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Web-based Enterprise Resource Planning Solution Exhibits Lean Approach

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: July 26 2006

TROPOS' Lean Approach

TROPOS, the flagship product of Strategic Systems International (SSI) (http://www.ssi-world.com), uses manufacturing resource planning (MRP) for long-term planning, and master production scheduling (MPS) for short-term scheduling. This approach appeals even to some discrete manufacturers with short lead times and high volumes, where the traditional MRP approach often shows many shortcomings (and can even be a recipe for disaster). And although MRP runs can now be performed in minutes rather than the hours and days of yesteryear (owing to increasing processing power), planning on the back of MRP in an agile manufacturing environment means either holding large safety stocks, or dealing with unhappy, irate, and poorly served customers (see Demand-driven versus Traditional Materials Requirement Planning).

Part Three of the series Vendor Defends Its Strongholds With Focused Enterprise Resource Planning Solution.

For background information on SSI and TROPOS, see Vendor Defends Its Strongholds With Focused Enterprise Resource Planning Solution. For a discussion of TROPOS for selected industries, see A Focused Web-based Solution for Chemicals, Drugs, and Mill-Based Industries.

Thus, TROPOS consolidates all forecasts into the MPS, and these forecasts can be derived from customers, marketing, sales, or production. Existing demand in the form of actual orders will also be taken into the MPS, and a clever capability in TROPOS is that the MPS takes all the different types of demand (such as forecasts, actual sales orders, and production and purchasing schedules), and applies stock netting and batching rules at this level before proceeding a level down into the production and materials planning logic.

In TROPOS, forward material requirements can be planned and dynamically controlled as a direct output from production scheduling. Traditional MRP can be effective for setting up a long-term supply chain (for example, to forecast sales by product, to create long-standing purchase agreements, for strategic resource planning, and for intermediate stocking policies), but is not reactive enough to support dynamic and frequent requirement changes on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis. Since scheduling of critical resources such as production capacity, labor, and materials is much more responsive on an hourly (or daily, or weekly) basis, TROPOS uses MRP for long-term planning, and MPS for short-term scheduling.

TROPOS uses the tentative production schedule calculated by the TROPOS Demand Management module, and then determines the best way to satisfy the demand for finished and intermediate products. Therefore, TROPOS Scheduling operates at three levels:

  1. multi-plant scheduling at the enterprise level;
  2. rough-cut plant scheduling; and
  3. finite scheduling of production lines (multi-plant scheduling spreads the demand across multiple manufacturing plants based on plant capacity, stock levels, transport costs and times, and current load, whereas at the plant level, rough-cut scheduling can be used, either on an infinite or finite basis, to determine medium- to long-term capacity requirements and to plan for shutdown maintenance tasks).

Finally, at the detailed level, TROPOS Scheduling uses the tentative MPS, and applies line loading and product sequencing logic to produce a revised production schedule which takes account of changing demands and current production progress. The schedule can produce work-to lists by week, day, shift, hour, or even down to the nearest minute. When linked with the material call-off processing in the Process and Materials Planning module, TROPOS Scheduling removes the need for frequent MRP reruns.

Scheduling can be applied to the MPS because TROPOS will net off or consume stock, and apply batching rules when the MPS is created; the scheduling rules will therefore be applied to actual production demand. TROPOS supports a variety of scheduling methods, including both finite and infinite scheduling, and sequencing rules, which are available to be selected online. During the scheduling process, the system will create a production schedule of work, and a material call-off schedule for the production lines. Before production starts, the material call-off schedule will have identified what material needs to be moved to the line-side store locations, and at what time. It will also highlight any shortages, and identify any existing purchase orders or schedules (or requisitions) that could satisfy the shortage. This material call-off schedule is linked to the production schedule, and therefore any changes to production plans will automatically update material needs. Production stock locations have re-order point, back-flushing, safety stock, and Kanban functionality, according to the type of material, and can each have different provisioning parameters (even though they may contain the same components).

This, together with the material call-off schedule, vendor consignment stock, and direct material call-off from suppliers, means that the volume of inventory in the supply chain can reduce dramatically (in other words, correct information and fast delivery can now replace expensive inventory pile-ups). While not necessarily having all the extensive bits and pieces (as prescribed in Lean Manufacturing: A Primer), SSI's lean approach nevertheless ensures that the right materials and resources are in the right place at the right time, as the key to more agile and profitable manufacturing. The traditional "big job MRP" model also requires multiple production orders (to accommodate all BOM levels), and repeated MRP runs to keep these BOM levels aligned with the final product level, with separate bookings of intermediate products. Conversely, the TROPOS "flattened BOM" model needs only one production order, owing to the automatic alignment of BOM levels in the process model (where the defined process operations and stages are associated ingredients and intermediate products), and the booking of intermediates is optional.

Know and Nurture Thy Company

Once industrial expertise has been established at the company level, the SSI claims that TROPOS is highly parameterized and uses standard integration tools and application designer toolset for user self-sufficiency. Integration is provided via the TROPOS Network Interface (TNI) toolset (for desktop input/output [I/O] processing), the TROPOS Server Interface toolset (for server-level processing, including validation, security, and rules-based integration), and the TROPOS Web Browser Interface for remote access.

The product includes the native TROPOS Active workflow engine to customize business process flows. SSI also provides other open database connectivity (ODBC)-based toolkits, such as TROPOS Incoming Generic Interface (TIGI) for batch import and export, and a data collection device scripting language (for instance, in the SSI Shop Floor Data Capture [SFDC] module). TROPOS Application Designer allows customers to tailor the product to their processes—not by making changes to source code, but by configuring the way they fit together. This good balance between a package and customization provides customers with flexibility without compromising the core system.

To illustrate this, especially for its retail and CPG customers, TROPOS provides an extensive sales order input module, with input screens to be tailored to each individual user's specific requirements, whether it is to reduce complexity and maximize operator efficiency for speed (for the fast-moving consumer goods [FMCG] environments, for example), or to provide enough detail where necessary. Automatic product allocation to the sales order can be based on ATP or on customized rules, while the allocation levels can be by location, by product, or by lot or batch. Manual allocation can override the automatic allocation based on product, delivery, or order number. Similarly, goods picking rules per sales order can be automatic (with levels by home, domestic, or export; method; priority; area; or product group), and manual selection can again override the automatic selection, either by order number or by customer. Some other capabilities customized using the Application Designer could include the interface between TROPOS modules and third-party applications; order progress tracking; telephone stock enquiry and reservation; management and control of stock between manufacturing sites; and optimization of carpet slitting.

For more information on the requirements of CPG manufacturers, see Yes, We Have No Bananas: Consumer Goods Manufacturers Serve Demanding Customers.

And Then, Know (and Love) Thy Job

Last but not least, at the individual user level TROPOS offers a portal approach to provide the user with control over the display. Application Designer is an SSI software developer's toolkit that simplifies the rapid customization of screens, the combination of several screens in one, or the development of completely new screens and applications. Support for an integrated supply chain extends further within the business, and SSI has products and services for remote and mobile data collection, and for machine integration at plant level. The vital information from this level, integrated with ERP data (and analyzed and presented in the form of key performance indicators [KPIs] in job and role-based portals), gives a level of management support and increase in personal productivity that has not been available so easily before.

SSI users often cite the great ability to manipulate the front end to suit their individual personalized needs (for senior executives, managers, occasional users, frequent users, shop-floor users, and so on) without touching the back-end transactional system. These users might want to selectively see KPIs, external web pages, alerts and task lists, enquiries and reports, authorized TROPOS sessions and transactions, role-base applications, company-related intranet info, and the like. For instance, employee self-service (ESS) transactions deployed across an intranet, with business processes managed with workflow technology, might significantly reduce administration costs, increase the speed of transactions, and provide the level of control essential for effective management in today's fast-moving environment. An intranet site can act as a full-time, non-stop operation, and as a central company resource and point of reference that is easier to maintain and quicker to access, while ensuring that current and consistent information is used. It can also be a central point of access for applications, resulting in role-based personalisation, easier navigation, and improved productivity.

Many of these initiatives came with the release of TROPOS 2.4.0 in the early 2000s, which in addition to several new functional features, introduced the TROPOS toolset to make it even easier to configure to meet individual processing requirements, and to integrate with other systems. Some of the new features include the aforementioned attribute-based manufacturing (which removes the need for multiple part numbers); improved subcontract processing control; enhanced dispatch planning; new quality management features; a range of business-to-business (B2B) e-business kits and extensible markup language (XML) documents; the TROPOS SuperSearch Business Information Portal; and specialist functionality for the drinks industry (including enhanced customs and excise [C&E] reporting, the detailed Bulk Whisky Workbench, and warehouse space rental management.

For specific information on the whisky industry, see Must-have Requirements for the Whisky Industry.

But perhaps most prominent of all is the aforementioned TROPOS Active built-in business process automation and workflow technology, which helps relieve some of the silo culture problem that sees information stuck in one place, inaccessible to those in other parts of the business or supply chain who really need it. The TROPOS Active engine allows users to define processes, events, rules, and formats, and to configure automated responses to these. Thus, for example, the arrival of a sales order could trigger an e-mail alert to a planner; the confirmation of a delivery date might automatically result in a message being sent to the customer; or an alert coming to the system from the shop floor might prompt the planner to reschedule production. Also, TROPOS Active can link to external systems, or use messaging protocols such as XML to automate processes that previously relied on manual inputs—and the users do not necessarily need to be programmers.

The launch of TROPOS Active, a rules- and event-based extension aimed at creating a framework for automating processes within and across enterprises, has come with the idea of permitting more timely and reliable communication, proactive alerting, warning and escalation, and faster supply chain integration (see Giving a Business Process Management Edge to Enterprise Resource Planning).

SSI also has a range of additional software modules and tools for configuring business-to-business (B2B) collaborative commerce systems, and other Web-based systems, including intranets, extranets, and web sites. The vendor has indeed long sensed customers' needs for extending information technology (IT) systems beyond the conventional set of enterprise resource planning (ERP) inward-facing business modules, to include integration with production equipment, and shop floor and mobile data collection, by deploying information internally using role-based portals on a company intranet, and by providing information links to suppliers, customers, partners, and beyond. SSI provides solutions to address all of these areas via TROPOS Collaborative Framework, whether implemented with a TROPOS core ERP system, or integrated with systems from other ERP suppliers. The framework is to enable the available components (such as ERP, supply chain management [SCM], customer relationship management [CRM], and web-based applications) to be deployed independently or together to support collaborative e-commerce.

As the movement towards collaborative commerce strengthens, the TROPOS Active and the TROPOS Collaborative Framework toolsets have increasingly become core for supply chain solutions, to offer significant opportunities in further eliminating time and costs from processes. Web technology, whether used in an intranet or across the Internet, provides the basis for widespread access and lower cost deployment for business applications, both inside and outside the organization. SSI has an expanding range of standard applications and templates, as well as the expertise to develop customized applications and systems integration to provide information exchange, self-service transactions, and supply chain modeling tools to meet industry's need for lower costs, more rapid deployment, and faster returns in B2B e-commerce. For example, supplier self-service has the objectives of a reduced need for telephone communication, helping the supplier to provide better service, develop a closer working relationship, and share cost savings. Of course, one must bear in mind such prerequisites as the long-term supplier relationship, the commitment from both parties, and mutual protection of interests.

SSI also features mobile data collection capabilities, such as delivery and sales from van stock. It is a self-contained mobile order and stock management system, synchronised with the host TROPOS system, and the invoices and delivery notes are printed in the cab using an infra-red link. Although these deployments are often technically simple, they may still be a challenge culturally, with ease of use, integration with the host ERP system, and reliability and backup being the key issues. Nevertheless, the potential benefits can typically include reduced stock losses, instant van stock reconciliation, no transcriptions errors, accurate billing, no transaction delays, transaction validation at point of entry, and much reduced clerical effort.

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