TLA Forms creates forms using data from existing IBM i spool files.
H-P Products, Inc., located in Louisville, Ohio, is the premier manufacturer of central vacuums and tubing-related products. The company has established itself as an internationally recognized operation enlisting the highest standards and technology for quality production of its products—like using a 4000-watt, 6-axis CNC laser to produce the most precise, high-quality tubes on the market. But when it came to generating customer quotes, statements, and invoices for their customers, the technology wasn't quite so high-tech.
H-P, like many companies, uses IBM i application software to generate spool files (printer files) to create their forms. The spool files are sent to tractor-fed printers loaded with preprinted form stock, which cost the company about $3,500 a year. While $3,500 may not seem an exorbitant number, employees spent time managing the inventory, making sure the right forms were ordered and available when necessary, and correcting jams in the printer. Checks were preprinted with check numbers, account numbers, and signatures, which made for a real security concern. Tractor feed–type printers were kept and maintained specifically for the purpose of printing these forms and checks, which continued to pile on the costs.
H-P is a long-time user of TL Ashford's Barcode400 labeling software to create and print bar code labels. When Steve Jones, Sr. Programmer, at H-P contacted TL Ashford with a question about his Barcode400 labeling software, he learned of TLA Forms. TLA Forms is a tool to create forms using data from existing IBM i spool files. The data from the spool file can be placed on the form as text, bar codes, and images, all in full color. Lines, boxes, and ellipses can be added to complete the design. TLA Forms then watches for a spool file to be produced, and when one is, the software outputs the enhanced form as a PDF document, which is archived to the IFS, emailed, or printed.
Jones downloaded the free, 30-day trial version of the TLA Forms software and worked with the TL Ashford technical support team to learn how to create the forms. "Once you see how it works, it's not hard at all," Steve said. "We can take the invoice number directly from our spool file and put it anywhere on the form." Within two days, seven existing forms, A/R statements, pack slips, quotes to customers, customer statements, shipping manifests, invoices, and checks using MICR fonts were converted into much better-looking versions. Some of their customers want the invoice emailed, and some prefer it to be printed and mailed. Inside the TLA Forms designer, an SQL statement was configured to access data from an IBM i file that would determine if the form was to be emailed or printed and to what addresses and printers the form will be sent. "I'm amazed at how powerful this product is," Jones added.
H-P added the TLAFORMDQ data queue to the output queues where the original spool files were being produced. TLA Forms reads the data queue, captures the spool file data, and generates the form with the data. No programming.
And how do the new forms look? "Customers have actually called to tell us our invoices look so much better," Jones said. H-P can now use standard HP (the printer company) and compatible-type printers and regular paper—no more tractor-fed printers or preprinted stock!
Soon, picking slips are slated to be converted to make them more readable for the people filling orders in the warehouse. "For as powerful as this thing [TLA Forms] is, the price is more than fair. Plus it's hard to put a price on the support I've received," Jones concluded.