Echo Cuts Waste with SPLTOOL Investment
September 25, 2007 Alex Woodie
Five years ago, report distribution was a manual task at Echo, the Lake Zurich, Illinois, manufacturer of chain saws and other outdoor power equipment. Then the company made a paltry investment of a little more than $200 in the an automated spool file distribution utility for the iSeries called SPLTOOL from BVS/Tools, and the company has been reaping the rewards ever since.
As a subsidiary of the Japan-based Kioritz Corporation, Echo makes a range of professional- and consumer-grade outdoor power equipment, ranging from leaf blowers and line trimmers to brush cutters and edgers. Since it was founded 30 years ago, the company has steadily grown, and today it operates about 150,000 square feet of factory space near Chicago, and operates a similarly sized distribution center that keeps more than 20 distributors around the globe stocked with Echo products.
Keeping everything flowing at Echo, from raw materials to finished product, is the MAPICS enterprise resource planning package, which was originally developed by IBM for the Sytem/3 line and which today is sold by Infor as ERP XA.
About five years ago, Echo’s accounting department requested that the IT department install some kind of system that would archive reports generated from the XA data sitting on the company’s iSeries server. The task of finding a package fell to the company’s iSeries operator, Bryan Burns.
Burns tried out a couple of different products, including the SPLTOOL suite from Brad Stone’s company, BVS/Tools. SPLTOOL is a collection of green-screen utilities, and includes the SPLTOOL itself, which converts standard SCS spool files generated by iSeries servers into PDF, HTML, plain text, or rich text formats. It also included the AFPTOOL, which converts AFPDS files into PDF, TIFF, or PCL formats, and MAILTOOL, an e-mail server for the iSeries.
After trying out several products, Burns preferred SPLTOOL. “I used the SPLTOOL, and I just liked the simplicity of it,” he says. “It just does what we need it to. We don’t need any fancy graphics.”
While Echo adopted SPLTOOL to satisfy the need for a PDF-based archive system, Burns soon found other uses for the program. For starters, he discovered that the product could greatly simplify Echo’s report distribution process, which was manual at the time.
“I used to have a cart full of month-end reports that took me a day and a half to print, collate, and distribute,” Burns says. By using the SPLTOOL suite to send those reports electronically, Burns’ month-end report distribution workload dropped to an hour or two. It also saves a considerable amount of money, considering the 5,000-page end-of-month report is no longer using paper or ink.
Over the years, SPLTOOL has found a way into many of Echo’s business processes. For example, salesmen now receive their nightly reports as PDF reports sent via e-mail, instead of receiving printed hard copies. “What used to be printed, maybe 15 reports sent to different people every night, it’s now all e-mailed,” he says. “Instead of printing them to an out queue, we put them in a certain queue that we can identify with SPLTOOL, and we automate the process.”
Burns estimates that Echo is used to send at least 100 pages of reports every day by about 20 people, ranging from Echo’s computer experts to employees in the customer service department. “Our vice president of IT uses it quite a bit, several times a day,” Burns says. “And some of our least-savvy computer users use the tool to send reports to their customers.”
To hear Burns explain it, it’s hard to imagine life at Echo without SPLTOOL. “Our operations are now incumbent upon SPLTOOL working,” he says. “We bought SPLTOOL over five years ago for $229, and now it’s integrated into all our operations. We have to have it now. It’s critical to our business. All that for $229.”
Today, the SPLTOOL suite is a little more expensive. But at $499, the suite is still a deal compared to writing your own spool programs.