Providing Seamless Solutions
ParTech's industrial group provides middleware for data collection to link with enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
Typically, Business Solutions readers would assume an article on ParTech (New Hartford, NY) would focus on point of sale (POS) and the hospitality industry. After all, the company has sold 25,000 POS system installations in more than 90 countries. Restaurants using ParTech solutions include McDonald's and Burger King. Regardless, we're not focusing on POS this time.
What's particularly interesting is ParTech's work as a systems integrator in the automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) arena. The company designs and implements middleware, which connects peripherals to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Altogether, ParTech is a $144 million company with 1,005 employees.
According to ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, MA), the ERP market will reach $12.1 billion this year. ParTech adds value by making ERP integration as easy as possible for factory floor employees. Ideally, if ParTech does its job, you'll never even know the company was there.
Expanding Its Horizons
ParTech was founded in 1968 as Pattern Analysis & Recognition Co., a research and development business. One of its primary customers included the U.S. Department of Defense. ParTech grew through the '70s as a result of government contracts.
Recognizing an opportunity to transfer this technology to the fast food industry, ParTech designed and built its first POS system, which was used by McDonald's and other fast food restaurants. The company went public in 1982. About nine years ago, says Ty Lenz, vice president and general manager, ParTech formed a task force to expand from POS to industrial sales.
"We noticed there was a close alliance between the POS world and the data collection world in the shop floor environment," Lenz explains. "Both needed throughput and interactivity. We teamed up with IBM and built a data collection terminal for the company. IBM sold this terminal around the world. While we designed the hardware and software, IBM retained exclusive marketing rights to the system. We offered worldwide support for the terminal."
"The next step," he continues, "was to work with the software that controlled those terminals and to integrate the terminals with a number of material resource planning (MRP) packages that were on the market. [Auth. note: MRPs are systems for effectively managing material requirements in a manufacturing process - the predecessors to enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.] We developed the software layer that allowed the hardware to talk to the MRP packages. At that time, it was called enabling software. This software was also released worldwide through IBM as data collection software."
A few years later, ParTech developed its own product line. "We decided we didn't want to concentrate on the hardware business," Lenz explains. "We wanted to be a systems integrator and provider of professional systems that was hardware-independent. This allowed us to work with customers regardless of their existing systems. Today, we are one of the few integrators that work with fixed-mount and radio frequency (RF) terminals. We came out with a product family and then got involved with the systems integration business. Today, we provide a turnkey solution for our customers."
The Importance Of ERP
ERP software grew in importance as companies acquired other companies and the Internet brought e-business and faster communications into the picture. ERP systems automate business processes. They connect the processes by sharing pertinent data between the business components. For a large manufacturer with locations across the globe, an ERP system allows the company to extract specific information. For example, a company can determine how much product is being produced and how many employees it takes to produce the product. To gather accurate information, all business processes must tie into the ERP.
ParTech software ties all data collection aspects on the manufacturing floor to the ERP. The goal is to make the transaction as efficient and data-intensive as possible while keeping processes simple for employees on the shop floor. "We integrate the ERP with data collection equipment in receiving and time and attendance," says Lenz. "We take care of whatever is on the plant floor that needs to be tracked."
Lenz welcomes the toughest integrations. "We work in situations where a client may have a legacy system and a new ERP system from companies such as SAP or J.D. Edwards. Many customers don't have only one solution. Our middleware can talk to whatever solutions a company is using, yet be invisible to the average employee. When we have completed an installation at a facility, it appears as if we have rewritten the company's entire applications. In reality, we never touch the applications - we provide a sophisticated level of integration software."
ParTech isn't limited to specific vertical markets. Although, according to Lenz, the aerospace, automotive, and chemical industries are strong market segments. "We have also done some work in gas and electric industries," he adds. "We'll continue to keep our options open."
Playing It Safe
Lenz considers the technology ParTech employs to be leading-edge. "In data collection, we are not doing bleeding-edge-type stuff. We can't, because we need to be operating in a safe environment. We haven't become successful by putting our customers in jeopardy."
ParTech's software - TranSend and TPS - is designed to take the load off the ERP system. This is done by performing some of the information checking (or lookups) needed to complete a task. "If these lookups were done in the ERP, response time would be slower," Lenz explains. "We check much of the information in our software, so response times are quick and efficient."
To make this sharing of information as efficient as possible, ParTech recommends using 2-D bar codes. These bar codes offer greater capacity, increased error readability, and a reduction of time and labor.
"ERPs like SAP are data-intensive," Lenz explains. "Two-dimensional bar codes take advantage of this by getting more data into the system. More accurate data brings in a greater return on investment (ROI). We're increasingly particular about tracking labor and information on products, such as lot numbers, what's in packages, who the packages came from, and where they are going. These bar codes allow that information to be tracked and uploaded to an ERP easily."
Focus Is The Key
If one thing keeps Lenz awake at night, it's the massive responsibility of dealing with employees and data in the manufacturing environment. He recognizes that ERP-related industries will focus more on supply chains and Internet use in the future.
"I see the Internet becoming an even bigger key to integrating enterprises," he states. "The Internet will tie suppliers and customers together, which will impact the manufacturing/data collection environment."
Lenz has one piece of advice for VARs or integrators interested in working with ERP - focus on an enterprise solution. "Understand what's happening from an enterprise standpoint, and integrate the Internet. The Web is a big part of tying suppliers into the solution."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at NancyS@corrypub.com.