Smart Phone Apps for Service Centers

Smart phone technology has found its calling in managing metals.

Mobile Internet devices, “smart phones” connected to telephone networks, are widely available throughout the world and are viewed as a critical communications channel for businesses of all types and sizes. Using a mobile phone network to extend the functionality, flexibility and reach of an ERP system is a natural evolution of the technology.

Northrop Grumman’s OpenTrac ERP Systems already had many functions designed for wireless handheld terminals inside a plant or warehouse. Equipped with integrated bar-code scanners, these wireless devices allow freedom of movement for the shipper, the stockman, the inspector or other employees and enable entry and lookup of data in real
time. Today, smart phones provide the same capability and productivity advantages for users inside and outside the facility.

OpenTrac Enterprise ERP Systems were designed to reach beyond the traditional users involved in sales, planning and operations with integrated e-communications and web portal links to vendor mills, third-party processors, customers and carriers. These (near) real-time links enable wider, more-timely vision of the supply chain. Smart phone applications give a different class of user access to the ERP system. Primary beneficiaries of the smart phone are outside salespeople, traveling service technicians, managers who don’t typically log on to the ERP system, and those with some role in transportation.

For the outside sales staff, for example, the smart phone has a few advantages over laptop access. First, the smart phone is “always on” and doesn’t need booting up when calling on a customer. The smart phone is less intrusive and doesn’t create a wall between the sales person and the customer. Sales-oriented applications include order status lookup, entering new customer profile data, part specification lookup, order entry for repeat and standard products, pricing calculators, and requests for reprints of shipping notices and invoices. Plus, they make the salesman look cool!

For managers who are away from the office, or who can’t sleep at night, the smart phone offers the ability to check up on what is happening at the plant or office. Need to see what items are on tonight’s schedule, how many rail cars need to be unloaded or to approve a purchase requisition? No problem. production and shipping statistics can be queried in real-time.

The smart phone can be made to scan a bar code, too. Several makes and models of Bluetooth-enabled camera scanners can be configured to identify any of the common bar-code formats including the “3 of 9” code that is prevalent in the metals industry. These scanners are fob-like in size and can be put on a key chain. The better models have long-life batteries and can operate within 30 feet of the actual phone.

For traveling service technicians who are troubleshooting processing operations or investigating claims, the smart phone can provide them access to order specifications, process history, metal test results, heat chemistry data, etc. If the smart phone is bar-code-scan enabled, the technician can scan the shipping tag on a coil/lift to verify that it is indeed the item in question. The technician can be authorized to approve a claim or to release material previously held while still at the processor or customer location. He or she can wrap up one issue and move on to the next, rather than having to later re-enter information scribbled on a notepad. The productivity savings are significant.

For persons responsible for managing remote (consigned) inventory, the smart phone can be used to take physical inventory. Imagine walking through another company’s warehouse and scanning your tags with a Bluetooth scanner the size of a lighter. The difference between this and a data logger is that the smart phone application can validate that the tag number is legitimate and alert the user while he or she is still looking at the item. 

The operating costs to equip a salesman, technician, or manager with a smart phone are typically under $150 per month. All the major telecom providers support one or more smart phones. Most salespeople already have a company cell phone, so upgrading them to a smart phone is an incremental cost.

Mobile phone devices with camera scanners can be used as a substitute for, or complement to, traditional wireless handheld units inside the plant. Existing in-plant OpenTrac ERP functions available for use with scanners are:

n Receiving

n Finding and relocating material

n Verification of items to be processed

n Verification of items to be shipped

n Loading items for shipment

n Packaging confirmation

n Physical inventory

Mobile phone devices offer the possibility of extending the reach of OpenTrac users outside the four walls of the business. Potential users include field sales, field technicians, outside processing managers and plant personnel away from the office. typical functions for users away from the plant are:

n Order status

n New prospect profile

n Entry of repeat orders

n Item history lookup

n Part specification lookup

n Claim lookup

n Claim entry

n Physical inventory at outside processing locations

n  Quality control holds and dispositions

n Display of dashboard statistics

Smart phone applications offer the benefits of improved customer service, improved inventory control and improved user productivity by providing real-time information to the user and enabling more real-time updates to the ERP system. Access to real-time data in the field enables business decisions to be made more quickly.

Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Canonsburg, Pa., offers OpenTrac ERP Systems for the metals industries. For more information, visit

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Friday, February 23, 2018