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Complex Worldwide Distribution of American Milk Products Made Easier with FileMaker Pro Databases

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Raymond Stern, vice president, American Milk Products Corporation.

BACKGROUND: At American Milk Products Corporation, we distribute, import and export dairy products. We specialize in butter, cheese, non-fat dry milk, whole-fat dry milk and other dry milk products and blends. Essentially, we deal with every type of milk-based product other than fluid milk itself.

PLATFORMS: American Milk Products tracks all worldwide shipments of our milk-based products with FileMaker Pro database software. At the four locations of the companies associated with us in the U.S., each has its own server - two Macintosh servers and two Wintel servers. At one location, we have several Macintosh desktop computers, based on individual user preferences. The remaining 35 or so desktop machines are all Wintel PCs.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Inventory control in our industry is complex. Because many of the products we distribute in containers have non-standard weights, we need to track both the number of containers in a shipment and the weight of individual containers. We need to track these products by specific lots, knowing where every product goes, as well as how and when it gets there. Plus, we must follow government regulations that include USDA import licenses, FDA compliance and customs entries. There are no off-the-shelf programs that can do what we require. We needed a tailor-made database solution.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We have been using FileMaker Pro to track import, export and distribution of milk products for American Milk Products for approximately 15 years, and now plan on migrating to the new FileMaker Pro 7, which is the best yet. Our FileMaker database system contains more than 200 databases with approximately 300,000 records. As our needs grow, we can easily add functionality ourselves. Plus, the system is easy to use for employees throughout the company.

STRENGTHS: With FileMaker Pro, we can tailor the database to be as customized as we need it to be and still retain its primary ease of use. The new version of FileMaker Pro makes development and updates much easier. For instance, we can now work on multiple tables in a single file. We don't need to go into 200 separate files to update a script. Also, the new relationship graph makes everything visual, allowing us to see all the relationships in one place without having to go into each file.

WEAKNESSES: Most of the weaknesses of the product have been addressed in the new release, which is scheduled for release in summer of 2004. For instance, the server model has changed in FileMaker Server 7. Before this new server model, performing certain functions with a remote database over an Internet TCP/IP connection could be slow. With the new version, much of the processing is done on the server rather than sending large amounts of data to the client to process. Therefore, on the other end of the connection, it is just a screen refresh. I am also very pleased with the much improved security model in the new version.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Before we moved to FileMaker, we had an expensive custom software solution that left much to be desired in performance and had high yearly maintenance costs. I knew that I could do better and started developing with FileMaker Pro. At the time, two companies that were associated with us were using UNIX custom solutions that, together with some of the hardware, would need to be replaced with the Y2K change. We standardized on my FileMaker solution and we never looked back.

DELIVERABLES: We run our whole business on FileMaker Pro. Management tracks sales and inventory and creates purchase orders. Customer service personnel enter orders and invoicing. Warehouse personnel use FileMaker Pro for order execution, for creating necessary forms (such as picking sheets and bills of lading) and for entering incoming shipments. Import specialists create forms needed for customs entry and delivery of containers to the warehouses. The system also keeps track of USDA import licenses, FDA compliance and customs entries.

VENDOR SUPPORT: I honestly cannot remember the last time I called customer support. I can usually find any information I need online or in the FileMaker documentation or books I have.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is fine, and there is plenty of information available online. Additionally, I belong to the New York FileMaker Pro Developers' Group, where I get and give plenty of advice on the product.

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