SCM Software for Mills

  • Written By: Ashfaque Ahmed
  • Published: July 17 2004


Mills produce very different products than products which are made in a typical process or discrete manufacturing. Mill products contain order specific attributes like width, surface finish, length, chemical composition, physical and chemical tolerance limits, and standard product specification (either company specific or more common industry specific). Mill products can be in the form of coils, rolls, bundles etc., and finished mill products are made by operations involving rolling, side trimming, order length cutting, surface treatment etc.

Steel, other metals, paper, packaging material, textiles, and some other similar products manufacturing industry segments constitute the mill industry. Each of these industry segments may have a different set of unique requirements but all of them share some common operational and business similarities.

For example, a typical order may consist of product names, weight, material grade, width, surface treatment, length, roll or coil inner core diameter, roll or coil outer diameter etc. From this order information, the number of rolls or coils for each order is calculated. Trim losses and product attributes with a lot of variation etc. are also common and these needs are to be addressed in the same way for all these industry segments.

Process Challenges

Some of the process challenges include

  • Huge number of variant product attributes: Whereas the total number of products may be small, the variation in product attributes leads to the need of maintaining huge data.

  • Trim losses: Generally orders are produced by cutting from jumbo rolls or slabs. As a result, a lot of material wastage occurs in form of trim loss. The greater the number of trim machines on the processing line, the more trim waste will be produced. With trim losses, businesses lose a lot of money.

  • Inner cylinder change: In many cases the product is rolled an inner core. For different orders, the diameter of this inner core may be different. So each time a different inner core with different diameter is required, the inner cylinder setup has to be changed. This leads to a lot of wasted time.

  • Machine setup for a different width product: If the machine is set for different width each time an order is processed, then a lot of time may be waste as machine is being setup time.

  • Changes in orders: There are many times when one order consists of many lines because many products can be a part of the same order. Whenever there is a change in an order, there is the chance of making an error when deciding if a new line should be added or if an existing line needs to be updated.

  • Container stuffing: At the time of taking an order, it is difficult to determine if the completed order will fit inside a container. Sometimes a very small quantity is left after a container is full. This can create a major headache for the sales department.


The challenges mentioned above, can pose difficulties. Nevertheless, these challenges can be tackled.

  • Infinite number of variant product attributes for each product: When defining products in the software, a facility can be provided where infinite number of product attributes can be defined for each product.

  • Trim optimization: Trim loss can be minimized by combining orders where the sum of widths in the orders closely matches the width of the jumbo roll or the slab. By optimizing trim losses, businesses can save a lot of money.

  • Sequencing orders: To overcome production line routing delays, orders can be sequenced so that the change-over of machines can be minimized. The same technique is applied in other cases of change over like inner cylinder change over.

  • Multiple output planning: By cutting from the same stock of rolls or slabs, many orders can be fulfilled from the same stock. This will save both trim loss as well as machine set up time.

  • Pegging: It takes into consideration multiple sales orders and keeps the information about the original order through all production levels. This technique is able to process multiple orders at the same time and yet keep information about products, work in process, and orders all the time.

  • Changes in orders: Whenever there are changes in orders, either new lines can be created if there is an addition to an order or existing lines can be updated depending on situation.

  • Container stuffing: At the time of order taking, the sales person will be able to know whether the whole order can fit inside a shipping container. Depending on this information, a customer can change the amount in his order so that the order can fit after a request from the sales person.


A large number of product attributes constitute the single largest challenge for any supply chain software made for mills. The supply chain software should be able to handle these changes correctly.

Though each segment of mill industry has a different set of unique requirements, there are, nevertheless, needs which constitute a common platform for all these segments.

If a supply chain software meets these common needs then other industry segment specific needs (which are not many in number and do not pose significant problems for the software vendor) can be added or configured without much problem. Therefore customers should always look for the discussed functionalities in the software and if these functionalities are met, then the software is ready for prime time deployment.

About the author

Ashfaque Ahmed is a consultant of advanced planning, scheduling and optimization techniques in the area of manufacturing and distribution. He works with small to medium organizations in the food and beverage, textiles, pharmaceuticals, packaging, paper, metals, CPG process manufacturing industries, and automotive in the discrete manufacturing industry to solve their supply chain-related problems. He holds an MBA in Information Systems and a bachelor degree in engineering.

Visit his web page at, or e-mail him at

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