Background and Setting

Specialty steel companies bid competitively to manufacture steel to custom specifications. A metallurgical analysis of customer specifications is required to analyze the cost to manufacture. This client had one metallurgist and an assistant dedicated to this task. As the number of orders grew a backlog of requests for pricing (RFP) developed which required his attention and delayed responses to customers.

Client Business Objectives and Issues

  • Faster response to customer RFP’s: The existing metallurgical analysis added two to seven days to the order cycle time, which was deemed unacceptable for competitive reasons.
  • More effective use of scarce metallurgical expertise: Additional metallurgists with the requisite knowledge and understanding of the companies capabilities were unavailable. Available expertise had to be leveraged.
  • More integrated operations through more integrated systems and shared data. The company was moving to a client server architecture with a common data architecture.

How Did UIA Help?

Develop an expert system to front-end the customer order system
An expert system was developed which was able to process 80% of the RFP’s which had previously required metallurgical analysis. The specifications are keyed into a workstation by the salesperson upon receipt by phone or FAX. The expert system responds immediately with a quotation, or indicates that the RFP requires additional attention by the metallurgist. The customer is advised accordingly. After acceptance of a quotation the order is automatically forwarded to the order entry system.

How the Client Benefited

Shortened order cycle time by shortening customer quotation time.
Order cycle times have been reduced for 80% of the high value non-standard products.

More systematic and comprehensive metallurgical standards
A significant fraction of hard copy metallurgical standards had changed and were difficult to maintain. Gaps and redundancies had developed over time. The data requirements of the expert system forced standardization of the format and a consistent level of detail for the most important metallurgical standards.

Established a systematic framework for continuous improvement.
The expert system was designed for ease of use so that the client can add rules for greater product coverage. The metallurgists could now devote more attention to new products.

Integration of the work steps has been enhanced
The integration of the expert system into the order entry system and the incorporation of the metallurgical standards into the company data base supported the integration objectives of the client.