Channell’s products can require many different components and sub-components. How does the company cut through this complexity to ensure it has the right materials for more efficient production of finished goods?
Channell worked with IBM Business Partner Draca Solutions to deploy an integrated planning and analytics platform, providing an in-depth breakdown of inventory and the components needed for new jobs.
Faster analysissaves planners time by freeing them from manual reporting workflows
Providesdeep insights into materials required, helping to prevent project delays
Enablessmarter resource deployment and plant maintenance with clarity on lead times
Business challenge story
Mastering many layers of complexity
Channell has been spearheading innovation in the manufacturing space for almost a century. Now run by the third-generation of the Channell family, the company provides thermoplastic and metal enclosures for some of the world’s leading telecom, broadband and utility companies, helping to ensure the delivery of first-class services to consumers in the United States and beyond.
Channell operates two state-of-the-art manufacturing plants, based in Temecula, California, and Rockwall, Texas, where highly-advanced industrial robots create the precision components that clients need. Within the two sites, Channell runs five separate manufacturing processes: injection molding, rotor molding, blow molding, metals and sheet molding compound.
George Sarabia, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Channell elaborates: “Channell is unusual because it’s a true manufacturing company. We don’t just do assembly, we go right from the raw materials—metal sheets or pellets of plastic—through to the finished goods. So, although we’re a relatively small company, our production operations are as complex as those of a much larger player.
“Every job that we complete involves many layers of complexity. Not only are we operating multiple manufacturing methods, but a customer order could be for multiple truckloads of goods. Within that order, individual components could require several sub-components, which in turn could need even smaller parts.”
As new orders come in, it falls to Channell’s planners to assess plant and machine capacity, allocate human resources, and prepare reports detailing the parts required to complete the job. To complete these tasks, the company previously relied partly on cumbersome, spreadsheet-based processes.
George Sarabia adds: “Our planners have been spending significant time drawing data from our ERP systems, matching our existing inventory against the materials required for each order, and estimating lead times for our customers.”
Relying on manual processes also carried the risk of human error. A single mistake during the planning process could mean that the company would lack the materials to finish a job—potentially pushing back the delivery date.
George Sarabia comments: “It was time to put smarter, more accurate tools in the hands of our planners.”
Implementing sophisticated analytics
Channell began a thorough assessment of available solutions, before deciding to deploy IBM® Planning Analytics Express and IBM Cognos® Analytics. To implement these solutions, the company worked with IBM Business Partner Draca Solutions.
George Sarabia explains: “Within some parts of the business, we were already using IBM analytics tools to a very limited extent. We saw that by upgrading and building on those solutions, we could create exactly the planning platform we needed. In the end, it was an easy decision to work with IBM.”
The in-memory analytical engine of IBM Planning Analytics and the flexible reporting capabilities of IBM Cognos Analytics, have proven to be an ideal combination to generate sophisticated reports that break down Channell’s complex planning requirements.
To achieve this, Channell first worked to classify its current products into three separate categories: finished goods, work-in-progress, and raw materials. In total, the IBM solutions have enabled the Channell team to create reports that track the inventory status of over 9,000 finished goods items.
Channell has also started using the IBM solutions to automatically generate a bill of materials report for each project, starting with its metals manufacturing jobs. Previously, this process has been among the most complicated and difficult for Channell’s planners.
In the future, the solutions will enable the creation of a single, comprehensive report containing details of all parts, assemblies and sub-components needed for each manufacturing job. The planners will be able to cross-check this data against inventory reports to ensure sufficient materials are available, helping them to forecast an accurate lead time and ensure orders are ready on schedule.
George Sarabia continues: “As well as the reporting capabilities, we have been particularly pleased with how user-friendly the IBM solutions are. For example, we recently employed a new analyst who had limited previous experience working with the Cognos platform. Within a very short time, he was able to pick up everything he needed to know to use the solution in his day-to-day work.”
Channell is also working with Draca Solutions to provide ongoing user training. During recent sessions held at the company’s Rockwall plant, Draca Solutions trained up a group of power users so they can pass on their knowledge and experience to colleagues throughout Channell, helping the business to make the most of its investment.
George Sarabia comments: “Working with Draca and IBM has been a highly effective alliance, and one we hope to continue moving forward. They don’t approach things through the narrow lens of IT; they take the time to understand our challenges, and how their solutions can add value to our business.
“We know there are potential use cases for the IBM solutions within finance, budgeting and forecasting, and we will be exploring these exciting opportunities in the days ahead.
Simplifying key planning processes
With the implementation of IBM Planning Analytics Express and Cognos Analytics, Channell has improved the workload of its planners, and is gaining faster, deeper insights into its inventory and manufacturing processes.
Instead of manually sifting through data and preparing spreadsheets, Channell’s planners now possess more tools to generate and view data.
George Sarabia explains: “In the case of our product categories, it used to take our team many hours to classify and report all of the items. And when we came to plan a new project using a nested bill of materials, it could take up to a full day to complete. With the IBM solutions, we can gain the insight we need and make the right decisions in just a few hours.”
By eliminating manual processes from its workflows, Channell is also reducing the risk of human error, providing a more accurate view of its current stock of materials and helping to optimize the planning process.
With a precise view of what materials it currently holds, and what it will need throughout the manufacturing process, Channell can offer customers more accurate lead times, and be more confident about delivering products on time. The company can also avoid the costs of storing extra materials, or the need to create new components before a job can be finished.
George Sarabia continues: “Having a clearer picture of inventoried materials and lead times will help our human resource and plant maintenance planning. There should be less need to factor in extra shifts to be sure orders are completed on time. And because we can say with more confidence when jobs will be complete, it will be easier to find windows for maintenance without disrupting our production lines.”
The solutions will also help Channell to re-organize its logistics and distribution strategy. The company previously relied on an ad hoc system for logistics, and would wait until a truckload of goods was ready before starting the loading process.
“If we know when items will be ready, we can take proactive steps to get them packed and loaded as soon as possible. We can calculate how many trucks we will need, how many materials handlers we will need, and how many forklift drivers. With our IBM solutions, we are achieving a much more efficient, systematic approach to distribution,” says George Sarabia.
He concludes: “At Channell we believe IT should be seen as an enabler of business growth, not a cost center. Our work with IBM and Draca is helping us to achieve this goal, and making our planning more accurate, fast and efficient.”
Channell Commercial Corporation
Founded in 1922, Channell Commercial Corporation is a leading manufacturer of thermoplastic and metal enclosures for the fiber optic, telecommunications, broadband, water, power and utility industries. The company has 400 employees and operates from two manufacturing sites in the United States at Temecula, CA, and at Rockwall, TX, as well as from offices in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
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Draca Solutions is an IBM Business Partner and technology consulting firm focused on helping organization achieve the theoretical benefits obtained through software investments. Draca offers solutions covering financial performance management, analytics and data platforms. Draca's customers span industries and company sizes. Headquartered in Dallas, TX, Draca Solutions has distributed teams in San Diego and Chicago.