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Martin Aerospace

Martin Aerospace is a global supplier of precision manufactured products to aerospace and other quality critical industries.

The Client

The company based in Lanark, Scotland, has grown steadily from its genesis in 1993 and now boasts a 60 strong workforce which helped generate a turnover in 2007 of £4.5m. Such is the company’s reputation that it works extensively with leading global aerospace manufacturers, all of which demand the most rigorous manufacturing processes. When Martin Aerospace needed to replace their existing fragmented systems it was obvious to them that EFACS from Exel Computer Systems would meet their needs.

Requirements

Martin Aerospace has steadily developed its aerospace business to the extent that this now comprises 80% of the company’s entire workload. A walk-through of the company’s business processes shows the challenges it faces in ensuring consistent quality delivered on time to the most demanding of customers.

Orders are received complete with a set of drawings and can range from a batch as small as 5-10 up to as large as 3000. A typical batch however is approximately 200. The drawings are quickly reviewed and validated for manufacturing capabilities and once approved, the order is passed to materials purchasing/stores. A simple MRP run is made to determine the materials required and whether these are available from stock or whether unique materials need to be purchased for the order.

Given the high value and rarity of some of the materials used, materials handling is a crucial component of the company’s ability to be successful.

At this stage, all other information relating to the job is added to a job card. This includes a full Bill of Materials (BoM) breakdown, work to lists, routing information and other subcontracting processes. A simple job can comprise of one process and be completed in under two hours, whereas a complex job may have 10 distinct process operations, including a range of subcontracting operations and take up to six weeks to finish. Once this information is assembled, raw materials are uniquely stamped for traceability purposes and issued from the stores along with the job card. From here the order progresses and is monitored by shop floor data collection across the production floor from turning, to milling and through to grinding before being dispatched for any subcontracting work. Following extensive quality checks, the product is then dispatched to the customer.

Andrew Wallace is IT Manager for Martin Aerospace and he outlines the major challenges the company faces. “Quality control and traceability is central to our business. Not just at a batch or individual product level, but right down to every process on every raw material item. One faulty bolt is enough to potentially bring down a plane – so there can be no margin for error.” Because of this, not only is every process recorded once it is completed, the product is quality checked at each stage at a sample/batch level. Each individual product is then rigorously tested across every required parameter before being dispatched.

Wallace is quick to point out another reason why orders are checked at each stage – cost. “We deal with exotic and very expensive materials which is why we aim to maximise our yield for every batch produced.” The exotic nature of the raw materials leaves it open to significant fluctuations in terms of price and availability, all of which can affect not just the time taken to deliver the finished product, but also the costs involved in producing the order.

Another challenge lies in managing the flow of work to and from the company’s list of approved subcontractors. As Wallace remarks, “the best laid production schedule can be ruined by unforeseen delays at a subcontractor level, leading to failed delivery dates and less than happy customers.” Other challenges are those traditionally associated with managing production lines – namely maximising capacity while avoiding capacity constraints which in turn necessitates minimising changeovers and optimising sequencing of product through the company’s varied machine resources. While keen to point out that given the company’s inherent flexibility, the vast majority of components can be made across a wide variety of resources, there is a significant time difference between using the optimum machines and not.

Prior to investing in EFACS from Exel Computer Systems, the company had relied on a mixture of complex Excel spreadsheets, 5 disparate IT systems and “good old pen and paper”. This meant that it was simply impossible for anyone to accurately identify where any particular job was, at any time on the production floor without physically going onto the floor and finding it. Not only was this very time intensive, it meant pulling staff off an existing job to do so which further added to the time cost involved. They would then have to manually forward plan from there to determine an approximate completion time.

The company also had zero visibility of the true costing of each process and ultimately it was only at the end of a production run that costs could be accurately identified and therefore any profit determined.

Another problem lay in the specialisation of knowledge within the company or as Wallace puts it, “everything tended to be in the head of the Production Manager which was fine as long as he wasn’t ill or on holiday.” This extended to all the other disparate systems which tended to have a very select group of people who used them and therefore understood how to access the information within. This lack of visibility extended to managing stock levels and availability, especially if deliveries arrived mid production run or were later than scheduled. “We’d also have problems with different people having different means of trying to keep track of the same information” adds Wallace. “Our Production Manager and Stock Manager would each keep a record of the same information which was not only wasteful but could lead to problems when variances occurred.” Finally, the confusion surrounding data added to a general tendency to only really trust on a gut feeling level and often not what the IT system generated report said.

Solution

As well as these obvious difficulties, Martin Aerospace found itself under growing pressure from customers to be working, and seen to be working, with the latest manufacturing business systems. Not only this, targets set by the board were becoming increasingly impossible to hit with the existing departmentalised way of working. What was needed was a fully integrated system that would replace all the fragmented systems and allow true visibility and communication between different departments and across the company as a whole.

After attending several trade fairs and meeting a number of vendors, Wallace began to draw information from all areas within the company and found that the company had a very definite idea of what it needed. As he recalls, “From accounts through stock control, from traceability through to real-time production control, it was immediately apparent that EFACS was the system that stood out as meeting all of our needs.” Further discussions took place and in November 2001, Martin Aerospace invested in EFACS.

An implementation plan was drawn up which necessitated exporting all the relevant data from Martin Aerospace’s existing systems and reworking this to import into EFACS. This was easier than trying to document and systematise all the process steps and related information that different people within the company uniquely held. This included much of the process steps and routing information for all of the next quarters business, so that the company could begin using EFACS as quickly as possible.

Because of this approach, the sales department were using EFACS in under a month with stocks and purchasing having to go live in less than a week. Wallace recalls those early days of using the system. “We didn’t have any choice but to go live early and most importantly, we had to keep working no matter what. This meant updating each job as we went along and ironing out the data issues as and when they occurred.”

By January 2002, the company was fully up and running on EFACS and the benefits were beginning to show. Arguably one of the most notable impacts of EFACS was the removal of all the pain and time involved with the manual creation of each unique works order. Now EFACS simply generated them automatically with complete BoM and routing information, including bar code information so that every process step could be logged in real-time, thereby ensuring that the system was fully up to date.

Results

This real-time updating of information brought immediate and massive improvements in visibility across the entire company and to significant depths as Wallace explains. “With EFACS storing all relevant data and being updated as soon as anything happened, we could immediately see where each job was on the production floor, and its completion time – at both a process step and total level.” Not only did this immediately contribute to the large time savings EFACS is credited with across the company, it was itself crucial in helping Martin Aerospace to analyse completed job cards, and use this information to determine whether the efficiency can be improved, or the jobs exited.

Another area which benefited from the outset was purchasing and stock control. Given the scarcity of materials, it was safer although much more costly to buy in a surplus amounts of stock rather than run out. “Now with EFACS”, recalls Wallace, “we were able to confidently buy only what we needed when we needed it.” He continues, “This also meant that stores only needed to issue exactly the right amount of raw materials per job which in turn massively reduced Work in Progress (WIP) and also reduced the tendency to over manufacture product which would then cause storage problems.” Given that this was a number of years ago and against a backdrop of no clear visibility, Martin Aerospace can’t fully quantify precisely how much of a cost saving this proved, but Wallace smiles when he says, “it’s an awful lot of money.”

One of the additional benefits of the increased visibility was the improvement in cohesion between different areas within the business because everybody soon came to see the impact of their decisions on others. This combined with the consistent accuracy of EFACS also helped to win over initial suspicion about using a company-wide system. It also helped the company as a whole explore more of the flexibility inherent in EFACS with a view to making maximum use of the system to help meet customer demands. Wallace adds at this stage that the system flexibility is amply matched by its reporting capabilities. “The ability to customise reports to draw all the data together and then select the specific information you require has ensured that you can always access what you need, when you need it.”

In fact, thanks to EFACS, Wallace believes it’s now possible to do as much business in one day than it previously took a week to do. And the system is still evolving in step with the company, with Wallace looking to further refine the planning and scheduling capabilities to take into account increased capacity arising from new machine investments. This in turn will generate more ‘what if’ capabilities because the company will have even more ways of utilising its resources to deliver products on time to its customers. It is therefore understandable that with regards to EFACS, he says, “We couldn’t live without it now – it helps keep the company alive and we couldn’t have got to where we are without it.”

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