The Laidlaw Interiors Group today generates sales of £130 million and employs around 1500 people in 35 locations across the UK and overseas. The group comprises 9 companies that each specialise in aspects of the manufacture, source and supply of commercial building interiors, with customers able to buy anything from individual components directly from trade counters up to fully designed and fitted interior solutions for entire buildings.
At the heart of the group's continued drive to improve efficiency as well as customer service is the on-going rollout of the EFACS E/8 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system from UK based Exel Computer Systems plc.
Leading the way in the group is Komfort, a £45 million turnover company headquartered in Horsham, West Sussex, with 400 people working across 6 sites – 3 of which are dedicated manufacturing facilities. While 'only' having a range of 13 partitioning systems, this comprises over 12,000 individual part numbers with orders ranging from a few pounds for individual components through to millions for entire solutions. 70 per cent of the 300 daily orders are Make to Order (MTO) with the remainder being 'off the shelf'.
The company also has to deal with a significant level of inter-group orders. To meet this need, Komfort currently buys in 70 per cent of all components with the remaining 30 per cent being manufactured at its manufacturing sites based in Birmingham and Leeds. Production is conducted via multiple manufacturing and assembly cells and involves a high degree of sub-assembly with up to 200 orders happening at any one time.
A question of balance
This is far from the only challenge Komfort faces, as Ian Govier, head of IT & business systems, explains: "To begin with, our customer lead times are so short we have to balance optimum buffer stock levels with an accurate daily production plan. Our supplier lead times are longer than our customer lead times so we are reliant on accurate forecasting as well as the need to obtain maximum yields from our raw materials. We also have a very real need to know exactly what is happening on the shop floor as it's happening, especially when we are dealing with company to company orders which need to be accurately traced throughout the group."
The company had historically relied on an old configuration package as well as a very old, green screen ERP system which had no real manufacturing capabilities. In addition to a large amount of double entry data issues these systems couldn't communicate with any other system outside the company and the company therefore relied on a comprehensive collection of manual/spreadsheet-based workarounds to keep the business going. There were also real problems with visibility of actual capacity usage and stock location, especially problematic when dealing with inter-company orders. In addition to this, a condition of the company's recent acquisition by the Laidlaw group meant in only had 6-9 months to implement a replacement ERP system.
Arguably one of the main timesaving points was that it had already been decided to implement EFACS E/8 from Exel as this had been identified as the best ERP solution, not just for Komfort but for the entire group because of EFACS' hierarchical framework structure which makes it ideal for individual companies working within a combined group. EFACS also provides a built-in workflow facility that enables companies to automatically interact with each other while the powerful customisation facilities make it possible for the same solution to be tailored to the specific needs of each company. "Irrespective of what the user sees, everything across the entire group will ultimately be driven by EFACS E/8 in the backend," remarked Govier. "Flexibility is key for us and this type of implementation couldn't be accomplished with your typical ERP package."
Govier and Laidlaw's business systems manager Paul Wheatcroft put together a project team comprising key personnel from different elements of the company and used the mantra of 'systems – people – process – data' to map out the implementation strategy. Govier explains: "We knew we were using EFACS E/8 in addition to several other bespoke systems. We knew our existing processes were defined by people and that their workarounds resulted from the lack of flexibility of the existing system. In terms of data, we couldn't get at most of it and what we could get was very difficult to understand."
Despite this, the company successfully went live on 1 October 2012 and after some expected handholding in the first week, found that by the second week people were starting to make positive comments about EFACS E/8. The first area where real change was noticed was in the marked reduction in double data entry. And, whereas previously the only time the data was completely accurate was immediately after the overnight update, now everyone had access to accurate, real-time information in EFACS E/8 in a few seconds. People could also at last see what was going on, and where, and could trust the information they were shown. This has been accompanied by a general moving away from a culture of paper and workarounds.
Looking at the company from the perspective of 'systems – people – processes – data' there are early benefits in every one, with much more anticipated each. As a system, EFACS E/8 is now fully implemented and interacting seamlessly with the bespoke configurator as well other group-wide company systems. People are increasingly using EFACS E/8 more effectively and have benefited from it being tailored very specifically for their own work purposes. Processes have not had to be compromised in order to fit around the system – instead they have been able to be refined and improved upon because of EFACS E/8. And when it comes to data, Govier simply says: "All present and correct."
From a group perspective, Govier and Wheatcroft are already drawing up implementation plans to roll out EFACS E/8. Hence Wheatcroft concludes: "The data analysis potential and the sheer flexibility of EFACS E/8 across individual companies and then the group is huge. Everyone within the business stands to benefit."