Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Entry-level CIM automates order processing

An 'entry-level' integrated business management system for the joinery industry automates sales order processing, calculation of cutting lists and invoicing and streamlines operations,

Leading CAD/CAM software developer, Licom Systems has introduced AlphaCIM Lite, an entry-level version of its powerful AlphaCIM integrated business management system for the joinery industry. Enabling users to automate sales order processing, the calculation of cutting lists and invoicing, AlphaCIM Lite offers an ideal method of streamlining order-based manufacturing operations, as well as a protected upgrade path to AlphaCIM's comprehensive business management solution. AlphaCIM Lite's library module enables companies' standard component information to be stored, used to build up an order and then transferred directly to Licom's AlphaCAM programming system, opening the way for the automated production of families of parts, such as fascia doors, fabricated doors and window units.

In addition, the system provides close integration with the company's AlphaSTAIR, AlphaDOOR and AlphaWINDOOR design-to-manufacturing applications.

Easily applied and available in all major languages, AlphaCIM Lite delivers important time and cost savings through the automation of key business processes.

It also eliminates the need for duplicated data entry - with its associated risks of keying errors - while simultaneously minimising unnecessary paperwork.

AlphaCIM Lite is suitable for companies who need help in processing and tracking order information and is supplied complete with four days consultancy, enabling progressive organisations to take the first step towards realising the full potential of their manufacturing capabilities.

Rollout will initially take place in the UK, followed by Europe and, at a later stage, throughout the world.

* About Licom Systems - Licom Systems, along with Radan Computational, HRS and Cabinet Vision Europe, are principal members of Planit Holdings.

The organisation's product range encompasses design to manufacturing applications and enterprise resource planning software solutions for companies operating throughout the metal, woodworking, stone and sheet metal manufacturing sector.

In addition, Planit International offers leading retail design software.

Software improves tool making scheduling

Investment in a new IT infrastructure with an emphasis on more effective production scheduling has also proved highly beneficial for a tool making company, as its use of scheduling software proves.

Harmon Form Tools was formed in 1964, offering a grinding and tooling facility for the Aerospace, Defence and Commercial markets. In 1987 the company entered the machining market with the foundation of Harmon Manufacturing, initially meeting the requirements of existing customers in the Aerospace and Defence industries. In 2000, Harmon acquired a site in Haviland Road, on the Ferndown Industrial Estate in Wimborne, Dorset and set about constructing 30,000 sq ft purpose-built premises.

In 2002, the Metal Treatments division was set up, initially for the purpose of reducing lead times on in-house programmes.

This division now also offers the service to other suppliers and Harmon customers direct.

Plans are in place to extend the Treatments facility.

New lines have been purchased and Harmon is currently awaiting planning permission to build an extension to its factory.

Investment has always been a high priority for Harmon, as is evidenced by the latest CNC machines in the machining and grinding facilities.

Investment in a new IT infrastructure with an emphasis on more effective production scheduling has also proved highly beneficial for the company, as its use of Preactor 200 FCS proves.

Historic constraints.

In terms of historic methods of production scheduling, 20 years ago Harmon relied on a T-Card system, as managing director Rob Harmon explained: 'We would write out the T-Cards and move them from rack to rack as production progressed.

However this was very time consuming, so 10 years ago we put in place a very basic shop loading system.

The problem was that it was not really flexible enough to perfectly complement our production processes.

We make aircraft parts with long manufacturing lead times.' Harmon continued: 'A typical aircraft undercarriage axle can take nine months to manufacture and some 200 to 300 separate manufacturing operations can be involved, including work undertaken by sub-contracted parties.

So in order to handle these complex and involved lead times and high-volume production, in addition to the need for our Progress Department to be able to efficiently chase sub-contractors for parts when delivery is due, we realised we needed to source a more efficient scheduling software solution.' The solution Harmon initially became aware of Preactor 200 after he attended one of the leading software shows at the NEC about five years ago.

'We wanted to gauge what solution would be ideal for our scheduling needs,' said Harmon.

'In total we attended five scheduling software demonstrations, but Preactor stood out as the superior solution.

Within three months we had discussed the purchase of Preactor 200 with Preactor Solution Provider, RMS.

They came on site for about a week, and configured the software for our specific requirements.' Harmon said: 'For example, information regarding our shop floor machinery plus data about our suppliers was loaded on to the system.

We also bought licences for two Preactor viewers so that access to the scheduling charts could be made available at different points on the shop floor.

In this way our supervisors can see at a glance the scheduling routine.

Our sales team can also look at a viewer to determine our loading capacity so customers can be kept better informed about feasible delivery dates etc.' Implementation was completed within three months, although as Harmon changes and adapts as a company RMS regularly adjusts the system to ensure the optimum fit.

Benefits Since going live with the system, Harmon has benefited from being able to deliver more accurately within the specified lead time.

'And we now know exactly how our shop floor capacity is loaded, whereas previously it was more a case of putting our fingers in the air,' explained Harmon.

'Also, we are far more cost efficient in terms of utilising staff time on the shop floor.

And with Preactor 200 we can simply drag and drop Gantt chart information to slightly adjust the schedule as we go.

This is far more advantageous than cut and past-based solutions in terms of saved time and increased convenience.' Harmon is currently linking Preactor 200 to its own bespoke ERP system through the company's barcoding system.

'This will result in all information regarding bills of materials, job orders and route cards being fed into Preactor automatically as it is available,' said Harmon.

'Then a shop floor schedule can be completed quickly within Preactor ready for action.' Lean and Agile Harmon has also recently re-arranged its machinery in cells in order to put in place a lean manufacturing methodology.

'We have been planning to achieve multi-manning, extended hours and unmanned machinery, and this is all starting to happen,' Harmon pointed out.

'We also have in place a Lean regime in terms of staff development.

One of the biggest problems in our line of work is obtaining and retaining skilled staff.

Currently we have three machines set up as a Lean cell with three skilled personnel.

When we set up the next cell of three machines, one of the operators from the first cell can move to the second cell.

Then we can move a semi-skilled operator to the first cell and bring his level of competence up to that of a fully skilled operator.

This means we can more efficiently increase our level of skilled staff, which is so necessary if we are to successfully expand the business further.' From an Agile manufacturing perspective, all Harmon's tooling has been laid out in cells, so that a machine can be re-tooled quickly to speed the manufacturing process and utilise machine time as effectively as possible.

Harmon summed up the company's experience of using Preactor 200: 'We are very happy with the performance of the system.

Preactor 200 is a very good fit for our scheduling requirements.

Basically, we load capacity onto our machines and the software allows us to do this very effectively and cost efficiently.

Our customers have commented that many of their other suppliers do not have in place such a reliable and efficient scheduling system.

This, I believe, can give us a competitive edge.

And when our customers are of the calibre of Airbus and Smiths, being able to provide high-quality goods on time is absolutely critical.

Over the past four years we have doubled in size as a business, and we are planning to expand further.

Preactor will be invaluable in this regard.' Mike Novels, managing director of Preactor International, commented: 'It is always nice to see a British company doing so well and expanding so rapidly in such a competitive business, and I am pleased that we and RMS were able to play our part in supporting Harmon Manufacturing to become leaner, more agile and meet the ever increasing overseas competition.' RMS director Don Dyas added: 'The moment the people from Harmon came onto our booth at the NEC it was clear they knew exactly what they wanted.

Machinist boosts sales by 30% with new scheduling

Manufacturing and production scheduling system is proving critical in controlling day-to-day events at a subcontract machinist to maximise production and deliveries.

Manufacturing and production scheduling system is proving critical in controlling day-to-day events at a subcontract machinist to maximise production and deliveries. During the first half of 2005, specialist subcontract machinist Kenard Engineering increased its sales turnover by some 30 per cent helped in part by the installation of new high specification machine tools. But it is a new manufacturing and production scheduling system by Seiki Systems of Brighton that is proving critical in controlling day-to-day events on the shopfloor to maximise production and deliveries.

As there are now some 320 different components, most of which are high value and require up to 38 operations on the 'Work to Do' list at the company's Dartford site, accurate and detailed control and monitoring is paramount.

Not only has the new software built confidence right through the company in its ability to control production, but it has also improved machine utilisation and, by reducing work-in-progress times, has set the business well on its target of giving customers a 40-day turnaround from enquiry to delivery.

Said director Keith Ellis: 'We hear so much about the importance of the 'knowledge-driven' economy well we have a 'knowledge-driven' production operation where management and customers know exactly what is happening and should be occurring.' He followed on to describe how Kenard has invested over GBP 1 million at Dartford in two of the latest mill/turn centres, one capable of very complex production cycles involving simultaneous five-axis milling with its 120-tool capacity and the other, a mill/turn centre, is able to produce parts up to 1000mm diameter by 2000mm long.

'As a result, we are far more competitive, having the ability to combine five or six separate operations into one or two very specialised 'one-hit' cycles, and we've almost doubled our capacity for large work,' he maintained.

But Ellis points out that even with the new capacity, it has been the installation of the totally integrated manufacturing system iMES from Seiki Systems that has enabled the company to control work flow and respond to customers, reduce work in progress and make the best use of the production resource of 15 CNC machines.

The Seiki Systems software, installed in the first quarter of 2005, had an immediate impact in creating extra capacity by increasing machine utilisation, but as Keith Ellis insists: 'All information regarding work in progress is held within the company and not by individuals.

We work to factual information and no longer rely on someone's instinct.' In fact, even prior to the installation Keith Ellis maintains Kenard was quite switched-on for production control but it took a fully employed person, a highly paid graduate, all day to monitor and check the workflow.

'In comparison it now takes half-an-hour to perform this housekeeping.

The beauty of live information is at any time we can see on the screen not only if any problems are looming but most important, the effects on delivery or other planned operations of any delay caused, say, in setting, machine loading, inspection or tooling problems.' Kenard Engineering employs 55 people at Dartford offering subcontract machining services on mostly high value components for the aerospace, oil and gas, telecoms, defence, medical, motorsport, sub sea and mechanical seals sectors.

It has another site in Tewkesbury where 18 CNC machines are installed including a GBP 2.5 million, five-machine flexible manufacturing system involving four-axis horizontal machining centres and Fastems automation.

There is also a sheetmetal, sub and final assembly facility serving mainly defence, oil and gas and aerospace sectors.

Prior to installation of iMES at Dartford, Kenard used its in-house developed and award winning, Kenard Integrated Database Scheduler (KIDS) which imported data to a Preactor scheduling system that in turn exported lists of jobs to do.

The system, originally installed in the early 1990s had progressively evolved and, as systems do, became more complicated and cumbersome where as iMES is much faster, easier to use and genuinely 'real-time'.

Ellis explained, there was also the issue of reduced lead times which was becoming the driving force of the operation, especially with such a significant level of added value work available in the UK.

'To win these contracts you must be able to respond and deliver parts to the level of quality demanded and strictly to a tight schedule.

We have been able to generally reduce our lead times from 12 to 16 weeks of five years ago to under four weeks now and we are well on course to hit the 40-day enquiry to delivery target.' A typical higher added value component produced by Kenard is qualified by one particular aerospace contract where the machining alone of each part is valued at more than GBP 6,500 and involves 38 different processes on its route card.

'This is not the type of work you want gathering dust around the machine shop and we have a fair number of parts where material values alone are worth over GBP 1,000,' said Ellis.

Thus, with the new mill/turn machine installations replacing existing machines, Kenard knew it had created additional capacity to help reduce lead times but, 'we had to improve machine utilisation across the board if we were going to move the business forward,' he said.

'The iMES installation achieves this.

Giving absolute 'in-your-face', feed-back of what is happening in real time with live dynamic graphical predictions of workloads on each machine.

This is backed up with projected completion dates and performance reporting in a totally paperless environment.

The iMES system provides us with planning, a real-time scheduling display of all stages of relevant manufacturing data including subcontract processes right from material order to final despatch.

However, we also have the bonus of immediate automated management reporting.

We no longer have to wait to see how we performed, it is on the screen in front of us,' he added.

Due to its capability to integrate with other software systems, iMES takes the original 'work to' listing from the Kenard KIDS program and links into the Seiki Systems Networked Manufacturing Software (NMS).

NMS monitors in -real-time - the operational status of each of the 15 CNC machines to provide a continuous flow of information.

On the shopfloor, the operator and supervision view the same job queue and are informed that material, programs and tooling are available.

This at a stroke eliminates wasted time searching for tools, material or parts that have been pre-machined.

If the job is not ready to run, the system automatically feeds back information and when the next job is taken in preference, the system immediately updates the re-scheduled works order and highlights a problem if it has an effect on the final promised delivery date.

Meanwhile, the progress of the job currently in production is featured on the electronic job card that is 'stamped' on screen as it moves through its planned production routing, thus giving immediate updates on the system.

The installation has proven to be so successful that Kenard is currently expanding its use by installing it at the Tewkesbury site.

There will also be a live link back to the headquarters in Dartford to provide a totally transparent, capacity, work-in-progress, production analysis and management reporting system.

In addition to the 18 CNC machines on the site, bench working, painting, sheet metal production and assembly are also being integrated to provide full site coverage.

According to Ellis, the Dartford operation set up has already impressed customers.

He said: 'What has pleased us is their feedback of growing confidence in our operation and comments that what we are doing seems to be so simple, they are amazed that other production based suppliers are not doing the same.'