Automating Report Writing Saves Time and Money

June 11, 2008
A case study on how Iowa Laser Technology found an automated report writing solution

Business Challenge
Iowa Laser Technology, Inc. (ILT) ( has been serving manufacturers in the automotive, agricultural, mining, construction, and fitness industries for more than a quarter of a century.

The company is one of the oldest laser processing facilities in the United States, and it has recognized and advanced the benefits of laser cutting as a manufacturing technology.

Iowa Laser Technology presents a multi-disciplinary manufacturing facility that offers automated laser cutting for sheet and plate, laser tube cutting, laser welding and laser heat treating, forming, conventional and robotic welding, CNC machining, and complete manufacturing engineering services.

Iowa Laser Technology’s information systems manager was seeking an easier way to write numerous reports without having to learn a programming language.

The company found it had an immediate need for writing software packages that could perform the task of reading, reformatting and recreating text files.

As a result, Iowa Laser Technology sought to find the best price/performance software that would meet its needs.

Dick Lockey is the information systems manager at Iowa Laser Technology.

As the company grew, Lockey found he had several dozen reports that he was required to run each morning. Those reports tied up his computer for the first few hours of each day.

In an effort to streamline the process, he evaluated Java and Visual Basic. However, both of these software packages would have required advanced development skills that were not readily available at Iowa Laser Technology. The cost involved in acquiring those skills – either from training or hiring – or outsourcing development, was considered too high and time consuming.

Due to the lack of functionality in regards to the company’s specific needs, both Java and Visual basic were eliminated in the review process.

Iowa Laser Technology implemented, on a trial basis for one year, Insight Software Solutions, Inc.’s Macro Express. This software package had the basics of what the company was seeking without requiring that someone learn new programming languages, but it also had limited features.

After an expansion of product reviews, Iowa Laser Technology implemented MJT Net Ltd.’s Macro Scheduler. The company said it found that this software had the same ease of use as Macro Express and that it had more robust functionality and an extensive feature set.

The function that convinced Iowa Laser Technology to permanently adopt MJT Net Ltd.’s Macro Scheduler was its ability to compile macro programs into an executable file. This function allowed Lockey to write a macro program that he could distribute to any or all of the 100 other computers he administered.

“Macro Scheduler ’s capabilities out-performed all of its competitors,” Lockey said.

“In addition to ‘normal’ macro functions such as moving the mouse cursor or entering text or opening application windows, the program also offers embedded Visual Basic Script. The Libfunc function allows you to use Windows APIs directly within a script. Image manipulation lets you capture and display images. Images also can be embedded within a script for display or for the purpose of screen image recognition that can make the automation of some otherwise very unfriendly applications possible.”

“And, there is that all important ability to compile any script into a standalone program that can be run on any Windows computer,” Lockey added.

In addition, Lockey cites Macro Scheduler’s low learning curve as its biggest strength.

“It is possible to write usable macros in less than a day, and in only a few minutes, a new user can record a macro. But flexibility is also its key. I can do just about any computer-related task with it, from manipulating data within files and managing those files, to automating any application or even creating my own applications,” Lockey said.

Business Value/Results
Lockey has Macro Schedulergenerated executables on every computer at Iowa Laser Technology.

He said all users have experienced efficiency enhancements, auto logons, and image manipulation, and that seven employees actively use Macro Scheduler as a utility on their computers and directly benefit on a daily basis from its functionality and extended feature set.

Lockey estimates that Macro Scheduler processes now save the company 8 hours per day that were previously carried out manually.

At an average department chargeout cost of $40 per hour that’s a saving of $320 per day, which translates to more than $75,000 per year, and allows more efficient use of human resource.

The software allowed the company to automate much of its annual inventory check, eliminating the need for five people working four days each.

Inventory automation has removed the need for one member of the company’s staff, allowing more productive use of that person. Manual daily report production that used to take around three hours per day now also is fully automated.

Further efficiencies have been made by streamlining system administration. A network backup system was improved using Macro Scheduler, saving an estimated one hour per day and ensuring that the backups are completed in a shorter timeframe.

These improved efficiencies translate into benefits for Iowa Laser Technology’s customers too, by reducing lead times and freeing resources to work on what really matters - providing services to the manufacturing industry.

Direct results include giving Iowa Laser Technology the ability to run reports overnight rather than wasting the first few hours of the day running reports manually.

In addition, Iowa Laser Technology has multiple ‘helps’ for its ERP software where a customer or vendor sends lists of parts and quantities in Excel files. Iowa Laser Technology uses Macro Scheduler to acquire the data from the Excel worksheet and open the appropriate screens in the ERP application to put the acquired data into the correct fields.

For example, one of the company’s vendors provides approximately 100 items from a list.

Lockey uses the vendor’s list to generate Iowa Laser Technology’s purchase order. It would take two hours to type the information manually, but it takes two minutes using the Macro Scheduler software. In addition, Iowa Laser Technology is assured that the information was entered correctly.

Iowa Laser Technology has numerous electronic forms that are written with the Macro Scheduler software. These electronic forms replace paper forms.

The advantage is not in data input but in the time to retrieve a form.

“I’m currently working on an electronic form for storing information about revision levels of customer supplied drawings,” Lockey said.

“Currently there is a piece of paper that provides specifics of any drawing changes, and that is stuffed in a folder that is kept in a drawer of a file cabinet. We have a room full of file cabinets for each drawing supplied by our customers.”

“We have 700,000 routers in our system, so there are potentially 700,000 drawings each with multiple revision level forms. To retrieve one today requires a person to go to the file cabinets find the customer file and pull the data sheet. Soon we’ll start saving these via a Macro Scheduler dialog to text files rather than paper forms. The text file data can be instantly retrieved by entering a customer number and a part number in the Macro Scheduler