STRATTEC Security Corporation, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the U.S., is the world’s largest producer of automotive locks, keys and related security access control products for global automotive manufacturers and the aftermarket. STRATTEC used a combination of LANSA’s application development, modernization and BPI tools to dramatically improve the screen navigation of its System21 ordering, inventory and shipping applications and to replace repetitive tasks with automated EDI processes.
Nick D’Alessandro, Technical Lead at STRATTEC, says “We achieved major savings by tackling the most cumbersome procedures first and making them multiple times faster. LANSA RAMP gave us the tools to truly solve structural shortcomings of the legacy application, while LANSA Composer allowed us to setup efficient EDI and XML processes.”
We achieved major savings by tackling the most cumbersome procedures first.
STRATTEC has plants, engineering and distribution centers in Milwaukee, Detroit, El Paso and Juarez (Mexico) and operates manufacturing and support facilities in China, Japan and Korea through VAST, a joint venture with WITTE Automotive (Velbert, Germany) and ADAC Automotive Inc, (Grand Rapids, Michigan). STRATTEC ships products to customer locations around the world and provides full service aftermarket support. Formerly a division of Briggs & Stratton, STRATTEC’s heritage goes back over 100 years, to the early days of the automobile.
Over the years, STRATTEC has customized its System21 ERP implementation considerably, especially the DRP (Distribution Requirements Planning) and MRP (Material Requirements Planning) modules. The company uses Nutech’s warehouse management system and Future3 for EDI transacting with its production customers, the car manufacturers.
The integration of these solutions into System21 had its limitations and some of the procedures within System21 itself were inefficient as well. In addition, the order entry for aftermarket customers, such as car dealers and locksmiths, was still mostly manual. Even though these customers could send their orders electronically, EDI was only automated up to the point of STRATTEC’s VAN (Value Added Network), from where data was retrieved manually.
STRATTEC wanted to improve and streamline its business processes, starting with the most cumbersome procedures first, but did not want to replace or rewrite the underlying System21 application code.
After researching several products, STRATTEC selected RAMP from LANSA, a modernization product that includes LANSA’s framework development tool, as well as facilities for screen consolidation and improved navigation for existing applications. More recently, STRATTEC also implemented LANSA Composer for BPI (Business Process Integration) tasks, such as exchanging XML and EDI documents.
“We wanted a solution that would allow us to preserve the business logic, while improving the business processes, says D’Alessandro. “We looked at several modernization tools, but most of them were just webify tools that make your application prettier, but not better. LANSA offered a solution that allowed us to truly deal with the structural shortcomings of our core system, improve the workflow and automate repetitive manual tasks. No one else could do that, unless it involved rewriting the underlying code.”
LANSA offered a solution that allowed us to truly deal with the structural shortcomings of our core system.
In choosing which projects to tackle first, STRATTEC uses a simple rule: start with what gives the biggest bang for your buck. In other words, start with the most inefficient and time consuming procedure and turn it around.
One particularly time consuming procedure for STRATTEC’s warehouse staff was determining which items in inventory transfers from their plants needed to be allocated to fill backorders and which items could be kept in stock.
The original 5250 application required many steps, including printing the list of received items, manually checking each item on the list to see if there was a backorder and then entering the quantity to be allocated. Staff had to switch between screens and menus frequently, start and exit several applications and write down customer numbers for pick slip sorting later in the process.
The new process, modernized and extended with Visual LANSA and RAMP, automatically checks all shipments for items on backorder and displays the relevant item receipts and backorders on a single screen. The user only has to confirm the stock allocation and the pick slips are automatically generated in the desired sequence.
“Users don’t have to go through a dozen screens anymore to do their task. In the old system a shipment took on average two and a half hours to process,” says D’Alessandro. “Now a shipment takes on average 24 minutes to process. We are very pleased with the solution because we didn’t have to change the way the process works, we just streamlined it and made it six times faster.”
Similarly, STRATTEC also used RAMP to circumnavigate the fact that its distribution warehouse needs to be treated as a customer, to get the stock off the books, so that the MRP system will not see the distribution stock as part of the available inventory. The new procedure involves RAMP populating a consolidated screen to create orders, process picking lists and then close the orders, saving staff many hours of manual effort.
We didn’t have to change the way the process works, we just streamlined it and made it six times faster.
Another very time consuming task was the entire procedure of retrieving the orders of aftermarket customers, shipping them and invoicing them.
Previously, every morning STRATTEC staff logged-on to the website of its VAN iConnect to make screen prints of the orders that customers had sent by EDI. These printed orders were then manually entered into STRATTEC’s System21 application for shipping and invoicing. As with all manual procedures, the risk of introducing data entry errors and other inaccuracies was high. Moreover, preparing an order for invoicing would be cumbersome, as it required switching back and forth between multiple screens and manually entering the shipping number and shipping costs.
At the end of the day, staff would again log-on to iConnect’s website, where the customer orders would still reside, and manually update each order with shipping information. iConnect would then send EDI ASNs (Advance Shipment Notifications) to the customers, based on these status updates.
In the new procedure, using LANSA Composer, the orders are automatically retrieved from iConnect in XML format, transformed and mapped to a System21 interface file for processing into the ERP system. Barcoded picking slips and shipping labels are produced, the locks are packed and the boxes come on line. Staff scan the order number and UPS tracking number, which results in a LANSA RAMP-based program populating a screen with shipping information. All the user has to do is to confirm the information, press the enter key and an invoice will automatically be created in System21.
The LANSA process also sends electronic invoice information to iConnect, which iConnect converts to ANSI X12 810 invoices and transmits to the customer. LANSA Composer could do the actual end-to-end EDI transmissions, but for the time being STRATTEC prefers to continue using iConnect as its EDI VAN.
STRATTEC’s LANSA Composer implementation runs on a Windows server, while it accesses the System21 data on the IBM iSeries. Initially STRATTEC deployed Composer on its iSeries and may do so again after upgrading. There is no urgency in moving the solution, as it runs fast in the Windows environment.
STRATTEC’s first implementation of the new procedure was for HELM, a large wholesale aftermarket customer, who places between 60 to 100 orders each day for drop shipping to individual dealers and locksmiths.
D’Alessandro explains, “It would take one or even often two staff members two to three hours every morning to print HELM’s orders from iConnect’s website, enter them in our system and produce the picking lists and invoices. Now using LANSA, it takes just five minutes. Similarly, every afternoon staff would have to go back to iConnect to enter the tracking number and shipping costs, which used to take two hours. Now we use LANSA to send the invoice information back to iConnect, which takes only a few minutes.”
“That’s a saving of four to five hours every day, just for processing the orders of this one large aftermarket customer. We have a couple of dozen of these customers, so the savings will be huge.”
That’s a saving of four to five hours every day, just for processing the orders of this one large aftermarket customer.
Pete Chrostowski, Senior Business Process Analyst at STRATTEC and responsible for delivering the EDI solution, agrees that the benefits of streamlining order procedures will be substantial. “We have been able to save staff over 25 hours per week, with just this first customer implementation. There are many more customers to follow and at some point LANSA Composer is going to be the heart of our order entry system.”
Chrostowski’s first LANSA Composer venture only involved straightforward EDI 850 documents, an easy project to start on. He is now getting ready to work on more complex EDI transactions, such as Scheduled Releases (EDI 830) and Shipping Schedules (EDI 862).
Chrostowski also sees the potential to use Composer for streamlining procedures that have nothing to do with EDI .”LANSA Composer is good at repetitive processes of any kind”, he says.
LANSA has intended its Composer BPI tool to be used by business analysts rather than developers, and Chrostowski agrees that Composer doesn’t require any coding skills, “You first describe the procedure from a business perspective, formulating clearly what you want to achieve. Next you sit down with LANSA Composer to create the transformation maps by mapping data items, and the processing sequences by dragging and dropping objects. The process is quite intuitive and I can graphically see what it is going to do, but I don’t have to care how the underlying code is created.”
Even so, there was still a learning curve, as Chrostowski was new to XML and LANSA Composer. Chrostowski feels that LANSA’s Remote Mentoring facility was a big help during his first Composer project. The facility involves buying a number of mentoring hours and making use of them when needed. “It’s like having an expert on demand,” says Chrostowski. “You share your computer with the consultant who will guide you through the steps. But you are doing it yourself, so you are learning. It worked really well for me.”
LANSA Composer is quite intuitive and I can graphically see what it is going to do, but I don’t have to care how the underlying code is created.
Instead of setting out to modernize its entire legacy application, STRATTEC has carefully picked its projects. The company plans to modernize, or rather rationalize, key application problem areas first, by providing better functionality to business users and automating repetitive manual tasks.
“I know we can use RAMP to modernize our entire line of business system and at some point we will,” says D’Alessandro. “But right now we have other priorities. We want to tackle our most inefficient procedures first and provide productivity gains for our users. Our primary focus is the distribution warehouse. Next we want to streamline our production customers and replace our Future3 EDI solution with LANSA Composer.”
Regarding providing better productivity and modernizing STRATTEC’s IT environment itself, D’Alessandro concludes, “We have delivered the new and improved functionality with our own small team, without having to hire EDI, XML or Java experts. LANSA integrates tightly with our RPG-based system21 system, while giving me the tools to do things that I could never have done with RPG.”
We have delivered the new and improved functionality with our own small team, without having to hire EDI, XML or Java experts.