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Improving the quality of decisions

A combination of a hybrid network and an SAP implementation across all its locations has enabled OCPL to grow from Rs 400 million in its first year of operations to a Rs 3,710 million company in 2000-2001. by Mahesh Rathod

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With its chosen path of aggressive growth, through investment in expansion of product range and manufacturing facilities, Chennai based Orchid Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited (OCPL), has grown from a single manufacturing location in 1994 to a multi-location company today. In 1997, an in-house business application called Inventory Accounting System/Financial Accounting System (IAS/FAS) was developed keeping in mind the single location of OCPL. This application was used for capturing data of activities at the manufacturing facility at Alathur and at the head office. While this solution ensured that the company's business remained unaffected, the power of data integration between multi locations was not available. The architecture of IAS/FAS was such that, the two systems could not be linked. Since time was short, it was decided that a standard and totally integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application would be implemented. OCPL implemented SAP in six months.

The Early Days
Initially OCPL started of with a 10BaseT Local Area Network consisting of BNC, UTP & Thick Ethernet, in 1995, at the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) plant at Alathur and at the head office. At the same time a team of 18 software engineers was formed to develop the GUI based IAS/FAS application to automate the various business processes of OCPL.

The application was ready for use in 1997 and was installed at both locations.

Says Raghu Ram N.C, general manager, IT, OCPL, "while the company's business was running smoothly with the IAS/FAS, there were many disadvantages due to its deployment. Firstly both IAS/FAS were disparate systems and data between the two systems was transferred through FTP. Data from one location to another was uploaded through digital audio tapes (DATs). Now this was not a standard and foolproof practice." In 1998, a radio link was established between the head office and the manufacturing facility at Alathur for communications.

Due to the rapid growth of the company, the number of nodes rose from approximately 50 to over 175. As the nodes were widespread, the response of the nodes during interaction with end users was very slow on the 10BaseT LAN.

"Moving along with the company's policy of operating with cutting edge technology, and feeling that the current IT infrastructure did not support multi-location operations, we undertook a total revamp of our computer technology in 2000," says Raghu Ram.

The structured approach
Since OCPL was a multi location company by 2000, it started revamping its LANs. New structured cabling solutions from Krone Communications were installed across all its locations. The desktops used in OCPL are mainly HP and IBM based P-III and P-IV machines, and the servers are HP L 2000 Unix Servers and HP LH netservers for applications like ERP, mailing, intranet and the Internet. Rathna Communications, a Chennai based system integrator was handed the job of doing the local area network integration.

The following enhancements were made:

  • Head Office: Consists of a 325 node Krone Premisnet structured cabling UTP network. Active components used are 10 D-link switches and 10 D-link 10BaseT hubs.
  • Alathur API Plant: Consists of a 225 node Krone Premisnet structured cabling switched network of OFC running up to 2 Kms & UTP cables running up to 10 Kms. Active components used are 10 Nortel Networks Baystack 450 switches.
  • Alathur FDF Plant: Consists of a 50 node Krone Premisnet structured cabling switched network of OFC & UTP cables. Active components used are 3 Nortel Networks Baystack 450 switches.
  • R&D Centre: Consists of a 100 node Krone Premisnet structured cabling UTP network. Active components used are 10 D-link 10BaseT hubs.
  • Aurangabad API Plant: Consists of a 75 node structured cabling switched network of OFC & UTP cables. Active components used are 6 Nortel Networks Baystack 450 switches.

Across the border line
The wide area network at OCPL is a hybrid system. It uses a combination of VSATs, leased lines, ISDN lines and radio links for connectivity. The head office at Chennai is connected to the Alathur API plant with a 64 Kbps VSAT PAMA link, and is backed up by an ISDN dial up access. The R&D centre and the plant at Aurangabad are connected to the head office by a 64 Kbps leased line and are backed up with ISDN dial up access. Connectivity between the plants at Alathur API & Alathur FDF is through a 11 Mbps radio link. The installation of the wide area network was done by HCL Comnet.

The optical way
The head office at Chennai consists of two buildings which are located across a busy main road. To connect both the buildings, OPCL tried out various options. "We initially looked at an HDSL 2 Mbps local loop connection. The problem with this solution was the recurring cost, laying cables for 4 Kms because digging across the road was not permitted and throughput was low. "After a rigorous evaluation of various solutions from vendors, we decided to go in for the Optical Access - Infrared Terescope Etherlink solution from Krone Communications at the cost of Rs 3.5 lakhs," says Gopinath, systems manager, OPCL.

The optical access solution works on the principle of free space optics and aims at providing last mile connectivity. "Optical access works only if the line of sight is available between the two locations to be connected, and it performs well under all climatic conditions. This solution is easy to deploy, manage and requires very little maintenance," says Nikhil, country sales manager, AccessNet, Krone Communications. At OPCL, two Infrared Terescopes were installed, one on each of the buildings, providing a 100 meter link, with a throughput of 10 Mbps. "The optical solution was up and running in an hour and the only maintenance required is to clean the Terescopes lens once a while," adds Gopinath.

Business with SAP
After extensive evaluation of five ERP solutions, OCPL decided to implement SAP. "The end users at OCPL drew up the functional requirements of the company and formed a statistical model. We valued all the ERP products and found that SAP best suited the statistical model and our multi location business processes," says Raghu Ram. He further added that SAP is very well suited for a manufacturing company like OCPL and it helps in information based decisions.

OCPL implemented SAP R/3 version 4.6C in a record time of 6 months. The SAP modules implemented were Finance, Controlling, Sales & Distribution, Process Production for Process Industry, Plant Maintenance, Quality Management, Material Management, Project Systems, Human Resources & Payroll.

A proud Raghu Ram says "OCPL is one of the few companies in India to have implemented all modules of SAP, in all locations of the company simultaneously in record time. This is known as the big bang approach".

SAP has enabled OCPL to completely integrate all its business functions and has ensured transparency and availability of the right data, to the right person, at the right time.

The road ahead
OCPL has drawn up a road map for the next two years for deploying enterprise-wide applications like Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Manage-ment, Knowledge Management and Manufacturing Execution Systems. "The IT infrastructure will be improved and will be maintained on par with the relevant technologies from time to time. The hardware and networking infrastructure will be further strengthened and enhanced in line with investment in Enterprise-wide applications," says Raghu Ram. The company also has plans to go live with its B2B and B2C portal www.healthorchid.com.

IT has enabled OCPL to make the leap from an intuitive decision making process to an interactive and information based decision making process, hence improving not only the efficiency of decision making but also the quality of the decisions.

The Company: Orchid Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited (OCPL) is a multi location company with headquarters at Chennai, manufacturing plants in three locations and an R&D centre. The company is into manufacturing of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and Full Dosage Forms (FDF).

The Need: The company needed a solution to support their multi location business operations using data integration techniques.

The Solution: Fusion of various wide area networking technologies, along with structured LANs, optical MANs and the power of SAP at all the sites of OCPL.

The Benefits: The new solution allows data to be integrated easily and permits multi location business functions to be carried out. Communications among all the locations has become cheaper with the installation of the wide area network.

Mahesh Rathod can be reached at rathodmp@hotmail.com

 
     
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