Manufacturing All-Stars

Manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of the extended enterprise. As these five winners show, they are establishing real-time connections through hefty 3-D modeling applications, collaboration tools, sophisticated online parts catalogs or secure wireless networks.

Emerson Process Management bridges gaps among 40,000 users on three continents with a highly collaborative extranet.

Team players

Emerson Process Management bridges the gap between 40,000 users on three continents with a highly collaborative extranet.

Emerson Process Management, a global supplier of factory automation equipment and optimization services, is an expert at making things work better. Its Enterprise All-Star project, an example of the extended enterprise, is a case in point. Spread across more than 600 locations in 85 countries, the company uses the latest in collaboration and content management technology to span company boundaries, connecting its remote design engineers, suppliers, manufacturing partners, marketing teams and customers. As a result, Emerson saves $20,000 per year for each supplier extranet, enabling a three-year ROI and net savings of more than $550,000.

Mark Heindselman, manager of knowledge network and information services at Emerson, launched the platform in 1998, the nascent days of content management, by implementing Stellent's Universal Content Management software. Since then, the system has undergone continuing enhancements to become a complete collaboration platform for Emerson's 40,000 users - including customers, employees and suppliers - who require access to product information. The crowning achievement of its extended enterprise occurred earlier this year when Emerson released its first product that was wholly designed within the Stellent system.

Content management in action

The Universal Content Management platform was fully leveraged for the launch of the GX Control Valve, a product of Emerson's Fisher division. The valve's design process began in 2002, and the valve was introduced to the market early in 2005. The development teams capitalized on the system's unified collaboration, document control and Web content management capabilities.

Five design teams in four countries were involved in the initial stages of the GX Control Valve project. In the past, multiple engineering departments would e-mail or mail drawings, specifications and supporting documents to all necessary parties, Heindselman says. Version control, workflow, document access and productivity were all suffering. "It just wasn't effective," he recounts.

The Stellent system was a virtual revolution in the way Emerson designs and manufactures products. Using the system required several steps. First, Emerson's design teams used Stellent as a Web-based, common repository for product design specifications, competitive data and other critical information. Every time a document was revised, team members received an e-mail notification, enabling immediate collaboration and feedback.

Once the valve was designed and specifications were in place, Emerson faced one of the core challenges of the extended enterprise - the ever-increasing access by outside partners to internal resources. "We needed a way to collaborate with the suppliers without having them inside our firewall," Heindselman says. The company also wanted to avoid duplicating its data onto extra servers and incurring the associated capital, operational and licensing costs.

Emerson’s All-Star project leader Mark Heindselman

The solution was a Stellent-based extranet, which enabled Emerson to get critical information to suppliers while maintaining its own system's integrity and security. The drawings and manufacturing specifications were uploaded to the Stellent Content Server, which served as a repository for all content, regardless of type. Emerson personnel then used three-digit meta-data codes to control distribution of the document. "We can put a single piece of content out on the extranet, but it can have multiple distribution codes. That's the cool part," Heindselman says.

Two supplier extranets were created for the valve project. The first took about 18 days to create. Experience shortened the time frame for the second to just four days. Heindselman estimates that the company saves $20,000 per year per supplier in paper-handling costs. Increased employee and partner productivity are harder to calculate, but he says the GX Control Valve was brought to market months faster and at less expense than his most optimistic colleagues expected.

The investments by Emerson were reasonable on all fronts, Heindselman says. The company paid $500,000 for the Stellent system, which was deployed over an existing IT infrastructure and required minimal IT personnel resources. "On our end, it's run by end users," he says. One full-time technician works on back-end support and application development, and a few other users contribute to the ongoing integration of the Stellent system, which is used companywide with more than 150 business applications. About 600 employees contribute content to the server, which employees, partners and customers worldwide access through various portals. Emerson estimates that it has accumulated cost savings of $3.7 million, much of that in printing, shipping and distribution of millions of pieces of paper each year.

Onsite, the software runs on an HP DL360 G3 server with 2G bytes of RAM and dual 2.8-GHz Xeon processors. The server is connected to a Xiotech XAN, where it uses 150G bytes of storage.

Heindselman isn't afraid to wax poetic about the new way his company handles information. "I see it as a core technology that needs to be in most organizations," he says, emphasizing that it enables the collaboration, immediacy, productivity and adaptability that his extended enterprise demands.

Emerson plans to roll out 10 new supplier extranets over the next two years. Employees will be more productive, information distribution will flow smoothly and some trees may be saved, too. Asked whether he has created the paperless office, Heindselman can't resist a chuckle. "We still have paper," he says, "lots of paper."

At least now, everyone is on the same page.

Schaibly is a freelance writer in Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at sschaibly@aol.com.

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