Inventory Management Serial Number Tracking Tools Aid Utility Equipment Manufacturers

July 22, 2013 at 3:32 PMHeidi Bragg

The term “infrastructure” encompasses everything from power grids and water lines to streets and highways. Since communities and businesses are dependent their underlying infrastructure, utility management entities work to make sure these systems operate as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. One way both public and private utilities are addressing these needs is through the use of pro-active asset management Asset Manager Asset management is the key to getting the best use out of existing systems and equipment.

In order to properly manage and maintain their equipment, or assets, utility companies require specialized instruments. Vivex-Metrotech Vivax Metrotech, a mid-sized business based in California, manufactures test and measurement tools designed specifically to meet these needs. The company makes water leak detectors, buried pipe/cable locators, and cameras used by waste water utilities. These instruments help utility workers locate equipment and identify components that need repair or replacement.  As a result, utilities can properly maintain and operate crucial assets, prolonging the usability of each component and reducing life-cycle costs.

Vivax-Metrotech uses serial numbers to track its products through each stage of the production process. However, this was not an easy task in the early days of the company’s development. Rich Jordan, product manager and IT department staff at Vivax-Metrotech, says, “When I came on board at Vivax, we were a small company. We had two employees using QuickBooks and sharing a single laptop.” Jordan knew they needed to transition to a multi-user, client server environment. He continues, “We also recognized that we needed enhanced functionility as far as kitting, bills of materials (BOM), purchase order (PO) expediting and serial number tracking were concerned.”

After evaluating various inventory control and order management software programs, Jordan chose All Orders by NumberCruncher to better meet the company’s needs.   In early 2002, NumberCruncher was the first company to offer a solution for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that was specifically designed for QuickBooks. Since then, over 1500 companies have used NumberCruncher’s products and services to better manage their businesses. All Orders’ latest upgrade includes both return material authorizations(RMA) and repair tracking modules.

Vivax merged with Metrotech in 2009 and since then, the company has grown significantly. They now have a 30-seat license, with about 15 users on the system at any given time, and can track each product to ensure it meets the needs of their customers.

Quality control is an important element in gaining a competitive advantage, especially for SMBs. Tracking problems in finished products and their component parts is a crucial part of keeping expenses low and customer satisfaction high. These days, computerization allows manufacturing and quality control procedures to be implemented and tracked more easily than ever before. “From purchasing all the way through to financial reporting, computerization exists to give to business owners, managers, and accountants the tools to be successful faster, easier, and more efficiently,” says Ian Benoliel, CEO of NumberCruncher

The benefits computerization offers are clear at Vivax-Metrotech. Jordan says, “With All Orders, serial number tracking is per item. In other words, you decide if an item should be serialized and turn on that function. This is especially useful with export items.”

He describes their process as follows: "When a unit comes in for repair, we input that unit’s serial number at the time we enter the repair order. The program will then shows us a history of that item, including the date, invoice number and airway bill that the unit was received under, when it was sold and to whom, and if it has any history of being repaired by us or by any of the 12 authorized repair centers we have in the USA and overseas. That’s important because Vivax-Metrotech and its repair centers should guarantee any repair for a period of 90 days. We’ll also check to see if the unit was returned to us from the same customer who bought it, which helps track down stolen equipment.”

Jordan continues, "If the item has been previously repaired at an off-site service center and then comes to us, we can see what's wrong, what the off-site provider fixed, and make sure that the workmanship of our service providers is up to our standards. If there's shoddy workmanship involved, we can address it.”

Vivax-Metrotechrecently installed All Orders’ RMA/repair module upgrade and appreciates the functionality these new modules offer. They provide yet another tool to help the company “ … meet and exceed (their) customers' needs … providing top quality, well engineered, innovative products at competitive prices.”

Download your trial version of All Orders today and find out how Repair Order and RMA functionality can help your business.

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Audiovisual Equipment Manufacturers Using QuickBooks Integrated RMA and Repair Order Software

July 9, 2013 at 7:34 PMHeidi Bragg

The market for audiovisual equipment is highly competitive and continually expanding. According to InfoComm International, an organization that represents the commercial audiovisual industry worldwide, “The … industry currently generates $78 billion a year … and is projected to be a $115 billion global industry by 2015”  (see The Growing Audiovisual Industry). U.S-based audiovisual firms face competition not only domestically, but also from overseas firms. Given these industry projections, both large and small audiovisual manufacturers need a variety of tools to optimize their processes and increase their market share.

Quality control is an important element in gaining a competitive advantage. The ability to track problems in finished products and their component parts is a critical part of keeping expenses low and customer satisfaction high. Thankfully, computerization allows manufacturing and quality control procedures to be implemented and tracked more easily than ever before. “From purchasing all the way through to financial reporting, computerization exists to give to business owners, managers, and accountants the tools to be successful faster, easier, and more efficiently,” says Ian Benoliel, CEO of NumberCruncher. There are a variety software programs which can assist manufacturers in these tasks, but many are priced beyond the reach of small- to medium-sized businesses, or “SMBs”. However, these are often the very firms that are driving innovation in the audiovisual industry and need these tools.

One such company is Earthworks, a New Hampshire-based manufacturer of precision-engineered, high definition audio equipment. Year after year, the company’s products are nominated for technical achievement and industry excellence awards. Specialized equipment like Earthworks’ requires accurate tracking of every aspect of manufacturing in order to insure consistent, high-quality results. Because inventory control, order management, and repair/return merchandise authorization (RMA) tracking are critical to their business, Earthworks needed an affordable tool that would help them manage all these processes. The company uses QuickBooks accounting software, so the new system had to integrate seamlessly with QuickBooks financials.

Two years ago, Earthworks began using All Orders, an inventory control and order management software from NumberCruncher (a QuickBooks Gold Partner). In early 2002, NumberCruncher was the first company to offer an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution specifically designed for use with QuickBooks. Since then, over 1500 companies have used NumberCruncher’s products and services to better manage their businesses. All Orders’ latest upgrade includes both Return Material Authorization and repair tracking modules.

Earthworks, like many companies, use serial numbers to track their products. This enables them to trace an item back through the production process to the source of each component used in the finished product. When a microphone or other piece of equipment is returned, serial number tracking helps Earthworks identify where problems lie – whether there’s an issue with a particular batch of component parts or a certain supplier, if a certain tech needs additional training, etc. Three months ago, Earthworks added All Orders’ RMA/repair tracking modules to their existing software to help them streamline these processes.

Daniel Blackmer, the company’s Director of Engineering, explained how these new capabilities have helped streamline operations. "All Orders’ RMA/repair module allows us to keep track of repairs independent of returns, and the problem description and technicians’ notes sections for each serial-numbered item help us optimize our repair process,” he says. “This is critical since multiple departments may handle different aspects of a repair. Each tech can record and reference exactly what they see in front of them.”

Some SMBs also refurbish products, either their own or those from other manufacturers. By using All-Orders’ Repair Order module, Earthworks can track repairs and add costs to their company-owned products. Blackmer continues, “When an item comes in to be fixed, we can use the serial number to track who built the product, when it was built, and exactly which components were purchased from each vendor. We can also see where the product is in the warranty cycle, if it’s been returned before and why, and know which repair parts were used previously (along with where they were purchased)."

“Technology exists to ease the tracking burden,” concludes Benoliel. Through utilizing affordable tools for serial number tracking and accurate recordkeeping, even highly technical SMBs can optimize their manufacturing processes and better manage repairs of returned merchandise. The resultant gains in quality and customer satisfaction save both time and money, and help firms gain a larger share of their respective markets.

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Serial Number Tracking

July 5, 2013 at 9:47 AMIan Benoliel

What is a serial number?

A serial number is an identification number assigned to a distinct unit of a product from a single manufacturer. A serial number may be found on the packaging or on the unit itself.

A product will typically have an identifier often referred to as an SKU (stock keeping unit). For example a cellular phone made by RIM may have an SKU of 64905 which is BlackBerry Bold 9000. In addition to the SKU, each phone will have unique serial number. In the cell phone, wireless business its called an IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity. So whereas there may be thousands of 64905s there will only be one with IMEI 353958803-121326-9.

Why should my business track serial numbers

Serial numbers enable the manufacturer to trace a product back through the production process to the source of the components used in the finished product.  In our example of a cellular, the serial number allows the manufacturer to determine which components where used and from which supplier. So in the case where a certain batch of components may have been faulty, the manufacturer can recall only the serial numbers affected instead of a total recall.

Another reason is for warranty purposes.   Through its serial number you can trace which customer purchased a particular phone and if that phone is still under warranty.

In the cell phone business IMEI are also used for a blacklist of stolen devices.  Through the Central Equipment Identity Register an cell phone can be prevented from making calls through its IMEI.

How can All Orders by NumberCruncher help track serial numbers?

Technology exists to ease the tracking burden. These solutions include electronic records handling to help streamline the handling of bills of material and work orders, as well as technology such as barcodes and labels for serial traceability and warranty dates. But this technology has typically been out of reach for the small manufacturer. However All Orders by NumberCruncher provides sophisticated yet cost effective means to track serial numbers through the supply chain to the consumer and its integrated with QuickBooks.

Bill of material

A bill of material (BOM) is a list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, components, parts, and the quantities of each needed to manufacture the final product. It may be used for communication between manufacturing partners or confined to a single manufacturing plant.

A BOM can define products as they are designed (an engineering bill of materials), as they are ordered (a sales bill of materials), as they are built (a manufacturing bill of materials), or as they are maintained (a service bill of materials). The different types of BOMs depend on the business need and use for which they are intended.

An electronic BOM provides greater control over production costs. The ease in creating and editing an electronic BOM helps in maintaining product quality—the actual vs. expected product output.

Using BOMs ensures engineering designs are adhered to during production.  The BOM has production instructions and routing steps, including one that can be called quality control. You wouldn’t believe how many small companies keep their BOMs and production notes on paper in a file cabinet (or in the owner’s head). Paper, or even basic Excel spreadsheet systems don’t allow companies to easily update and instantly communicate changes throughout the entire organization.

Small electronics and computer manufacturers need vital inventory and order management features to effectively track inventory quantities, production, and customer orders. All Orders by NumberCruncher for has the necessary tools that QuickBooks Inventory for manufacturing and manufacturers does not have. From bill of materials to tracking warranty dates, these electronic manufacturers have the same compliance and operational requirements as larger companies. They need much, but not all, of the functional technology solutions [that are available to larger companies]. Too often this type of BOM functionality is found in costly software and hardware solutions.

Work Orders

Paper work orders do not allow production data to be shared throughout a central database. Quality processes cannot be effectively documented and saved to create standard operating procedures critical to electronics production. The ability to save and attach the serial number being manufactured ensures quality processes.

The electronic work order is used to create finished product. Each step in the work order is completed before the work order can be finalized. Too often lower-cost technology solutions lack the needed custom fields required per work order that allow the quality control checklist to be integrated with all other functions, and retained in the same database as order and inventory information.

Without the work order, the impact on quality will be significant, because the internal quality metrics cannot be documented. The work order is the internal document that manages production of a specific BOM for a specified quantity.

Bar Codes

Just as they use clipboards to keep track of inventory levels, many electronics manufacturers use a grease board, dry erase board, or a spiral notebook to track orders from suppliers, inventory, location transfers, customer orders, shipping information, work order picking, and inventory counts and adjustments. All of these can be done via mobile bar code scanning, but until now, many electronics manufacturers have found this critical technology inaccessible because they were priced out of these solutions.

Using bar codes for components ensures that the correct ingredients are picked and overall production efficiency increases. The level of efficiency and reduction of errors decreases by an average of 10 percent

Serial numbers and Warranty or Acquisition dates

No one wants to keep inventory on the selves for too long.  Nor do electronics manufacturers or wholesalers want repair a unit with an expired warrant period or better still a unit that they did not sell.   By not tracking serial numbers you are loosing money by

  • Spending to much time researching serial numbers
  • Repairing units that are not under warranty
  • Repairing or allowing a return for something you did not even sell!

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