Bennett Opie - Pickle and Preserve Manufacturer Benefits from Intelligent Workflow with EFACS

One of the oldest private family owned companies in the country, Bennett Opie has grown from humble origins in 1880 to a leading manufacturer of quality pickles and preserves that are enjoyed by families in the UK and across the world. The £12m turnover company operates a manufacturing and a distribution centre in Sittingbourne, Kent, home of the company since 1929, and is managed by the great grandsons of founder Bennett Opie. Opies supplies to all the leading multiples and the food service sector with 75% of its production destined for the UK and the remainder going to Europe and beyond. When Opies needed to replace its fragmented IT and paper-based systems, EFACS from Exel Computer Systems proved to be the best recipe for success.

Whilst certain pickles are much more popular than others, Opies' product range extends to approximately 400 SKUs. The company prides itself in the quality and care involved in every aspect of its production – from raw ingredient selection through to rigorous production processes to meet stringent customer expectations. 20% of Orders are now received via EDI but as these are mainly from large multiples, these account for 50% of the actual production with other orders coming in via fax, telephone and increasingly email. Opies manufactures on 90/10 split between Make To Stock (MTS) and Make To Order (MTO) with the former having a typical lead time of 1-3 days and the latter between 1 to 3 weeks depending on product. To meet these orders, Opies runs 4 main production lines – 2 product type specific and 2 with multiple product capabilities – with additional hand packing capabilities when required.

Paul Fox joined Opies in 1999 and is Business Development Director. His arrival was a catalyst for implementing significant changes to the company's manufacturing and he outlines the key challenges a company like Opies faces. "A food company like ours has 3 main considerations: forecast accuracy, stock control and production. If the forecast is wrong, you either end up making too little or too much product. If your stock control is poor, you either end up with surplus stock which is waste or a shortfall which means you are unable to meet your customer orders. In terms of production, you need to maximise the efficiency of your product lines to avoid costly downtime due to poor planning especially where lengthy changeover times are involved."

When it comes to forecast accuracy, Opies is fortunate that customer demand via multiples is fairly predictable, even allowing for the Christmas weighting of certain products. Only the food service sector offers the occasional challenge in terms of unexpected demand. Opies therefore compiles its forecast on a rolling monthly basis based on the previous years' sales figures and demand levels.

A much greater challenge however exists in the area of raw materials and stock control. While demand may be fairly consistent, availability of raw materials may not be. Opies buys in against contract and draws down according to order and demand, however as Fox explains, this doesn't necessarily guarantee supply. "We are sourcing products from all over the world – many of which have very narrow windows of availability and which are highly susceptible to disruption. Drought, flooding or disease can decimate an entire crop of a vital ingredient or push the price up dramatically. Because of the distances involved, we also have to deal with delays and problems in transportation."

Fox cites the current world shortage of lemons and silver skin onions as examples and this can lead to limited availability of a certain product which then brings complications of product shortages. This also puts acute pressure on the manufacturing and production side of the business because failure to get each batch right first time and the resulting waste could make the vital difference between meeting customer demand or not.

The greatest potential difficulty in terms of production comes from dealing with such a large range of product types each with different shapes and sizes of packaging. In addition to managing the flow of correct product down the appropriate line, sequence dependency is also critical to minimise time consuming changeovers. "A complicated product changeover can easily take an hour" explains Fox. "Not only does the line need cleaning to varying degrees depending on the difference between products, it also needs to be recalibrated in terms of jar size, cap type and size, filler header and label type and size. Even allowing for the ideal of a ½ day run this still represents a minimum of 4 hours per week." With Opies running a 40 hour, 4 day week, even a modest increase in the number of changeovers or changeover times can effectively take out an entire day's production.

Prior to its investment in EFACS, Opies had relied on a disconnected set of computerised and paper systems. Fox doesn't try to gloss over the difficulties – when he says disconnected, he means disconnected. "Our recipe system was an in-house program, our Sales Order Processing was handled by a commercial package while our accounts and stock handling were purely paper based. Nothing interacted with each other because nothing could!"

The problems arising from this approach are best summed up in Fox's worst case scenario where, "we'd make the wrong product in the wrong jar with the wrong label." The disjointed systems led to data duplication, data variance between these duplications and lines of communication that were prone to misunderstanding and error. The consequences were extremely serious as Fox explains. "In the earlier worst case scenario, we'd have to scrap an entire batch which could feasibly leave us with a stock shortfall of a key ingredient and a potentially disappointed customer. With regards to stock availability, we may plan a run because the stock system said we had enough ingredients only to find when we actually went to get them that they weren't there. The result would be a line standing idle while we have to reschedule our workflow."

As mentioned, Fox was a catalyst for change when he arrived as then Special Projects Manager in 1999. With a wide experience of the food industry he was quickly able to build a relationship with the company Directors who knew that there was a problem but not sure how best to fix it. "One of my tasks was to help move the company to a more efficient way of doing things."

In light of this, Opies approached the selection process for an integrated ERP solution from a different perspective to many manufacturers. Instead of a very detailed wish list of system criteria, Opies simply knew it was looking for something that represented good value, would work well and consistently well, and given the large degree of IT illiteracy in the company, a system that was easy and intuitive to learn and use. For Fox there was therefore just one acid test to pass. "We had no interest in sales pitches – we just wanted a company to demonstrate how its solution could help our specific requirements. We knew we would need to develop a partnership with a supplier that would help show us the possibilities a modern, integrated ERP system could offer and how to make best use of these."

From mostly internet-based research, the company ended up with a shortlist of 3 vendors that appeared to offer what was required. Exel had already impressed by providing a demonstration EFACS CD which was so intuitive that it allowed Fox and others in the company to see for themselves how easy it was to use and to set up. This was followed up by a presentation that clearly showed that Exel understood Opies' business needs and how EFACS could address these. This ease of use combined with comprehensive functionality and solid value for money led to a quick decision to invest in EFACS. As Fox recalls, "My lasting recollection was the sheer ease of use and the look and feel of the system. We also liked that we would be building a partnership directly with the authors of the software – those most knowledgeable about the system – and this proved invaluable during our implementation."

Implementation commenced in Jan 2001 with Opies wisely opting for a slow burn approach and a big bang go-live. One of the main contributing factors to the success of the implementation was Opies' approach to training. Senior management went to in-depth training at Exel's dedicated training centre where they learned a much greater level of how the system worked and could be used. All other training was done on site by Exel consultant Trevor Rush over a period of 6 months. This involved hands-on training with each operative covering how they would need to use the system with the training system using real data from Opies.

Fox again, "Because people were using information they understood about their daily role in the company, it was much easier for them to see not just how the system worked, but how it might help them do their job better." He continues, "People could ask real questions like, ‘How does EFACS handle pallets?', and Trevor would be able to walk them through each question." One of the other key benefits from having such regular access to an Exel consultant was the depth of system and business knowledge Exel could pass on to Opies. As Fox explains, "We knew various ways we were doing things weren't working properly. Many times Trevor would make suggestions about doing things differently which had a real impact on our overall business approach. This was exactly what we needed and as a result, we ended up with a business in much better shape than when we began and much better than we expected."

Exel also remained on site when Opies went successfully live in June 2001 and by doing so, was able to answer any real-life questions and provide immediate fine-tuning to the system when required. By doing so, confidence levels in EFACS never dwindled and people were able to get the best from the system from the outset.

Unsurprisingly the first visible benefit was the dramatic reduction of mistakes being made throughout the business. The combination of everyone knowing what they were doing combined with the inherent benefits of a single database driven, fully integrated system with intelligent workflow removed data duplication and data variance errors at a stroke. It also saved considerable amounts of time which could then be re-invested in business process improvement in every area. Greater accuracy of data leads directly to greater stock control and manufacturing efficiency with no worst case studies and wastage to deal with. Fox singles out the MRP functionality for special praise. "We now had complete and utter confidence in our ability to make the right decision on what to make, and when, for our entire product range for our full 12 month forecast."

In terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Fox simply cites an increase in right first time, a decrease in inventory, and increase in customer service and a traceability system that allows a forward and backwards trace to be completed in minutes. He therefore concludes very positively, "Our stock levels are always right, our production and work flow is always right. EFACS just gets it right, every time – what more do you need?"