A Visionary Approach to Electronic Product Information Management
Approach to Electronic Product Information ManagementLike most other chemical manufacturing companies, PRC-DeSoto manages its formulation and product structure information using a commercially available manufacturing data management system. Although we were successful in modifying and adapting the software to manage our core manufacturing and formulation work flows, we were unable to integrate all of the supporting product information documents into the system due to the inherent design limitations of the software. While these supporting documents do not affect production processes directly, they provide essential references on finished product configurations and testing information that are conformed to various specifications, and criteria for environmental, health and safety, and transportation regulatory compliance. Without centralized document management solutions for these documents, we, instead, resorted to manual distributions and archiving of hard-copied documents. These tasks were extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive, and the slow flow of documents frequently caused delays in processing and shipment of finished products.
To provide an overall solution to the integrated documentation system, we realized that we should consider developing some of our own applications based on PRC-DeSoto business objectives, instead of relying solely on finding solutions from commercially available technologies. We started our implementation by examining our business needs and visualizing what types of solutions would benefit our documentation flow. Since a large number of new and revised documents were created daily by the centralized Product Information Group and distributed to manufacturing sites and distribution sites all over the world, it was most important for us to implement a true paperless document management system to eliminate hard-copy distributions. It was also important for us to integrate into this system value-added applications that would track documentation flows of process-based documents between various departments of various sites. To keep all users updated on each document's status, the system must also be equipped with real-time or periodic status reports for various product information documents. Based on the above requirements, we contracted with Feasible Management Consulting Inc., the solution provider that has been helping PRC-DeSoto in building its data warehouse since 1998, to develop customized solutions for our documentation system.
Information-Based SolutionsFor management of information-based documents that provide product references and regulatory information, the data warehousing solution from IMR Alchemy was selected as the primary tool to create an intranet website that is accessible to all internal users. The customized product information site allows easy access to all product information documents by way of Internet browsers. Its users may generate document-specific status reports with a time interval option that provides updated information on document processing status during a user-specified time period. It also features a Document Request Screen that enables users to request specific documents electronically. This customized site has been in use since 1999 and the scope of published information has been expanded many times since. PRC-DeSoto users from all locations worldwide can retrieve product information documents from this site as needed daily. As a result, hard-copy distribution by the Product Information Group ceased completely earlier this year.
Process-Based SolutionsProcess-based documents, which are used for either multi-functional process flow capacities or technical information computation capacities, were developed by Feasible Management Consulting Inc. as Web-based applications using multiple Web-based solutions. One of the true paperless, multi-functional applications that links process flow of various functional groups in many PRC-DeSoto locations by way of intranet Web is the Color Match Screen (CMS) application for aerospace coating color products. The application consists of a series of electronic input screens for all of the functional groups involved in the workflow process of coating color product production. Typically, the functional groups in the workflow loop are Sales, Marketing, Color Engineering, Product Information and Costing. When a color product order is placed into the CMS, and as the work sequence flows through the loop, the staff of each group documents his group's information into the corresponding group's input screen. The information is flagged upon completion and the date and time of completion for each screen is registered in a real-time report. The CMS application allows precise tracking of color product working processes. The transparent nature of this application has improved the speed of the work cycle significantly. It also enables functional groups to follow the work sequence closely and perform their tasks without unnecessary delay.
Generic MSDS ApplicationThe most innovative computation solution we have developed thus far is the Web-based generic MSDS application for aerospace coating color products. The concept of generic MSDS is not new and has been pondered amongst coating manufacturers; however, realistically, it is not possible to derive one generic MSDS document for all coating product lines produced by a multi-product manufacturer. Since PRC-DeSoto has definite guidelines on formulating color products and the colorants used for color products are standardized, it is possible for us to derive a set of generic MSDS documents for PRC-DeSoto color products.
Using data warehousing and data mining solutions provided by Feasible Management Consulting Inc., we were able to perform relational data analysis on a range of finished color formulae, colorant formulae, and their corresponding MSDSs. Based on the results of our analysis, we separated the data fields of a standard, sixteen parts MSDS document into user-input fields, computational fields, and text fields. To facilitate the database with raw data, the standardized colorants and their raw materials information were compiled and populated into the application.
For computational fields, we programmed equations and computational rules for hazardous and non-hazardous ingredients based on regulatory requirements. When a color formula is input into the application, the computation program will break down its ingredients and list them on appropriate sections of the MSDS document according to programmed threshold values. For text fields, we developed a series of MSDS templates consisting of possible combinations of hazard ingredients derived from the relational data analysis. The appropriate hazard warnings for various templates and the rules for template selection were programmed into the application as well. For example, if the color formula contains carbon black and silica that meet their appropriate threshold values, the template containing carbon black and silica hazard warnings will be selected by the program to be used in the text fields of the document.
The resulting application is a formula-specific, user-friendly generic MSDS solution with the entire complex programming residing in the background. An input screen with basic input fields is provided to the users. The screen consists of product descriptions, formula information with concentrations in weights or weight percents, and variable physical properties. When there is a rush color order, the color chemist formulates the product, inputs the formula and other information into the input screen of the generic MSDS application, and submits the MSDS request by clicking the Submit button. Within a minute, a formula-specific MSDS document is created and the product is ready to ship. All created documents in this application are archived and retrievable by the Product Information Group for documentation purposes. The Web-based generic MSDS application runs as a service on the NT server and it is being used by color chemists of PRC-DeSoto worldwide.
Future Plan for Product Information ManagementWe have been very successful in creating a paperless environment for product information distributions. We are especially pleased with our recent advanced developments in Web-based applications that have significantly improved our process flows and documentation flows. Our plan for the future of product information management is to continue with our search for better solutions so that our users can access product information documents quicker and easier, and can perform their work more efficiently by using our Web-based applications. For the immediate future, we have plans to further expand our website scope to include more non-domestic product information requirements for users. We are also developing a Web-based product label solution that would allow shipping departments of any PRC-DeSoto sites to print product labels through the corporate intranet.
For more information on electronic product information management, contact PRC-Desoto, 2820 Empire Avenue, Burbank, CA 91504; phone 818/549.7511; fax 818/549.7599; e-mail email@example.com; or Circle Number 86.