Solving the challenge of meeting reduced lead times

Posted on 4 Jun 2015 by The Manufacturer

Tony Hague, MD of PP Electrical Systems, explains why meeting reduced lead times is now one of the biggest challenges for machinery manufacturers across the world.

A force in renewables, Tony Hague (PP Electricals and MAN Group)
Tony Hague, managing director, PP Electricals.

There’s an old saying that “time is the most precious commodity” you can possess, a phrase that rings even truer in today’s demanding industrial landscape.

The global recovery – although much cherished and needed – has brought with it a new trading environment that often puts “delivery lead time” at the top of the pecking order, along with cost and performance.

Machinery manufacturers have probably had to adapt to this change in focus more than most. A few years ago they could have specified how long it would take a model to be built and delivered to the customer, but now the power is very much with the purchaser and lead time can be the difference between an order won or lost.

So not only have firms had to contend with building machines quicker they’ve also had to come to terms with more complex requirements from the customer and a demand for each model to be customised to their exact requirements.

“We’ve been calling it the ‘Perfect Storm’,” explained Tony Hague, managing director of control and automation specialist PP Electrical Systems.

Outsourcing PP Electrical
PP Electrical Systems employs 180 people at its facility in the West Midlands.

“Machinery manufacturers have had to introduce a complete culture and process change, and these changes have had to happen swiftly. We’re not talking small companies either, these are some of the biggest names in industry.

“They used to be able to set the timescales and there certainly wasn’t the same appetite from clients to configure their machines as much as there is now.”

He continued: “The recession changed all that and despite the recovery bringing much sunnier times, it also brought with it a more cautious and demanding approach to capital investment.

“The point of order release for capex seems to get further delayed, but the delivery times requested do not reflect those delays. In order to meet these new requirements, our customers have had to revert to a more agile approach to manufacturing and this is where we often come into the equation.”

PP Electrical Systems, which employs 180 people at its facility in the West Midlands, currently works with thirteen of the world’s biggest machinery manufacturers.

PP Electrical Factory Floor

It has become a close ally to the sector in recent years, with its ability to provide electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic and mechanical build capabilities making it one of only a few multi-disciplined system integrators in the UK.

Under the strong leadership of Hague and Chairman David Fox, the company has been able to develop an outsourcing offer that helps its global client base reduce lead times, increase capacity and improve the total manufacturing cost.

“The first stage is to take a look at the overall build process of the machine and explore ways in which we can make the build flow more efficient…value engineering you could say,” continued Hague, who is also a member of The Manufacturer’s Automation Advisory Board (AAB).

“This gives us the opportunity to examine where we can standardise some of the processes or components so that it is easier to configure later on in the build. Immediately, we are removing potential bottlenecks and reducing risk.

PP Electrical Fitting
PP Electrical Systems currently works with thirteen of the world’s biggest machinery manufacturers.

“In some cases we have even designed custom parts to be modular so they can be interchanged depending on the customer’s wishes.”

He continued: “Other elements include assessing the complete inter-connectivity associated with the machinery. This means auditing the current arrangement and identifying ways to improve quality, reliability, robustness and speed of assembly.”

There are an increasing number of PP Electrical Systems’ clients looking at strategic outsourcing, recognising that the only alternative available to them is trying to build more machines in advance.

This can prove very risky as you would have to forecast likely demand – which can be problematic on heavily customised equipment, plus all the “buffer” being built, whether stock, work-in-progress or finished products, constitutes space and money.

Winner of numerous Best Factory and Manufacturing Excellence awards, the company estimates that its approach has reduced production lead times for its customers from between 20% and 50%.

PP Electrical Systems - AutomationPP Electrical Systems - Automation
There are an increasing number of PP Electrical Systems’ clients looking at strategic outsourcing.

One startling statistic is how one customer, supplying into the fast moving electronics sector, managed to reduce machine build time from 6 weeks to just fourteen days – all through strategic outsourcing and the associated benefits of value engineering.

“There aren’t any downsides that we can see from outsourcing. It gives you agile capability to ramp up production in a controlled manner and, likewise, can be equally effective when volumes are lower than expected as there’s no sub-contract labour to manage or difficult workforce decisions to take,” added Hague.

He concluded: “We are always very careful to work in partnership with our customers, which allows them to evaluate their own core competences and the areas in which we can provide solutions of significant value.”

Exporting machinery to USA or Canada?

How aware are you of UL and CSA standards associated with electrical control systems that form part of your machinery, not to mention relevant NFPA70/79 standards concerning cabling and connectivity?

USA and UK Handshake
How aware are you of UL and CSA standards associated with electrical control systems?

The level of confusion that we are seeing from machinery builders has never been greater, ironically at a time when the North American export market is actually growing for many of these companies.

With this growing opportunity comes greater risk if the appropriate standards and approvals are not either fully understood, misinterpreted or, worse still, ignored.

The UL508a/cUL508a standards apply to electrical control panels and PP Electrical Systems has more than 15 years’ experience in design, build and approval to these standards and can help machine builders avoid the very damaging and often costly exercise of getting it wrong.

Too many companies believe they will meet requirements by simply selecting UL approved components and putting them into a UL approved enclosure system…nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many influencing factors to take into consideration when designing and building a control system that will be UL508a compliant and few companies have the level of experience that PP has developed over many years.

In addition to the complexities of UL, firms also have to consider the often application specific needs of US NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards number 70 & 79, national US electrical and safety codes.

Non-compliance to these standards can cause a scenario where machinery cannot be installed and connected to the supply, resulting in major expense and inconvenience.

PP Electrical Systems Contact DetailsPP Electrical Systems Contact Details