Solve the problem before automating the solution!

David A. Marshall, Robroy Industries
Tags: manufacturing

Robroy Industries is a world leader in the PVC-coated rigid conduit market. Founded in 1905, Robroy has thrived through constant innovation. Although the company’s conduit product line may not look physically different from when it first was manufactured in the early 1960s, the manufacturing facilities using high-temperature and chemical processes to produce PVC-coat fittings, conduit and pipe have changed dramatically.

Solve a Problem and Then Automate

Robroy has always recognized the role of technology in improving its operations in a results-oriented, pragmatic way. The company utilizes various technologies and automation with a focus on reducing costs, enhancing customer service, and increasing efficiency while marrying that to best-business processes and well-defined personnel practices.

At the same time, we continually remind ourselves of the realities of technology. Take automation, for example. Automation can help a company become more accurate, therefore more efficient, therefore potentially more profitable. However, if misapplied, automation simply gives you bad information faster if bad information is what you had to start with! An automated system won’t solve that problem. You have to solve a problem, then automate the solution.

Operational Problems That Robroy Needed To Solved

Despite benefiting from four record years of growth in a row, Robroy Industries, like all companies, was able to identify areas requiring improvement. Our objectives, specific to those challenges, included:

  • Slash operating costs – particularly indirect, transactional and labor costs. Our conviction is that, through efficiencies, an identical amount of business, on a year-to-year basis, should be achievable with fewer people and transactions for each consecutive year.
  • Implement cycle counting and eliminate our annual physical inventory. Robroy wanted the advantages in immediacy, accuracy and cost savings cycle counting provides vs. annual inventory counts.
  • Access to real-time information. In the manual system, when orders were shipped, information was entered into the system but customer service and other departments didn’t have immediate access.
  • Capacity to handle monthly business surges. Twenty percent of Robroy’s orders are shipped in the final 48 hours of any given month. Robroy needed to improve its ability to process that surge and negate the potential for error rates that came with it.
  • Improve order picking accuracy. Robroy had to reduce its error rate and improve its ability to prevent future picking and shipping errors.
  • Control the pace of work. Allocating labor and determining when it would best be utilized was a key goal. In the manual system, all orders were printed and released to pickers, essentially allowing them to set the work pace based on what was in the queue.

Preplanning: The First Step to Tackling Problems

Robroy Industries invited Dallas-based CEI Logistics to assess its Gilmer, Texas, operations to determine the business case – if any – for a Warehouse Management System (WMS). Robroy and CEI began by mapping existing processes to identify current transactional volumes. In parallel, high-level "to-be" processes were defined to leverage standard WMS functionality to reduce manual and/or redundant transactions and increase real-time operational control.

The reduction in transactional volumes was converted to labor savings through analysis. The savings identified formed the basis for WMS return-on-investment. The process focused on the minutiae of the process at the front end. Then, a detailed requirement document was developed for software specification.

Robroy believes that the more time spent planning ensures a successful implementation.

Consultative Approaches Must Not Compromise

CEI Logistics’ partnership-based WMS implementation process helped Robroy extensively document its processes and match them to the right software solution. In Robroy’s case, this methodical process examined everything that might happen between the time a truckload of raw material hit the shipping dock to when a load of processed orders were shipped out.

Processes and scenarios were mapped so that all the bases were covered. That’s the sweat equity – after which the actual installation is almost incidental. It was hard work. Most importantly, CEI didn’t compromise its principles even though it would sometimes have been the easy thing to do. They wouldn’t compromise their integrity just to get an order. That is the single most important benchmark of a good relationship between a consultant and its client.

The Robroy team wanted to accomplish its objectives within standard WMS functionality and avoid expensive and time-consuming customizations that can derail a project. When the team defined its business objectives, it was then able to overlay them with a software solution to compare software packages. The final result was a WMS system more than 90 percent out of the box.

System Selection

The selection process detailed above led Robroy Industries to select Minerva’s AIMS package due to its robust RF capabilities, flexibility in regards to storage media, cycle counting, process control and the hands-on approach of the owner, Lisa Minerva.

Positive Results in Real-Life Application
The day the system went live, Robroy was able to operate normally. There was success at the end of day one of going live because we shipped product. Not a single customer realized we were changing the system. That’s what happens when you solve business problems first and then add the technology.

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