Founded in 1976, Polyclad has evolved into the international leader in the production of high performance laminates. In 1987 Polyclad was purchased by Cookson Group plc and became a member of Cookson Electronics. With 3 plants and approximately 700 employees in the US, Polyclad has an additional 10 facilities in Europe and Asia. Polyclad’s growth has been matched by its ability to adapt quickly to new technologies and shifting customer demands - an ability which remains central to the company's success.
In addition to providing products of the highest technical quality, Polyclad's goal is to be recognized as the most responsive company in the industry. When it needed a scheduling solution to help it achieve this, Polyclad turned to Preactor International for assistance.
Responding to a changing world.
Since the electronics business took a major downturn in the spring of 2000 the nature of the laminates business has drastically changed. Lead times for example have gone from being measured in terms of weeks all the way down to just 1 or 2 days. In keeping with its commitment to service, Polyclad responded strongly by investing heavily in retooling its business model. The resulting QTA (Quick Turn Around) strategy was designed to remove all non value-added time from the process.
A key part of the QTA strategy was the development of the ICR (Immediate Customer Response) system. The goal of the ICR system was to reduce the time it took to schedule and promise a new customer quote/order, with a target reduction of moving from 4 hours to less than 1 minute. In order to do this Polyclad had to develop a new quotation system for the CSR’s (Customer Service Reps) and hook it up to a high speed, rules based, real-time scheduling engine.
Although the manufacturing of a laminate is relatively simple (cutting the materials, loading the sheets into a Press, finishing, testing and shipping), the large number of variables and products makes the scheduling quite difficult. The Press operation takes about 3 hours and currently is the major constraint. The manufacturing rules determine exactly how orders are mixed together in Press Loads and Books while the Business rules determine which customers have access to the reserved QTA capacity.
As with all manufacturing operations, specific difficulties exist although unlike some companies, Polyclad was very aware of those facing its own business processes. These were primarily concerned with the way that orders were scheduled, in many ways similar to how passengers are booked with an airline. Each order is assigned to a Press Load (the plane) and a specific Book (the seat) based on the rules. Once the Press operation is finished orders are then broken down and scheduled individually through the other operations.
The Scheduling Solution.
When it came to selecting a scheduling solution, Polyclad chose Preactor for four key reasons. Not only did Preactor have excellent real-time capabilities, it was also very flexible and very strong on price performance. Equally important was that Preactor came highly recommended by Suncoast Scheduling and NBC Consulting who were responsible for helping Polyclad implement the QTA strategy and the APS system.
Polyclad schedulers were heavily involved in the design of the system which began with drawing up a set of design specifications. Fundamental to any approach was the need to store and maintain all the data on the ERP system (Prism). After checking the availability of the raw material, the quote/order would then be scheduled based upon the manufacturing rules that reserve capacity for key customers. A scheduled completion date would then be returned to the Quotation system within 60 seconds. At this stage Schedulers would need to be able to fine-tune the loading of presses (including manually moving orders from one Book or Press Load to another) without interfering with the scheduling in the background. Released orders would then be sent back to Prism where the paperwork would be created before being sent back to the shop floor
Finally, the actual work performed in the shop would need to be tracked, and the schedule updated accordingly. The implementation would also involve some customizing of Preactor. Accordingly, the scheduling engine was modified to show a single bar for each Press Load and a graphical drag and drop user interface called the PLE (Press Load Editor) was developed to provide the scheduler with a detailed view of a Press Load and a number of tools that help modify the schedule.
In addition to this, a module of the system called the Process Server was developed to handle multiple streams of real-time data moving to and from Preactor. The most challenging technical issue concerned the need to allow the manual modification of the schedule while the system was still scheduling which was necessary because the scheduler spends several hours a day fine-tuning the schedule.
The implementation began in March 2002 and despite being more complex than originally planned, was completed on schedule on November 1st 2002. Whilst still new, has already begun to show a number of benefits with a number of others continuing to emerge. To begin with, there has been a substantial improvement in the speed of providing the customer with a promise date (4hrs to less than 1 minute). Moreover, the accuracy of providing a promise date has been improved. Preactor has also enabled raw material shortages to be immediately identified. Another benefit has been the systemizing of the schedulers knowledge making it easier to perform the scheduling task. In addition, it has provided the mechanism for reserving capacity for QTA service which was not possible to do manually.
Polyclad attributes the major reasons for the overall success of the project to the close collaboration between the consultants and the Polyclad IT group through the ICR team which was headed up by Rich Caron (Corporate Director IT NA). The team consisted of Polyclad IT, representatives from Production Control and Customer Service and the consultants.
As for the future, Polyclad plans to take the ICR system to the California plant and then to the plants in Asia and Europe. Since they are all running on the same ERP system it is anticipated that the modifications ought to be limited making it easy to roll out across each additional plant.