Since implementing Seiki Systems powerful real time graphical scheduling software, the Creative Group has dramatically cut lead times and improved its on-time delivery to customers, as well as effectively increasing its production capacity without purchasing additional manufacturing equipment.
Within its 11,500 ft2 facility in Worthing, West Sussex, the Creative Group employs 28 highly skilled staff in a lean manufacturing environment to generate a turnover of 2.8 million. Originally established in 1970, the company initially supported the instrumentation industry. This expertise was then augmented with the introduction of parts and assemblies such as coupling, joints and valves for the vacuum industry.
With a background in high precision scientific instrumentation Creative Group has a strong reputation as solution providers, getting many of the jobs that other suppliers and subcontract facilities do not want to carry out. "Many customers give us work that they don't want to do internally, as it may affect their core business. Our reputation is based on handling difficult jobs and getting them right. We work with the customer's design engineers to resolve problems before they commit to production, so we also offer that technical support service," explains operations manager, Mike Dean.
Aerospace is the benchmark standard to work to, which is why the company has AS9100 and NADCAP accreditations in place. However, its customer base is spread evenly across all of the most demanding industry sectors, including medical which accounts for 22 per cent, aerospace at 23 per cent, vacuum and pressure instrumentation also at 23 per cent, 10 per cent each for semi conductor and process instrumentation sectors, and the remaining is general engineering.
While this spread provides some protection against demand fluctuations it does come with its own set of problems, for example batch sizes range typically between 1 and 50 and rarely go over 200. As production manager, Kevin Williams, says: "The high variety of complex work going through the workshop did cause problems for us. We had traditionally used spreadsheets to plan production, but even the best spreadsheet in the world could only cover say two weeks ahead, anything longer and there are far too many variables to consider. We were spending up to 80 hours per week chasing our tails with production planning and still only managed on-time delivery of 52 per cent. This also left no time for us to go and see existing or potential customers."
At the start of 2010, Seiki Systems scheduling software was initially installed, but it exposed too many problems in the business in terms of inaccurate legacy data. The brave decision was made to turn off the software to correct the background data before going 'live' again with Seiki Systems. Having invested the time and effort in improving all aspects of the production information the company started running Seiki Systems software behind the scenes in June 2010, giving the scheduled production information to the works foreman as spreadsheets for continuity. Then, in October 2010 the software went live for everybody to see and use from the top floor to the shop floor.
Since then the improvements to the business performance have been dramatic. "As a business tool Seiki Systems has exposed the opportunities for improvement and has given the top level management the time to focus on the things that can increase our capacity, making us more efficient. This is being reflected by significant additional orders coming from our existing customers because we are now 95 per cent on time with deliveries," says Kevin Williams.
He continues: "The customer doesn't need to know how you operate internally they are more interested in price, delivery and quality, but not necessarily in that order. Delivery and quality come first. Price, actually, when you are delivering consistently on time is a secondary consideration because a 100 part which is guaranteed to be on time may affect a customer's 500,000 project further down the line, so for the customer on-time delivery is more critical. For such customers we operate a kanban system to ensure that the demand is being fed from our resources in the factory. The only way we can manage that effectively is through Seiki Systems software."
With Progress Plus MRP software already in use across the company it was vital that the new scheduling software could communicate accurately. "For us Progress Plus is the right tool to run the administration of the business," Mike Dean points out. "Many people get confused and think that the MRP system runs the whole business, it doesn't. You need a proper scheduling system to run the production of the business and that's what people forget. Seiki Systems provides that link to the shop floor."
The managers evaluated and compared a number of scheduling packages before selecting Seiki Systems. Having looked at software from other leading suppliers in some detail, Kevin Williams had a demonstration of the powerful functionality of Seiki Systems and compared it to these other systems. After the demonstration the choice was easy, it was the one the company wanted to use. It was also the most cost-effective system, offering exceptional value for money.
He says: "The main competitive product was not able to cope with the fast changes in our business where we might make 30, 40 or even 50 in-production decisions in a day. The visibility of data was also poor and could not be manipulated in the system in the way that we needed. People want an easy to use system, that's what Seiki's software does for us it provides fast, visual feedback.
"Similarly, the other strong contender could not be easily manipulated. For example, within Seiki Systems software, if someone is not coming to work for a couple of days we put another person in and change the efficiency literally with a keystroke. Or, if we can't replace that person because they are being deployed elsewhere, we can just take out that work centre for the day, and you are provided with an immediate visual impact of the effects that has on production."
It was the ease of use and what the system could do for Creative Group that has made all the difference with the choice. Seiki Systems allows the company to predict problems and also load potential customer capacity for jobs that have a high probability of coming in. Also, if a number of jobs have been quoted for using a standard lead time and the load on the workshop increases the detailed capacity planning in the software provides us with accurate delivery forecasts.
"As a business tool we are looking forward to using it when we achieve our target of filling the order book up to 12 months ahead," Mike Dean says. "Traditionally we only saw 6-10 weeks ahead. Now we have changed the sales operation to fulfil at least 50 per cent of our order book a year ahead. This enables us to plan better and know where we are standing, and Seiki Systems helps us manage the stock of 750-plus items which operate within the kanban systems."
Before implementing the software any product development opportunities for customers were carried out as and when they were required, because they were seen as important sales opportunities. What could not be easily seen was the damage that was doing to the production schedule and subsequently to other customers' deliveries. Now, before any commitment to produce the parts is made, Seiki Systems allows the company to take the resources required out of the virtual production schedule and thus highlighting the potential impact on every other job in the factory.
Kevin Williams says: "This is really important to any business, because research and development for both your customers and your own business is the lifeblood of success. Unless you can manage that effectively without adversely affecting your existing customers you will not be as successful as you could be, and Seiki Systems gives us the visibility of managing prototype work without adversely affecting our production."
For a number of years the Creative Group has been using its MRP system for shop floor data collection, so the operator logs on the job, logs off the job, puts the quantities through including scrap, and that data gets fed back and compared to the sales order. Seiki Systems engineers have integrated their SFDC with Progress Plus which seamlessly keeps all the production data aligned and up to date.
"Prior to going live with the software most of our phone calls from customers centred on them chasing parts that were late. Today, most of the calls are for new enquiries," Kevin Williams states. "Since we have been using the software the additional throughput makes it feel like we have around 15 per cent more capacity, without employing any extra people or investing in any more machines. And that is a conservative estimate because the lead time for a majority of work going through has been cut from 8 to 10 days down to 3 to 5 days. Now customers can get parts to us to be worked at the last minute and we turn them around."
There are five discreet sections operated by the company that are scheduled using Seiki Systems. They are currently set at an efficiency of 75 per cent throughout the factory, but most of them are running at 87.5 per cent with one section highlighted as requiring some engineering input. "At least we now know where to focus our efforts," Kevin Williams says. "There is far more visibility about what work has to be done and the timeframe. A manual system is only as good as the man on the machine and there is little confidence in the amount of work that can be completed. Now everyone has a job queue that is accurate and they are presented with realistic achievable targets."
Seiki Systems has allowed the management to focus the company in the direction they feel best, allowing them to macro manage rather than micro manage all aspects of the business for future growth. It is continually growing in terms of how the Creative Group uses it, bringing the purchase order to invoice processes as close together as possible without compromising on quality. The only way to do that is to have accurate information on what is happening there and then, and what is possible in your manufacturing environment.
Kevin Williams concludes: "Although it is easy to get excited about machining or welding or assembly what we have to focus on is what we are selling, and that is time. It has to be sold in the most profitable manner possible, and what Seiki Systems is doing is giving us a reflection of the time that we sell in a graphical format. How we use and manipulate that time enables us to be more efficient and it also frees up more capacity to sell."