Carpenter Technology Corp.

COMPANY: Carpenter Technology Corp.
PURPOSE: To speed the process of identifying the most appropriate manufacturing processes and order requirements, and to fulfill customer needs as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

APPLICATION: Carpenter Technology Rule-Based Router and Requirement Master Index -- Carpenter Technology's developers have produced an innovative work-routing system to go after unused capacity in its mills. This is crucial to the success of this manufacturer of high-performance alloys, specialty metals and advanced materials for use in the aerospace, automotive, electronics and other industries.

When you are talking about infrastructure, the steel industry has it. But, as one of our Keane judges remarked, "You have a lot of infrastructure that just can't be moved." In steel -- as in perhaps no other place -- you can crank out tons of productivity if you can find the key to better manufacturing the workflow of custom orders.

As with so many IT success stories, much of the brilliance comes before any code is written. Our judges note that Carpenter's developers: first, recognized that there were benefits available to exploit; and, second, used engineering and information technology to better route work orders to achieve that benefit.

Process Systems Engineer Fred Rehhausser describes the company as a specialty materials firm. Rehhausser has been with the company 10 years, joining "right out of school." For its part, Carpenter has been in business for 110 years -- during the Spanish-American war it made steel tools for the U.S. Navy. It is now heavily focused on specialty steel, for example, stainless steels or super alloys for high-temperature aircraft engines and the like.

Central to the success of Carpenter's routing system is its use of a rules-based engine from Platinum Technology, said Bonnie Stoltz, process systems engineer and project leader. In fact, the system is known as the Carpenter Technology Rule-Based Router and Requirement Master Index. Four process systems engineers, two programmers and one IS support person currently work on the project.

With the system, Carpenter set a goal to generate manufacturing routing for 66% of all products manufactured in its 1998 fiscal year. Use of the routing system helps to more efficiently set schedules and load products -- identifying the constraints and off-loading constrained equipment.

Rehhausser said the project really got started as Logistics System Support personnel began to talk about how they were going to move the company forward in planning and order entry, and just how to go about actually moving forward. "We brought in several people to talk about the scheduling system. As part of that, there was a related routing system," he notes. "Our intent was to allow you to present multiple possible routings [to the plant manager]."

The question the team had to ask, said Rehhausser, was "'Is there more than one way to make a product?'

"If capacity is full with one piece of equipment, we had to find a way to utilize something else," he said. This is a pretty essential aspect of logistics, a science (some would say "art") that has proved key to the success of a number of modern high-profile, technology-savvy corporations.

Rehhausser said Carpenter's team identified the Aion (then of Trinzic Corp.) rules-based engine as the best candidate for meeting the needs of a rules-based router. The rule-based methodology, noted Project Leader Stoltz, was particularly suited to helping the Carpenter team build manufacturing routings to encompass all products and to allow for multiple possible routings. The goal was to achieve an optimal manufacturing process for no less than 16,000 items in the steel-maker's catalog.

An additional goal was to provide for dynamic changes to rigid routings in order to speed changes and decrease the Carpenter maintenance burden.

Rehhausser gives Aion high grades as a development platform. "It gives you a lot of functionality that you don't get just programming in C," he said.

Instead of focusing on a programming language, developers can approach their job as a series of "if-then" events. Useful aspects of the Aion platform include, for example, said Rehhausser, forward chaining, backward chaining and integrated screen building. "The hooks into databases save a lot of time in application
development," he noted.

"As a simple example [of the usefulness of the rules-based engine in logistics], we have put in quite a few new pieces of equipment. These include, for example, a bar-finishing line," said Reh-hausser. Every machine, he notes, has a series of set-ups or process instructions on how to make a given product.

"You must know what products to process and how, and how to change the routing," he explained. "We were able to put the capabilities of the new machine in the system with Aion, and run through the routings quickly. We were able to move things over very quickly; these are set-ups or process instructions on how to make a given product."

What tips does Rehhausser have for other developers? At least one is commonly heard in IT: "You need buy-in. It's important to get people on board with the new system," he said. "Ours was very logistics-oriented. We would have liked to get more of the technology and manufacturing people involved up front instead of after the fact."

Still, logistics is emerging as a major technology driver. "In our business, logistics is very important," said Rehhausser. "We are very capital-intensive, and plant utilization rates are the driver as to whether you're going to make money or not. You want to keep that plant as full as possible."

As of November 1998, Carpenter Technology estimated that the new loading system had helped to increase annual capacity by more than 5,000 tons. This -- and anticipated enhanced loading capabilities -- equals a considerable gain in profitability in an industry where higher utilization is synonymous with free money.

It is heartening to see a comeback story in American steel. For Application Development Trends, it is especially inspiring to see the comeback achieved through the deft application of technology.

-- Jack Vaughan


Andrew Singerling
Paul Dang
Bonnie Stoltz
Tony Dato
Eric Klinger
Fred Rehhausser
Denise Smaglinski

Increased annual plant capacity; higher utilization of capacity.

Platinum Technology's Aion

MVS/CICS, Microsoft Windows NT/95, OS/2, VAX/VMS and Unix

Keane Report

Carpenter Technology's Rule-Based Router and Requirement Master Index Project stood out in this category for its clear vision, and well-defined and substantial savings goals.

The targeted savings were found not in the proverbial "low-hanging fruit," but rather in the subtle efficiencies that remained unharvested in the organization. The project involved a measure of computerization, as well as some thinking outside the box about how the company could use the infrastructure it had in place.

With this mix of technology and innovative thinking,
Carpenter realized additional revenue through increased production in a facility already working at full speed, and without having to invest in expensive mill facilities.

Team Members: Laura Carson and Paula Graham

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.