Preactor enabled Lean Manufacturing provides Harmon with the competitive edge

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Harmon Form Tools was formed in 1964, offering a grinding and tooling facility for the Aerospace, Defence and Commercial markets. In 1987 the company entered the machining market with the foundation of Harmon Manufacturing, initially meeting the requirements of existing customers in the Aerospace and Defence industries. In 2000, Harmon acquired a site in Haviland Road, on the Ferndown Industrial Estate in Wimborne, Dorset and set about constructing 30,000 sq ft purpose-built premises. In 2002, the Metal Treatments division was set up, initially for the purpose of reducing lead times on in-house programmes. This division now also offers the service to other suppliers and Harmon customers direct. Plans are in place to extend the Treatments facility. New lines have been purchased and Harmon is currently awaiting planning permission to build an extension to its factory. Investment has always been a high priority for Harmon, as is evidenced by the latest CNC machines in the machining and grinding facilities. Investment in a new IT infrastructure with an emphasis on more effective production scheduling has also proved highly beneficial for the company, as its use of Preactor 200 FCS proves.

Historic constraints
In terms of historic methods of production scheduling, 20 years ago Harmon relied on a T-Card system, as Managing Director Rob Harmon explained: We would write out the T-Cards and move them from rack to rack as production progressed. However this was very time consuming, so 10 years ago we put in place a very basic shop loading system. The problem was that it wasnt really flexible enough to perfectly complement our production processes. We make aircraft parts with long manufacturing lead times. A typical aircraft undercarriage axle can take nine months to manufacture and some 200 to 300 separate manufacturing operations can be involved, including work undertaken by sub-contracted parties. So in order to handle these complex and involved lead times and high-volume production, in addition to the need for our Progress Department to be able to efficiently chase sub-contractors for parts when delivery is due, we realised we needed to source a more efficient scheduling software solution.

The solution
Rob Harmon initially became aware of Preactor 200 after he attended one of the leading software shows at the NEC about five years ago. We wanted to gauge what solution would be ideal for our scheduling needs, said Rob. In total we attended five scheduling software demonstrations, but Preactor stood out as the superior solution. Within three months we had discussed the purchase of Preactor 200 with Preactor Solution Provider, RMS. They came on site for about a week, and configured the software for our specific requirements. For example, information regarding our shop floor machinery plus data about our suppliers was loaded on to the system. We also bought licences for two Preactor viewers so that access to the scheduling charts could be made available at different points on the shop floor. In this way our supervisors can see at a glance the scheduling routine. Our sales team can also look at a viewer to determine our loading capacity so customers can be kept better informed about feasible delivery dates etc. Implementation was completed within three months, although as Harmon changes and adapts as a company RMS regularly adjusts the system to ensure the optimum fit.

Benefits
Since going live with the system, Harmon has benefited from being able to deliver more accurately within the specified lead time. And we now know exactly how our shop floor capacity is loaded, whereas previously it was more a case of putting our fingers in the air, explained Rob. Also, we are far more cost efficient in terms of utilising staff time on the shop floor. And with Preactor 200 we can simply drag and drop Gantt chart information to slightly adjust the schedule as we go. This is far more advantageous than cut and past-based solutions in terms of saved time and increased convenience.

Harmon is currently linking Preactor 200 to its own bespoke ERP system through the companys barcoding system. This will result in all information regarding bills of materials, job orders and route cards being fed into Preactor automatically as it is available, said Rob. Then a shop floor schedule can be completed quickly within Preactor ready for action.

Lean and Agile
Harmon has also recently re-arranged its machinery in cells in order to put in place a Lean manufacturing methodology. We have been planning to achieve multi-manning, extended hours and unmanned machinery, and this is all starting to happen, Rob pointed out. We also have in place a Lean regime in terms of staff development. One of the biggest problems in our line of work is obtaining and retaining skilled staff. Currently we have three machines set up as a Lean cell with three skilled personnel. When we set up the next cell of three machines, one of the operators from the first cell can move to the second cell. Then we can move a semi-skilled operator to the first cell and bring his level of competence up to that of a fully skilled operator. This means we can more efficiently increase our level of skilled staff, which is so necessary if we are to successfully expand the business further. From an Agile manufacturing perspective, all Harmons tooling has been laid out in cells, so that a machine can be re-tooled quickly to speed the manufacturing process and utilise machine time as effectively as possible.

Rob summed up the companys experience of using Preactor 200.We are very happy with the performance of the system. Preactor 200 is a very good fit for our scheduling requirements. Basically, we load capacity onto our machines and the software allows us to do this very effectively and cost efficiently. Our customers have commented that many of their other suppliers do not have in place such a reliable and efficient scheduling system. This, I believe, can give us a competitive edge. And when our customers are of the calibre of Airbus and Smiths, being able to provide high-quality goods on time is absolutely critical. Over the past four years we have doubled in size as a business, and we are planning to expand further. Preactor will be invaluable in this regard.

Mike Novels, Managing Director of Preactor International, commented. Its always nice to see a British company doing so well and expanding so rapidly in such a competitive business, and I am pleased that we and RMS were able to play our part in supporting Harmon Manufacturing to become leaner, more agile and meet the ever increasing overseas competition.

RMS director Don Dyas added: The moment the people from Harmon came onto our booth at the NEC it was clear they knew exactly what they wanted. With Preactor, we have the ability to deliver a solution which meets customer needs precisely, so the match was ideal.

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