INFORMATION: Free information is available from INFOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy


Based in Northampton, Hawes Signs Ltd employs 350 people, with a sales revenue of over  24m. A typical Hawes contract can be worth several million pounds and will involve all of the  internal and external signs for a petrol station chain, a country-wide car showroom refit or a major retail store refurbishment. Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain, is Hawes' biggest  customer. A typical store project would include all of the in-store signs, external car park and road signs, and the petrol station signs.

Sixty percent of the signs are fabricated in house, using a suite of NC punching, drilling and folding machines. Panels generally use the latest laminated-aluminium materials, with durable, high-gloss powder-coat paint finishes. The plastic light apertures are thermally-moulded acrylic and high-output LEDs are now replacing the traditional neon lamps.

Tesco is a particularly demanding customer, and this has been a driving force for the introduction of the Infor COM ERP system. Before implementing the system, Hawes was regularly receiving black marks for missed deadlines and poor service. Priorities and resources were juggled across projects on a "who shouts loudest" basis. This year, with Infor COM and its Projects module well established, and greatly improved business processes in place, they have received Tesco's highest "Blue Status" accolade and are top of the supplier league table for facilities and buildings.

As Steve Waters, Hawes' Business Systems Manager, says, "Infor COM has helped to bring order to our operation and greater continuity of customer service. The system sets the plan, and everyone knows what they have to do to meet it."

As an energetic and growing company, and with such high-profile clients, the pressure is intense to achieve year-end milestones. Last December was a particularly stressful time for the 24 project managers at Hawes Signs, chasing out deliveries against rapidly changing priorities. This year with Infor PROJECT in control, things have gone much more smoothly despite a higher level of sales shipments. According to New Contract Coordinator Andy Hills, last year's final quarter was, "completely out of control, whereas this year's was just as busy, but well controlled." One of the time-critical projects was a major high street refit of 340 travel agents scheduled for the 3 weeks before Christmas-successfully achieved on target.

And this year, instead of starting the new year with a full stock count involving the whole staff, the stock levels have been based on PPI (Perpetual Parts Inventory) counts taken during 2004. Using the improved knowledge of stock movements and project allocations from the system, finished goods stock has been rationalised from 2.3m to 1.3m.

In the past, projects at Hawes were planned on a set of unwieldy spreadsheets. According to Andy, "Infor PROJECT gives us much more flexibility - loading it, twisting it as the project evolves, and with invoicing. This has been particularly useful for the Tesco projects." A typical top-level project breakdown for a store, as mapped in Infor PROJECT, would be Internals, Externals and Petrol Station. Internals would breakdown further to Bakery, Deli and Pharmacy.

Externals would include car park signs and illuminated Tesco logos. The petrol station sub-levels would be Canopy, Kiosk and Jet-wash. With further breakdowns, a complete project might run to over 500 individual order lines.

For now, sales bids are prepared on spreadsheets. Successful bids are then loaded onto Infor using standard product structures, with adjustments as required. The project will start before everything is loaded, but tracking of estimated, planned and actual costs starts straightaway. As Andy says, "There is already a huge amount of data in Infor, and we are getting much better at analysing it and using it. The Accounts Department in particular are singing its praises as they can now analyse against costs centres and projects."

"Now that we have visibility of our margins, we can address issues," adds Steve Waters. "Managers armed with audit reports can home in on problems and ask questions of the right people. Major retailers are renowned for continuously squeezing margins. Now that we have full visibility of our costs, and a set of planned priorities, we are in a position to decline unprofitable business or disruptive last-minute orders."

Steve has worked with a number of manufacturing systems before. Of Infor he says, "Now I'm finding my way round it, I quite like it. The Projects module is much more flexible than a standard sales module." The overall objective is "One Plan", ie, everyone is working to the plan on the system. No priority shuffling, no unofficial shortcuts. This sets a constraint on the 24 project managers who in the past would bend things to have resources dedicated to their urgent project needs. As Steve says, "One plan reflects how much invoicing is left in the period, how many hours there are on the factory floor, and how much stock is left on the shelves." Each production cell is then driven by its work-to list. If there are problems, they are spotted much sooner and can be fixed more quickly. "Productivity has improved considerably," says Steve, "partly due to Infor, and partly from better overall scheduling".

Hawes has 38 two-man installation crews, and have just started to collect actual hours against the works orders. This means in excess of 100 bookings a day currently manually entered from time sheets, so Andy is investigating more direct keying methods. The teams will then be encouraged to book their hours more accurately to the different project phases in order to improve cost visibility.

Another initiative is taking place in the purchasing area. E-mailing of orders is already in use, but the next step is scheduled purchase orders, with call-offs, in order to smooth the flow of goods into the plant and to improve cash flows. Now that the system is producing much better vendor performance data, Jon Brook, the Purchasing Manager, plans to reduce the 1,400 current suppliers to a target of less than 500.

The original motivation for buying Infor COM was that Hawes needed to change its way of working in response to the external pressures on the business. Inevitably, this combination of process change and the implementation of a new system created some operational problems.

However, two years from going live the company is in a much stronger position. The Projects module was switched on 6 months ago, and is already producing further improvements to customer service and overall productivity. As Andy sums up, "We have just won a big contract from Toyota. Our use of Infor PROJECT was part of the bid. It 's one of our most important tools".

INFORMATION: Free information is available from INFOR on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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