Bennett Opie has grown from humble origins in 1880 to a £12 million turnover, leading manufacturer of quality pickles and preserves that are enjoyed by families in the UK and across the world. The company operates a manufacturing and a distribution centre in Sittingbourne, Kent, and supplies to all the leading multiples and the food service sector with 75 per cent of its production destined for the UK and the remainder going to Europe and beyond.
Whilst certain pickles are much more popular than others, Opies' product range extends to approximately 400 SKUs. It manufactures on a 90/10 split between Make To Stock (MTS) and Make To Order (MTO) with the former having a typical lead time of 1-3 days and the latter between 1 to 3 weeks depending on product. To meet these orders, Opies runs 4 main production lines – 2 product type specific and 2 with multiple product capabilities – with additional hand packing capabilities when required.
Paul Fox joined Opies in 1999 and is business development director. His arrival was a catalyst for implementing significant changes to the company's manufacturing and he outlines the key challenges a company like Opies faces. "A food company like ours has 3 main considerations: forecast accuracy, stock control and production. If the forecast is wrong, you either end up making too little or too much product. If your stock control is poor, you either end up with surplus stock which is waste or a shortfall which means you are unable to meet your customer orders. In terms of production, you need to maximise the efficiency of your product lines to avoid costly downtime due to poor planning especially where lengthy changeover times are involved."
Meeting customer demand
Further challenges exist in the area of raw materials and stock control with Opies buying in against contract and drawing down according to order and demand. However, as products have tight windows of availability and which are highly susceptible to disruption, pricing can be highly volatile. Shortages can also put acute pressure on the manufacturing and production side of the business because failure to get each batch right first time and the resulting waste could make the vital difference between meeting customer demand or not.
The greatest potential difficulty in terms of production comes from dealing with such a large range of product types each with different shapes and sizes of packaging. Sequence dependent changeovers are lengthy with each line needing to be recalibrated in terms of jar size, cap type and size, filler header and label type and size. Even allowing for the ideal of a half-day run this still represents a minimum of 4 hours changeover per week.
Worst case scenario
Prior to its investment in EFACS, Opies had relied on a disconnected set of computerised and paper systems with nothing interacting with each other because nothing could. The disjointed systems led to data duplication, data variance between these duplications and lines of communication that were prone to misunderstanding and error. The consequences were extremely serious as Fox explains. "In the earlier worst case scenario, we'd have to scrap an entire batch which could feasibly leave us with a stock shortfall of a key ingredient and a potentially disappointed customer."
As mentioned, Fox was a catalyst for change when he arrived as then special projects manager in 1999 with one of his tasks being to help move the company to a more efficient way of doing things. In light of this, Opies approached the selection process for an integrated ERP solution from a different perspective to many manufacturers. Instead of a very detailed wish list of system criteria, Opies knew it would need to develop a partnership with a supplier that would help show us the possibilities a modern, integrated ERP system could offer and how to make best use of these."
Understanding business needs
Exel had already impressed by providing an initial demonstration which showed EFACS to be so intuitive that it allowed Fox and others in the company to see for themselves how easy it would be to use and to set up. This was followed up by a presentation that clearly showed Exel understood Opies' business needs and how EFACS could address these. This ease of use combined with comprehensive functionality and solid value for money led to a quick decision to invest in EFACS.
Implementation commenced in Jan 2001 with senior management attending in-depth training at Exel's dedicated training centre where they learned a much greater level of how the system worked and could be used. All other training was done on site by an Exel consultant over a period of 6 months. This involved hands-on training with each operative covering how they would need to use the system with the training system using real data from Opies. One of the other key benefits from having such regular access to an Exel consultant was the depth of system and business knowledge Exel could pass on to Opies.
Dramatic reduction of mistakes
Exel also remained on site when Opies went successfully live in June 2001 and, by doing so, was able to answer any real-life questions and provide immediate fine tuning to the system when required. Unsurprisingly the first visible benefit was the dramatic reduction of mistakes being made throughout the business. The combination of everyone knowing what they were doing combined with the inherent benefits of a single database-driven, fully integrated system with intelligent workflow removed data duplication and data variance errors at a stroke. It also saved considerable amounts of time which could then be re-invested in business process improvement in every area. Greater accuracy of data leads directly to greater stock control and manufacturing efficiency with no worst case studies and wastage to deal with.
In terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Fox simply cites an increase in right first time, a decrease in inventory, and increase in customer service and a traceability system that allows a forward and backwards trace to be completed in minutes. He therefore concludes very positively, "Our stock levels are always right, our production and work flow is always right. EFACS just gets it right, every time – what more do you need?"