MRP Software helps Gingerbread manufacturer to plan ahead

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Image On Foods was founded in 1995 by Tim and Sarah Hopcroft. They specialise in creating hand decorated gingerbread novelties for customers such as Starbucks, John Lewis and Harvey Nichols. Now employing a staff of 24, the company has grown rapidly over recent years, with their production and stock control managed by a series of Excel spreadsheets. As a result they had limited (and slow) traceability, stock was inaccurate, deliveries could not be scheduled and leadtimes were out by as much as two weeks. Said Tim Hopcroft, Managing Director; "In short we simply did not have a finger on the pulse to give answers to customers. We nearly lost two major customers in Easter 2004 because of misquoted leadtimes, so I decided that we had to do something. I looked at specific bakery software, but this was not flexible enough for our business. An internet search pointed us towards 123MRP, and I attended an evaluation workshop shortly afterwards."

The decision to select 123MRP was made immediately while Tim attended the workshop. In addition to installing an MRP system, Image On Foods were also implementing the EFSIS (European Food Safety Inspectorate Service) quality accreditation, which Tim admits was a lot to take on at the same time; "I did not see the point of implementing one system without the other. Both were going to be a tremendous shift in the way that we do things, so it made sense to do it in a single period. While this has actually increased the administration resources required in the short term, as the business grows it will level out and reach a point where the business can increase without more admin staff."

Training started in May 2004. Two staff attended a three-day user training and a one-day implementation course, with Tim also attending the Administration course. Of the training Tim said; "I was a little nervous about installing after the training, simply because of the perceived amount of work required to keep the system up-to-date in line with our EFSIS requirements. We have a complicated product range, with one gingerbread man having a complex structure of ingredients and manufacturing processes. But we were able to do the installation ourselves, with backup from Rent-I.T. without any problems at all. We then spent the time between implementation and go-live correctly structuring workflow and documentation processes that would be compatible with our new accreditation. We wanted to get it right as the system is only as good as the information within it."

As with any major change there was some resistance, with any problems automatically blamed on the new systems and procedures, however the immediate traceability soon resolved such disputes. Tim recalled; "There was one incident where a stock outage was blamed on the system, but in tracing back we discovered that a worker was using 50% more of an ingredient. Stock shortages were a major issue in the past, but they have been literally eradicated overnight since 123MRP has been in place. We've also reduced our inventory by 5%, which is a large figure considering that most of our stock has a very limited shelf life and have to be purchased in bulk for pricing purposes."

Image On Foods operates a profit share scheme for all staff, based in allocated production times vs real times. Previously this was calculated manually and provided on a monthly basis. Now the information is provided weekly, which has also had a knock-on effect; "People can quickly see a direct effect of their efforts and this has improved efficiency. Labour is the largest part of our product's cost, so we need to focus on this. A law came into force in January 2005 which required us to provide complete 'field to mouth' traceability. Many customers now require reports in accordance with the new law, showing each ingredients traceability - previously it could have taken hours or even days for a single product - now this information is instantly available. In the future we plan to include an automatically generatedspecification sheet, which at the moment takes up to three days.

Tim finalised; "We plan to rapidly expand the business within the next three years, and are also moving the entire operation next year. We were at the point before where we could not cope as a business anymore - staff were relying on information only held by me. This is no longer the case and we are now increasing our use of the system, step-by-step. The next phase is to implement shopfloor data capture with barcode scanning. 123MRP has given me the foundations of the future of the business in terms of how we can grow it. It's the answer to all of our problems, going from 'no planning' to 'full planning', and I was able to customise it myself to meet our industry-specific requirements."

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