Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Case study: Barcode scanners eliminate excessive paperwork


April 26, 2010
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Flexpipe Systems masters product traceability with handhelds and IFS Applications

Project delivers lean improvements, environmental protection for oil and gas industry vendor

THE COMPANY: Flexpipe Systems Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, manufactures and sells proprietary non-metallic, corrosion-resistant pipeline products and crimped steel fittings primarily for oil and natural gas producers. The company was acquired in 2008 by a global energy services company, ShawCor Ltd., and migrated from its existing Epicor Vantage enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution to Shawcor’s version of IFS Applications.

THE CHALLENGE: Because Flexpipe Systems’ products are used in oil and gas gathering systems and other environmentally critical applications, lot tracking is critical. Flexpipe Systems has not had a fitting recall in recent memory, but wanted to proactively ensure the company could quickly mobilize a precise recall if necessary.

Early on, Flexpipe Systems recognized the need to record the location to which each fitting was shipped, but their only means of collecting this data was doing so manually.  This manual process was slow and labor intensive and was not practical, particularly in an emergency situation. 

“We provide pipeline systems and services to a highly regulated  industry; keeping concise records, including the fabrication specification of each individual fitting is key,”   inventory control manager, Colin Moyer, said. “In the very unlikely event of a pipeline failure, a thorough investigation into the possible cause is paramount to the reinstatement of that pipeline.”

Flexpipe Systems was also performing extensive non value-added work by recording inventory and shop floor transactions manually and entering into them into IFS Applications.

“We were recording everything on paper, which was then physically carried to an IFS station,” said business analyst, Grant Clarke. “Shipping or receipt details including the part number, serial tracking numbers, etc. would then be entered into IFS by someone when they had time… not necessarily at the exact time of the product shipment/receipt.” 

THE SOLUTION: Flexpipe Systems retained Cinqcon, of Vancouver, British Columbia to help them integrate Intermec bar code scanners with IFS Applications. Cinqcon leveraged IFS Applications’ service oriented architecture, using web services to drive data directly through IFS Applications’ business logic. Handheld devices now read barcodes generated by a Loftware, Inc. enterprise labeling solution, capturing serial, lot and batch data automatically and entering it in IFS Applications.

“We offered Flexpipe Systems a standard transaction package to which when added a few enhancements to fit exactly what the company and its parent, Shawcor, had in mind,” Cinqcon Consultant Ilona Pretorius said.

Cinqcon found that Flexpipe Systems did not require IFS Applications’ existing and very robust handheld interface, and instead chose to develop its own simplified data capture environment, easily tying this interface into the open architecture of the ERP solution.

“Flexpipe Systems gained working efficiency and speed by opting for a more minimalistic interface and passing just the essential fields back and forth” Pretorius said.

Despite a concurrent networking project that sapped resources from the handheld integration process, the entire project took less than four months, according to Moyer and Clarke.

THE RESULT: The project has delivered lean improvements and allowed Flexpipe Systems to mitigate the risk of a recall.

“It definitely helps purchasing, it helps the MRP planners for distribution orders, and it will soon be rolled out to other areas of the company,” Moyer said.

“Prior to the implementation of the handheld devices and IFS interface, we had limited visibility on serial, batch and lot numbers.  With our manual processes it may have taken days to identify and recall a potentially problematic batch of products,” Moyer said. “We have streamlined the process into a query search that now takes no more than 10 minutes.  This also increases the speed at which we can ship our fittings.  With our new system, were are able quickly scan each barcode as the products are staged prior to shipping; the manufacturing details, serial numbers etc. are captured and logged instantly increasing labor efficiencies and eliminating the potential for human error.”