September 19, 2017

Software drills past paperwork


By Tim Wacker

South African mining equipment sales and service company WECO has become a victim of its own success: buried under paperwork, documenting repairs to the some of the industry’s costliest and complicated drills.

After 40 years in the business WECO has a rock-solid grasp on the region’s customer base allowing it to expand into the oil, gas, sugar and rail industries. However, WECO’s core business is refurbishing rock drills, called drifters, which have hundreds of parts and cost R1 million or more.

With ever-increasing regulatory oversight WECO was finding complying with ISO 9001-2008 quality control standards was proving an ever-greater obstacle to operations. The time and expertise required to actually make repairs doesn’t change, so the company started to take a hard look at streamlining the paperwork involved in documenting those repairs.

Before any repair could begin WECO needed to open a job order when the machine arrived at the workshop: a seemingly simple process that actually took two days.

It involved a paper-intensive process that started with the documents recording that a drifter had been received in to the shop, a two-hour project by itself. Next, the sales and accounting departments would manually need to input this information and create a job order number, which the workshop would need to retrieve from a spreadsheet.

This would generate reams of paperwork that were customized to the model of drifter that arrived in the shop. Because the back office was overloaded, that paperwork added another day to the process.

Once that paperwork was completed, the workshop would then need to conduct its inspection and prepare the quotation. Sales would then need to manually input that information into the customer’s computer repair file. Each quotation was taking at least three days to prepare before the customer received their quote. This was further delayed by factory loading and unloading of the massive, carefully cradled devises.

In the mining industry time is money and loss of production is an important factor when choosing repair and refurbishing suppliers. WECO knew there had to be a more efficient way to onboard new repair jobs and generate quotes quicker to provide better service to its customers. It also needed to improve the process once the customer’s order-to-proceed was received as the paperwork mountain grew considerably as actual repairs got underway.

So, the company started looking for software that could automate as many of these processes as possible, allowing the sales and accounting teams to focus more on their jobs and less on paperwork. WECO’s search led it to Laserfiche Forms, a web-based application now replacing paperwork with information flow throughout the company.

The new software system is now turning time-consuming, paper-heavy process into a fully electronic processes that begins once the customer’s equipment is received on premises.

It automatically generates job numbers and the documentation needed to conduct the initial inspection, cutting down the time to get the initial documents from two hours to two minutes.

Previously creating a customer job quote required that sales would have to input up to 50 lines of estimated work into the accounting system. Now the sales department is no longer involved in the repair process until after the system generates the quote. The repair quote is sent directly the customer in just a few hours after the machinery is inspected.

“The documentation time involved in the repair process time was basically cut in half,” said Sheldon Halgren, an information systems specialist with Noscotek, which helped WECO design and implement the automations and workflows in the system. “Instead of waiting a day or two to start the job, the workshop is able to just get straight onto it after receiving customer approval.”

And that means those customers are getting their equipment back into the ground that much sooner, Halgren says. WECO immediately saw an improvement in its quotation process and in the document control process right through to the creation of debtors documentation.

The company is now considering rolling out the new system into other departments where it could go paperless and further improve service to customers. Not just in job turn-around time, but in easier access to repairs records which benefits WECO and its customers.

Each quote will be accompanied with an automatically generated “Failure Report” which will document for customers the status of drill component parts and the need for replacement. These are records that will help those customers better evaluate the status and maintenance needs of their equipment, Halgren says.

The new system offers a further benefit to Weco in that the documentation is much more accessible throughout the company. Because the system is set up to email key parties when a rock drill arrives, the Stores department can better prepare for managing the parts needed for repair.

“Service is a key component in our industry,” says Matthew John, WECOs’ operations director. “Time we spend on making repairs is time our customers lose making money with these devices, and that’s not how WECO succeeded in this business for 40 years.”

Tim Wacker is a technical writer for NBN Communications, a writing and research services company. This article was written specifically for African Mining Brief online.

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