Centrax, based in Newton Abbot in Devon, is a leading engineering company comprising two divisions. The Turbine Components division manufactures machined goods such as compressor aero foils, blades and guide vanes for gas turbine engines, and boasts a prestigious client portfolio including Honeywell, SNECMA, Rolls Royce and Volvo.
The components produced at Turbine Components are all designed by the customer, Centraxs core skills being in the production process. The Gas Turbines division makes large industrial generator sets in addition to offering a full aftercare and maintenance service to customers. A large part of the divisions business is the supply of generator sets for Combined Heat & Power (CHP) units. Centrax also has a number of depots throughout Europe, employs a total of 700 staff and enjoys a turnover of around 50 million. Although Centrax has relied on MAPICS software since as far back as the mid 1980s, much of the functionality had not been activated. And with ever increasing demands being made by customers, together with the threat from the low-cost markets, Centrax realised that an overhaul of its software applications was needed. This prompted the company to re-vitalise its relationship with MAPICS.
For some time we had suffered from a number of constraints such as lack of visibility, and poor control of stocking levels, explained Paul Butterworth, Centraxs Computer Services Manager. We also relied heavily on spreadsheets for reporting. It used to take us two or three weeks to produce accounts at the end of the month, which was simply too time consuming, and this tended to take peoples attention away from other core duties. Back in the 1980s and 90s we tried to address some of these problems by writing bespoke software with the aid of independent consultants and programmers. Indeed, some 50% of the functionality of our software ended up as bespoke. In addition, our Turbine Components division used to rely on batch cards for record keeping. In industries such as aerospace, suppliers need to have strict quality records, and the process that goes into making components such as aerofoils is very well-defined. Our operators used to rubber-stamp a batch card for every completed production operation. These card records then had to be stored for 25 years. Originally we used to produce using large batches, but with a significant drive to cell and lean manufacturing techniques these were reduced to batches of 5 or 10. When you consider that we shipped over 40,000 components a month this meant there were a lot of manufacturing orders and an awful lot of batch cards. The process was pretty much a logistical nightmare requiring lots of support and it did not have the convenience and speed we needed.
After a business review in 1999 the company decided to embark on a system upgrade and further system investment. The primary motivation at the time was concern over Year 2000 issues, said Butterworth. But we were also aware that this would be an ideal opportunity to address much more than just Y2K. Centrax spent a number of months surveying what was available on the market, via websites, brochures, exhibitions and the trade press. We had a look at a number of products offered by vendors such as Sage and SAP. However, in the end we plumped for two IBM AS400 (now iSeries) platforms, one for each of our divisions. It has proved to be a particularly reliable backbone. You sit the units in the corner and they work, its a simple as that. Centrax also decided to upgrade its MAPICS XA system to Version 5.5 rather than move to new proprietory software. Modules included MRP, Contract Accounting, International Financial Management (IFM), Purchasing, Inventory Management, Financial Analysis, PC&C, Customer Order Management (COM), Enterprise Product Data Management (EPDM), Integrator, Manufacturing Data Collection and Communication (MDCC) and Quality Reporting and Management System (QRMS).
Part of the rationale behind purchasing two AS400/iSeries databases was that we wanted the systems, and the businesses, to be as autonomous as possible, while also having the flexibility to share data when required, said Butterworth.
Implementation and training
Butterworth outlined the implementation process. We nominated a small number of key users from each of our divisions. These users then became trainer trainers, who used the knowledge they acquired from their instruction to pass their acquired skills to other relevant personnel within the company. The idea was that we would implement the system ourselves and save money. This was a little ambitious, because without further guidance from an external consultancy we tended to let the implementation drift a little. Although much of the core functionality was in place within a few months, we would probably have had more of a focus on getting the system fully implemented in a shorter time scale if we had continued to employ the services of consultants for a longer period. The amount of money we saved through having consultants on site for a fairly short amount of time was potentially lost through our own delays in system implementation and integration. Nevertheless, with the exception of a few elements of functionality, XA Version 5.5 went live within six months.
Centrax then moved to Version 6 of MAPICS XA/iSeries in mid 2003. Because we had resolved many of our software issues with 5.5, upgrading to Version 6 proved quite straightforward. However there are still a few elements of functionality that we are yet to activate, some of these being a throwback to what we had with Version 5.5, said Butterworth. For instance, we still havent implemented MMA fully, and MRP (for purchasing and bills of materials) is not fully up and running. We are looking to resolving these issues by around mid-2005.
Butterworth outlined some of the key benefits Centrax is enjoying through the use of MAPICS XA Version 6/iSeries. The Inventory Management engine is a crucially important part of the software system. It is something we could no longer do without. Basically, it allows us to have full visibility of our stock whenever we need it. Butterworth then explained the importance of the MDCC/Shop Tools module. What with all the small batch constraints we had experienced in the past, not to mention our old batch card method of record keeping, Shop Tools has proved a Godsend. In order to ensure Shop Tools could be used to maximum effect, Turbine Components adjusted all its routing operations. The biggest issue for us was getting all the re-routing through our approval systems, said Butterworth. This meant that the complete Shop Tools implementation took about three years in total. However, since going live it has reduced the number of our manufacturing batches dramatically while maintaining the high level of output. Its a fraction (manufacturing orders) of what it used to be because we have been able to increase our batch sizes whilst still employing production flow techniques. Basically we do a piece-count update in Shop Tools and it just flows through. Butterworth also pointed out that Shop Tools has provided Tubrine Components with complete visibility of its Work in Progress (WIP). In addition, stock taking is now a faster and more reliable process. We used to take three or four days to do a stock take, and this involved practically everyone in the company, often working long and hard over a weekend, he explained. Since using Shop Tools we have been able to complete a WIP stock take in just three hours. We no longer need batch cards, and weve convinced our engine manufacturer clients that we can reliably store records electronically for 25 years.
Although the QRMS module has yet to be fully implemented, Centrax is using aspects of its functionality within Turbine Components. In the past we had relied on paper for our non-conformance reporting, but we now enjoy full automated functionality through the use of QRMS, said Butterworth. We hope to get QRMS fully up and running within 12 months and are talking to the modules writers at ISE in this regard.
The EPDM module has been a tremendous boon for both divisions of the company, according to Butterworth. It is a very efficient tool for our engineering team in terms of inputting item details, master details, routings and Bills of Materials (BoMs), he said. It used to be that our engineers created drawings, wrote down what they wanted and someone else put it into the computer system. We used to have several clerks whose job it was to key this information into the system. Now, because EPDM is all Windows-based with the advantage of simple point-and-click, our engineers can complete these tasks themselves. It has some fantastic features such as mass updates and mass change, and along with Browser it really has opened up MAPICS to many more members of staff on a daily basis.
Butterworth sees the Customer Order Management (COM) module as another essential part of the system. COM is great in helping us keep track of sales, in the same way the Inventory Management module is great for giving us visibility of stock and the Purchasing module is great for keeping us on top of materials and parts purchasing, he said. Butterworth also enthused about the benefits of IFM. This has been another really big plus for us. We have managed to ensure accounts are completed in three or four days, rather than the two or three weeks it used to take. We have also managed to cut the amount of people working in the Accounts Department. So in terms of speed and cost savings its been tremendous.
Centrax has Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) over the Internet across Europe and the depots across Europe have their own stock of parts and generator sets. VPNs allow the depots visibility of available stock on a central database, said Butterworth. They use MAPICS transactions to monitor and control stock across Europe, book the stock onto the generator set, and they can all do this as if they were all sat at a desk at our headquarters in Newton Abbot.
As for the future, Butterworth is keen to ensure much of the remaining aspects of MAPICSs functionality are brought on stream to ensure Centrax gains maximum business advantages from its investment. In addition, Butterworth is considering additional engines, in particular one that facilitates greater shop floor scheduling control. We have looked at other modules such as Advanced Planning & Scheduling (APS), and we are taking this seriously, although any investment plans are still in the early stages. Centrax is currently looking to activate interfaces between Inventory Management, PC&C and COM into IFM. Interestingly, although the PC&C module helps the company to manage its manufacturing orders it doesnt currently use it to maximum advantage. It has a lot more power and potential than we are currently gaining from it, explained Butterworth. The tool that is going to enable us to get more from it is the IFM interface. This is because the information that is going to come out of PC&C ie. WIP is going to be pushed straight into IFM. We hope to complete this interface within a few months. Butterworth concluded: MAPICS XA/iSeries has enhanced our business in so many ways. And with our future plans for the system it looks like going from strength to strength.