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Family-run business, Coles Traditional Foods produces quality food products, most notably Christmas Puddings. First established in 1939, the company now has a turnover of 1.6 million, with its 25 staff having produced 833,155 units in 2006. While December may be the consumers most hectic month, the majority of Coles production has been completed, with mid-August through to late November traditionally being the busiest time of year for the company.
In addition to the challenge of producing to forecast, the very nature of the product and the manufacturing process present their own challenges. First, there are over 50 different recipes that can be used, and each of these may have up to 5 variations depending on product and customer. Raw materials can be bulky and in the case of fruit, can be affected greatly by different growing conditions and harvest times. This in turn can ultimately affect the final price per unit in terms of manufacture but can not often be passed on to the customer. Packaging also needs to be ordered up to 3 months in advance (labels and containers) and places further strains on the storage levels available to the company. Coles also faces multiple challenges arising from the actual manufacturing processes, some of which derive from the fact that all production is handled by just one line and that everything needs to be fully traceable. One of the companys objectives is to produce the correct amount of product to be packed the following day, before being taken to secure third-party storage.
Prior to Coles investment in SSL WinMan in 2003, the company had been using a DOS-based system. This system had a number of problems associated with it; most notably difficulties affecting input and output of data. Being DOS-based, it was keyboard-intensive and even simple requests involved multiple text menus. Data continually had to be abbreviated in order to fit in with the programs fixed data field lengths, and could only be entered in upper case. This could lead to product names that bore no resemblance to what the products were in real life. Coles called on the services of an external consultant who identified that the replacement solution of choice should offer traceability, flexibility, stock control and value for money. Given Coles previous experience, it was also determined that the solutions provider would provide ongoing help, with training and support where required. It would also be a long-established company with a proven solutions set. With these criteria in mind, SSL WinMan was deemed to be the best candidate.
Production manager Simon Hatcher recalled the actual implementation: He pointed out that it was a nightmare in many ways, mainly because of the type of data involved and the way it was stored in the companys previous system. SSL transferred what historical data it could, but much of this we had to do by hand, he said. All the Bill of Material (BoM) information we had to define and enter in WinMan, with each product having anything up to 20 steps. But it was worth it, because once we had the main products entered, we could use an existing BoM and simply amend where required. This itself was a big help as we didnt need to enter every single product into the system before we could go live.
The go-live itself happened after a month of parallel running with the companys previous system, and coincided with the start of the busiest time of the year for Coles. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it was only after Christmas that the company was able to reflect back on the role the new system had played. Hatcher pointed out that, even in the midst of the busiest times, while staff were still getting used to SSL WinMan, they were able to appreciate the ease of using the system and of not having to type in upper case all the time. Hatcher added that they also enjoyed easier access to the data and benefited from the data being more meaningful, with a full and clear product description that could be held in the system.
Access to the data has also been vastly improved, and Coles can now generate accurate and complex reports that show at a glance the management information it requires. SSL WinMan has also brought benefits to the interaction between Coles and its third-party warehousing partner. Now, Coles is able to provide the warehouse with not only a list of products and quantities, but also details of the final customer of a product. Therefore, the warehouse is better able to utilise its own space more efficiently and pick products more effectively, helping Coles to get products to customers on time.
Coles manufacturing master plan is now generated by WinMan based on historical sales data plus any targeted sales increases. This two-week working plan is then used to generate appropriate works orders and informs which recipe/mixture sheets are to be used. Given that unpredictable factors can occur on a daily basis from spillage of mixture to delivery problems of raw materials the actual works order levels are entered at the end of the day. They are then compared with the projected works order levels from WinMan. The works order is then allocated either against an existing proposed order where one exists, or against a newly created one. By working this way, stock controls are much tighter because at the end of every day the system is updated to reflect the actual stock levels and not just the projected stock levels.