SPECIAL SECTION/BRICK & CLAY RECORD: Efficiency Breakthrough
Brick-making has been around since at least 4000 B.C. But as Jeff Adams, chief information officer at Belden Brick Co., notes, brick-making keeps moving forward as technology advances propel innovation. However, these breakthroughs aren't always found in the brick-making process itself. For the Canton, Ohio, company (which makes 225 million brick annually), progress is also reflected in the improved software it uses to pare costs, boost sales and profits.
ERP SoftwareBelden Brick uses enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, an integrated computer-based system to pursue "lean" production and relentlessly track the elimination of waste. Anything that trims costs while also improving customer service helps the company's return on investment and the bottom line.
For the past three years, Belden Brick has used web-based Infor(tm) ERP LN software, which is designed specifically for companies in the discrete and project-based manufacturing industries. This system is built on Infor's open-platform, service-oriented architecture, which offers greater functionality.
Adams and his staff evaluated various systems and chose Infor LN for its filtering functionality, as well as other features that make it easier for users to get the data they require. In addition, "it appeared that LN was going to be the 'future,'" Adams explains. Belden Brick chose to employ ERP LN on Microsoft® Windows® and SQL Server.
When the installation was complete, Infor ERP LN immediately made a major difference in handling customer numbers and item codes. At Belden Brick's Redland Brick subsidiary, customer numbers were converted, although item codes stayed as they were. On the Belden side, however, a change was needed in the item-coding structure. Infor's migration tool kit handled the change easily. As a result, about 9000 item codes were deactivated and 9000 more were entered into the ERP LN system.
"Everything went exactly as it was supposed to," recalls Adams. "The migrated orders tied to the units, and the general ledger tied to the penny." The combined companies also had total inventory on hand of about 70 million units that were numbered with item lots and location, all of which migrated successfully as well.
System BenefitsThe software's user interface, while not fancy, proves very effective and has helped the company's users be more efficient in getting to the data they need, according to Adams. "Our focus is to get as much power into our users' hands as we can, and LN gives us a better opportunity to do that," he says.
The software's filtering functionality also proves critical. Production managers and salespeople can create their own filters for each screen, so they focus on the data that is important to them. For example, if they want to focus on a certain size, color or shape of brick, they can do that as they scroll through their inventory. The functionality makes it easier for users to build uniform packages of brick from an array of loose inventory in various sizes, colors and shapes. This helps the company maintain its long-standing reputation for quality and consistency.
Adams says that production managers appreciate having only one transaction screen for analyzing the quantity of scrap produced on a production run and why it occurred. Previously, managers had to click through several screens to get the information needed in their efforts to reduce scrap production.
Salespeople also are using the LN system to quickly answer customers' questions. Nearly 750 individuals in Belden's base of about 250 dealers and distributor customers have convenient access to their data via ERP LN and Belden Brick's extranet. Customers can look up the status of their open and delivered orders, invoices, and acknowledgements. They also can be notified whenever the company issues a bill of lading that pertains to them-with a PDF copy of the paperwork-to help them stay on top of the delivery status.
With ERP LN, the time needed for users to get up and running is half what was required for the previous legacy system. And while Belden Brick hasn't tried to measure it, the way employees use the screens now is more efficient and cost effective, contends Adams. "It's hard to quantify data accessibility," he says. "Nevertheless, it's clear our people are using the system to good advantage."
He cites the way plant managers can easily navigate between financial statements, the general ledger and the transaction that generated a cost. "Great drill-down functionality exists from the finance side to the source transaction, and we haven't had that before," he says.
Undoubtedly, the aspect of ERP LN that has had the biggest impact in reducing waste and improving customer service involves the system the company developed to scan brick that vary slightly by color and to record their values into the software. This allows the brick to be blended together into larger lots for sale to customers.
Belden Brick can sell existing inventory without additional production runs or compromising the integrity of its product. It is able to use the system to keep prices low because making a fresh run of brick to guarantee compatible quality is more expensive than using on-hand inventory. The company expects the system to reduce its inventory of small brick lots by 600% and increase its profits by more than $250,000 annually.
Future DevelopmentsBelden Brick intends to employ the Planning and Manufacturing module of Infor ERP LN to increase consistency in customer orders. Right now, says Adams, "it's as much an art form as anything else, with our people making judgment calls in blending loose brick into packages for delivery."
He and his staff have written some applications that interface with LN, tying the item and lot number with results they get from their spectrophotometer. "We don't anticipate replacing the color judgment of our people, but we hope to confirm it and suggest how best to use the products we have in inventory," Adams explains.
For Belden Brick, its ERP software seems to offer countless uses. The company is using the Service module as an internal tool to manage the maintenance of the company's trucks, bulldozers, service vehicles, kilns and other assets. Because Belden Brick also operates gas wells, it plans to use the software's functionality to monitor what its wells are producing, and then manage the payment of royalties to those from whom it has acquired mineral rights.
As for Infor ERP LN's contribution to brick-making, Adams puts it this way: "At the end of the day, how well we serve our customers is going to continue to be Belden's competitive advantage. LN is setting the foundation for the future, helping us drive cost reduction, minimize scrap and identify new opportunities."
For additional information, contact Infor at 13560 Morris Rd., Suite 4100, Alpharetta, GA 30004; call (866) 244-5479 or (678) 319-8000; fax (678) 319-8682; e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.infor.com. Belden Brick's website is located at www.beldenbrick.com.