Doncasters Achieves Instant Business Intelligence with EFACS E/8

Doncasters Blaenavon is part of the Doncasters Group, a leading international engineering group that manufactures precision components and assemblies. Doncasters Blaenavon primarily manufactures rings, casings and blades for aerospace, industrial gas turbine and specialised engineering industries and currently employs 330 workers with this projected to rise shortly to over 450.The combined turnover of the Doncasters Group is around £800 million, which reflects the scale and value of manufacturing it undertakes in a highly competitive market. When Doncasters Blaenavon decided to upgrade its business management system to bring maximum control, visibility and flexibility, it forged a winning partnership with Exel Computer Systems. 

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.

One company within the group had already begun investigating the EFACS route so it was natural for Doncasters Blaenavon to include EFACS from Exel in its search for a new solution. White was heavily involved in the rigorous selection process and recalls it came down to a 2 horse race between EFACS and Maddison. He recalls the deciding factors with great clarity. "Exel had given the much stronger presentation and showed they understood our business, yet we wanted further discussions with each company and looked to accomplish this at the CIM (Computers in Manufacturing) Show in 1995. Exel welcomed us on the stand and proceeded to listen to our requests." Doncasters Blaenavon decided to invest with EFACS and White reflects that even though all Doncasters companies were left to choose the system that worked best for them, 4 out of the 5 Doncasters companies selecting the system best for them chose EFACS.

Implementation went hand in hand with a business process re-engineering exercise that brought together key representatives from Planning, Materials Buying, Manufacturing, Management, Accounts and IT. For White it was important not just to understand what each area required from EFACS but to clearly show what EFACS could do for each area. More importantly, this would provide a means for discussing the impact that each area's operations had on each other as the company moved to work under a joined-up business management system. While another Doncasters company had decided to go down a multi-database route, White was adamant that a single database provided the optimum way forward and with the full support and backing of the implementation team, helped steer the company to a successful go-live in October 1997.

While no go-live is completely smooth, the acid test for White was that the company could in his words, "still sell product." As ever, with the benefit of hindsight he believes that people could have been better trained but his main recollection of that time is of the attitude of "making sure we got the best out of the system no matter what." This was helped during the early days by the first class support Doncasters Blaenavon received from Exel, especially a key consultant that White describes as "a terrific help."

It wasn't long before the benefits of EFACS began to be felt within the company with the first being how quickly people came to trust and rely on the system. "Because we'd done such a thorough job explaining where the benefits would be during the implementation, it's fair to say that people literally took the system for granted – there was no real surprise when things began to improve. Perhaps the most often heard comments were, ‘That used to take me all day before' and ‘I couldn't do that before'. One key area that was experienced was the ability to access, interrogate and report on the data held within the system via ODBC links. As White explains, "All of a sudden we didn't have any need for data analysts to tell us what was happening – we could see the data for ourselves, which gave us immediate business intelligence. Reporting time has been significantly reduced".

In January 2007, Theory of Constraints (TOC) was introduced at Doncasters Blaenavon as a means of focussing adherence to a specific way of working with the one key objective of achieving 95% On Time and In Full (OTIF). White again, "TOC works well with EFACS and has met with considerable success. The challenge for us as a company is to continually balance the rigid demands of TOC with the inherent variations in our business processes and EFACS helps us to achieve that."

As for the future, the old mantra of "getting the best out of the system no matter what" still remains. For Doncasters Blaenavon, this means continually getting people to address the critical issues in order to deliver the best possible products to the customer at the right time, while remaining agile enough to react to an ever changing market.