Doncasters Blaenavon works entirely on a manufacture to blueprint basis treating every product as a one-off unique product. This is not just because of the potential design variations possible with a product range that spans from 100mm up to 3.5m, it is due to the very nature of the materials and manufacturing processes involved. As Richard White, Business Development Manager explains, “No two products behave the same throughout the varying processes that each may require. We’re dealing with individual bits of metal that have unique properties and characteristics and putting them through processes which affect each product differently. For example, a minor variation in the metal’s composition may require it to spend less or more time in the furnace. The rolling, expanding, and billeting operations can also be affected by ambient temperature amongst other things. This in turn can vary the number and order of various processes – typically around 40 per product.” In other words, planning an ideal work flow for each product is simply that, an ideal – the reality exists within a range of possibilities either side of this. What is a reality however is the need for each product to receive precisely the right amount of time at each stage, and to receive diligent on-site testing before a final Mechanical Test off-site. A further reality is having to utilise each resource effectively in order to avoid bottlenecks, maximise throughput, and ultimately ensure that the customer gets the required product in the required timescale.
This is not helped by the fact that the nature of markets served by Doncasters Blaenavon tend to run with pronounced peaks and troughs. Dealing with suppliers where some materials have lead times of up to 60 weeks and where deliveries may not be as reliable as desired is compounded further by the visibility of incoming stock being notoriously difficult to achieve. This in turn affects planning confidence. With different products taking different times for many reasons, planning which product was to be where was a continual challenge. Not only this, but visibility of what was actually happening on the plant floor compared to what was supposed to be happening, was practically impossible to achieve.
Prior to investing in EFACS from Exel Computer Systems, the company had relied on a standalone database system which offered very limited functionality but was good at what it did. It was supplemented by some in-house bespoke coding and a standalone accounting program but as White recalls, “It was still very much purely a manufacturing system. What we increasingly came to see the need for was a complete business management system.” Additional factors at work were continued growth within the Doncasters Group as a whole and the growing problems of synchronising 5-6 sites each with its own individual bespoke systems in order to generate group level business information and reports.