Effective scheduling in the bag at Smurfit Ward

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Smurfit Ward is a leading paper based packaging supplier located in Leyland, Lancashire. Ward Packaging was first established in 1980 by local Lancashire farmer John Ward as a potato sack production company, supplying sacks to other local farmers. It then moved progressively towards carrier, paper sack and SOS bag production for the food industry, pet food industry, chemical producers, flour mills, and supermarkets. Ward Packaging was acquired by Jefferson Smurfit, a leading manufacturer of corrugated products and sacks in 2001.

Before going live with scheduling software solution Preactor 200 in 2003, the companys production planning regime was a more arbitrary affair, as Smurfit Wards Planning Manager, Dave Hampson, explained: As recently as 2001, activity on the shop floor was still organised in a rather random fashion. Works orders would be produced and printed out. They would then be delivered to the shop floor. For Smurfit Ward, the production of printed sacks and bags has always begun at the printing machines. However, the workforce on these machines have historically tended to make a quick decision as to which jobs to prioritise based on length, before sending the printed reels on to the tubers (bag/sack forming machine operators). The tubers would sort the printed jobs into widths and would mainly prioritise those that fitted the tube width specification that happened to be set up on the machine at that time. This was so that they werent constantly swapping the tuber set ups over after each separate job. Then the bags and sacks would be passed to the finishers, before being stored for stock, or shipped directly to the customer. Everyone tended to take the path of least resistance, which often didnt equate to the most effective method of production scheduling or customer service.

In order to look at overall planning, Smurfit Ward moved to spreadsheets. However, because jobs on the shop floor are often activated and closed very quickly often several times within a day the spreadsheet tended to become out of date within a short space of time. Our shop floor can be a very dynamic environment, and often by the time we had logged details on a spreadsheet the goalposts had changed or the operation was complete, Hampson explained.

The company then moved to using large white boards and job tickets. For each job operation we raised a ticket and placed it on the board in order of priority in terms of production, said Hampson. However, we found scheduling for more than two or three days at a time too complex and largely unmanageable. This method simply wasnt as forward-thinking as we would have liked. Time management was another problem. The sales manager and production manager would often spend half a day every day sorting out production schedules. The print manager and tubing manager would also regularly get involved, thus taking up a considerable amount of time when all concerned had other things they could have been doing, said Hampson.

In addition, Smurfit Ward had no effective capacity management regime. Around Christmas 2002 we got in a fix because we simply didnt have the available capacity to meet job orders, explained Hampson. The whole company breaks for a total of a month during Summer and Christmas for essential maintenance, but because there was little thought on capacity planning in the run up to Christmas 2002 we ended up delivering many orders six weeks late, or worse.

These constraints were Smurfit Wards main catalysts for change. After learning about the affordability, functionality and scope of Preactor 200 from Preactor reseller Resource Management Systems (RMS), Smurfit Wards then Chief Executive Officer, Mike Fadden, became convinced that it was the ideal system for the companys requirements. In early 2003 RMS staff came on site and helped Smurfit Ward determine exactly what the company required from a scheduling system, and the ball began to roll. Hampson, who joined the company in June the same year, needed only two days training on Preactor 200 from RMS before he was largely conversant with its functionality and operational requirements. From the outset it was Hampsons job to ensure Preactor 200 was up and running as quickly as possible.

Implementation took around a month to complete. Much of this time was spent ensuring information from the companys ERP system could be easily migrated into Preactor. One of my first jobs was to ensure all the information stored in our Sage Line 100 system was sorted out prior to Preactor 200 going live. So, to begin with, I had to find out how Sage worked as a system, make sure all the works orders were up to date, and then ensure all this information could be easily migrated to Preactor 200 when it was bolted-on to Sage. It didnt take long before Preactor was in a position to receive Works Orders and Bills of Materials from Sage and scheduling the workload for the shop floor began.

Hampson pointed out that, from the moment Preactor 200 went live, it proved to be a very smooth and reliable system. It was one of the most trouble-free and fast implementations I have ever been involved in. Our Preactor package was slightly customised, mainly with regard to its set-up functionality, but other than that, it has needed very little modification. It is true to say that since going live we have experienced hardly any problems with the system. Hampson is now in a position where he can rely on Preactor 200 to provide him with work-to lists, which he distributes to each of Smurfit Wards production managers on the shop floor each day. Basically, I use the systems Gantt charts to manually schedule activity on the shop floor. But the system is also excellent for considering what-if scenarios; such as alternative scheduling routes and anticipating potential problems during the production process and determining the best way to ensure lead times are adhered to as accurately as possible.

Since using Preactor 200, Smurfit Ward has also enjoyed reduced set-up times on the shop floor, and a more accurate means of anticipating when orders will be complete and ready to deliver to the customer. In addition, the system has provided the company with the ability to identify potential production bottlenecks quicker. We used to be able to identify some potential bottlenecks, but we can now identify them within a week or so of an impending problem occurring, explained Hampson.. As soon as an order is placed on Preactor 200 I can tell whether we can realistically make the specified lead time without any snags, or whether we either need to inform the customer that delivery will be slightly later than originally thought. In many instances, however, Preactor 200 allows me simply to adjust the production schedule on the shop floor to prevent a bottleneck. So, in a nutshell, I can inform customers of realistic delivery dates and be able to move labour around the plant to ensure the quickest possible lead time.

Another benefit enjoyed by Smurfit Ward is that the company no longer looses orders on the shop floor. Because the information is stored on Sage and Preactor, we no longer have to worry about losing hard-copy route cards, Hampson pointed out. We can also reduce the amount of time many of our managers spend in production meetings. Preactor facilitates better communication as a single point of contact between sales and production. It also means we can provide a better customer service if we find ourselves having to action rush jobs.

Mike Novels, Preactor Managing Director, Mike Novels, said of the application: This is a good example of how Preactor provides an essential tool for synchronising the needs of the customer, the capacity of the plant and the on-going activities of the sales team in a fast moving business. You can think of Preactor as a continuous virtual production meeting where its what if capability can enable the planner to deal with the inevitable capacity conflicts and provide the agility to become more competitive in the market place.

RMS Director, Don Dyas, added: The key to the success of this Preactor implementation has been the working partnership between our own staff and the people at Smurfit Ward.

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