Needing to improved factory-floor efficiencies while also gaining better insight into product costs, Basingstoke-based custom hi-tech cable manufacturer recognised it required better visibility into detailed factory-floor operations.
But how? Introduced to specialist factory-floor productivity experts Mestec, GTK discovered that it took less than a week to install an operational pilot implementation of one of Mestec’s ‘Smart Box’ terminals in an assembly cell. Two months later, evaluation complete, GTK began rolling out the terminals across the factory—on course for a 600% ROI.
Fast-growing Basingstoke-based electronics manufacturer GTK builds high-specification connector and cable assemblies for customers in hi-tech industries.
Typically, says operations director Steve Robinson, batch sizes vary between one cable assembly and a thousand, with the work content involved in each cable assembly also varying from between two or three minutes to several man-weeks.
“With just paper-based systems for work content recording, we were finding that not only was it difficult to gather data to improve production efficiencies, but we had no data to guide us when we were quoting for new business,” he explains. “In addition, this lack of historic data made accurate production scheduling impossible.”
In short, he sums up, the business’s requirement was very clear: what was needed was better visibility into how long its wide range of cable assemblies took to manufacture. And the reward, too, was equally obvious: better-informed decisions to drive the lean manufacturing process, accurate costing and accurate scheduling.
An added complication, explains Robinson, is that the nature of the business is such that the ‘first off’ cable assembly of a batch generally takes much longer to complete than the rest of the batch, as operatives work with the cable assembly drawing in order to determine and refine the most effective way of building it.
“Ideally, we were looking to quote customers a two-tier price: a price for the ‘first off’ assembly to be built, and then a lower price for the remainder of the batch—with the goal of the higher ‘first off’ price being to drive an increase in average order size,” he explains.
In other words, rather than building—say—ten cable assemblies a month for a given customer, Robinson suspected that building six months’ requirements at a time would be a better proposition for both GTK and its customers, helping to drive down costs and boost efficiencies.
The starting point: once again, a requirement for better visibility into factory floor activities, in order to pinpoint just how long ‘first off’ builds were taking.
But how best to achieve this visibility? A review of a dozen leading shop floor data capture systems quickly confirmed that their price tags were prohibitively high. And experience had proven that bespoke software, custom-developed for GTK, lacked the features and stability of commercial software and therefore the factory floor operators swiftly lost interest.
In late September 2012, a conversation with a manufacturing consultant who was familiar with GTK’s business resulted in an intriguing suggestion: take a look at Mestec.
“We weren’t familiar with Mestec, but the consultant was,” recalls Robinson. “During an informal conference call with Mestec, we quickly saw that the features we were looking for were available out of the box, together with additional features, such as real-time dashboards and reports, available as standard.”
The plan that emerged was simple. GTK would install a pilot implementation of Mestec’s Manufacturing Smart Box touch-screen terminals in a single manufacturing cell that builds a limited range of twenty or so cable assemblies. Housed in the cloud, on a Mestec-hosted server, the system would quickly allow GTK to determine for themselves the value of the Mestec proposition. The pilot was up and running within a week.
“We weren’t installing any software on site, or impacting our existing IT systems at all,” says Robinson. “All that was required to integrate with Mestec was a single spreadsheet downloaded twice daily from our ERP system which automatically fed into Mestec. It really couldn’t be simpler—and unlike our previous system, we soon found that our people trusted it, and found it intuitive to use.”
What’s more, this is an evaluation route chosen by more and more customers, says Mestec managing director Jeremy Harford.
“Rather than spending time on protracted sales negotiations, we’re increasingly letting the Smart Box system do the talking,” he explains. “For the customer, there’s nothing like seeing the results on their own factory floor, with their own products and people.”
So it proved. After a successful two month trail, GTK began rolling out the Mestec Manufacturing Smart Box touch-screen terminals through the entire factory, deploying one screen for each assembly team. As with the evaluation phase, the decision was taken to continue with Mestec’s hosted ‘Software as a Service’ offering, recognising the advantages it provided in terms of 100% uptime, greater security, and avoiding the need to purchase on-site servers.
“With production taken care of,” explained Robinson, “the next phase is to capture data from either side of the manufacturing process, rolling out the system to kitting and inspection where we expect to enjoy further efficiency gains. Ultimately, there will probably be an automatic link to our ERP system, using Mestec’s ‘out of the box’ plug compatible ERP APIs.”
“Our analysis of the financial benefits was overwhelming: over a three-year period, for every pound we spent on the system we expect to save six.”
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