STRATTEC Security Corporation, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in USA, is the world's largest producer of automotive locks, keys and related security access control products for global automotive manufacturers and the aftermarket. STRATTEC used LongRange and RPG to build a native mobile application for its warehouse staff that integrates with the company's System21 inventory management system. Once the solution is fully rolled out, warehouse staff will use their iPads to scan picked orders, update the order status and trigger invoicing.

Nick D'Alessandro, Technical Lead at STRATTEC, says "The iPad solution provides far more functionality than the scanner guns our staff are currently using and it eliminates the need for them to be constantly walking up to one of the terminals on the floor. For this specific solution, I only had to make some small changes to repurpose a few existing RPG programs and rearrange their screens. Using LongRange and my RPG skills, I can have a new native app running in less than two hours."

Using LongRange and my RPG skills, I can have a new native app running in less than two hours.

The Challenge

  • STRATTEC is the world's largest producer of automotive locks, keys and related security access control products for global automotive manufacturers and the aftermarket.
    STRATTEC is the world's largest producer of automotive locks, keys and related security access control products for global automotive manufacturers and the aftermarket.

STRATTEC has plants, engineering and distribution centers in Milwaukee, Detroit, El Paso and Juarez (Mexico) and operates manufacturing and support facilities in China, Japan and Korea through VAST, a joint venture with WITTE Automotive (Velbert, Germany) and ADAC Automotive Inc, (Grand Rapids, Michigan). STRATTEC ships products to customer locations around the world and provides full service aftermarket support. Formerly a division of Briggs & Stratton, STRATTEC's heritage goes back over 100 years, to the early days of the automobile.

STRATTEC uses a customized version of System21 ERP that the company has extended and modernized with LANSA Composer for EDI and other business process integration projects and with RAMP for modernized application navigation. STRATTEC has not replaced any of the core ERP applications with LANSA and the existing RPG code is still driving the business.

With an average of 10 and 20 staff on the floor of STRATTEC's warehouses in Milwaukee and El Paso, orders are picked and prepared for shipping and invoicing. The staff carry scanner guns, but these devices are very limited in functionality, according to D'Alessandro. "They are fine for scanning barcodes, but you cannot do much else with them because of the very small screen and the small size of the button," he says.

"Productivity of the warehouse staff was hampered by the staff having to continuously walk to one of the terminals on the shop floor, as the scanner guns were unsuitable for inquiring into stock levels, adjusting invoice quantities or anything else. In some cases, staff have to get off their forklift, walk to a terminal and get back on the forklift," explains D'Alessandro.

The plan to replace the scanner guns and fixed terminals with some kind of mobile solution started to grow, but it hadn't progressed to an actual project. A major impediment was that STRATTEC's in-house RPG development team didn't have the skills for mobile development.

Productivity of the warehouse staff was hampered by the staff having to continuously walk to one of the terminals on the shop floor.

The Solution

When D'Alessandro became aware of the LongRange beta program, he was very interested in participating and evaluating whether LongRange would be suitable for the development of the mobile shopfloor solution.

LongRange is LANSA’s new native mobile app builder and execution framework for IBM i programmers, specifically targeted at RPG and COBOL developers. It means that D'Alessandro could use his existing RPG skills to build a native mobile app.

D'Alessandro installed the product and went through some of the tutorial examples, which are mostly based on RPG and DDS code. As D'Alessandro can write RPG in his sleep, he felt instantly familiar with that part of the product. The only feature that was new to him was the LongRange studio, where the app developer designs the menu structure/framework for the mobile app. That didn't take long to learn either.

The first app D'Alessandro developed was a replacement for the scanner gun application that staff use when they pick an order. The RPG application behind it was already designed for a small screen, so the DDS needed hardly any adjustment. Also, the inbuilt LongRange tutorial contained the code for a scanner button, which D'Alessandro could re-use. All in all, D'Alessandro got his first app working in a very short time.

Having dealt with the app to pick an order, D'Alessandro then started working on the apps for packing an order, invoicing and order and closing an order. These tasks previously required warehouse staff to walk to a terminal as the screens contained more information than what could be displayed on a scanner gun. The new LongRange based apps took D'Alesssandro between 15 minutes to two hours each to develop, repurposing the existing RPG code and rearranging the DDS.

I simply didn't have the time to rewrite the code and I didn't really have to.

The Benefits

  • Strattec's BOLT Series lets you customize as many locks as you want to work with ONE Key - Your Truck Key.
    Strattec's BOLT Series lets you customize as many locks as you want to work with ONE Key - Your Truck Key.

Rather than mimic an existing user interface, it's generally advisable to develop new purpose made RPG programs to drive the LongRange native mobile app. However, in this first beta project D'Alessandro mostly re-used existing RPG programs. "I simply didn't have the time to rewrite the code and I didn't really have to," he says.

"LongRange development is pretty easy and very quick," continues D'Alessandro. "It took me between 15 minutes to 2 hours per program. That's keeping in mind that in this project most of the RPG logic already existed. On average it was just a matter of adding 10 to 12 lines of code to a program and maybe modifying another 12 lines. I didn't spend much time on the RPG at all. The effort depends more on how much information you have to rearrange in the screen."

D'Alessandro feels that LongRange is very suitable for companies with small RPG and COBOL teams that cannot afford the time to learn new development skills. He also sees it as a tremendous advantage to be able to develop and maintain the mobile solution himself, rather than having to outsource development to contractors who don't understand the underlying ERP application. "LongRange gives small IT teams like ours a way to go mobile quickly and affordably. Even old time legacy code can become native mobile in a matter of hours. This product is incredible," he says.

LongRange gives small IT teams like ours a way to go mobile quickly and affordably.

Conclusion

The application D'Alessandro developed during the LongRange beta program is just the beginning. "There are all kinds of activities going on the manufacturing and warehouse floor that we want to support with mobile apps," he explains.

STRATTEC is now preparing for the actual roll out of its first mobile warehouse application and looking to purchase iPads with industrial strength cases to hold them. “Staff who have seen the mobile application during the beta program cannot wait to get it”, according to D'Alessandro.

"Having to use terminals on our shop floor is going to be a thing of the past. The increase in productivity is going to be significant. LongRange gives us a quick and affordable way to accomplish our goal to go mobile in the warehouse. This solution is golden to us," he concludes.

The increase in productivity on the shop floor is going to be significant.

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