Tracking orders

Nordson Corp.’s biggest challenge wasn’t getting product to customers quickly enough. It was already doing that.

Its biggest challenge was finding a way to provide current order information to customers on different continents and multiple time zones away.

Nordson manufacturers dispensing systems and markets its products through direct operations in 31 countries. More than 50 percent of its $731 million in annual sales is generated outside the United States; however, 14 of its manufacturing plants are within U.S. borders, far from some of its largest customers.

In response to the problems posed by its far-flung customer base, Nordson decided to increase its online presence with The project began when it integrated its 19 manufacturing operations with an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) in March 2000. The goal was straightforward — make it easier for customers to do business with Nordson.

Cynthia Skelton-Becker, director of engineering in Nordson’s powder systems group, was charged with heading up Skelton-Becker says that at that time, start-up dot coms were everywhere, but there weren’t many industrial e-commerce sites to benchmark.

After implementing a basic brochure online, Nordson installed a survey on the site allow customers to comment on its usefulness and track hits and traffic to new functions on the site as they were added.

Skelton-Becker says she discovered customers wanted to know exactly when to expect their order. The didn’t want to find out today that their order shipped yesterday, “particularly in these days of just-in-time purchasing.” Tracking on the site revealed customers wanted real-time ship dates and shipment tracking data once their order left the Nordson dock.

“What the Web site is letting us do is give the customer control of the information they need,” Skelton-Becker says.

Staffing the customer service and shipping departments 24 hours a day wasn’t an option, but linking its manufacturing operations to an e-commerce system and providing real-time connectivity to customers was.

“Ed Campbell (president and CEO at Nordson) told me a lot of companies were concentrating on purchasing (functions by) Web-enabling internal operations,” Skelton-Becker says. “He wanted us to use the technology to enhance the customers’ access to Nordson, so we focused on a customer front-end system.”

Skelton-Becker says wanted to make it easier for customers, not add an extra step in the order process.

“A manufacturer’s first reactions are, ‘We’ll put this e-commerce site out there and people will put their orders in for us. Won’t that be handy?'” she says.

However, feedback indicated that only a small subset of customers wanted to place orders online. Most had programs that sent orders automatically via fax when they entered orders in their system, so online product ordering ability was not the customers’ main concern.

The next step will be all about service as well. The idea is for Nordson to track a customer’s equipment and provide proactive servicing.

“If you can track the number of hours a piece of equipment is used, then you know when to send a service person out to help the customer,” says Skelton-Becker.

Skelton-Becker says Nordson continues to look for ways to build efficiencies for its customers.

“These ideas aren’t new,” she says. “What’s new is the tools.” How to reach: Nordson Corp., (440) 985-4000