The Material Handling Industry Continues to Trend Upward, Outward, Inward

The Material Handling Industry Continues to Trend Upward, Outward, Inward

Emerging Trends Impacting the Material Handling Industry

Pundits, progenitors, and prognosticators are apt to riff on the emerging trends of a given industry.  Not surprisingly, a longitudinal view of such trends leads us to infer that the emergence of such patterns is less an instance of Aphrodite’s divinity spontaneously rising from the primordial sea foam than it is one of the all-too-human Agamemnon and his men, rowing their long boat across to Aegean from his citadel at Mycenae to the broad plains of Hector’s Ilium. 

That is to say, a trend is a flower that opens not over the course days but of years, and while the attached article was penned in 2014, a quick look at its list trends tells us that these items are still unfolding into bloom: Ten Mega-Trends of The U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics and Why 2025 Matters Today

A look over the many industry tendencies that have faced and continue to face the material handling industry tells us that these trends affect all aspects of the companies involved–from the HR and finance departments through to product design and delivery.  For companies producing the equipment that services the needs of the material handling industry, a few of these trends are especially noteworthy, and a number of these are important for their ramifications on business systems.  Companies can no longer rely on spreadsheets and CAD drawings to compete, as industry shifts apply greater pressure on companies to rapidly supply equipment that meets these changing needs. 

Below are a few items, culled from the above article, that will affect the business systems of the future, in support of the companies working within this changing industry. 

  • The prevalence of Robotics and Automation: With the increased desire to automate as much of the supply chain as possible, the ability to move product with a minimum of human intervention becomes increasingly important.  Companies need to be able to tailor their offerings to provide integrated solutions that address these requirements, and to be able to integrate these different elements into systems, not only physically, but from a sales and delivery point of view. 
  • The increased use of sensor, wireless, and mobile technology: Coupled with automation are the needs for greater integration, between material handling subsystems, and between the overall material handling system and the facility in which it resides.  From an enterprise application standpoint, the importance in being able to quickly and consistently translate new features and options into their component materials and related operations becomes of great importance. 
  • The continued emphasis on “mass personalization”: As mass personalization continues to figure prominently in the arenas of product delivery and distribution, companies producing equipment to serve these industries similarly encounter the desire for increased personalization and configurability in the equipment used as part of the delivery cycle.  No two warehouse facilities are the same, and material handling equipment frequently needs to be easily tailored to support the discrepancies between buildings. 

 

For producers of equipment serving these industries, the challenges not only manifest themselves in the material handling products delivered but also in the processes and systems used to orchestrate the creation and delivery of these products.  Making the best equipment isn’t enough if it cannot be designed, produced, and delivered at the right time, and for the right price points.  In support of this, configurability continues to be of great importance, as are the abilities to quickly generate requests for proposals and rapidly engineer custom orders.  With its extensive product configuration capabilities, which are tightly bound to its Bill-of-Material structures, Epicor ERP is an excellent enterprise software option  for companies looking to scale up their organization to meet the challenges of this evolving industry.  

 

Are you looking for a strong material handling industry-based solution? Do you want to talk with Brad Feakes, Director of Professional Services? Contact us, and together we can make your company run better.

How To Manage Inventory Using Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench

How To Manage Inventory Using Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench

Have you ever told a customer that you had product in stock – only to find that you couldn’t fulfill the order because the inventory was sold or used in production before you got to it? Or have you ever expedited-in material for an important customer or job, only to have that material used to fulfill a different order or produce a different job? Or maybe you resorted to hiding parts in your desk so that it doesn’t get used to “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”. Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s why Epicor ERP’s Fulfillment Workbench is a critical application for many of my clients.

It’s a common occurrence, in both the retail and manufacturing world, having too much demand for a limited supply and seemingly no way to manage the available inventory. Wouldn’t it be nice to “set-aside” material so that it’s available when it comes time to ship or produce the product?

Fortunately, Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench has a great way to manage those times when demand exceeds supply. Using the concept of Reserve, Allocation, and Cross-Docking, the Fulfillment Workbench allows management to decide how to best utilize limited supplies in the face of current and future demand. The Fulfillment Workbench has the option to do “soft” and “hard” allocation. In Epicor Parlance, Reserve equates to “Soft Reserve”, and Allocate is equivalent to “Hard Reserve”. Cross-Docking in essence “Hard Reserves” material that is not yet received into inventory and keeps it from being used to satisfy demand other than what it is specifically allocated to.Epicor Fulfillment Workbench Material Basics by EstesGroup

The “Reserve” function places a “soft-hold” on available material and keeps it from being used to satisfy other demand. However, this “reserve” status is easily removed if that material is needed to satisfy other demand. Whereas material that is “Hard Allocated” needs management permission to be remove that status so it can satisfy a different demand.

Using the Fulfillment Workbench, you can manage inventory for all three sources of demand: Sales Orders, Jobs, and Transfer Orders (inventory coming from another inter-company location). The Fulfillment Workbench provides additional functionality, like Cross-Docking, sorting by priorities, allocation templates, and many more. By utilizing this incredibly useful tool, managing your inventory supply becomes a much less complicated task, and helps make for satisfied customers and efficient manufacturing personnel.

Do you have more questions on Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench or want to learn more about the product?

 

An Independent Look at the Epicor 10.2 User Experience

 

Epicor ERP is a powerful platform, with thousands of manufacturers using it to run their businesses. With power, often comes complexity, and that’s been the case with earlier versions of the system. There is no perfect ERP system, and the ever-changing balance between functionality and usability is a constant series of trade-offs. Epicor ERP Version 9 often required multiple servers, performance tuning was critical, it had a Progress data base layer, even when running on SQL, and the user experience was challenging. 

Epicor invested $25M in Epicor ERP Version 10, developing a completely new platform. The system was written and optimized for Microsoft .NET Framework and the Microsoft Data Platform; including Microsoft SQL Server. Users will experience a big increase in performance (over Epicor 9) and find the system easier to manage.

According to Epicor, here are the Top 5 user ERP system experience enhancements for Epicor ERP 10.

  •  Responsiveness – Performance has doubled and scalability has quadrupled across virtually all aspects of the system. ERP 10 is much more hardware efficient, which dramatically lowers hardware costs.
  • Simplicity – ERP 10 services are hosted purely using Microsoft Windows® components, including Internet Information Services (IIS) and Microsoft .NET. An all new management architecture makes deployment and migration much easier.
  • Mobility – Touch-enabled devices are now supported for a new navigation system and a re-architected Epicor Web Access (EWA) browser client.
  • Collaboration – Epicor Social Enterprise is included with ERP 10 and is a new way for ERP users to interact with each other and with ERP data.
  • Choice – ERP 10 can be deployed on premise, hosted, or access via subscription. It is also much easier to create a high-performing virtualized infrastructure.

 The current version, Epicor 10.2, introduces some really exciting capabilities, including Active Home Page and Epicor Data Discovery (EDD). Here are some highlights:

  • Developed using the latest web standard, which makes the system mobile-friendly and responsive.
  • Manufacturing role-based KPIs, examples: Percentage of Jobs without Scrap or Non Conformance, Manufacturing Hours and Indirect Hours.
  • Finance and Supply Chain role-based KPIs, including: Price Variance, Open PO Count and Amount, and Negative Inventory Items/Out of Stock.
  • Customization capabilities to modify out-of-the-box KPIs or create entirely new ones based on existing or newly created BAQs.

The best way to get an in-depth look at the new Epicor 10.2 functionality is to experience it firsthand!

Join EstesGroup and Liberty Technology Advisors on Tuesday, April 10, 2:00 ET. Senior Epicor Consultants Stephen Schaefer and Bruce Shriver, and the President of Liberty Technology Advisors, Joel Schneider, will be doing a live Epicor ERP software demo and expert-panel discussion showcasing the Epicor 10.2 Home Page, Epicor Data Discovery, and the new Mobile CRM.

Watch as we live-demo the platform. Interact with our panel of experts. This is the perfect opportunity to get your questions answered by a completely neutral advisory firm, and one of the top implementations partners in the business!

We hope to see you there! 

 

Fonzie Schemes: Has Your ERP System Jumped the Shark?

Fonzie Schemes: Has Your ERP System Jumped the Shark?

Fans of 1970’s sitcoms and syndicated late-night television know the scene too well.  The show was the long-running strip of analog nostalgia known as “Happy Days.”  The episode was the Season 5 premiere.  The setting was new: after four seasons of teenage angst centered around Arnold’s Drive-in, the show briefly moved its location to the beaches of California.  The plot was abysmal: on some silly pretext, its standout character, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in a leather jacket and Bermuda shorts, water-ski-jumps a tiger shark, proving his tropical machismo for all to see.  In retrospect, results were understandable; the show went on for many seasons, but never with the same pop and sizzle of the greasy diner days.  The narrative had broached the limits of its own heuristic, and the damage was irreparable—the show had “jumped the shark.”

“Jumping the shark” has come to take on a broad meaning, extending beyond popular culture.  Wikipedia defines the term jumping the shark to refer to the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort’s evolution declines, or when it changes notably in style into something unwelcome.  Jumping the shark is the moment where an entity has reached its proverbial apogee and thereafter inevitably and irrevocably begins its downward slope.  This happens with TV shows, with athletes, and, unfortunately, with ERP applications when you don’t get an ERP software upgrade. So why update your software?

I once worked for a company that implemented a hip and snazzy Tier 1 ERP system in 1999.  Over the next ten years, the package implemented was resold, re-branded, and reworked multiple times; to such an extent that it no longer resembled its antecedent.  Moreover, the company had done little to keep up with these changes, and after ten years, the system it implemented had essentially jumped the shark.  In 2009, the company moved to an equally hip and snazzy ERP system, but with upgrades—now it had a Microsoft .Net user interface and a SQL Server database.  There was this iffy Progress OpenEdge middle layer, but even still, the overall package seemed bright and beaming, compared to the dim hue of the application it replaced.  The application implemented in 2009 was Epicor’s Vantage 8.03 ERP system.

Now, as we near 2018, companies continue to question the systems implemented in the first decade of our new millennium.  No longer the strategic advantage that it was at cut-over, companies’ enterprise systems have slowly morphed into liabilities when trying to reconcile ERP structure vs. company structure. And as digital transformation increasingly becomes the norm, companies can greatly benefit from understanding whether its ERP system has outlived its usefulness to the organization.  Below are a number of ways to know whether your ERP system has jumped the shark, and the reasons why you need an ERP system upgrade:

 

  • You’ve lost track of the number of major releases between the current software version and the version you are currently on; or the number of service packs outnumber your fingers and toes. Does your current application have a suffix in the range of 6.0 or 8.0, while the vendor is peddling products with a moniker broaching double digits?  That might be a problem.

 

  • The ERP vendor from whom you purchased the software has since been acquired by another ERP vendor. When vendors merge, application consolidation often follows.  Typically this involves the sun-setting of certain applications in favor of others, which means that customers of discontinued applications may find themselves tied to a dwindling thread of support.  When mergers or acquisitions happen, understand the implications to your enterprise application—it may involve new investments.

 

  • The ERP product being used has since been re-branded. Epicor’s Vantage 803 has been re-branded twice—first to the Epicor 904/905 series, and now to the ERP 10 platform. Vendors generally offer migration paths for existing customers when re-branding products.  Often, this is because application re-branding generally coincides with significant infrastructural and functional changes to the application itself.  Explore the migration path options—perhaps it will take you somewhere.

 

  • Is your current application written in a propriety language that is no longer supported? Or was it built on a server platform that you no longer want to support?  Or does it use a database that you are no longer comfortable with? Perhaps it’s time to find a better fit.

 

  • Your company’s direction relating to application, database, or operating system architecture has changed dramatically since the original implementation. Sometimes the software has kept up but the business has changed.  In these cases, a re-implementation might be in order.

 

To customers of Epicor’s legacy 803 and 905 platforms, the answer is clear: the shark has been jumped—it’s time to change the channel and upgrade.

Epicor Configurator Upgrade: Some Reassembly Required

All About Epicor 10.2 Product Configurator

With the festive season charging forward like a white-tailed deer dodging a hunter’s shot, I began to reflect on some of the holiday gifts I had received as a child. I remember finding my brightly colored box named for me, ripping through the wrapping paper with glee, anxious to find just what was bottled up inside the cardboard box of the year—normally some elaborate plastic play-thing, composed of more components than angels on a pin. Pulling open the cardboard gates, I routinely discovered that the contents of a box never quite resembled the shiny images on its outer face. That is, there was one pivotal phrase that stood between the receipt of a gift and its actual usage: “Some assembly required.”

That single phrase was as impassible and looming as the Sphinx. Upon reading this riddle, I would rush to my father and beg him to figure it out for me, and in typical holiday spirits, he would lay his eggnog aside and curse his way through the necessary assembly. The lessons learned through these experiences stayed with me into adulthood. Now, as I’ve perused the aisles of the local box shop, looking for a suitable gift for my own, I’ve quickly learned to spot the familiar warning—and move on. I’ve become known as the parent who has bequeathed gifts like modeling clay for the holidays. It encourages the imagination, I’ve claimed. Moreover, there is no way for a parent to botch its assembly!

With Epicor’s version 10.2 similarly cresting the horizon like a jolly old man in a flying toboggan, I’ve come to notice how customers utilizing Epicor’s legacy Product Configurator react to the idea of an upgrade in much the same way I’ve reacted to a 600-piece dollhouse—they duck into the next aisle. In any version, Epicor’s Product Configurator is a complex module—it is part functional setup, part development toolkit. And companies spend a lot of work in developing the configurators that will support their business requirements. That is, there is a lot of assemblies required, once this gift is unwrapped. And the idea of reimplementing Epicor 10 configurator for a new version feels, to some customers, like their dollhouse just got smashed, and they are required to reassemble it again, only now with a new set of assembly instructions.

In spite of these understandable concerns, I believe Epicor’s 10.X configurator platform is a tremendous improvement to its previous iterations: it is more scalable, more flexible, and allows for better-designed solutions that yield a better end-user experiences. And try as I might, I can find no CPQ solutions made of modeling clay…

While there are no easy instructions when it comes to upgrading Epicor 10 configurators, I have found, in working with customers, that there are a few lessons that we’ve learned, lessons that could be thought of as “reassembly instructions.”

A few might include the following:

I have found that it benefits customers to run an early initial trial upgrade of their existing Epicor database, strictly for purposes of reviewing the upgraded configurators. With each new version of 10.X.XXX, the upgrade process gets tweaked and improved, so issues upgrading configurators in one version may be resolved in another, and the upgraded configurators may be sufficiently intact, as to constitute a decent starting point from which to begin their efforts.

In terms of business logic, companies benefit when they look for opportunities to utilize UD methods in lieu of the on-leave event handlers in legacy versions. These can be a helpful way of centralizing code, and even a nice way just to pull it out and give it a clear and distinct definition, which allows for more logical designs and greater maintainability.
In terms of Method Rules, companies should look to consolidate the many individual rules from legacy versions into single statements in 10. In the Epicor 10 configurator rule designer, the option to “execute specified expression” allows for great freedom in developing blocks of code to update multiple fields at once. This allows customers to consolidate all of their efforts into a single place, which usually makes for better maintainability.

In most cases, the development of a solid C# skillset is a must for working in configurator 10.X, in much the same way that Progress ABL/4GL skills were central to Epicor’s legacy configurators, particularly if the configurator being upgraded has a lot of custom code to manage its business logic.

Converting code need not require a .net savant. There is the web page for converting 4GL to C#–that can get you in the ballpark, one block at a time. But for the absolute novice to C#, it helps to have someone available who has worked in C# and Progress-based configurator environments.
C# has a few particularities that are critical to handle right away, as they will prevent a block of code from passing syntax check. These include:

The use of a semicolon: all statements end with a semicolon.

Braces: multi-line blocks of code (such as if-then blocks, switch statements, or for each blocks) are wrapped in braces (“{}”).

Case Sensitivity: C# is a case-sensitive language. That is, the .net compiler will interpret “cmbPartNum” to be something other than “cmbpartnum.” This is an infuriating peculiarity for someone coming from a Progress environment, where the case did not matter.

Object Orientation: in the .net platform, interaction with any program involves the use of object properties and methods. This involves commands that differ somewhat from the legacy design. For instance, a command to update a field in 10.X, you might look like ‘Inputs.chrPartDesc.Value = “lalala”’ whereas the same command in the progress-based configurator would look like “chrPartDesc = ‘lalala’”. Understanding these small differences can go a long way in making steady progress in configurator conversion.

I find it a good approach to have a customer review their existing configurator code base prior to the upgrade, and identify each unique king of logical activity they perform. This might include, but is not limited to the following:

  1. For each loops
  2. Switch Statements
  3. If then else logic
  4. Reading UD tables
  5. Writing to UD Tables

From there, the customer can develop a solution catalogue for addressing each unique code construct—how the each unique activities performed in Progress 4GL would be performed in C#. The idea here is to document each code conversion best practice, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel the next time you encounter the same construct in another configurator.

So, with the festive season approaching, consider giving yourself the gift of an Epicor upgrade. Yes, there is some assembly required, but not as much as you might think, and once assembled, it will keep the kids busy for the next ten years. Moreover, have you ever tried to pick modeling clay out of your carpet?

Ask us any question you many have on Epicor ERP, and we wish you a festive holiday season!

Running on Old Drumsticks – Moving Beyond Epicor’s Legacy Versions

Running on Old Drumsticks – Moving Beyond Epicor’s Legacy Versions

In some ways, enterprise applications are like professional athletes.

There is a period of promise. There is a period of inconsistent, but incremental growth, which culminates in a period of eminence and excellence. Then, there is the period of slow decline, of lowered expectations, and eventually, the time for a replacement. For every Joe Montana, there is a Steve Young, for every Brett Favre, an Aaron Rogers. But ERP vendors have one advantage that us mere mortals lack. While it’s terribly difficult to reprogram a creaky knee or a sore arch, it is possible to reprogram an enterprise system.

To paraphrase Marcellus Wallace,

Some athletes think their bodies will age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it doesn’t.

As an Epicor ERP implementation consultant, I’ve stepped into many organizations whose business systems, to keep with the culinary motif, have more gristle on them than a bucket of secret recipe chicken. Their basic structure is like a freezer-burnt fry hen. And since it takes more spice to make an old bird taste good, their aged systems have become harder to maintain, harder to support, harder to extend or reconfigure.

The secret recipe I recommend to these Epicor ERP implementation clients is to begin with a new bird. It is possible to take an aging platform and replace it with a more current, more robust platform, one fit for future endeavors.

It is also possible to do all of this while still retaining the original flavor—competencies, and capabilities of the application that have differentiated it from its competitors. Epicor spent the last few years doing just that—replacing its aged legacy architecture with its version 10 application: a full-stack Microsoft platform, a platform that makes it more scalable, maintainable, and versatile than it ever was. For Epicor customers who haven’t made an ERP software upgrade and are living on its legacy versions, a migration path has provided them with the programmatic equivalent to a Canterbury spring—the fountain of youth.

Still, many Epicor customers are hesitant to make the jump from their legacy 803 or 905 version of the software to its new version 10 manifestation. In working with customers, I’ve found that companies often have a few distinct challenges preventing them from making the jump:

Epicor ERP Customizations:

  • Companies that have significantly customized the application in its legacy version fear that it will be impossible to bring them up to version 10 without chaos. They fear that Humpty Dumpty will not come together in 10, as he had in the legacy version.

Epicor ERP Product Configurators:

  • Epicor’s Product Configurator module is a challenging and complex module to master, in any version. With the advent of version 10, the architecture of Epicor’s Product Configurator module changed dramatically. Companies that have dialed in their legacy configurators may shirk from the effort to redesign the wheel in a new version.

Epicor ERP Crystal Reports:

  • With the move to a Microsoft-centric stack, Epicor moved from the Crystal Reports to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) as its reporting platform. Customers comfortable with Crystal may be hesitant to go through the effort to replace their suite of custom Crystal reports with their SSRS concomitant.

But the challenges in moving to version 10 are not insurmountable. In a recent webinar, we discussed some of the methods that one could employ to overcome these challenges. In subsequent posts, I will further discuss these methods. Our goal at the Estes Group is to make it such that the benefits of moving to Epicor’s version 10 platform outweigh the risks and the costs.

So if you’re on a legacy version of the application, and if you’re tired of running on an old set of drummies, come check us out—we’d love to talk with you, and help get your company running again.

Learn From Our Epicor De-Risk Your Upgrade Webinar

Ask us any question you have about Epicor and your legacy version. Let’s see what lies on the other side of your ERP upgrade.