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Universal Stainless and Alloy
From its inception in 1994, Universal Stainless & Alloy Products, Inc. has distinguished itself by being the only domestic specialty steel maker capable of producing both semi-finished long products and flat-rolled products.

Business Dilemma
Initially, Universal scheduled and processed customer orders through its mill utilizing a paper-based system supported by a homegrown DOS-based data accumulation system operated on a PC. In addition, accounting activities were generally completed through spreadsheet applications and test certificates were completed manually. The growth of the company's customer base and products offered to the marketplace quickly forced Universal to seek a more advanced management information system to support its growth and properly serve its customer base.

Strategies for Success
The Bridgeville facility of Universal understood the issues created by the inflexible and inefficient systems and looked to find a provider with an industry-specific solution, one that was sophisticated enough to handle the unique manufacturing processes inherent in specialty steel production.

"We looked at many vendors of client/server based ERP and supply chain solutions for a suitable system. However, we found that these providers lacked the functionality and knowledge needed to make their systems work in a metals production facility," said Rick Ubinger, CFO of Universal.

After an exhaustive search, Universal chose UEC IT because UEC IT was a well known supplier of systems designed for the metals industry and its systems worked well in this environment. UEC IT worked with Universal during the process of taking the order fulfillment system that UEC IT had installed in large steel producers and scaling it down to fit the specialized needs of Universal.

"We found UEC IT to be a software company that understood steel and was willing to work with us to ensure the system fit our manufacturing processes, not those defined in a 'canned' package solution," said Ubinger.

The Tools for Success
UEC IT implemented UEC OFS, a client server based order fulfillment system at Universal's Bridgeville facility. The system includes several components such as a commercial application that provides Universal with the ability to efficiently and accurately enter new and repeat orders, to provide realistic promise dates, and to provide real time responses to customer questions on a timely basis.

UEC OFS also includes a quality component, which helps Universal to efficiently control, maintain, and reuse metallurgical specifications; and to more efficiently control test management activities. UEC OFS affords Universal greater visibility into the operations at Bridgeville. Personnel access real-time information including order and material status, production recording, inventory levels, test results, and a physical count of inventory, which results in an increase in accuracy of orders and production.

Another significant feature was the implementation of an actual cost based accounting system. Through this feature, UEC OFS tracks the cost of produced material at Universal. Working with Universal, UEC IT customized the accounting system to accommodate the accounting practices Universal had previously established.

Through the order-to-cash management provided by UEC OFS, Universal saved significant time and cost, reduced manual tasks, improved data collection, and implemented more efficient reporting methods, enabling Universal to enhance customer service.

Implementation Issues
After the implementation of UEC OFS and the resulting increase in data reliability, Universal began to look for additional ways to improve operations and reduce costs. They expressed interest in an advanced planning and scheduling system to help increase performance and efficiency. The key challenge was to quickly and economically implement a factory planning solution to automate customized balancing routines and integrate the data with UEC OFS.

Universal chose to implement i2 Technologies' Tradematrix Factory Planner to satisfy its need for a planning and scheduling system. This solution was chosen due to i2's leading role as an innovator in supply chain planning software as well as UEC IT's experience in implementing Factory Planner quickly and economically through the UEC IT Factory Planner Toolkit for Metals. The UEC IT Toolkit is designed to extend the functionality of i2's Factory Planner to provide management of order groupings, plan restoration, a menu system, enhanced balancing processes, and adjustments to the manufacturing order priorities used in the standard i2 balancing routine.

The key to the successful i2 implementation was UEC IT's ability to integrate i2's Factory Planner to UEC OFS. The i2 Factory Planner relies heavily on data generated from ERP systems, such as UEC OFS, to formulate good production plans and schedules. Without accurate and timely order and inventory data, the Factory Planner would not be able to make realistic plans. Therefore, it was essential that: First, UEC OFS gather and report up to the minute production, inventory, order, and material information; Second that the data was integrated seamlessly into i2 Factory Planner; Third, that the "planned" data from Factory Planner was handed back to UEC OFS and then made available to allow the schedulers to develop detailed plans on a material level. Finally, that the system could truly handle the unique processes of producing specialty steels and was easy to use.

To combat the issues facing the team, UEC IT provided Universal with its Factory Planner Toolkit for Metals. Using the Toolkit, UEC IT integrated data from UEC OFS to Factory Planner, ensured the system would work in a metal production environment, and provided a means to get Factory Planner data back to UEC OFS.

"After the UEC OFS implementation, Universal had real-time access to current order and inventory status. Production and shipment information is now entered as it occurs by those responsible for the process, instead of being recorded by clerical personnel at a later date," said Gerald Dixon, President, UEC IT.

Update: Universal has been able to gain a more accurate reading of its inventory levels, identify orders in jeopardy and effectively schedule its production units from plans generated by i2 Factory Planner and UEC IT's Factory Planner Toolkit for Metals.