Information systems upgraded at Siemens over the past few years

By Greg Miller

JOHNSON CITY -- "The most significant changes in the manufacturing business in the last three or four years have come in the information systems area, the computer systems that are used to manage the business..." said Larry Watford, manager of Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. Electronics Manufacturing Center.
   "With the advances in computer capacity and memory, our computer systems now are at least four or five times stronger and more capable and faster than they've ever been. This added computing strength lets us plan better and faster, improving our overall performance. That's been the major improvement that we have seen since 1998."
   Both the software and hardware have been upgraded, according to Watford. "When the Y2K scare had everybody psyched out, we changed out a lot of hardware to get away from potential Y2K problems," he remarked. "The Y2K upgrades left us with top-of-the-line hardware platforms. In 2000 and 2001, we made significant investments in new software packages that could take advantage of the Y2K driven hardware upgrades. Today, we have a leading edge manufacturing information management system second to none in the industry.
   "Siemens EMC is a complicated business, in that we have 30,000 active raw material part numbers that we buy. We may buy them every month or every week. The number of daily transactions with suppliers and shippers is enormous. All these different parts go into over a thousand different final assemblies that have to ship on time, to the right customer, so as not to delay further assembly in the down steam processes. A simple $50 printed circuit card could delay a multimillion dollar CAT scanner for a new operating suite at a new hospital.
   "As you may imagine, the coordination of 30,000 different part numbers into 1,000 different deliverables is a big job. What complicates it even further is that EMC processes an average of 10 engineering changes a day and 15-20 schedule changes a week. All these factors make planning and managing a factory floor all the more complex. With all the complexity, our customers still need and expect 100 percent on-time delivery, the lowest cost and highest quality. It can only be done with the help of very powerful computing systems.
   "With the systems we had in place three years ago, it would take 10-12 hours of number crunching to process a single schedule revision. Then the output from the computer went to suppliers and customers with new requirements and commitments. If they didn't like it or couldn't support it, the cycle started all over.
   "Again, it could actually take weeks to arrive at an acceptable answer for any one customer. By that time, everything else had changed. It was managed chaos at best. With our new systems, if a machine goes down, it snows and half the staff is out, a supplier is late or a customer changes a schedule, we can have a new schedule on the floor in a matter of seconds, not days. What took 10-12 hours, now takes seconds!"
   The new system also makes it possible for Siemens EMC to operate with much less inventory than before, according to Watford. "We've cut our inventory in half," he said. "At the same time, the system gives our customers more flexibility. We can respond faster when they come in with a schedule or engineering change. Our on-time delivery scorecard for the last two months for both the Johnson City operation and the Cincinnati operation was 98.2 percent on time."
   The new computer systems have an impact on Siemens EMC employees, Watford said. "First, by making us more competitive," he said, "it makes our business and their jobs more secure. But more than that, because we can plan better, we can spread out the peak demands on the work force and reduce the need for short-term layoffs. We haven't eliminated them, we still have to cut back for short periods more often than I would like, but had we not had these new systems in place during the 2000 to 2002 recession that we are just now starting to come out of, the impact of the uncertain economy on our people would have been dramatically worse.
   "We really don't want to jerk our people around. They are our most important assets. If they cannot plan on steady work, the business will ultimately suffer. My goal in investing over $2.5 million in these new systems is to meet the erratic needs of our customers, while providing steady dependable work for our employees and strong, profitable long-term business for the community."
   Outside the business, the most significant advances are in the field of medical electronics, according to Watford. "The medical industry up to 2000 had been slow to adopt new technologies, hindered by FDA and other regulatory restrictions," Watford said. "Rising costs have forced many companies to move forward with new technologies, despite the R&D and regulatory costs and delays. The FDA has also stepped up to the plate and is moving new products through the approval cycle much faster than ever.
   "New technology is finding its way into the medical arena like never before. Siemens EMC continues to focus its resources in this area. Today in Johnson City and at our Cincinnati facility, we build a number of leading edge products for Siemens and others, with the highest quality in the industry and the lowest cost in the United States. EMC is really the southernmost anchor in the region's MedTech initiative."
   Watford sees the medical industry as being as much as 20 years behind the rest of the electronics industry in adopting new technologies. "It's ripe for improvements," he said. "Siemens Medical is a leader in developing new technologies for the industry. We have a strong relationship with them and hope to make it even stronger over the next few years."
   Siemens is located at 3000 Bill Garland Road. For more information, call 461-2000 or go to the Web at on the local plant, or for information on Siemens worldwide.