HV Wooding - A productive relationship with Exel since 1994

Founded in 1968 in a small shop in Lyminge, HV Wooding has grown to become one of the UK's leading manufacturers of precision engineered components and assemblies. A commitment to product quality, customer service and innovation is the reason why companies such as Rolls Royce, Honeywell, Schneider Electric and ABB have worked with HV Wooding for over 30 years. Parts manufactured by HV Wooding can also be found in over 22 million UK homes and continued success has seen HV Wooding's turnover double in six years, reaching £13.5m in 2012.

HV Wooding has five key areas of work: Busbars, Presswork, Wire Erosion, CNC Machining and Sub-assembly. With an average split between 70% Make to Order (MTO) and 30% Make to Stock (MTS), the company produces approximately 1.2 million parts per month. Depending on the nature of production, order sizes can range from single items to substantial batches measured in hundreds of thousands, with lead times varying from next day on MTS items through to months for complex custom parts where tooling also has to be designed and manufactured. In fact, all parts are manufactured to customer requirements with orders/enquiries being in the form of engineering drawings.

Simon Harre-Young is IT Manager for HV Wooding and he explains some of the typical challenges that the company faces. "While many of our components do have a significant number of configuration options, our greatest challenge tends to be keeping pace with customer's changing demands. This is not in terms of specification but more in terms of quantity and delivery date. For longer lead times, this may well be possible but each change has an impact on all the other orders on the system." He continues, "Optimising our capacity requirements is central, in terms of our highly skilled and diverse workforce as well as our diverse collection of machine resources. With regard to our workforce, this is not just in terms of ensuring availability of appropriately skilled supervisors or set-up specialists; it also includes our sales and admin staff where data entry and data handling can often be neglected."

Visibility of what information was where, as well as what product was where, had traditionally been a problem and was a consequence of HV Wooding being reliant on a number of bespoke IT systems, spreadsheets and manual processes. Not only did this lead to data variance and duplication issues, it made it difficult to access a coherent sense of finalised information and to then put this into a meaningful report format. Other inherent challenges included the need to balance optimised sequencing with the flexibility to override this when wider considerations needed to be taken into consideration. Stock management, especially with regard to goods in/purchasing where price fluctuations, along with limited shelf lives are key concerns, was also far from satisfactory.

Playing a central role in the company's IT set-up was an aging UNIX-based EFACS ERP system implemented in 1994, supplemented by loosely connected systems for payroll, employee management, shopfloor control as well as the afore-mentioned spreadsheets. Although EFACS 3.3.3 had served them well in its time, the age of that version combined with the need for supplementary systems led Simon and the team at HV Wooding to realise an alternative was required. Not only was the UNIX server running EFACS showing signs of age, representing a single point of potential failure, it was also running on old Operating Systems and database software.

And as Simon explains, the ongoing success of the company in terms of sustained growth increasingly brought these pain points to light. "It felt like I was spending all day, every day, just trying to get at the data to help people do their jobs." He continues, "Our user expectations about how IT systems should work kept on rising and the archaic keyboard-only interface seemed increasingly distant from the slick, quick and easy to use systems they were used to. Likewise our customers were expecting more and more from us, yet for the same price, which exposed many areas where we needed information at the press of a button. Instead we would have to spend a long time trying to find it"."

It was clear that the disparate systems approach was becoming a hindrance to ongoing growth as they simply couldn't keep up with the variety of work and changing requirements of customers and staff. The options were to either upgrade to the latest version of EFACS or completely replace EFACS with a new system, though as Simon says, it wasn't really a difficult choice. "To begin with, we had enjoyed a positive and productive relationship with Exel since 1994 and we couldn't afford to jeopardise the ongoing smooth running of the business. Plus, even if we had wanted to go with another vendor, we knew our data was very much tailored to the way we work and in a highly customised version of EFACS.

Exel demonstrated its latest version, EFACS E/8 to HV Wooding mid-2010 and it was immediately obvious that this was exactly what was required. Not only was it based on the latest technology, it could also be run within HV Wooding's virtual environment. Furthermore, EFACS E/8 functionality now extended to every area within the company, with Simon recalling that the Document Management and Workflow modules particularly impressed. "Given that we work with customer engineering drawings, 3D models, photographs etc., having all of these in one, easy to manage and access place, within EFACS E/8 was a real benefit. We were also impressed by the ADAPT customisation toolset capabilities, which makes it simple enough to quickly and easily automate or carry out simple tasks, yet powerful enough to completely change how the system operates. For us this means we can simplify and combine business processes into a single interaction within EFACS E/8."

An order was duly placed in December 2010 with implementation being carried out in partnership with an EFACS E/8 implementation specialist from Exel. Simon recognised that getting the buy-in from existing EFACS users would be central to success so he set about working with the Exel consultant to take each HV Wooding department through how they used the current EFACS system. After this they then walked through how each person's job would be done on the new EFACS E/8 system and generated a comprehensive ‘wish list' of customisation requirements. "These sessions were repeated regularly," explains Simon, "with users given time away from their desks to use the new EFACS E/8 system and to ensure that it worked as they, and we expected." He continues, "The outcome was that for most people the EFACS E/8 experience was either the same or improved, with the majority of users being very receptive and looking forward to using the new EFACS E/8."

So much so that many were disappointed when the proposed go-live was rolled back by 3 months to take advantage of a significant EFACS E/8 update which would allow HV Wooding to do even more from the outset. Simon again, "While a disappointment, it was more important not to adversely affect the performance and output of the company at that time. However, in terms of Exel, not only did we have an excellent implementation manager, the project also came in bang on target in terms of budget." The anticipated improvement in support, due to being on the latest version of the software, was quickly confirmed in the first few days of going live when Exel was able to immediately resolve a couple of unanticipated load balancing issues.

Moving from a 1990's green screen, keyboard orientated version of EFACS to the latest, browser-based version did take some time for users to acclimatise to. However, after the system bedded in, it was widely accepted that the significantly richer user interface, combined with improved data validation in order to reduce errors in down-stream processes, have brought considerable gains. Users also found getting access to relevant information to be much easier in EFACS E/8.

"Reporting and customisation were the biggest initial wins with the new EFACS E/8. The old EFACS was ‘as is', whereas the new EFACS E/8 can be quickly and simply adapted to a user's exact requirements thanks to the powerful ADAPT customisation toolset. Questions of ‘Can we change it so it does?' were now being answered with a ‘Yes!' and taking steps to ensure users' ideas were acted on quickly helped to maintain this positive momentum." He continues, "This combined with Workflow means that we can take a business process, fine tune and improve it, and then get EFACS E/8 to replicate that process – exactly what an IT system should do." For example, HV Wooding can now receive Sales Orders as spreadsheets, with the data now being checked and imported direct from the spreadsheet without the need to manually enter anything into the system. As Simon says, "Each time something like this happens, it saves us time."

EFACS E/8 is now used much more extensively throughout the company and has replaced a number of the older systems as well as all the workarounds. Now everybody that needs access to EFACS E/8 can have it where they need it, via 25 screens, including in the CNC Machining centres and Press areas on the production floor. And, because of the state-of-the-art architecture on which EFACS E/8 is based, where EFACS E/8 does have to integrate with any other system, it can do so seamlessly. Simon is looking at further ways to extend the use of EFACS E/8, beginning with the stores and stock control section; especially concerning Goods-In. "We already use EFACS E/8 to tell us what goods are where and how to manage the loading capacity of our storage shelving. We are now looking to add an EFACS E/8 touchscreen terminal in the cab of our forklift so that the driver can have all this information at his fingertips and can update the system immediately, every time any item is received or issued." Further use of the EFACS E/8 Workflow and Quality Management modules are also planned.

As to how he would summarise the impact of the new system regarding the ongoing life of the company, Simon is in no doubt. "Everything we need is now in EFACS E/8 and we can get at that information as and when we need to. Not only can we mould EFACS E/8 around our current ideal processes, we can adapt these as the company continues to grow. We have already achieved our return on investment and we know EFACS E/8 has much more to give."