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Gordon Ellis - EFACS E/8 upgrade ensures long working relationship will continue
With its origins in the 1800s, Gordon Ellis & Co has evolved from working solely in the construction industry to now having three specialist businesses comprising home healthcare safety products, rotational moulding and precision machining of wood and composites. The company manufactures and supplies a diverse range of high quality products to over 30 countries, from plastic tee markers, raised toilet seats through to engine covers for huge JCB earth movers. Its commitment to quality and innovation has remained paramount despite increasing competition in recent years which is why when it came to updating its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Gordon Ellis & Co decisively chose to remain with EFACS from Exel Computer Systems plc.
Production across the entire company is generally split into plastic rotational moulding (85%), and precision machining of wood and composites (15%). Customers fall into the two categories of Contract and Healthcare, the former representing 50% of business and being Make to Order with the latter 50% being Make to Stock. The diverse product range that the company offers is complicated by order sizes that range from single figures through to batches in multiples of hundreds. Simple products require only two to three process steps whereas something as complex as their Basketweave commode takes many more. First the appropriate timber is selected, cut, planed and sanded before being sub-assembled and sprayed with the appropriate finish. The cane is then steamed, bent and assembled. To this is added a rotationally moulded base which holds an outsourced injection moulded commode pan. Meanwhile, the seats require the relevant swabs to be cut, shaped and upholstered before being assembled with everything else to make the finished product.
It's no wonder that IT Manager Alison Holland, with 20 years' experience at Gordon Ellis & Co, describes one of the company's key challenges as optimising capacity across its many and varied machine resources. "We have upwards of twenty primary machines in our timber machining and rotational moulding production areas, many of which need to ideally work on batches of products to gain maximum efficiency." She continues, "However, given the large amount of contract work we undertake, our demand mix is completely unpredictable and it is not uncommon for customers to make changes to orders at the last minute." This understandably generates challenges in achieving smoothness of production as well as visibility of the actual progress of any order at any given time when compared with a projected schedule. A further complication is added by the nature of the larger rotational moulding machines which handle a number of the different process steps sequentially and can be working on a number of different orders at the same time.
The company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of design and manufacturing also brings its own challenges, as Alison explains. "Items never previously considered possible in plastic are now possible, often at considerable cost reductions from traditional methods. But to achieve this we are pushing our tools and equipment to the limits." This in turn necessitates having tightly defined processes in place and puts considerable pressure on having employees with the appropriate skill levels to follow these. Failure to do so can have a significant impact on scrap and rework levels and managing this is critical to minimising costs. A further challenge comes in the form of managing and storing the wide variety of raw materials that the company uses and because of the physical size of some of the products manufactured, keeping Work in Progress (WIP) under control is important from a space as well as a cost perspective.
Gordon Ellis & Co has been relying on EFACS from Exel Computer Systems plc for the manufacturing and financial side of the business since 1996. The company's commitment to using high level technology extends not just to its plant machinery but also the manufacturing systems used to get the best from this, which is why the EFACS ERP system was reviewed every two years. It is a testament to the success of the original implementation in terms of system fit with the business processes that the company only needed one minor upgrade in the following 15 years. At the heart of every review was the question ‘Will an upgrade give us significantly more than our existing version does in order to justify the investment?' As Alison explains, it wasn't until around 2011 that the answer increasingly moved towards a ‘yes'. "We were aware we needed a CRM system to help us better engage with our customers and we were reaching a position where our version of EFACS didn't have the underlying technology to let us meet the growing number of demands and expectations from our customers as well as other changes we were anticipating having to make in the future. The question then became ‘do we upgrade or look for a new system completely'."
In order to answer this, Alison talked with key managers and drew up a comprehensive list of requirements that Gordon Ellis & Co would require from any new system and compiled a substantial shortlist of candidates. "We visited several exhibitions," says Alison "and began to get an understanding of what each system said it could deliver." After realising this could be an almost endless process, the leading vendors were identified and invited to demo their solutions. Alison is unflinchingly honest when she explains that none were ideal. "The Directors and I recognised that ours is a very challenging business and we were not surprised that no system did exactly everything we would want. However, the latest version of EFACS came closest, and with the Java platform combined with the inbuilt ADAPT customisation toolkit we knew it would also be the easiest to make the various bespoke changes we would require."
She continues, "There was the additional benefit of having a long and proven working relationship with Exel as a supplier. We knew how their development teams, implementation teams and support teams worked and unlike system resellers, we knew they completely understood their system. They also understood how our business works and already had all our data tables mapped which gave us the maximum confidence in ensuring the upgrade was a success." Almost as an aside she mentions that EFACS E/8 was by far the cheaper option, all of which led to an order being placed in February 2012.
Working closely with Exel, the company went for a "little and often" approach to the implementation which involved bringing Exel consultants in for everyone in large groups. This was complemented by setting up relevant workshops with the specific aim of evaluating how the increased functionality of the new EFACS E/8 system could help improve existing business processes. Alison credits this as significantly helping move the company culture away from a departmental focus to a "holistic approach to data." As she adds, "the intended outcome of the implementation was for us to be a more streamlined, better business."
Gordon Ellis & Co successfully went live with EFACS E/8 in September 2012 with Alison noting, "I can't really remember it, so it must have been ok" before adding, "seriously, it was really good." The decision to get every user involved at the implementation stage meant that not only was there less potential resistance to change but also that everyone had high expectations of the new system. From the outset these were comfortably met. 18 months on and Alison identifies the increase in data accuracy as the biggest benefit the company has achieved so far. Not only has the increased functionality of the new system removed the need for a number of separate systems and workarounds where data issues could arise, the inbuilt Workflow module ensures that all process steps are followed exactly as required. This removes the possibility of data issues at each step, which in turn removes the resulting impact of those data issues flowing downstream through subsequent business processes.
This coupled with the creation of a wide range of custom reports has helped the company achieve much greater visibility not just of data, but of meaningful business information which in turn improves decision making processes throughout the company. Another key area which is further enhancing this is in managing and controlling the flow of data on the shop floor. Gordon Ellis & Co had a Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC) system in place with its earlier version of EFACS but it was so time consuming and inflexible to use, it eventually was dropped. The new version, EFACS E/8, with its integrated SFDC module is being successfully used with touchscreens and handheld scanners for booking in finished products and goods received.
Alison recognises that they are "barely scratching the surface" of what the new system can do and it's unsurprising that the company has a number of ongoing developments that will add to the benefits already achieved. The first of these is extending the use of SFDC and Workflow to every process step, especially in the area of rotational moulding, which in addition to providing much greater real-time visibility of the progress of every Works Order, will also provide valuable scrap and rework information. Planning and scheduling is another area targeted for improvement, an area which Alison acknowledges proves challenging for any system given the nature of the company's business. "We've already made some progress but we aim to make more use of EFACS' planning board, again integrating this with our workflow." It's the same when it comes to the EFACS E/8 CRM system, which is already delivering wider visibility of customer interactions, but could be further improved.
It's no surprise that Alison concludes, "We couldn't manage without a system like EFACS E/8 – you couldn't do it. We've so much more to get out of EFACS E/8, not just within our own company but in terms of integrating with our customers and suppliers and their systems, extending its use and benefits, both up and down the supply chain."