Preactor opens doors on effective scheduling at Geddes Window Systems

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INFORMATION: Free information is available from PREACTOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

Geddes Window Systems Ltd is a thriving make-to-order joinery business based in Halkirk, Caithness. Its core clientele comprises Local Councils and Housing Associations involved in new-build projects throughout the UK. The companys origins stretch back to nearby Toftingall Farm in the 1890s, when John Geddes offered a varied range of joinery services to local farmers. The company name came into being in 1919 when the business was inherited by Donald (DM) Geddes, one of Johns nephews.

In 1958 the company formally became DM Geddes & Sons Ltd (by this time Donald's two sons, Donald and George, were also employed in the business). A century and a half of association with the Toftingall Farm ended in 1991, when all remaining offices and workshops were transferred to premises in Halkirk. For some time, the joinery business and a concrete block production concern, acquired by the company in the 1960s, flourished side by side at Halkirk. However, new stringent regulations put an end to block production in the midst of what had now become a residential area. In 1991, a new 100k 'Window Centre' was set up, premises were modernised, and the intensive manufacture of timber windows began in earnest. Geddes Window Systems became a separate limited company in August 1997, thus separating itself from the activities on its sister company DM Geddes & Sons Ltd. In autumn 2001, to cope with demand, the company's factory was increased from 20,000 to 25,000 square feet.

As a result of foreign competition, the company has since added door manufacture to its portfolio. This has allowed development and marketing of a range of thermally broken Aluminium/ Timber composite windows and doors, ideal for schools and swimming pools, etc. Around this time, and as turnover began to increase from around 500,000 per year to around 3 million, the company realised that, its production scheduling methodology had to change. This prompted Geddes Window Systems to make initial contact with Preactor International software solution reseller, Resource Management Systems (RMS).

Geddes Managing Director, Kenny Falconer, outlined the companys scheduling method prior to Preactor. In addition to a Merlin Softwares Caliburn ERP system, used for bills of materials and for working out required sizes of component parts of the windows and doors, we had always used white boards for basic scheduling. White boards had adequately met our scheduling needs in times when orders were coming in at a smaller rate. However, as orders increased, there came the time when we were in danger of losing control. We had no truly reliable visibility. Everything we do needs to be driven by delivery date, and it was critical that we continued to honour these dates as accurately as possible, regardless of how busy we were. A batch of, say, 100 windows will take a about eight weeks to work through the factory. Thats fine and reasonably manageable. However when you start to get 10 of these orders all around the same time some could take 12 weeks and miss the specified lead time expected by the customer. If our building contractor customers had personnel lying idle because of the late delivery of our joinery goods we would probably not retain their business. Basically, we knew that our scheduling methodology had to be re-evaluated to prevent such a situation.

Back in late 2002 Kenny Falconer set about looking for the most suitable scheduling software solution to meet Geddes needs. I had a rough idea of what was required, and on this basis I began looking on the Internet for suppliers and descriptions of their products functionality, he said. I noticed there were some systems that were very expensive and highly complex. What we wanted was an affordable system that could offer the flexibility to accurately reflect the choices we had on the factory floor without demanding weeks of training and a high cost outlay. Other systems I looked at were very basic and downloadable onto a PC. But on further inspection I realised that most of these were low-level packages with little of the flexibility we required. Kenny Falconer soon focused on Preactor reseller, RMS. What RMS and Preactor offered stood out like a shining star. After preliminary discussions with RMS over the phone, and particularly after the live demo the company provided on our site, I realised that Preactor 300 was the ideal scheduling solution for our requirements. The user friendly Gantt chart format, the speed and convenience of the drag and drop functionality and the cost effectiveness of the system were the main factors in my decision to source the system. Implementation of Preactor 300 began in early 2003. The configuration process took two days, with RMS onsite. Over the following few weeks, further adjustments and customisation took place as required via email and phone conversation between Kenny Falconer and RMS.

In terms of training, Kenny Falconer sat with RMS personnel for two days at Geddes site. Once the product templates were set up and I sat down ready to be shown the ropes, I realised just how much of a user-friendly system it really was. During the training I would occasionally fire a few questions for clarification, but the process was so quick that by the afternoon of the second day I was in the chair actively using the system, overseen by RMS, said Kenny Falconer. He has now passed on his knowledge of the system and handed over a Preactor security dongle to an additional member of staff, who will now share many of the key scheduling responsibilities within the company. For extra peace of mind, Geddes has a support and service agreement with RMS, which can be renewed on an annual basis. The agreement is invaluable insofar as we are guaranteed hotline support as required, as well as upgrades as they become available, said Kenny Falconer.

In the early stages of Preactor going live, Geddes used the system simply to flag-up late orders. We would input all the data in the system to see which jobs were highlighted as being late and take remedial action. At any one time we are likely to have around 30 or 40 orders, and it is important for us to be able to prioritise based on promised delivery dates. Geddes also used the system to ensure the company could more easily provide accurate delivery date information when in receipt of an order enquiry. Then in mid-2003 one of Geddes largest customers went into receivership, which proved a major setback. We went down to a four-day week and, because of the limited amount of work being processed, we had no need to use Preactor. However, as we began to get back on our feet around the end of 2003, we began to use Preactor in a more comprehensive way, more fully utilising its rich functionality.

Prior to sourcing Preactor, Geddes could often see areas on the shop floor where there was a danger of a production bottleneck. However, the company couldnt always tell why they were likely to occur. We couldnt really tell whether we were working on orders in the wrong sequence, said Kenny Falconer. For example, it seems to be human nature that staff working on a particular order will complete three or four orders for the same product before changing to a new product, even though the second product might have a very short specified lead time. And depending on which mix of products currently being processed our bottlenecks would change.

With Preactor, Geddes can also see potential problems well ahead of time. For instance, it might indicate that we will have a lack of paint in two weeks time if we dont buy in an adequate supply, Kenny Falconer pointed out. Also, Preactor can indicate when extra manpower will be required over the coming weeks. This means we can give staff plenty or prior warning rather than ask them the day before if they would mind doing a few hours overtime, said Kenny Falconer. And its a great system to experiment with what-if scenarios. From a business planning point of view, these scenarios allow us to see immediately what we would have to do to get production levels up comfortably, without any major constraints.

All in all, it has ensured that Geddes is able to keep on top of lead times in a highly efficient, largely stress-free manner. As orders have recently picked up in a major way I dont know how we would cope effectively without Preactor Falconer concluded.

RMS Director, Don Dyas, said of the implementation: Its rewarding for RMS to be associated with the kind of customer service improvements and cost-effective production achieved by D M Geddes. The companys success though, is due in no small measure to the commitment and enthusiasm shown by the user, Kenny Falconer.

Preactor International Managing Director, Mike Novels, added: This is a great story that illustrates how easy Preactor is to implement and to customise for a wide range of applications. Its a privilege to work with a company with such long and rich traditions and provide the tools it needs to give the visibility to respond effectively to an even more challenging future.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from PREACTOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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