'It's not what you've got, but the way that you use it.' This adage is as true for someone buying a top-of-the-range camera as it is for an organisation investing in latest generation multi-axis machining equipment. Ownership alone will not unlock the acquisition's full potential.
But if a company combines powerful manufacturing software with the will to use it to maximum advantage, that becomes a recipe for success. For Leicestershire-based JJ Churchill Ltd this has certainly proved to be the case, with its implementation of a Jobshop system from Planit playing a key role in the company's continuing growth in the face of tough international competition.
Formed in 1937, JJ Churchill is a specialist manufacturer of turbine blades and other close tolerance components and sub-assemblies for the aerospace, defence, diesel engine, power generation and precision engineering sectors. The company also supplies a wide range of US and in-house manufactured cutting tools and tool holders, primarily to the automotive industry.
During its 69-year history, the company has established itself as a tier one supplier to numerous leading original equipment manufacturers, including Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Perkins and Cummins Engines. Its employs more than 150 staff and has a comprehensive array of CNC machine tools, as well as extensive finishing and inspection facilities at its headquarters and manufacturing plant in Market Bosworth, near Nuneaton.
Like other organisations facing global competition, JJ Churchill recognised that it could not maintain its business edge using manually-based systems. It was one of the first companies in the UK to implement Jobshop and indeed, many of the software's developments during the past 10 years can be traced directly back to Churchill's feedback and suggestions.
"That's the point," says sales and marketing director, Andrew Churchill. "All too often, industrial customers are rarely consulted by system developers. As a result, manufacturing companies generally don't trust the systems they create. By contrast, Jobshop's development reflects functionality to address real-world business requirements. It has therefore become an extremely comprehensive and a powerful system, which encourages best practice by its users. Its capabilities have enabled us to make the 'leap of faith' to dispense with our paper-based methods and, by committing ourselves to maximising its effectiveness throughout our operations, it is central to our ongoing competitiveness."
JJ Churchill's logistics manager Mark Atkinson agrees. "Data integrity and accessibility have been the foundations of our installation's success - along with its user-friendliness.
"Jobshop is a true Windows product with an interface that can be easily tailored to individual operator requirements. It also allows simple drilling down into the database to access relevant information across different system modules or departmental boundaries."
As an aerospace and defence supplier, traceability is an important issue for JJ Churchill. No surprise then that the first stages of the company's Jobshop implementation were focused on Production Control and the superseding of manually-produced manufacturing route cards.
Today, Jobshop is used throughout all areas of the company's operations. Within engineering that means everything from product structures and Bills of Materials, to manufacturing planning, set-up sheets, and drawing/issue control. Elsewhere, the system operates at the heart of the company's stock control, manufacturing, scheduling and work-in-progress procedures.
"The fact that we're all operating with common data avoids duplicated activity and enables us to apply company-specific constraints as part of our traceability controls," Atkinson continues.
"Flexibility is a further feature of the Jobshop system. Our operation in France runs a completely different type of control system to the one we have in the UK and clearly, Jobshop needs to accommodate both types within a single, seamless system. Likewise, it copes easily with outwork processes, such as heat treatment and plating - producing 'work to' lists, raising purchase orders and other sub-contractor documentation, as well as tracking the work's progress, just as if these were in-house operations."
Costing and estimating are further elements of JJ Churchill's implementation, along with its links to purchasing, finance and sales departments. As a result, estimates can be quickly compared to actual manufacturing costs and projected margins, enabling prices to be quoted on the basis of accurate and complete data; in turn improving the company's ability to win profitable business.
The company's continually expanding database of information also dovetails with Jobshop's ability to undertake 'what if' calculations based on alternative batch sizes and routings - enabling their impact on order lead times, costs and margins to be fully appreciated.
"Our whole system represents a virtuous circle of activities," notes Atkinson. "However, new users must recognise that they need to devote the time and training into maximising the effectiveness of their own installations if they are going to achieve the same returns as we have from Jobshop."
The power of JJ Churchill's implementation can be gauged by the fact that two production controllers currently manage more than 5000 live part numbers and assemblies, plus the purchasing of consumable tooling. Furthermore, Atkinson notes that the headcount in this department has not increased for the past 10 years - while the company's annual turnover has grown from 3 million to more than 15 million during the same period.
Atkinson also regards Jobshop's Price Book function as a particularly useful tool when it comes to publishing updated price lists for the company's proprietary tooling ranges.
"We can simply apply a specific increase to materials or overheads, and then allow Jobshop to calculate updated prices for each item, based on its own pricing rules - all at the touch of a button," he confirms.
So what are the primary benefits JJ Churchill has gained from Jobshop?
According to Atkinson, accuracy and transparency of information are top of the list. Once gathered by the system through a variety of inputs, either manually or via the company's shop floor barcode data terminals, information is simple to locate by interrogating the database. It is also easily analysed and reformatted to user's individual requirements using Crystal Reports, with results available for output in Microsoft Excel, Word or any other Windows compatible format.
"This leads to greater control and increased confidence," continues Atkinson. "It also translates directly to improved competitiveness - helping us to combat the growing threat from China and India, as well as established aerospace suppliers throughout Europe and North America.
"To summarise, Jobshop's principal strength is that it is a true manufacturing tool. It has been developed by people who understand real-world manufacturing and engineering issues. Furthermore, it is supported by technically-based staff with genuine experience of the system in use.
"As a fully-integrated manufacturing system, it is an extremely powerful tool. But, unlike some alternatives, it can be tailored precisely to customers' requirements. In my view, it is the number one system for companies such as ours because it has all the functionality of a system like SAP, but at a much more affordable price."