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Flexible solution meets individual needs

This article appears in the issue April 2000 [Volume 9, Issue 3]

Acma satisfies customers

Many companies that experimented with build-to-order manufacturing have encountered e-fulfillment and customer service nightmares trying to deliver accurate orders on time. Their problems are exacerbated by order changes and real-time order status requests, especially across outsourced manufacturers and suppliers.

Acma Computers, however, has moved ahead of the curve in customer service, with its implementation of a real-time, business-to-business supply chain management system.

To succeed as a computer systems vendor, Acma focuses on three goals: to build products to customer order, to deliver in days, and to track manufacturing and product information to serve customers well.

What distinguishes Acma from its competitors, says company President Allen Lee, is that it can fulfill a broader range of customer needs. For example, it can build a computer system with a $25 video card or a $1,500 video card. It will fill an order for one machine or for 150.

"We can do almost everything for a customer," Lee says.

But Acma realized that to keep its clientele happy and to grow, it needed more sophisticated systems to handle orders. Its homegrown and paper-based shop floor systems were outmoded. It was easy enough to keep track of one unit, but what if the customer ordered 75 machines with different requirements, and wanted to know where each was in the process? Acma lacked real-time metrics for tracking delivery, production and quality information. With the old system, staff spent hours each day adjusting production schedules and creating performance charts, sometimes based on outdated information

"We needed some tool that could track down to the unit level," says Lee.

Acma looked for a new system for several years, but the manufacturing software never seemed flexible enough to a handle both tiny and huge orders. Finally, Datasweep said it had a flexible system, which combines Internet and data mining technologies, that Acma could try out in phases. The system, for which Acma was a beta user, was an immediate success.

Lee says he realized the system was working when he noticed that sales representatives were no longer on the production floor seeking information about their customers' orders; they were tracking orders online. The reps are happier because they can focus on sales and service, and can respond more quickly and easily to questions from their clients. And management is happier because fewer people on the production floor means fewer safety and security concerns.

For the customer, the new system has improved quality "a major percentage," Lee says. In the past, for instance, employees would refer to paper notes to see what customers wanted each unit to include, and sometimes the handwriting was difficult to read. Now the requirements for each unit are instantly available on a computer screen, and the directions are so clear that the process is quicker and less error-prone.

Now Acma produces 111 machines per week per person, instead of the previous 85, Lee says.

Most importantly, because Acma likes to post all the information on its Web site, customers don't even have to phone the company to ask about their orders. All they need is a confirmation number to check the status of each item online. That's a lot less frustrating than playing phone tag and more satisfying to the customer, Lee says. Customers have real-time order information and can make real-time changes seamlessly and quickly. They can type in their product order number and see exactly when their computer will be delivered.

Acma's system consists of Datasweep Advantage software running on Microsoft Back Office and Windows Distributed interNet Application for Manufacturing (DNA-M).

The solution "helps us to know, I mean know, when we have built the order to the customer's specification," says John Hawkey, Acma's business development manager. "That helps us solve customer problems faster and increases customer satisfaction."

Now Acma has greater control of shop floor processes. It tracks all work orders at the unit level for specific customer orders. Part shortages are visible and can be managed earlier in the process. Production tradeoffs and decisions are communicated immediately. Cycle time, quality yields and production trends are visible online, providing data in real time for performance monitoring and improvement projects.

Through the system, Acma can effectively manage customer change orders, providing everyone involved--from customers to salespeople to partners--with a common source of information. The company uses the technology to manage the entire product life cycle, from sales orders to manufacturing, shipping, service and repair. It captures quality and serial numbers for all Acma components, giving customer service and repair personnel the information they need to provide fast, effective service.

Performance results, queries and as-built reports are accessible via standard Web browsers, while access controls ensure security. Because the data mining is performed on a separate OLAP database, there is no performance tradeoff for the production application.

Acma's next goal is to allow customers to build custom PCs online. The new system will help ensure that Acma builds to the exact customer order and ships each unit on time. Customers will be able to view updated shipment dates via the Web, based on information about exactly where the unit is in the manufacturing process. That will provide a powerful competitive differentiator.

According to Acma officials, the solution has:• increased on-time delivery from 78% to 96%,• increased throughput by 12%,• improved final assembly first-pass yield from 90% to 97%,• reduced inventory by 21%,• reduced training time for new operators by 50%,• reduced non-value-added operator documentation time per unit by 50%, or two minutes per unit,• yielded substantial savings in overhead and paper


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