James T Blakeman & Co Limited roll out their new TROPOS system

Sausage makers have always enjoyed a special place in the nations heart. Although such firms might follow old traditions, James T Blakeman & Co Limited has enthusiastically embraced modern technology too. Thanks to SSI, James T Blakeman & Co has introduced new IT systems to reduce production costs, increase management information, and ensure full traceability.

As one of the UKs largest independently-owned sausage makers, James T Blakeman & Co has state-of-the-art manufacturing, storage and distribution facilities. Based in Stoke-on-Trent, the company employs 90 staff with a turnover of 11 million. Sausages are produced for catering, food service, and retail customers as well as for export.

Before its recent investment in the TROPOS enterprise resource planning system, the company relied heavily on manual systems along with applications for invoicing, ledgers and traceability. As production planning and stock-takes used paper-based methods, managers found it difficult to complete accurate reports or track raw ingredients to finished product.

According to Managing Director Phil Blakeman, production planners had a particularly demanding job. There was a worrying tendency towards small uneconomic production runs to replenish manually-calculated stock levels.

"Although a manual production record was made at the end of each day, it was becoming inaccurate and our costs were rising. Management was also burdened with far too much paperwork," said Blakeman.

A new computer-based solution was required for full traceability, better quality control, and a complete understanding of stock-in-hand in relation to works orders for optimum production planning. Core business applications needed to be closely integrated to provide the right information for management decision-making. Manual paper systems would be replaced with barcodes, touch screens, and label printers, for real-time tracking of ingredients, production movements and stock.

Several suppliers were carefully evaluated in the search for a resilient end-to-end solution. James T Blakeman & Co went to see SSIs TROPOS, an integrated supply chain and manufacturing system, at Uniq in Paignton, Greenalls Distillery, and Cauldron Foods. SSI was found to have "far better support and size of business" than the other suppliers considered.

The decision to use TROPOS for planning, production and financial reporting was well founded. Not only were SSI specialists in process industries but TROPOS offered a superior level of reporting. It also met all the companys requirements off-the-shelf for a lower cost of ownership.

By early 2004, a phased deployment was underway. SSI provided full implementation services including process review, documentation, solution design, configuration, training, technical support, and implementation support. The new system is now also managed by SSI.

TROPOS was installed on Windows servers to cover sales orders, forecasts, purchasing, scheduling, inventory, warehousing, despatch, product traceability, and customer relationship management. It was integrated with CODA Financials for sales invoicing and accounting, Mitrefinch for payroll, and business intelligence from Cognos.

In the production areas, Nematron industrial PCs handle production recording with Intermec label printers for labelling and Intermec handheld barcode scanners linked via a radio-frequency network. Described as second to none in terms of quality, SSIs training programme ensured that, by August 2004, everything had gone live.

TROPOS now provides user-friendly features like web-enabled access, visual planners and business intelligence. Manual production planning sheets have gone from the walls, other paperwork eliminated and stock muddles ended. Thanks to shop floor automation and programmed factory disciplines, TROPOS maintains high levels of stock accuracy, supports quality controls, and ensures batch traceability.

"At the touch of a button, I can see production figures and the system will tell me about any wastage too. It's superb," said Blakeman. "Managers and supervisors know exactly what theyve got to do and, at the end of each day, we now have very accurate figures."

TROPOS has also improved communication between production departments while posting financial information to CODA for sales invoicing and accounting. Cognos is used to provide online business reporting via data marts. Managing Director Phil Blakeman can drill into the details to identify yields, costs, profitability, and waste of each department.

"The major benefit for us is productivity costs. Our productivity is now starting to increase because we can do better planning. TROPOS is enabling us to get the best cost-efficiencies from everything," said Blakeman. "It helps us make big savings and better decisions in the business."

Given this new insight, TROPOS is also helping James T Blakeman & Co offer keen product pricing in a demanding marketplace. Whats more, product traceability puts the company "far in advance" of similar manufacturers.

"Everybody is very impressed with what they are seeing from the TROPOS system," said Blakeman. "We have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about our choice of SSI and TROPOS. The level of commitment and support that SSI has given us is second to none."

In April 2005, TROPOS will be extended into a brand-new 1.3 million distribution centre. After that, it will introduced into a sister company, James T Blakeman (Services) Ltd, which produces cooked sausages. When it comes to the business of making British bangers, James T Blakeman & Co is leading the way.

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