Fastening its future

Posted on 13 Jul 2009 by The Manufacturer

TM discovers how Stainless Steel Fasteners have improved connectivity and visibility with Exel EFACS E/8.

Stainless Steel Fasteners (SSF) is worldwide market leader in the field of special fastener manufacturing with a unique blend of traditional manufacturing machinery and the very latest CNC and computer technology. With a heritage spanning over 40 years, the £9m turnover company employs 82 skilled personnel and supplies high integrity, high quality products and services primarily to the oil, gas and associated industries. When SSF needed to replace its ageing disconnected business systems, it knew it needed a fully integrated solution and a supplier that was totally dependable. It found the exact fit in EFACS E/8 from Exel Computer Systems.

In addition to exacting quality standards, flexibility lies at the heart of success for SSF. A 100% make-toorder (MTO) manufacturer, SSF has a potential range of product permutations in excess of 20 million, taking diameter, length, materials and finishes into account.

Orders extend from one-offs through to batches of 10,000 with multiple call-offs, with a number of products being able to be manufactured in a variety of ways depending on urgency and cost. Typical lead times for the 20 orders processed on average each day are two to three weeks although this can be as low as 24 hours for extremely urgent orders that can physically be manufactured in this time.

Focusing on the customer
In terms of business flow, much of the value-add is done before the order is dispatched to the production floor and its collection of 50+ production resources with subcontracting possible at any stage of the process depending on the nature of the product.

Stephen Wilkinson, managing director of SSF, has been with the company for 26 years and explains the key business challenges his company has to deal with. “Let’s begin with the customer, as ultimately everything revolves around the customer and their requirements. It is essential that we maintain excellent customer relations by delivering product and service of the highest quality.” He adds “Because our customers may make annual purchases, it is also paramount that we keep just the right balance between continually being in our customer’s mind for when it comes to them making a purchase and not being a nuisance. This is especially the case where specific customers require very exotic materials which may have long lead times that we might need to pre-order.”

Another key challenge is the need for absolute accuracy at every stage of the business, especially at the early order processing stage. A single typing error may render an entire order unusable which can not only be costly given the nature of materials used, but also result in a customer not getting their order as expected. This is held in tension with the need to process orders and have them on the shop floor as quickly as possible in order to meet the tight lead times that are involved. Visibility is also a major challenge and not just as expected on the shop floor as Wilkinson explains. “Having access to historical information, at a customer, order and stock level, is important to be able to make the best strategic and tactical decisions.” He continues, “By having a historical record of who tends to buy what, and when, we can time our buying to take advantage of particularly favourable conditions.”

As mentioned, flexibility is central to successfully making those all important delivery dates which is why SSF has a wide range of what Wilkinson refers to as “flexible routes of product realisation.” Quite often however, this is highly specialised information known only to key personnel in the company who can then make the decision as to which production route to use and in what circumstances. It is imperative that resources are utilised efficiently although as Wilkinson adds, “always with a strong sense of the cost/benefit involved.” Finally, traceability is essential with different products requiring different degrees of testing in order to conform to customer requirements.

Prior to investing in EFACS E/8, SSF had relied on an ageing Sage Line 100 system, a separate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, and a range of spreadsheets for production control. Despite various Visual Basic (VB) tie-ins, there was no sense of integration with data duplication being rife, along with the potential for data variance in each system. In terms of stock control, the system at best was able to keep limited stock availability information but even here, the information was difficult to get to. Data issues hit the critical area of CRM hard with typing mistakes leading to several entries for the same customer with vital buying information spread across different records, all of which could be potentially missed or which took significant time to double check. In addition to looming obsolescence of its Sage system, it was becoming i n c r e a s i n g l y
clear that the company’s all important flexibility was being compromised by rigid and complex systems which were heavily reliant on the expert knowledge of its users to get meaningful information out.

Quality a priority
As two companies within the group were already successfully using EFACS E/8, Wilkinson and SSF naturally were drawn to this. Given the company’s commitment to allow nothing to negatively impact on the quality of its product and service, SSF therefore bought two EFACS E/8 licences and began a high level mapping of the company’s business processes with EFACS’ capabilities. Wilkinson brought in key personnel within the company to add their expert insight into what EFACS E/8 would need to do in order to replicate their existing processes.

A fundamental issue for SSF was the need to quickly and accurately allocate product numbers from the 20 million possible permutations. The only viable method was to do this dynamically but as a skilled operator might take half a day to do this manually for 10 items, this was clearly an area that could be improved on.

The solution lay in Wilkinson and team spending 9 months distilling their expert knowledge into an in-house configuration program which now enables a skilled operator to generate a part number in twenty seconds by answering 8 questions with 9 mouse clicks. As Wilkinson is quick to acknowledge, it is the technological infrastructure of EFACS E/8 that makes linking this data very straightforward.

Once this was in place, the company invested another year testing and developing every aspect of its EFACS E/8 system. An intense month of testing in December 07 including parallel running with Sage proved the viability of the system and following final data imports, SSF went live with EFACS E/8, as planned, in January 2008.

Most importantly for SSF, there was no impact on its existing business and by the end of the first day there was no backlog of work on the system at all. Matthew Tongue is SSF’s resource manager and he comments on where the benefits were felt first in the company.

“From the outset we found all the material control data to be totally accurate and providing the variable route flexibility we needed in order to deliver the quality and flexibility required by our customers.”

Streamlined for success
Other benefits however were gradual and reflect the reality of change within any company, as Wilkinson explains. “Purchasing took approximately 6 months of using and trusting the system before they began to see additional ways that EFACS E/8 could help them do their job better. This was largely as the system gradually accumulated historic data which could then be easily accessed and mined to provide genuine business intelligence benefits.” It is estimated that EFACS E/8 has on the whole led to increased efficiency resulting in an increased focus on purchasing strategy.

The same was true concerning the company’s customer focus with the integrated CRM capabilities of EFACS E/8 having proved to be one of the most significant areas of benefit. Now the Sales team is able to monitor and analyse to great depths, all the company’s customer facing activity. This has brought visibility on buying patterns and trends and allowed much more strategic purchasing as well as ensuring that the company is best placed to meet the demands of its customers. This is especially the case when responding to customer queries concerning existing orders where Wilkinson says there has been a spectacular 90% reduction in time taken to be able to get the customer the information he or she wants.

By incorporating the expert knowledge previously held in different individuals throughout the company within EFACS E/8, SSF is now able to train replacement and additional staff much, much quicker. Tongue remarks that whereas previously it could take six months for a new employee to be proficient in knowing the complexities of how the company works, now with EFACS E/8 they can make a valid contribution within a very short timescale.

Looking to the future Wilkinson and Tongue see further benefits to be had from a deeper use of EFACS’ existing functionality, especially in the area of CRM.

Machine timings and routings may well be added into wider MRP/ERP considerations in addition to further streamlining of Export documentation where EFACS E/8 has already saved one week per month.

Case Study
SAGE: Increase your organisation’s agility by going mobile

Manufacturers are constantly seeking cost reductions through economies of scale as well as advances in materials and methods and, increasingly, information systems.

As Netbooks become even smaller and lighter and phones have more computing power onboard than Apollo 11, the key question is “just what are we trying to achieve with mobile technologies?”. We need to be clear about where technology can add real business value – not just as another toy to play with or, as so often with e-mail, another means of flooding individuals with unnecessary information.

We need to re-think how users want to receive information and process transactions. Simplifying processes has advantages across the business, not just for mobile users, and helps optimise performance and response times.

The advantages for mobile sales teams, field service engineers and distribution and warehouse staff have been extensively debated and documented, but the potential to generate real business advantage doesn’t stop there. On-site specification checking, product configuration and order placement whilst with customers; collaborative design and engineering with dispersed teams, all have a part to play.

Cost reduction and quality improvements are obvious benefits when real time issue / problem logging and updates from the shop floor involve mobile users to ensure swift resolution and minimise disruption to production.

Mobile technologies can be a major step towards creating more agile and competitive businesses.

Successful manufacturers are already utilising mobile technology to help address real business needs and opportunities and to create USPs in service and customer satisfaction by reacting smarter and faster than the competition.

At Sage, mobile is a huge focus for us.

If you’re interested in building your competitive advantage with Sage Mobile Solutions then give us a call to find out what we’re doing and how we can help.

Published in association with:
Sage (UK) Ltd
Steve Tattum
Product Manager
Tel: 0845 111 9988