The Monsanto Agricultural Group's 15 offices are linked by packaging software that cut time for approvals by 97%.
Appeared in Package Engineering Magazine
Despite the use of a company-generated database and hard copy backup, Monsanto Agricultural Group had its hands full coordinating the 500 packaging SKUs used at its 15 worldwide locations.
But with the installation of a network packaging software program, the group has been able to reduce its packaging approval process from two or three months down to two or three days.
The approval process formerly involved 12 sequential steps, says Mike Stoppleman, Monsanto's St. Louis, Mo.-based purchasing manager. The steps required passing documents around headquarters and plant facilities for approvals. The documents could be delayed for days at any of the steps. If a package designer wanted to check the progress of the approvals, it was difficult to track the location of the documents.
The lengthy approval process could cause plant managers to order packaging components that were no longer used or were the wrong size. Worse yet, it could hold up the introduction of a new package or product to the farmer, landscaper and homeowner end-users that Monsanto serves.
In the nick of 'real time'
In order to simplify the approval process and ease dissemination of package data, Stoppleman suggested using a packaging software program that could be networked to connect all of the group's locations on a "real time" basis. Monsanto chose Keene Systems' PC-Specs program, which is currently being installed at all of the group's locations around the world.
Because the system affords a "real time" connection between different plant and office locations, Monsanto was able to switch from a sequential approval process to a concurrent process, Stoppleman says. This means that once a packaging specification is developed, it can be electronically sent to the managers who need to make the first round of approvals.
After these managers adjust the specifications and electronically approve it, the software automatically alerts the next tier of managers who need to check on the data.
"The need to keep track of a spec is gone," Stoppleman says. "There will be a need for some follow-up using electronic mail, but with the return-and-reply capabilities, our turnaround time is no more than five days."
In addition to speeding up the process significantly, Stoppleman says the PC-Specs program allows designers to enter their work directly into the system. "While designers can still jot their initial ideas down on the back of an envelope, they enter their specifications directly into the system using CAD drawings, graphics and text documents," Stoppleman explains.
This reduces the chance of clerical errors that existed when data-entry personnel logged the designer's specifications into the database. It also allows the designers to easily review each other's work before it is sent out for approvals.
Specs review: Four steps
Another benefit of the PC-Specs system was the opportunity for Monsanto to review and revise its packaging specification format as part of the conversion process.
"Instead of just automatically entering all of their existing information into the new program, Monsanto decided to use the manual entry as a review process," says Lance Keene, president of Keene Systems, Inc. Plano, Texas. "They standardized the content of their specification form, checked to see if any specs were obsolete and changed different aspects of specifications as it was appropriate."
While the form has been standardized to allow for uniform information control, the format can be customized, says Keene. "As Monsanto's packaging information needs change, they can adapt the format to reflect those changes," he says. New fields can be added and new layouts can be created.
In addition, the PC-Specs system provides for extra information-processing needs at Monsanto, Stoppleman explains. "One of our plant managers recently approached me with trepidation about the large amount of information he needed for an ISO 9000 certification program," he says. "He was amazed to discover that I could simply push a button and print it out."