton and blended fabrics sold to garment manufacturers and to the home textile and craft market.

As the result of a change of ownership in the late 1980's, information systems were made a strategic priority to enable the company to meet market requirements and to provide management with the tools to maximize revenues and minimize waste. Each operating division of Dan River was permitted the autonomy to select the system that best fit its distinct needs. In early 1991, Apparel Fabrics hired a project leader with experience in implementing business systems, formed a project team and a steering committee and began the process of selecting and implementing an integrated business system. The reader should note that at the time this project began the term ERP had not yet become part of our lexicon.

Editor's Note:
This case study was selected for publication because it reflects a long-term relationship that began with a thorough and demanding selection process. It illustrates the importance of an extensive and detailed system selection process.

Setting System Requirements

The project team began the demanding process of defining system requirements and testing various software offerings. The team documented 27 specific package requirements and began the selection process. They soon discovered that this "short" list of requirements eliminated all but a very small number of suppliers, and upon further investigation it became evident that there was no packaged solution for textiles, particularly one that would handle the highly diversified product mix offered by Apparel Fabrics. The only option readily available to Apparel Fabrics was to buy a generic package and have a system's integrator customize the product to fit the unique demands of textiles, especially the variety of packaging configurations and quality characteristics involved in the business.

In desperation, the team opted to investigate the current "state of the art" process industry software solution, thinking there would be synergy between the attributes of such a package and their requirements. This also proved to be a source of frustration and the team resigned itself to the task of shoehorning the implementation into a poorly tailored solution.

It was at this time, in a moment of pure serendipity, that Dan River's IBM Account Representative suggested that they take a look at a new software product called TIM, originated by Datatex, that claimed to be a system's solution for textiles.

While there was immediate attraction to Datatex, it was tempered by the fact it was a foreign package with no established base in the US. Furthermore, the package was new to the marketplace and the suite of applications were, as yet, not fully developed and the package, having been developed in Europe, did not conform to a number of business practices common to the US. Finally, it was obvious that the marketing firm representing the product, at the time of the initial demo, did not have a strong knowledge of either the package or textiles.

Despite these concerns, it was also obvious that the package was developed to meet the needs of textile producers and that its table-driven architecture gave it the flexibility to handle difficult and changing requirements. Apparel Fabrics needed assurance that Datatex would continue to grow and mature and that it had the legs to service the account for the foreseeable future. The decision was made to bring Ronen (Ronnie) Hagin, a principal of Datatex and one of its two original system developers, to Danville to meet with the project team.

It was at this meeting that the Apparel Fabrics team grew comfortable with the expertise and sincerity exhibited by Ronnie Hagin, and Ronnie grew to appreciate the knowledge and focus of the team. Each party realized that a relationship between the two companies would be key to their strategic objectives; Apparel Fabrics to implement a truly integrated ERP backbone for their operating system and Datatex to align itself with a successful US implementation. Over the next few months the parties negotiated the purchase of the software and related services and just before Christmas in 1991 the computer tapes containing TIM arrived in Danville, VA.

System Implementation

During this same period, the Apparel Fabrics Steering Committee undertook a cost-benefit analysis to support the expense of the hardware, software and training required to implement the new package. The Committee identified a number of expected improvements that would result from the new systems, and the activities encompassed in the implementation, and calculated annual savings that readily justified anticipated expenditures. Along with these savings, the Committee set goals for on-time deliveries, lead-time reduction and improved customer service.

The implementation was planned in stages and was expected to take 24 months in a multi-plant environment. With the loading of the software, it began in earnest. Although TIM appeared to be the best solution for Apparel Fabrics, the other operating divisions selected ERP systems that they felt better fit their business needs.

As Datatex did not have domestic support at this time, Apparel personnel were required to spend significant time understanding the intricacies of the package. While this slowed the implementation, it did increase the team's knowledge and comprehension of the package and served to benefit the implementation in the long run.

Conference room testing and a "quick-slice" implementation, undertaken prior to the full release of the package, indicated the need to Americanize the package. TIM, as delivered, did not adequately support standard costing, EDI was non-existent and the package did not handle retail pick-and-pack. There was no easy way to purge old data from the system and management reporting methodologies were incomplete. The weave portion of the system was a release away, so integration with CAD would need to be developed.

In addition, there was a myriad of other small changes required to align the functionality to what US producers were accustomed to using. When these issues were raised with Datatex the relationship between Datatex and Apparel Fabrics became even stronger as Datatex undertook a number of modifications, at reasonable or no cost, to see that the package was brought into conformance for the US market.

The implementation of the package went smoothly, with some minor bumps, but no major crashes. The original 24-month estimate proved optimistic, resulting from the time spent to learn the package and the fact that we could not curtail business while the new systems were being rolled out.

The fact that the textile industry was emerging from the recession of the early 90's only served to complicate matters. These challenges forced Apparel Fabrics to create interfaces with existing, legacy systems, which chewed-up resources, and a phased approach to the system's cutover lessened the risk but slowed the implementation.

Apparel Fabrics persevered and Datatex continued its support, and by early fall of 1995 the mainframe that had been used to run Apparels' legacy system was powered-off. TIM was now running the business, with the exception of earning standard cost, accumulating variances and functions associated with a general ledger package. Since Datatex does not offer GL as part of its application suite, these functions were provided by the package selected for use by the corporation and the other divisions, which readily interfaced with TIM.

It would take three additional years for Datatex and Dan River to create, test and develop the MACO module that would allow Apparel Fabrics to eliminate the sub-system that provided costing. Once this was done, the TIM backbone was totally in place and working smoothly. Since that time, Dan River Apparel Fabrics absorbed a major competitor and TIM was spread to two additional manufacturing facilities.

Conclusion

As the title to this piece indicates, Datatex and Dan River Apparel Fabrics are still counting; counting on each other and on the benefits of their relationship. Datatex looks to Apparel Fabrics, as their most mature US user, to advise them of corrections and modifications and uses Apparel Fabrics as a reference site for the package. Apparel Fabrics has diligently kept current with all the releases to the package, up to and including Release 7, installed in 2001 in record time with modicum of effort. Thus, visitors always see a current version of the TIM package.

Dan River's Apparel Fabrics continues to count on the benefits of the trust they demonstrated in Ronnie Hagin and Datatex ten years prior. They achieved significant payback from the implementation and continue to see annual benefits. The performance improvements realized include reductions in product lead-times, improved on-time deliveries, reductions in off quality and overhead, and vastly improved customer service. But, probably, the most notable benefit came as a result of choosing a package with which they could grow the business and that worked diligently to grow with them. The savings in money and human capital from using one package over the last ten years are huge and have had a major impact on Apparel Fabrics ability to remain a viable domestic producer. Now that Datatex has created a significant presence in the US, and has staffed itself with personnel ready and able to assist converts to TIM, there is no need for new TIM users to work as hard to dissect and understand the suite of products now being offered. But one wonders, however, in the absence of this effort, if future users will achieve the depth of knowledge and appreciation of TIM as evidenced by Apparel Fabrics and if the bond between supplier and customer will be as strong as that of Datatex and Dan River Apparel Fabrics.

About the Author

Bob Beecy, CFPIM, CIRM, C.P.M., is an experienced manufacturing profession who has worked in both discrete and repetitive industries. Bob is Senior Director-Planning and Customer Requirements for Dan River Apparel Fabrics, a role he was promoted to after serving as the Project Leader for a successful ERP implementation. He has also helped lead Dan River Apparel Fabrics in the implementation APS and MES tools to assist his division in the utilization of PC based scheduling tools to supplement the ERP backbone.

Bob, a member of APICS, has published numerous articles in APICS publications and other industry periodicals.

Bob can be reached at rbeecy@danriver.com.

 
comments powered by Disqus