Global Case Study
Opcenter (Preactor) APS
SAM Mouldings shapes up for ongoing growth with Opcenter APS, formerly Preactor Advanced Planning & Scheduling
A family company, SAM Mouldings is the UK’s leading manufacturer of MDF architectural moldings for the construction and home improvement industries. Recognized as the best in Europe, it has purpose-built manufacturing and distribution facility spanning an 8 acre site that allows the company to meet the growing demand for its product, a cost effective top quality alternative to traditional timber moldings. Employing over 140 staff, SAM Mouldings is now producing and shipping up to £500,000 worth of orders every week and aims to increase market share and turnover in 2007. When the company recognized the need to improve its planning and scheduling capabilities, it found the perfect partnership to build on with Kudos Solutions and Preactor International.
SAM Mouldings manufactures a wide range of MDF product including Skirting, Architrave, Door Frames, Window Boards, Stair Threads, and Veneer Wrapped products. SAM Mouldings also manufacture molds for Picture Frames and Kitchen Industries. The nature of manufacturing is on a large scale with products being split between 100 standard range styles, and 1400 special lines which in turn can then be varied by size, finish or material grade. The situation is further complicated because of the Make To Order (MTO) environment of the company which can result in any given order from a customer potentially leading to the creation of a new product.
There are three main production processes in that all orders undergo: cutting, molding, and painting. Boards are first cut to the required length for the product before being molded according to the requested profile. Depending on the specific product in question, this then receives one or two coats of primer depending on the customer’s requirements. However, as Tim Patton, ICT Controller at SAM Mouldings comments, this can often be much more complex.
“There is a number of additional value-add steps which may be applied, depending on the specific product. These include cross cutting of the product into door sets, stair treads or window boards. Products may also be then wrapped with wood veneer or paper. Some of these are obviously sequence dependent. For example, cutting a certain number of boards to produce a door frame can only start once the initial product has been processed through the factory.”
Given the scale and nature of manufacture, bottlenecks were clearly a very real concern for SAM Mouldings. However, as Patton explains, there was an even more fundamental scheduling concern. “With 4 saws, 7 molders, 3 paint lines, a cross cut area and a veneer wrapper, there were clearly constraint issues. More significantly, it was actually becoming impossible to produce working schedules for all these machines in the time between the finish of one shift and the start of the next. As we produce most of our products to order, and hold only a small stock range, we needed a scheduling system to be able to understand and schedule works orders from our ERP system to ensure dispatch on time was adhered to as closely as possible.”
The company’s existing scheduling system was struggling in a number of key ways. To begin with, it was taking up to 4 hours per day to generate a production schedule. The process was incredibly labor intensive. This related to the factories operation, personnel info, tooling constraints, raw material availability – all of which and more had to be processed during a maximum scheduling window of 3 hours. Worse still, when orders exceeded a certain level, it simply became a physical impossibility to generate a meaningful scheduling. Even when a schedule, meaningful or otherwise was finally completed, it was out of date in the time taken from the user collecting it from the office to walk to their machine for the day.
The final complication was that drawings of specific designs were situated in a folder on the factory floor which the user would then have to manually look through. With approximately 2000 drawings on file, this represented a significant time constraint and one which was hard to plan for because a particular set of drawings might be located quickly, or only after a long search.
As Patton remarks, “Whatever solution we chose, one of our key objectives was to ensure that all of these obstacles would be overcome, allowing the company to sustain its ongoing growth.” He continues, “It was clear to us that the installation would allow us to improve the availability of the tooling that may be required on any given job, which would allow the tool-room to be run more efficiently.”
A decision was therefore taken in the summer of 2005 to source an automated scheduling system. After a thorough investigation lasting several months, SAM Mouldings had a shortlist of two possible products, Preactor and Job Shop. According to Patton, there was no real competition. “The final decision was based simply in terms of the flexibility and in-house control available through Preactor.”
The Preactor implementation was to be undertaken in conjunction with the installation of a new ERP system, EFACS E/8 from Excel. To provide a seamless link a link between EFACS and Preactor, a custom link was written which automates the transfer of orders into Preactor, and subsequently down date’s raw material stock upon completion of jobs through the Factory. To provide maximum control and flexibility, this link has been written in such a way to allow SAM Mouldings to maintain it internally on an ongoing basis without the need to refer back to the supplier.
Patton reflects on the implementation, “Everything was reasonably smooth and reflected the preparation undertaken by the SAM Mouldings team. The planned implementation period was exceeded by a large degree but this reflected the substantial difference between our existing system on which the plan was based, and the potential planning capabilities in Preactor which gave us new areas for development which we had to then roll out as we went along; for example, the integration of constraint information on tooling availability and product movement around the factory has also now been dramatically improved. The only ongoing element is the training of our operatives on the use of the system. This has been quite protracted and much re-designing of viewer screens has been necessary as we learn to harness the capabilities of Preactor.”
Yet the system is already delivering huge benefits for SAM Mouldings. As Patton concludes, “Preactor has enabled us to push forward with our growth plans, and development of information systems in the factory. We have also been able to schedule our factory for the busiest months in the company’s history, a task which would not have been possible with our old systems.”