In terms of business flow, much of the value-add is done before the order is dispatched to the production floor and its collection of 50+ production resources. When a Sales Order is received it is checked against customer enquiries before undergoing a product configuration process which generates the required part number. A Works Order is then raised, stock availability checked with the Works Order then checked by SSF’s Quality Manager for material certification conformity etc. The order is then released to the shop floor where it can undergo a wide range of operations that begin with a further quality check on the raw materials allocated for the order. After this, the product undergoes intermediate product forming before a variety of finishing processes, final inspection, final marking and then packing and despatch. Subcontracting can also occur at any stage of the process depending on the nature of the product.
Stephen Wilkinson, Managing Director of SSF, has been with the company for 26 years and explains the key business challenges his company has to deal with. “Let’s begin with the customer as ultimately everything revolves around the customer and their requirements. It is essential that we maintain excellent customer relations by delivering product and service of the highest quality.” He continues, “Because our customers may make annual purchases, it is also paramount that we keep just the right balance between continually being in our customer’s mind for when it comes to them making a purchase and not being a nuisance. This is especially the case where specific customers require very exotic materials which may have long lead times that we might need to pre-order.”
Another key challenge is the need for absolute accuracy at every stage of the business, especially at the early order processing stage. A single typing error may render an entire order unusable which can not only be costly given the nature of materials used, but also result in a customer not getting their order as expected. This is held in tension with the need to process orders and have them on the shop floor as quickly as possible in order to meet the tight lead times that are involved.
Visibility is also a major challenge and not just as expected on the shop floor as Wilkinson explains. “Having access to historical information, at a customer, order and stock level, is important to be able to make the best strategic and tactical decisions.” He cites the ability to review the price and availability of stock as an example. “We deal with materials with varying degrees of availability and fluctuating prices. By having a historical record of who tends to buy what, and when, we can time our buying to take advantage of particularly favourable conditions.”
As mentioned, flexibility is central to successfully making those all important delivery dates which is why SSF has a wide range of what Wilkinson refers to as “flexible routes of product realisation.” Quite often however, this is highly specialised information known only to key personnel in the company who can then make the decision as to which production route to use and in what circumstances. It is imperative that resources are utilised efficiently although as Wilkinson adds, “always with a strong sense of the cost/benefit involved.” Finally, traceability is essential with different products requiring different degrees of testing in order to conform to customer requirements.