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Seamless, Real-Time Views Into Outsourced Manufacturing Processes

by Mark Tanis | SAPinsider

July 1, 2002

by Mark Tanis, TriVirix International SAPinsider - 2002 (Volume 3), July (Issue 3)

For many companies, outsourcing their manufacturing processes has become a way to get better-quality production at lower cost and free up resources to focus on strategic initiatives. Still, even with these benefits, putting the building of its products into another company’s hands can be an anxiety-ridden, strategic decision for any business. Success hinges on trust and accountability. We at TriVirix use the mySAP Enterprise Portal as a means to achieve both.

“We want to be as good, if not better, than our customers’ own internal manufacturing department would be. Because we are a remote operation for them, we have to make up for that, and one way we do that is using information technology.”

Richard West
President and CEO, TriVirix International

TriVirix International is a U.S.-based medical device contract manufacturer with facilities in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and customers around the globe. We build electronic and electromechanical equipment products for a worldwide base of customers in the medical device and biotech industries. TriVirix essentially becomes the virtual manufacturing department for its customers, handling the development, transition, manufacture, and support of their products.

To help ensure customer confidence, we have implemented the mySAP Enterprise Portal to offer clients access to real-time information about their orders. Developing our customer information portal, AllianceNet®, has been part of the vision of TriVirix president and CEO Richard West and vice president Michael Labriola, who cofounded the company in 1998. “To truly act as our customers’ virtual manufacturing department, we wanted to give them access to information about the status of their devices — whether in production or repair — online at any time,” says West.

A philosophy of complete openness is one of our key value propositions for customers and a crucial differentiator from other contract manufacturers vying for the same outsourced manufacturing business. We’re very “open book.” There is very little information we won’t show our customer.

Although lowering operating costs will be a long-term benefit, our initial goal in implementing the mySAP Enterprise Portal was to increase sales. We look at the portal as a sales and marketing tool. Our selection of SAP’s portal solution was very strategic, and we have already realized a return on that investment. The total cost to implement has been small relative to the increased revenue.

Reassuring the Customer with Real-Time Information Online, Anytime

Since we are not co-located with our customers, our priority is to provide them a high level of comfort, with immediate access to information about their manufacturing status without having to make a trip to our facilities in Minnesota, the UK, or even to our North Carolina headquarters. They just go onto their computer, open up their web browser, and access the system from their desktop.

We specialize in assisting customers from the end of the research/development phase through final manufacture. In most cases, TriVirix builds a finished product ready for use in the hospital, clinic, or laboratory. Each month, the company ships thousands of products from its factories in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a newly acquired facility in Milaca, Minnesota, to the US, Europe, Asia, and other worldwide destinations.

Throughout this process, our customers typically look to AllianceNet for two types of information: static documents (such as design specs, manufacturing instructions, and quality records) and real-time reports from the SAP R/3 system. The reports give a customer valuable insight into their order status. From their purchase order they can drill down and see supplier and production order status. In addition, they may even click on a part number and find out its inventory status, to answer questions such as “How much inventory is available for production?”

Customers can access the portal anytime, from any location, via their web browser, which provides a reassuring level of transparency for customers (see Figure 1). More than once I have heard from potential or current customers that we delivered better manufacturing status information to them than their own manufacturing department.

Figure 1 Customer View of TriVirix’ Portal

Our customers use this information to determine project status or view manufacturing instructions, supplier information, and inventory position. Product specifications, bill of material data, proposals, contracts, and pricing documents are available, along with warranty information and our entire quality-system documentation. Customers can also launch iViews, such as a site map of capabilities and a white-pages lookup, and even access a web cam for live shots of work-in-progress at the manufacturing site.

Better information sharing and online collaboration improves the manufacturing process and eases any lingering customer concerns. One new customer was worried that his engineers were not providing us with the correct drawings, since the product was in transition and involved frequent engineering changes. AllianceNet gave him access to all the documents we had received from his team — and immediate feedback that we were building to the right documentation. He told us this was exactly what he needed. Open communication is crucial to establishing trust in the process.

This trust in the process is the cornerstone of TriVirix’ success, and key to making a business case to customers. The AllianceNet portal powered by the mySAP Enterprise Portal clearly differentiates TriVirix from its competitors and is a crucial element in creating customer comfort and making the case for outsourcing.

Accessible Information for Employees, from the Factory Floor to Company Headquarters

TriVirix’ portal provides similar ease of access to employees. Employees enter the portal through assigned roles that correspond to their job responsibilities. Direct labor can access information on receiving, manufacturing, inspection, and service instructions at PCs and shared kiosks. Management views sales information, financial reports, and master production schedules, along with status information on projects, sales, and orders (see Figure 2). We want to access the same information our customers access. If we are not using AllianceNet ourselves, then a customer is going to call and ask a question and our project managers won’t be equipped to answer it.

Figure 2 An Employee’s View of Customer Data in TriVirix’ Portal

Suppliers’ Access to Portal for Latest Specs

Like customers, our suppliers also need the latest information on a product. AllianceNet provides suppliers with access to our document vaults, so they are assured everyone is working from the most up to date documentation, and are building to the correct revision.

Looking to the Future

In line with our founding principle of using information technology for strategic advantage, we plan to expand the capabilities of our portal solution, and address our customers’ desire for more online B2B capabilities by offering web-based meetings and the ability to create or change orders from the customer’s desktop.

SAP’s Business Intelligence solution will become increasingly important as well. mySAP Business Intelligence will provide out-of-the-box functionality, like exception reporting, so we can “bubble up” — through the portal — information that is important to our management team. We believe this will become increasingly important as we grow.

Customer Comfort Means Better Business

For TriVirix, the mySAP Enterprise Portal has increased customer satisfaction — and therefore competitive advantage — at a relatively low cost. “The mySAP Enterprise Portal allows TriVirix to provide real-time production data to our customers’ desktops at almost no cost,” says our president and CEO, Richard West. “As their contract manufacturer, we can deliver better and more timely information on the manufacture of their products than they can get from less-powerful systems on their own factory floor.”

I believe this translates into better customer relationships and better business. With open and easy information sharing, the mySAP Enterprise Portal enables us to provide our customers with the level of comfort and trust they need. This is very important to TriVirix. It is at the heart of our business plan and strategy.

CHF Solutions, a TriVirix customer, has this to say about the benefits of AllianceNet:

“CHF Solutions Inc. has been very impressed with the power and functionality of the TriVirix International’s AllianceNet/mySAP Enterprise Portal provided for communicating our program and order status between Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. It provides a clear, accurate window into the detailed activity which represents our program. With AllianceNet, we expect the decision-making to be better and more timely because we are all working from the same page. As anyone in manufacturing knows, the difference between success and failure is clear, accurate information for good decision-making, resulting in fewer errors, quicker delivery, and lower costs.

“Given TriVirix International’s relatively small company size, for you to have implemented such a powerful system gives me optimism that this business system might be appropriate for our company and its customers worldwide.”

Robert A. Garee, Vice President Operations, CHF Solutions Inc.

Mark Tanis is Vice President of Information Systems at TriVirix International and the project manager for the company’s portal, AllianceNet. In addition to his responsibilities with TriVirix, Mark also serves as vice chairman of the ASUG Enterprise Portals group, and teaches graduate and undergraduate information technology courses at the University of Phoenix.

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