AMS Beta Program Brings Enterprise Resource Planning to Pallet Industry
Automated Machine Systems provides computer programs for pallet manufacturers and recyclers; customers use beta version of Enterprise Resource Planning program.
Date Posted: 12/1/2005
Automated Machine Systems Inc. (AMS) is a full design and supply integrator providing complete pallet logistics from start to finish. The company provides component machines and equipment for pallet manufacturing and recycling as well as complete systems and also computer software.
AMS provides several ‘off the shelf’ programs for pallet manufacturers and recyclers. In addition, it has developed a much more sophisticated program for managing pallet businesses that it has made available in beta or test form to several customers. This new program, Palmate Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), is scheduled to be made available in early 2006.
AMS offers a suite of software solutions for pallet recycling operations. The AMS Palmate™ Pallet Management System, which also can be integrated with accounting programs, is geared for tracking and analyzing production in pallet sort and repair operations.
Palmate Pallet Management System for recyclers can be customized to meet individual requirements in even the most demanding recycling operations. The program can utilize either bar code labels or optical recognition technology that ‘reads’ a sticker or colored crayon mark put on the finished pallet by a repair worker. When integrated with a company’s accounting program, for example, data can be transferred for payroll calculations.
Palmate helps companies capture and analyze data related to production, quality, inventory, and other aspects of its pallet recycling operations. It tracks production of employees and inventory, including various grades of pallets, as well as inventory cost.
AMS offers two software drawing programs: Paldraw is a drawing program for pallets and Cratedraw is a drawing program for crates and containers. A new release of Cratedraw is scheduled for 2006.
Paldraw has features for making a two-dimensional scale schematic drawing of the pallet, creating a three-dimensional image of the pallet, figuring the cost of the pallet, generating a quote proposal, and storing and accessing information for customers and vendors. All schematic drawings are printed to scale on a desktop printer. The program lets the user ‘drag’ and place boards on the pallet with the computer mouse or remove them with one click, change the dimensions of multiple boards at one time, and it automatically fits and distributes boards across the pallet. Cratedraw functions similarly and has similar features for producing scale drawings of crates and containers.
The AMS Paldraw program is currently the ‘front end’ of its Palmate ERP software. However, when it is made available next year, Palmate ERP will integrate with the newest version of the Pallet Design System, PDS 4.0, which also is scheduled to be released in the spring.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is multi-module application software that helps a manufacturer or other business manage the important parts of doing business, such as sales, purchasing, managing inventory, scheduling production tasks, shipping and invoicing, and tracking the status of orders. It typically uses a single, relational database for storing information.
AMS developed a beta version of the Palmate ERP program, which has been in use by three customers since summer. It is a client-server program that is installed on a company’s server or main computer and networked to desktop computers. Although initially developed for pallet manufacturing, AMS plans to enhance the software to incorporate pallet recycling operations.
Palmate ERP has several modules for different operations and tasks in a pallet manufacturing company, such as taking orders from customers, scheduling production of pallet components, scheduling pallet assembly operations on machines or manual methods, purchasing raw material and other supplies, shipping and receiving, and invoicing. The program records the various operations in a business and creates accountability.
Security features permit employees only to access and use authorized modules of the program. An employee with authorization to use the system may only have access to one or a few modules necessary to perform their pertinent tasks. However, it also enables managers with greater access to have information on the company’s complete range of operations, to analyze operations and make more informed management decisions.
The software captures information in ‘real time’ and incorporates ‘drag and click’ features to move information from one window to another. The program also can work with companies that have multiple locations yet still manage information in ‘real time.’
No other software program offers such a comprehensive approach to overall operations, from buying raw material and taking customer orders to shipping and invoicing, according to Chad Hoffman, AMS software solutions manager.
The program incorporates the use of bar code tags that are attached to raw material – cants and rough lumber. (AMS is modifying the program to also incorporate the use of raw logs in manufacturing new pallets.) Tracking the raw material through the complete manufacturing process can help determine waste factors of certain types of material supplied by specific vendors. "It’s about data collection," said Chad. "Anybody can collect data in a simple, cost-efficient way if they are committed to do so."
Information in the invoicing module can be exported directly into accounting software to automate bookkeeping. For example, when an order is received, the system can automatically generate an invoice and automatically send it via computer fax to a customer. It also can create a freight requisition and send it to the company’s trucking contractor.
Palmate ERP will generate a number of various reports for management in order to analyze various operations. Besides determining waste factors in raw material, it can figure yield of pallet components from raw material and other issues. The system has customer contact information and tracks data on current orders, including bills of lading, invoicing and shipping.
One of the most significant areas that Palmate ERP can help a company is in the area of inventory management, according to Chad. "There’s a real need for it," he said. "People are searching for some way to manage their inventory. We are able to analyze lumber inventory on a real-time basis."
Palmate ERP can tell a manager that he does not have enough stock in inventory to make the pallets to fill a certain order. It also can schedule the processes to make the parts and assemble the pallets.
Many pallet manufacturing businesses, Chad noted, have difficulty maintaining a proper inventory. It is a key aspect of successfully managing the business and its profitability, he added, because failure to properly manage inventory – having the correct volume of components on hand — leads to costly rescheduling of cut-up lines and nailing machines. "We are giving them the tools to make that happen," said Chad. As the system acquires a history of data, it can be used to make projections, such as how much inventory is required at a given time.
Managing inventory is a complex undertaking, noted Chad – perhaps the most challenging aspect of running a pallet manufacturing business. Managers need to be knowledgeable about markets for raw material, their company’s pallet products and component requirements, and yield and production matters related to its cut-up operations. Palmate ERP can help them manage the various information yet remains flexible enough to handle last-minute changes. It can enable a company to be pro-active in managing its inventory instead of reactive, said Chad.
"Being reactive is costly in change-overs," he said, whether it is changing over cut-up lines or nailing machines. Every unnecessary change-over can cost a company hundreds if not thousands of dollars, he estimated. Palmate ERP can eliminate the need for those costly change-overs, he said. That benefit alone, and the savings it would accrue, could enable a company to pay for the software in a matter of weeks, he estimated.
Overall, the most important benefit the program brings to a company is helping it to ascertain the true cost of goods produced, Chad explained. Because of the many variables involved, some pallet companies "find it hard to verify profitability" on certain orders, he said. "People have to be able to analyze that."
In a typical Palmate ERP installation, anyone in a management position plus additional employees may be involved in using the program, Chad suggested – anywhere from 10-20 users. Not all users would have access to all the modules, however; most employees with access may only work in one or two modules.
Palmate ERP may be integrated with other business accounting programs, said Chad, such as MAS 90, Great Plains, Solomon, NA Vision, QuickBooks and Peachtree.
The base price of the AMS Palmate ERP is about $30,000. The projected payback for the program is 6-9 months, Chad estimated. It will be sold with a measure of customization for each customer. By comparison, AMS has worked with some customers that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on custom accounting programs, according to Chad.
Customers using the beta version are benefiting from having information in one place about customers, orders, invoicing, and production, said Chad. The program is helping these businesses maintain relationships with customers and keep up-to-date on the status of customer orders.
The beta process of fine-tuning the software will be finalized by the spring of 2006, Chad predicted. Some modules of the program already have been finalized.
AMS provides complete installation service and on-site training for customer employees. Its staff can evaluate a company’s computer network to determine if it has sufficient resources. It also can arrange for off-site, secure, remote access to a company’s network in order to perform trouble-shooting. AMS offers several different service contracts with varying levels of service.
AMS also supplies all hardware for use with its systems and loads it with the appropriate software, whether high-speed printers, bar code label dispensers, scanners, rewinders or other equipment.
AMS has developed significant resources to the software segment of its products and services. It currently employs five software developers and is adding another.
"We have seven people" devoted to this segment of the company’s business, said AMS president Kris Chayer. "That enables us to be a leader in the industry and to break new ground."
"We’re here for the long haul," he added "We’re investing in the future for the pallet industry."
The use of computers in the pallet industry is still in its relative infancy, Kris observed, and he has assembled a team of employees to prepare for the future of the industry.
AMS also provides products and services to support pallet repair, sorting, handling, wood recovery, grinding, washer/dryer, palletizing, and painting systems. Its line of equipment includes pallet dispensers, stackers, tippers, flippers, prepping equipment, grinders, an extensive line of conveyors, heat-treating chambers, and more. The company can provide integrated solutions for new or existing equipment environments with small or large volumes of pallets.
In addition, AMS provides services for consulting, plant layout and design, maintenance and service, and supervised systems training.
For more information, e-mail AMS at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (877) 267-8384 or visit www.amssystems.com.
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