Hawkins, Inc. is a widely known and respected chemical distributor that was founded in 1938. hawkins-logoHawkins serves thousands of businesses and municipalities throughout the central United States and employs hundreds of staff members, including drivers who deliver chemical products to water treatment facilities, manufacturers, food and dairy producers, research labs, and many other organizations.

Hawkins partnered with LuminFire to create a custom mobile iPad solution with FileMaker to allow their drivers to look up customer and product info and create orders offline when they do not have cellular or wifi available. We were successful in delivering an easy-to-use solution that integrated with their existing JDE ERP system under budget and within a fixed timeline while cooperating well with their internal IT department.

More details about the solution…

Thousands of water treatment facilities, manufacturers, food and dairy producers, research labs, and many other organizations depend on Hawkins for the chemical products they need. A significant part of their mission is to exceed their customers’ expectations as a high-quality, service-oriented chemical supplier. Partnering with LuminFire to create a custom technology solution was a great fit.

Hawkins employs around 125 drivers/sales agents in multiple time zones who deliver chemical products. They enter sales into an iPad mobile app that connects directly to their JD Edwards (JDE) EnterpriseOne system. The JDE system is a comprehensive Oracle product that integrates financial, project, asset lifecycle, order, and manufacturing management.

A truck driver is standing in a large parking lot in front of several large trucks. He is facing the camera, and he is wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt, blue jeans, a brown belt and a gray hat. He is holding a black tablet with his left hand. There are six big rigs seen lined up behind him, going from left to right. The large trucks all look the same, being all white and having silver grills and mirrors. There are multiple cars seen parked to the right of the trucks. A cloudy blue sky is seen in the background.

App to improve order fulfillment

Hawkins approached LuminFire about creating a custom off-line app for the iPad to supplement the existing JDE system. Drivers could use this new app to enter orders when they were not within distance of a cellular of wireless signal….something the JDE system did not provide. They desired orders taken with this app to be synced back to the JDE system later in the day when the driver returned within cellular or wireless range. The key requirement was an easy-to-use system with the ability to work offline.

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FileMaker Go Mobile Solution

We determined this project would be a great fit for the rapid development capabilities of FileMaker Pro to create an iPad solution utilizing FileMaker Go for off-line mobile access. LuminFire created a solution that elegantly allows drivers to look up customer and product information, and create orders when delivering products. Sales agents can search for a customer, create a new order, and enter products that the customer is ordering. If the product is a container holding chemical product, sales agents use a Bluetooth scanner to scan the container’s bar code to add it to an order.

The synchronizing process includes downloading the specific customers that have been assigned to the sales agent, and the products that the driver is authorized to sell. Completed orders are synced back to a master file on the FileMaker Server and on a regular, automated basis are in turn synced over to the JDE system.

Offline synchronization of mobile data is not something that is built into the FileMaker product. LuminFire examined off-the-shelf add-ons that provide this capability for FileMaker including MirrorSync from 360Works and GoZync from SeedCode. Although both of these are mature products with great use-cases, we determined that developing our own custom sync solution made more sense in this case. We also wanted to avoid reinventing the wheel. Starting with open source software FMEasySync by Tim Dietrich, we made several critical enhancements and optimizations to make it fit this solution. We were able to save the client licensing fees as well as have total control of the solution long-term.

Integration with JDE

The integration with JD Edwards was one of the most complex parts of the development process. As a high-end accounting and ERP system that has been around for a long time, the fields and table structure are very complex. Decoding and reverse engineering that system was a challenge that we were able to complete so that FileMaker could talk the “JDE language.” We used the FileMaker ESS (External SQL Data Source) feature and some custom coding to connect the systems.

Customer and product information is pulled from the JDE system onto the master file on the FileMaker server. Then, after sales agent orders have been synced back to the FileMaker server, completed orders are synced to the JDE system for final processing. In addition to the offline capability, our design was easier to use than the existing JD Edwards mobile solution. We utilized a custom FileMaker theme especially designed for touch accessibility and fitting with the Hawkins brand.

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Conclusion

The solution went through a thorough testing process with multiple rounds of testing and improvements.

In spite of several technical challenges along the way, the Hawkins offline iPad app was delivered on time and within budget. LuminFire worked alongside Hawkins internal IT department, cooperating every step of the way to produce the right technology solution. FileMaker was able to fill a gap in a comprehensive product and do it at a reasonable cost within only a few weeks. Completing something similar with a different toolset would have cost much more and taken much longer. In the end, the rapid development capability of FileMaker Pro and the extensive experience of the LuminFire team made it possible.

Tim Cimbura – CEO and Software Engineer

Tim is an expert in creating custom business solutions that make businesses more efficient, productive, and profitable. He specializes in rapid application development with FileMaker (certified in versions 8-17) for macOS, Windows, iPad/iPhone and web app integration with WordPress. He knows Apple technology inside and out.