Pneumatic, electronic controls production aided by software

To help designers create control systems that mate electronics and pneumatics, Robitech Inc. (Wilmington, Mass.) introduced a modular method in 1981 that simplified electronic/pneumatic control interfaces, made them more flexible, cut downtime, and reduced their footprint by combining them on one rack.


To help designers create control systems that mate electronics and pneumatics, Robitech Inc. (Wilmington, Mass.) introduced a modular method in 1981 that simplified electronic/pneumatic control interfaces, made them more flexible, cut downtime, and reduced their footprint by combining them on one rack. Over the years, the company's clients multiplied, but its spread sheet-based production management, scheduling, tracking and inventory system couldn't handle all the orders, and recently grew so inefficient that Robitech had to seek outside assistance.

Though it offers a standard product line, Robitech's systems are tailored to meet customers' specific needs. These systems include components bought from outside suppliers, and assembled on racks manufactured in house. Previously, inventory was tracked with a spreadsheet, and ordering was done manually, which eventually created a scheduling nightmare. "We had parts coming in from many different vendors, so getting all of them here at the right time was tough," says Jeff Forest, Robitech's operations manager. "Also, many parts are common to a lot of our systems, so it was hard to know when a part came in which job it was for."

In addition, ordering wasn't coordinated to take advantage of discounts; delivered parts weren't matched with purchase orders to maintain required inventories; price quotes took hours to compile from previous paper-based orders; and management didn't know Robitech's daily status because none of the manufacturing data was integrated with the accounting system.

Because these problems threatened its growth, Robitech's management decided to implement a combined enterprise resource planning (ERP)-accounting system to track operations. The company reports that the software that best met its needs was a mid-market, Microsoft Windows-based system, Visual Manufacturing, from Lilly Software Associates (Hampton, N.H.).

Working from the same database, this software's modules handle estimating, finite scheduling, order entry, time keeping, job costing, MRP, purchasing, inventory, customer relationship management, e-business and financials. For example, an order entry in Visual Manufacturing is linked to materials forecasting and requisition functions, ensuring that raw materials arrive in time to meet production schedules.

Tracking with ERP

After installing the new software and entering all of its historical, paper-based data, Robitech began using Visual Manufacturing to generate immediate quotes from its database, and create electronic files for subsequent orders. These files are automatically forwarded to Robitech's engineering and sales departments, and then delivered to its manufacturing facility, where Visual Manufacturing's manufacturing resource planning (MRP) module automatically determines how much of each material is needed to fill the order.

Visual Manufacturing also lets Mr. Forest check the status of open orders; quickly identify overdue parts; and reconcile work orders and assigned materials, which eliminates former confusion about which materials go to which jobs.

Finally, since installing Visual Manufacturing, Robitech reports it has doubled production with a less than 10% increase in administrative staff. "Everyone is more efficient now that we can find information we need in seconds," concludes Mr. Forest. "And since manufacturing data flows right through to accounting, we know exactly what's going on with the business at any time."

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Author Information

Jim Montague, news editor

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