In the quest for IT efficiency, one way to save time is to automate the daily grind of launching and monitoring ERP system utilities. Washington-based job shop Magic Metals, Inc., sought to do just that when it implemented Infor ERP VISUAL, but the company's busy IT manager did not have time to write custom scripts to enable VISUAL utilities to self-execute. Instead, he turned to the pre-programmed automation capabilities of Automatel. The software allowed Magic Metals to automate nine essential operations in just thirty minutes of building automation routines in a plain-English, drag-and-drop development environment. The strategy saved Magic Metals four to six weeks of coding work as well as slicing an hour a day off of ERP maintenance—all for less than the cost of a modest vacation.
Located 150 miles southeast of Seattle in the town of Union Gap, Magic Metals fabricates sheet metal and machine parts for a variety of industries and is the largest job shop in the Pacific Northwest. When the firm decided to replace separate shop floor, purchasing and accounting applications with VISUAL in 2008, software coordinator Jeff Parker began searching for an efficient way to handle daily and nightly duties ranging from running the ERP system's job scheduler to updating the costing module.
"We have an IT staff of one, and that's me. If I had to trigger and watch over VISUAL's utilities manually, I would have to log in remotely from home or physically be in the plant for at least an hour every night. Neither option was practical," Parker said. "I knew that automation was the answer, but I could not take the time to write automation scripts because I was up to my elbows in the Infor deployment. We needed a simpler and less expensive way to go."
From the Infor pre-sales consultant, Parker learned that one of Magic Metals' customers was using Automate to launch and run assorted VISUAL business processes. Parker met with the customer face-to-face and satisfied himself that Automate could do the job. "I researched other automation solutions, but the big seller for me was that our customer had already used Automate and knew that it worked with VISUAL. That virtually eliminated my deployment risk."
When the VISUAL implementation was in the preliminary stages, Parker purchased a three-seat Automate license (one for his laptop, one for the server for running VISUAL and SQL Server as a backup, and one spare). He then compiled the needed automation routines by dragging and dropping a series of menu commands such as "send keystroke," "check control," and "send email" into the program's graphical task-building window in the proper sequence. When the ERP system went live seven months later, Automate kicked in right alongside it.
Today, Automate launches and runs VISUAL's job scheduling and material resource planning utilities at both noon and midnight five days a week, providing updated information essential for the shop floor and the purchasing department. It also runs the system's costing utility every night, applying the cost of materials and labor to the appropriate job.
In addition, Automate checks Magic Metals' disk usage for SQL Server backups once a day and purges the log files containing VISUAL's material resource planning data twice a day to save disk space. And on the first day of each month, the Automate program moves costing data from the shop floor to VISUAL's accounting module as well as running work-in-process and inventory valuation reports for the previous month, all without a single manual mouse click.
With all of these tasks on its plate and potentially more to come, Automate has become as central to business operations at Magic Metals as the job shop's ERP system itself. Using Automate trims an hour a day off repetitive VISUAL and infrastructure maintenance duties, ensures timely execution of those functions, and frees Parker's schedule for other activities requiring a greater skill level.
The software also sends Parker an email for each successfully completed process and flags those that have failed, accelerating error handling and enabling Parker to turn monitoring duties over to a colleague by giving him Automate access when Parker is on vacation or otherwise unavailable.
Most significantly, all of these wheels were set in motion without the time and expense of coding. With Automate, it took just 30 minutes of dragging and dropping for Magic Metals to eliminate an hour of busywork per day. It may not be magic, but it comes pretty close.
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