Modec drives ahead with Exel Computers

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Founded in 2004, Modec is at the forefront of purpose built, zero emission commercial vehicles using the very latest in battery technology and Lean manufacturing techniques.

Since production began in 2007, the company has steadily grown and now has over 90 leading automotive team members working together to supply an expanding UK and European network with customers including Tesco and many local governments. Given the very new nature of the market, Modec recognised the need for an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that could grow with the company and be flexible enough to adapt to a rapidly evolving business environment.

While Modecs Coventry factory is purely an assembly plant, the successful delivery of the right vehicle to the right customer at the right time depends on managing a complex and highly variable series of business processes and overcoming the inherent challenges associated with this type of business. At the heart of this is the fact that each Modec vehicle is essentially a standard vehicle but with a number of potential configurations including wheelbase length, body style and other options. Modec is often approached by customers looking for a vehicle which will meet their specific requirements and this may involve a degree of fine tuning or customising of the standard configuration options. Standard vehicle lead times are typically four weeks while customised models can take up to 12 weeks depending on the amount of sub-contracting involved. There are a range of other issues to take into account on the customer side, including the need to ensure the vehicle is suitable for the companys operation as well as checking that the appropriate power supply is in place.

As Business Systems Manager, Stuart Morris, explains, the first challenge begins with specifying the vehicle that the customer requires. Modec has a wealth of production experience about what works and what doesnt when it comes to the possible permutations of any vehicle. It is a skilled task to consider this while taking into account the customers particular requirements. It can literally add days to an order to do what might seem a very minor bodywork alteration which may not deliver any functional benefit to the customer. He continues, Needless to say, it is essential to then accurately record the exact specification details and for this to be passed through to our logistics and manufacturing teams.

Given that each vehicle has approximately 340 parts sourced from over 200 suppliers, supplier management is critical to Modecs success. With various components being highly specialised and often involving significant lead times, it is essential to ensure a continuity of supplies and to have a range of contingency suppliers. As ever, quality is a prerequisite, as is availability of supply. Modec aims to operate as Lean as possible but as Morris points out, this does not mean having zero stock levels. Lean is about the removal of waste but not at the expense of the customer getting their order on time. We have to keep a minimum level of stock of key items which may have lead times longer than our own. Forecast accuracy is therefore important to us, especially on larger orders.

Once an order is confirmed, the assembly process is relatively straight forward with a pick list and routing card being generated and the vehicle being assembled and tested according to tightly defined timescales. Servicing however is more complex because the real-world longevity and performance of components is often only discovered in real world use which leads to a steady stream of part revisions. All of these need to be carefully recorded and monitored so that if a particular component appears to have developed a problem, this can be proactively dealt with across existing vehicles. As Morris notes, Once you are aware of a problem, you are then in a position to deal with it and to take preventative steps where required.

Running throughout Modec is the importance placed on accuracy and consistency of data at every stage of the business. For Morris this is one of the core requirements for success, from being able to accurately specify and record orders, to purchasing the right components in the right quantities in the right time frames, to having visibility of which order is where in the production process, to reviewing performance of vehicles in service. When he joined Modec in 2006 the company was in its early stages and data was spread across different spreadsheets used by different individuals. To begin with only finance and engineering data was stored in the companys Exel EFACS ERP system. He recalls the reason why EFACS had not been expanded into the other areas of the company. There was a prevailing view at the time that because Modec was focussing on Lean manufacturing, there was no need for any of the MRP and related functionality to be used.

Morris correctly challenged this and began to develop the production capabilities with EFACS in order to move towards an integrated production strategy. I had experience in many areas within the automotive industry, explains Morris, and could see the advantages of using EFACS, especially for keeping on top of our processes as they develop and evolve as our understanding of the market grows. All the production modelling was carried out in EFACS to verify its capabilities and took into consideration the expert input from different areas within the business. The benefit of this is that now EFACS holds what Morris describes as all the joined up information within the company which means that whenever one element is changed, the whole system can be updated.

Given the evolutionary approach of Modec with its EFACS system, there was no traditional go live as such. The system was updated to the latest version and since April 2007 EFACS has been used for stock control, routing, sales, and servicing. Given the lack of performance metrics prior to this and the evolving nature of the business, quantifiable data on performance benefits is difficult to determine. What is certain however is the increased accuracy of data and visibility of this across the company. This begins at the Sales Order process where a Sales Form, based on the EFACS system configurator, makes it much quicker and easier for Sales personnel to meet customer requirements and ensure their specific vehicle configuration is viable. Morris credits this with a significant time saving of five days for each vehicle lead time. This in turn makes it much easier to manage the companys supplier network and to reduce the amount of unquantifiable time on a custom process which can impact the smooth scheduling of the shopfloor.

While very pleased with the system so far, Morris has ongoing development plans for the future as the company continues to grow. Weve come a long way in three years but theres still huge potential for growth. We want to remove any possibility of data inaccuracy which means implementing bar coding throughout the assembly process so an accurate record can be kept of what process is actioned and when it is completed. We also want to further develop our use of workflow within EFACS as well as the systems CRM (Customer Relationship Management) potential. The good thing about EFACS is that it provides an enabling, flexible platform on which to build as our company continues to grow and develop.

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