EFACS E/8 puts McKenna in touch with shop floor to provide top floor benefits

Formed in 1983 by Don Mckenna, McKenna Precision Castings, now McKenna Group, has grown into a multi-million pound turnover company employing 80 people at its 17,000 square feet facility in Carlton-in-Lindrick, Worksop. Originally manufacturing cobalt chrome medical implants and steel commercial castings, the acquisition of Finecast Ltd added a range of aluminium products to the growing number of commercial sectors McKenna serves, including aerospace, defence, infrastructure and oil & gas. Hit hard by recession in 2008, McKenna has recovered well and is forecast for further ongoing growth, especially in the oil & gas sector where Mckenna has attained the coveted Norsok approval to add to their BP, ISO 9001/2008 and ISO 13485 for medical devices. At the heart of this is the strategic use of touchscreens to provide visibility and control of accurate information on the shop floor and the top floor. Helping to drive this as well as the company's successful ongoing growth is EFACS E/8 from Exel Computer Systems plc.

While 90% of all orders are bespoke, each follows the same lost wax investment casting process, irrespective of whether the alloy used is cobalt, steel or aluminium. The process begins with making the required wax components via tool injection, with these individual components being assembled onto an appropriate runner (wax frame) which may contain from one to over 500 individual components depending on design and weight factors. Each runner, complete with individual components forms a mould which is then repeatedly ‘shelled' with a mixture of ceramic coating and special bonding agents. Once a thick ceramic coat or shell is formed around the wax mould it undergoes de-waxing in a boilerclave (steam cabinet) in order to melt the wax out of the thick ceramic shell. A further firing stage is required to remove any remaining traces of wax and this precedes the actual casting where the appropriate molten alloy is poured into the mould. Once cooled, the mould is de-shelled leaving the rough cast components from which the metal parts are cut before being cleaned and then subcontracted out for any specialised finishing requirements.

Rigorous quality control according to customer specification and high internal standards follows before orders are despatched. Monitoring and managing every step from order entry, acknowledgment, materials and works order management is EFACS E/8. For traceability, which is integral to this industry, touchscreen PC's running the EFACS E/8 Touchscreen module are used strategically throughout the production line.

As Liberty Gwitira, McKenna's IT Manager explains, while this may seem relatively straightforward, the reality is much more complicated. "While our customers value the fact we can turn around high quality product in a relatively short space of time, often weeks quicker than other foundries, the majority of them work on a forecast and supply basis, which might extend a number of years into the future. The theory is that they then call off agreed order amounts over a set period, but this in practice can change, often with short notice, which leaves us having to make quick and accurate planning and production decisions. While we do have a minimum order level, our larger customers will often provide orders of multiple products worth hundreds of thousands of pounds." Given the continual production line approach that exists in the company where there is a snaking list of live orders from start to finish in varying degrees of work in progress, any change, especially one involving due dates, has a knock on effect across the entire production area.

In addition to this, there are a number of day to day challenges that McKenna has to overcome in order to remain competitive. According to Gwitira, the two key challenges involve scrap/rework, and production planning. "It is the nature of our business that there will always be a degree of scrap/rework involved. But as our material costs are by far the greatest costs, having accurate visibility of what these are, plus the means to minimise scrap/rework rates, really makes a huge difference, possibly the difference between making a profit or a loss on a job." He continues, "It's the same when it comes to production planning. At any time there may be 200 live orders in progress and knowing where each order physically is and at which process stage they are at is essential to determine whether we are going to make our all-important due dates. Knowing when to start each order as well as each individual process is also central to making sure we meet our deadlines."

Given that 70% of all products require an element of sub-contracted finishing this also has to be factored in accurately to achieve any sense of a realistic production plan. This in turn means being able to accurately track what products are where, and more importantly, when they are due back and ties in with the company's overall high level of traceability requirements. Gwitira again, "Given the exacting nature of our customers, we need to be able to trace not just who did what and when, but also what material was used, from which batch, and from which supplier." He continues, "From a customer perspective, they also need a potentially wide range of documentation/certification covering everything, especially when it comes to assured quality control." It's not just the customers who need access to information, from a management perspective, McKenna ideally needs real-time access to a range of production and management data such as WIP reports, scrap/rework reports etc., as Gwitira notes, "All of these have a direct bearing on our ability to supply the right product to the right customer at the right price at the right time."

McKenna has long since recognised the value of IT in helping to most effectively address these issues and when Gwitira joined the company in 2000, he was confronted with a Unix system complete with DOS-like screens and significant reliance on manual data input with all the inherent issues that this brings, it was also far from user friendly. To this was added a simple barcoding system in 2001 which enabled basic start/stop process information to be recorded at each step. But as Gwitira explains, it couldn't record other important information. "When it came to scrap/rework information, this still had to be written manually onto the order route card and time sheet then entered manually on the system from the time sheet some considerable time later."

The acquisition of Finecast brought with it a dedicated foundry processing software package called Synchro 32. This was adopted by McKenna and while this contained a range of functionality suited to the foundry aspect of the business, including tools/die management, contract reviews & sales, and an element of scrap/rework recording, it all rested on an Access database which was far from ideal. At that time it was also incapable of working in real-time and was not compatible with the company's barcoding technology. Consequently people had to start manually filling in time sheets which then had to be manually entered into the system by two clerks, one day after the actual operation process date.

Two years later and not satisfied with existing systems, McKenna decided to invest in a new real-time solution from Manusoft. Although Gwitira admits that many aspects of the new system were not as good as the previous Synchro system, a key feature of the new system was that it offered a touchscreen interface for the shop floor. After going live, with what seemed to be a fantastic solution, over a relatively short period of time the system quickly began to lag behind McKenna's evolving businessrequirements, as Gwitira explains. "For example, we began to require better document control and retention for our FDA approved customers, and changes in EU traceability laws meant we also needed to keep more product details and subcontractor certifications as well as material traceability." The company increasingly had to rely on workarounds in order to meet these growing needs and at one time had 36 databases and 7 spreadsheets simply to achieve this.

The Managing Director directed the management team, including Gwitira, to map out a specification for the ideal system that would best meet the comprehensive and complex requirements of the company. Armed with this information, Gwitira undertook an exhaustive selection process which involved researching in excess of thirty potential suppliers. "When I said I had a good, long, look, I mean I had a good, long, look." he recalls. Eventually the list was reduced to nine, all of which presented at least one demo, which helped in compiling a shortlist of three. "Out of these three, it was clear to me that EFACS E/8 from Exel offered the best solution for us for a number of reasons, not least because of its ability to seamlessly work with the existing touchscreen PC's on the shop floor, allowing data to be collected and analysed in real-time." explains Gwitira.

With this in mind, McKenna's management including Gwitira put together a project team and led it through the final stages of the selection process, which ended up with EFACS E/8 being the system and Exel the company of choice. "From a company fit with ours, Exel was by far the best, and the fact that it was UK-based was really important. We didn't want to work with a huge company based overseas as we would be just one of many other customers. The Exel staff seemed genuinely concerned and interested in working with us to provide the best possible solution that would meet our unique needs." He continues, "Even though EFACS E/8 met most of our specification requirements, we knew that any system would have required a degree of customising. Unlike other suppliers, Exel could and was willing to work with us here, and EFACS E/8 even has its own in-built customising toolset. Moreover, this attitude is also reflected in the fact that EFACS E/8 is continually being developed and evolving, adding new functionality as it does so." A site visit by the project team to another Exel customer did more than confirm that they were making the right choice, it also sowed a number of seeds of inspiration especially to Gwitira. He recalls, "It was phenomenal what they were doing with EFACS E/8."

A decision to invest in EFACS E/8 to replace the many existing systems was therefore taken in December 2008. In addition to the standard implementation, a number of bespoke features and new functionality was to be developed in order to go live using the customisation toolsets offered within EFACS E/8. These included a variety of minor onsite changes which Gwitira and the Exel Implementation Consultants managed, such as screen layout changes, adding new fields to standard EFACS E/8 screens to record information specific to the McKenna business, and finally various report and business stationery modifications. Additionally some bespoke work was required around the EFACS E/8 Touchscreen module for foundry management and scrap/rework, as well as a Certificate of Conformity document, generated automatically as part of the shipping routine to collate test certificates and other important documents from the EFACS E/8 Document Management system, and finally an X-ray serialisation solution.

Furthermore, McKenna agreed to work with Exel on a number of projects to further develop the standard software. These included the development of a more sophisticated subcontract purchasing routine and improvements to a number of the existing EFACS E/8 Touchscreen applications to allow an operator to view documents (i.e. a drawing) held on the EFACS E/8 Document Management system from a touchscreen terminal on the shop floor. Following a period of trial running, McKenna had a phased go live through 2010 and was fully operational with EFACS E/8 by May 2011.

The positive impact of this was felt right away, at first in the Purchasing department, as Gwitira recalls. "Purchasing could for the first time see all relevant pricing information when dealing with suppliers which immediately gave them considerable leverage in obtaining more competitive prices." Visibility lies at the heart of the majority of benefits that EFACS E/8 has delivered with the Touchscreen module living up to promises and operating with the existing touchscreen hardware already in place from the old system. The out-of-the-box Touchscreen module allowed McKenna to do everything they could previously do, including time and attendance and job booking via bar coded route cards, but it also offered additional solutions for the all-important scrap booking and job re-working. Gwitira is especially delighted with this. "At best we used to be able to see what was scrapped. Now with EFACS E/8, because we have access to so much more accurate data, we can see not just what was scrapped, but also where, when, from which batch, by whom etc., this means we can start to identify trends and then target the biggest areas in order to generate the largest cost and time savings."

Other Touchscreen benefits include the ability for operators to view documents stored on the EFACS E/8 Document Management system directly on the shop floor. Not only has this reduced the amount of paper being issued to the shop floor it also ensures that operators are looking at the right information if new document revisions have occurred since first issue. Finally information critical to traceability and quality controls such as material batch data and furnace temperature data, previously stored in a bespoke Access database is now safely recorded via touchscreen and stored in EFACS E/8, meaning all the information required by McKenna is now available in one place. In just one area of traceability, the essential testing of material from each batch, this has resulted in an approximate saving of 30 minutes every time this occurs.

It's a similar story when it comes to the improved subcontractor management that EFACS E/8 brings. The manual process involved in generating the appropriate paperwork relating to subcontractors used to take approximately 2 hours – now it takes 20 minutes. With 70% of all orders being subcontracted for finishing, this is a significant cumulative time saving. Another cumulative time saving comes from the improved management of certification. Each product can require a range of possible certificates which would need to be collated and sent to the customer with the product, for example, if it had been X-rayed etc., previously this would require an operator to manually find and collate the correct certificates, manually scan these into the system, then print and send with the product. Now all relevant certification and documentation is already held in the EFACS E/8 Document Management system and automatically associated with the relevant order. Even with printing this out and supplying with each order, there is a time saving of 50 minutes per shipment. McKenna is looking to extend this time saving further by automatically emailing all relevant documentation.

When it comes to future plans, Gwitira admits his ethos is simple. "My starting premise is that I think EFACS E/8 can do anything, so I therefore want to keep on evolving the system." This doesn't just extend to areas such as automating workflow and developing comprehensive work-to lists, but even revisiting areas, such as subcontractor management to see if there are even further benefits to be gained. It's no wonder that McKenna is so positive about its new investment and also the future. As Don Mckenna, McKenna's Managing Director concludes, "It's a drastic improvement over what we've had – now we have the ability to link the shop floor with the rest of the business. Being able to has forced us to do things in a better way and opened our minds to a bigger scope of what we can achieve."