While manufacturing varies slightly between different sites, many of the core process steps remain the same. Take the main manufacturing base in Bournemouth for example which supplies primarily to Airbus in addition to other leading aerospace companies. Orders are received electronically and directly from a supplier portal, typically on a 2 week call off basis from forecasts which might extend up to 2 years. These are checked to see that order data remains between buffer stock and Master Production Schedule (MPS) capabilities, or as Eric Shelley, Business Information Systems Manager for Magellan puts it, “to ensure we keep a smooth drum beat of regular orders to help maximise the use of our capacity.”
This smoothness of flow extends not only to each of the production processes themselves – machining, treating, painting, assembly (where required) and dispatch – but also to the flow of orders between each process. However, this is complicated by the scale and variety of manufacturing that Magellan has to accommodate, as Shelley explains. “Just at this one plant, we might have as many as 3400 live works orders. The shortest may only take half an hour while the longest can involve up to 53 different operations and literally take months to complete.”
No wonder that Shelley identifies balancing load versus capacity as one of Magellan’s major business challenges as well as ensuring consistency of on-time delivery. Working in an international market also leaves the company having to deal with currency fluctuations which can affect everything from cost and availability of raw materials and labour, all of which can directly affect the final price of an order. Given the need to have smoothness of flow, it is also not a surprise that one of Magellan’s key challenges is extending this smoothness as far into its supply chain as possible. This is especially the case when dealing with suppliers thousands of miles away.
Scenarios which therefore are the hardest to deal with include the smooth introduction of new orders and responding to problems with machine resources and/or stock levels. Shelley again, “Because we look to keep a smooth drumbeat and making maximum use of our resources, introducing a new order can be highly complex in terms of not overloading our existing capacity. Introducing such an order without clear visibility of the impact this may have can have significant knock-on effects for our on-time delivery.” He continues, “This can be further compounded by problems which may arise with our capacity itself, especially unexpected machine failure. We need to be able to respond swiftly and smoothly to this.” Furthermore, given the scale of work at Magellan, it’s possible to lose track of an order that is a Work in Progress either because it’s scrapped or reworked without anything being updated. Either way, the customer still doesn’t get their order when they need it.