"If the hat fits..."

Based at Kempsey on the mid north coast of New South Wales, Akubra Hats have been making their unique fur felt hats for 130 years and are on of the best-known Australia brands both at home and overseas. When Ron Palin took up a position as production manager four years ago the company was well down the track on a project to revamp its IT setup. They were still using a DOS-based system consisting of three standalone modules from the 1980's. There were two manufacturing modules and a financial module, none of which integrated with the others.

Overview

  • Akubra Hats

Industry

  • Textile clothing and footwear; headwear sector

Problems

  • A legacy, DOS-based system of three unintegrated modules was consuming an inordinate amount of administration time and was unable to deliver an accurate overview of stock and orders.

Solutions

  • Create a production management and sales order system using the FileMaker platform. Integrated with the accounting package, the solution was written in-house to the company’s unique requirements, and uses FileMaker Go and FileMaker Web Direct to cater for mobile and remote customers.

Benefits

  • The new reporting capabilities are resulting in better control of the stock levels kept in different seasons, leading to increased turnover. Orders are started earlier and order statuses can be quickly determined.

    Ron Palin Production Manager Akubra Hats

Ron takes up the story:

Orders were sent in by phone, mail or fax, written up on a four-page paper order form and then typed in to one of the manufacturing modules. Once a week, each order’s production status was updated manually by the front office, so this was the only time in the week we knew exactly where an order was! Once a month the orders were collated in the production module, and a full day was spent printing out the production paperwork for the month. Until this was done, the actual order bank wasn’t known, and even then it was only accurate for that day.

Ron identified other problems:

Sales were recorded only by style and unit, so sales volumes were known, but a full breakdown by size, colour, customer and so on was not available. To make things worse, the sales and production history was overwritten about every two years by the reuse of order numbers and effectively wiped from our records.

This was a classic example of inefficient processes, but Ron was concerned that the proposed IT revamp was shaping up with significant flaws and that fixing these could be prohibitively expensive. Having used FileMaker since 1986 to solve a wide variety of problems Ron was confident he had the answer:

My recommendation was to start again, using the FileMaker platform.

He got the go-ahead with strong backing from management, particularly from the fourth-generation Chairman of Akubra, Mr Stephen Keir IV.

The FileMaker platform offered many advantages to Akubra. Firstly it provided a very flexible environment to create a custom production management and sales order system. It could also integrate with their accounting package, and could cater for mobile and remote customers by using FileMaker Go and FileMaker WebDirect. Best of all, the solution could be written in-house to the company’s unique requirements.

In the new solution orders are now entered directly in the sales order screens and are immediately ‘live’ across the system. All orders are visible with a quick search and the production status of individual orders appears with a single click. Every time an order is barcoded on the factory floor, any quality losses are automatically recorded, and replacements required become immediately visible at the production desk.

In the previous system many reporting functions had to be outsourced, but now detailed sales and production reports are quick and easy to produce and update.

Ron continues:

The new reporting capabilities are resulting in better control of the stock levels kept in different seasons, leading to an increased turnover of stock. Once the Place Order button is pressed the retailer receives an immediate confirmation by email. Similarly, when an order is dispatched, the retailer is sent an email invoice and details of the shipment. This eliminates the need to ring and check whether an order has left and what was sent in the shipment.

Invoices are generated in the FileMaker solution and then transferred to an ERP general accounting system.

Akubra currently has 13 factory and office computers connected to FileMaker Server 13 running on a Mac Pro. The computers are a mix of newer Mac OS X machines running FileMaker Pro 13 and older Windows XP machines with FileMaker Pro 12. The computers on the factory floor act mainly as barcode stations, recording when batches are processed and updating their production status. Order status and product stocks can be checked from any of the computers around the factory, or from an iPad on the factory floor via FileMaker Go using the in-house WiFi.

Many of the sales agents in other states use an iPad or iPhone and new layouts are being trialled for remote entry of orders and stock level enquiries. The company is currently testing FileMaker WebDirect technology with an aim to introduce online ordering for retailers in 2015.

By cleaning up the inefficient processes which plagued the former system the company now produces replacements for quality losses more quickly, orders are started earlier and order statuses can be quickly determined. One-click operations are always the aim. As Ron says:

There has been a lot of: ‘Is it possible to do this? Yep. Give me a minute and I’ll turn it on for you’.

Twelve months after installation the system now has the muscle to accommodate 20 000 order records, containing 250 000 related Order Line records, which in turn contain 560 000 related size records. The solution is already saving around 20 hours a day in factory and office labour and further savings are expected as refinements are made. Retailers are happier with the improved information services and on-time delivery has started to improve. Phone calls to head office about order status and deliveries are on a downward curve. Ron concludes:

After celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Akubra brand last year, we want Akubra to be manufacturing hats in Australia for the next 100 years. We plan to use FileMaker to help make that happen.

Thank you to Ron Palin from Akubra Hats for sharing his story with us.

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