NetSuite Dives Deeper Into Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management (SCM) has not been Oracle NetSuite’s strongest suit to date, but the cloud ERP company has recently poured significant resources into beefing up this critical business area. NetSuite, which Oracle bought about a year ago, rolled out a slew of tools for managing complex supply chains at the recent SuiteConnect customer conference in San Francisco.

The most notable of NetSuite’s SCM offerings is an umbrella project called the Supply Chain Control Tower. The new offering, described in more detail below, is nearing the end of its extensive customer-test phase, and the company hopes to roll out the first release in February, said Gavin Davidson, director of product marketing for ERP, NetSuite.

The control tower was just one of many announcements at the show, part of the huge Oracle OpenWorld conference. In a global economy, these advanced manufacturing capabilities are particularly important for product companies—distributors, retailers, and manufacturers.

SCM systems facilitate the planning, movement, and storage of materials from the earliest stages of procurement through intermediate stages of production to final distribution to customers. Whereas ERP systems focus primarily on the internal operations of the business, SCM looks outward to encompass the activities of suppliers, customers, and partners (including contract manufacturers), as well as internally to the movement and storage of materials within the organization’s operations.

NetSuite also unveiled enhanced global bill of materials (BOM) functionality, a quality management solution coming in November, and an SCM portal that is moving through development and should be launched in around 18 months, Davidson said. In addition to the capabilities discussed below, many more are coming over that 18-month period, he said.

Supply Chain Control Tower
The idea of the Control Tower is to provide the manufacturer with visibility of inventory and movement of material across all supply chain locations, including vendors, subcontractors, and logistics providers. The tower encompasses four areas: The design area now includes, or will soon include, new product introduction and product data management, which includes functionality for engineering change orders and advance BOM features.

The planning area now includes (or soon will include) available-to-promise (ATP) calculations across multiple subsidiaries, along with a planners’ workbench.

The execution area includes (or soon will) functionality for quality management and traceability, along with better support for contract manufacturing. The fourth area, support, includes capabilities to manage product end of life.

Davidson said the Supply Chain Control Tower solutions have come about through extensive collaboration with customers and much feedback. “A lot of these things that we’re working on are solutions that we’ve built for other customers over the years … so it’s productizing some of that stuff,” he said.

Quality Management System
A new quality management system allows companies to define inspection plans that dictate how an item is to be tested, along with acceptable parameters and additional product details. The solution also includes role-specific dashboards for quality managers, engineers, and inspectors, along with a tablet-driven user interface for front-line workers.

The solution provides the ability to establish quality specifications and evaluate vendors against them. Customers can also evaluate and track vendor quality, contract manufacturing quality, and production quality. The response to the quality management solution has been so strong that NetSuite has decided to break it out of the SCM silo and make it available to anyone, said Dave Gustovich, AVP, Global Manufacturing Center of Excellence at Oracle NetSuite.

Bill of Materials Enhanced
NetSuite’s enhanced global bill of materials (BOM) functionality allows users to manage BOMs separately from the items they are associated with, reducing the overhead on engineering teams. Each item can now support multiple BOMs that can be specific to a location, should companies have locations that source components locally. Additionally, each BOM can be attached to multiple end SKUs, enabling manufacturers to sell the same item under different brands without the need to manage redundant BOMs when changes are required.

NetSuite’s new Inbound Shipment Management module allows customers who order large quantities of product—often from multiple vendors—to consolidate multiple purchase orders into a single container to simplify future tracking and status updates. Upon receipt, a single scan can receive all of the items in the container. The tool also includes a streamlined billing process.

The Bottom Line
Supply chain systems are complex, and organizations seeking to implement them often face challenges. A poorly run supply chain means missed order promise dates, inventory in the wrong places, and lost customers. Optimizing the supply chain is a high-payback opportunity for many companies. But SCM is not just a technology challenge. It requires a combination of best business practices, data management, skills development, and technology.

NetSuite is playing catch-up in the competitive SCM space and trying to combine a wide variety of new features into a complex product. If the Supply Chain Control Tower can live up to its promises, it will greatly increase the value of NetSuite’s system to customers in the manufacturing and distribution industries.

Tom Dunlap, Computer Economics

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China’s space-age rail network may be in pipeline

The Nation

BEIJING – Designers are investigating a revolutionary system that would employ magnetic levitation and hyperloops.

A poll recently conducted by Beijing Foreign Studies University showed that the speed and convenience offered by high-speed rail, online shopping, shared bikes and mobile phone-based payment apps are the four things young expats in China view most favourably.

And of those four items, it seems likely that high-speed rail will remain on the list for a long time as the country works to retain its place as the home of the world’s fastest trains. Now, Chinese designers are developing a bullet train capable of achieving a top speed of 400 kilometres per hour on conventional tracks, along with a magnetic levitation, or maglev, train that is expected to run at 600 km/h.

The country is even considering the possibility of building a system based on a transnational tube that would allow specially designed trains to travel at 4,000 km/h.

Last month, designers at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, one of the country’s biggest space contractors, announced that they had started research and development work on a futuristic ultrafast transportation system popularly known as a hyperloop.

The CASIC hyperloop will see maglev lines running in partially elevated tubes or tunnels along which streamlined, engineless trains will travel at speeds of 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000 km/h, according to Mao Kai, chief designer of the system at CASIC. So far, there is no indication of how much such a system would cost.

By comparison, China’s fastest wheeled train in commercial operation travels at about 350 km/h, while large commercial jetliners usually fly at 900 to 1,000 km/h.

The highest speed ever achieved by a railway vehicle was 603 km/h. That record was set during a test run of the Japanese L0 Series superconducting maglev in April 2015. However, the fastest operating speed of a commercial rail vehicle is 430 km/h, and was attained by the Transrapid maglev, developed in Germany, on a 30.5 km stretch of line that runs to the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai.

CASIC is the first Chinese enterprise to begin developing a hyperloop system capable of allowing trains to travel at 1,000 km/h or faster.

Depth of experience

The project will benefit from the company’s experience in systems engineering and supersonic vehicles, CASIC said in a statement. The company is the third in the world to embark on such a venture, following Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop One in the United States.

Mao said CASIC is working with more than 20 institutes at home and abroad on the project and its technicians are striving to develop key technologies, such as those required to construct elevated hyperloop tube systems.

He added that once the project has been developed sufficiently, CASIC plans to construct a short line for trial runs for the 1,000 km/h version.

The 1,000 km/h and 2,000 km/h versions of the system would be used for intercity travel, while the 4,000 km/h version would form part of a transnational ultrafast transportation network, according to Mao.

“The reason we are eager to develop a 4,000 km/h version is that we believe such a line is technologically feasible, and that it will have business potential in terms of long-distance transportation in the future,” he said. “Of course, safety and comfort will be at the top on our agenda when we develop hyperloop lines.”

The maglev train’s acceleration and deceleration within the tube would have to be relatively gradual and smooth to ensure passenger comfort, he said. Moreover, landforms and engineering considerations would determine what proportion of the line would be aboveground and how much would run underground.

Research competition

Zhai Wanming, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a professor of traction power at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, Sichuan province, previously told Xinhua News Agency that when trains travel at 400 km/h or faster more than 80 per cent of its traction power is used to counter air resistance. Therefore, a train can only maintain ultrafast speeds by running within a partially elevated tube, he said.

The idea of using magnetic levitation within a partial vacuum to carry people or cargo was floated by scientists many years ago. However, it gained new traction in 2012 when tech tycoon Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, announced his ambition to build a hyperloop between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop One have designed and produced prototypes and have signed agreements with several countries to conduct feasibility studies, according to media reports.

In May 2014, Southwest Jiaotong University announced that it had built the world’s first experimental elevated loop tube for technological demonstrations of a high-temperature superconducting maglev vehicle it has developed.

A senior Chinese maglev scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said vehicles reached constant speeds of 40 to 50 km/h during trial runs in the university’s loop tube that were conducted to assess the system’s overall design and resistance to vibration.

The scientist, who is close to the university’s research program, said the college plans to develop vehicles capable of running at 400 km/h in a partially elevated loop tube. He added that the institute is also in talks with provincial authorities regarding research and development of a next-generation maglev/tube system with an estimated speed of about 1,200 km/h.

With regard to the feasibility of CASIC’s hyperloop plans, the scientist said the company’s researchers will need to address a number of technical issues, including communications and equipment-cooling techniques in an elevated environment.

“Moreover, CASIC will have to pay great attention to its project’s profitability. My estimation is that the 1,000 km/h version will be economically and technically feasible,” he said.

“Of course, from a technical perspective, the 4,000 km/h model could also become a reality if the engineers are able to work out solutions to issues related to propulsion, levitation and control.”

Those points were echoed by Zhao Lin, an associate researcher at the National Laboratory for Superconductivity at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Zhao said any enterprise that is seriously considering investing in a hyperloop system will have to take a wealth of factors into consideration.

“For example, the ultrafast speed would generate a lot of demands on the track and the material from which the maglev system is made. In addition, the cost of constructing and maintaining a long-distance, elevated tube would be extremely high,” he said.

‘Traditional’ approach

Even before CASIC announced its hyperloop program, engineers at the State-owned railcar manufacturer CRRC Corp, the world’s largest train maker, had started developing a new-generation bullet train with an operating speed of 400 km/h, which will probably become the fastest train in service on the planet.

It will be deployed on a series of new lines the government is planning to connect nations participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, a multinational economic venture proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

The initiative consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which will link China with Europe via Central and Western Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which will stretch from southern China across Southeast Asia, and even to Africa. The government estimates that the initiative could benefit approximately 4.4 billion people in 65 nations.

The axles and wheels of CRRC’s new bullet train will be designed so they can be adjusted to fit a range of track gauges used outside China.

At present, goods can only continue their journeys after they have been transferred to rolling stock with the appropriate gauges when they cross national borders, according to professor Jia Limin of Beijing Jiaotong University, who heads China’s high-speed railway innovation program, in an earlier interview with China Daily.

Experts have also been testing an ultrafast bullet train capable of travelling at about 600 km/h, but its designers have stressed that it has been built to test next-generation railway technologies rather than for commercial use.

Moreover, CRRC is designing two types of maglev-a 600 km/h high-speed version and a 200 km/h mid-speed version. The company expects to put them into service sometime around 2021, according to the designers.

At present, China operates 124,000 km of rail lines. That figure includes more than 22,000 km of high-speed track, about 60 per cent of the global total.

Every day, at least 4 million people use the nation’s high-speed trains, accounting for 50 per cent of daily user numbers on the country’s entire rail network