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Merging factory, flow software

Buying software that handles the latest techniques in manufacturing is one thing. Changing your way of doing business to match that is another.

Buying software that handles the latest techniques in manufacturing processes is one thing. Changing your entire way of doing business to match that software is another.

That's why Oracle is teaming up with Big Six consulting firm Ernst & Young to offer manufacturers software and consulting services for flow or just in time manufacturing techniques.

"One of the things we realized early on is flow [manufacturing technique] is a different animal than traditional manufacturing. Flow requires a lot more than software," said Lou Unkless, senior director of application product marketing at Oracle. "Even though we created great software to support the technique, there are a lot of things that need to go on in a company to support the initiatives."

And that led Oracle to turn to Ernst & Young for help.

"[Ernst & Young has a] global practice dedicated to implementing flow manufacturing and lean manufacturing techniques," Unkless said. "They are focused on helping companies through the process of reengineering the plant floor, and coping with the cultural change, and getting people use to the radical changes from the way they did things the last 10, 20, 30 years."

Flow, just in time, lean, or Toyota manufacturing are all the same term for a relatively new assembly line technique that requires companies to make products to order instead of making products to stock. Invented by Toyota Motor, the process can allow companies to cut inventory drastically and improve the efficiency of their factory floor.

SAP recently announced that it is offering software to support the technique in its R/3 4.5. American Software in Atlanta has also come out with an application to support the technique.

The growing popularity of the technique especially among discreet manufacturers, those that assemble products from parts like electronic companies and the auto industry, spurred Ernst & Young to launch its service.

"Flow permeated through the auto industry early on. It's the industry most comfortable with the principles involved," Unkless said. "However, secondarily is high tech and electronics which also comes out of the Far East and is an innovative industry. Beyond that, several industries exhibiting high levels of interest include consumer goods, durable goods, equipment, aerospace and defense industry, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning."

Besides Toyota, some of the large companies latching on to the practice include General Electric, American Standard, and Honeywell.

Ernst & Young created a Web-based tool to help guide companies through the transition to flow manufacturing. Users of Oracle's flow product can sign up for Ernst & Young's services for a separate price. The service and software are available now.