AK Precision Ltd is a thriving sub-contracting machine shop with a reputation for using the highest quality components to achieve the right product, delivered at the right time, for the right price. Steady growth has led to an increasingly complex set of production challenges, which is why AK Precision decided to invest in specialist manufacturing planning software from Seiki Systems.
Planning & Scheduling Challenges
Each product is 100% Made to Order and not only do these products vary considerably in physical size and complexity, but orders can range from single items to batches of 10,000 that need to be called off over a period of time. To complicate matters further, each new or repeat order with specification changes requires a new optimised route to be developed from scratch. It’s no wonder that Managing Director Wayne Read describes order routing and smoothness of flow as one of the company’s primary scheduling challenges. “Many machines are capable of working on a wide variety of orders but some orders require specific machines which means we are always having to juggle priorities.” Anthony Taylor is in charge of Operations and Sales and points out a further consideration. “It’s important to run similar products together wherever possible to minimise wasted setup time and to maintain the smoothness of flow.” This flexibility and complexity creates another key scheduling challenge – knowing what is happening where, and being able to monitor the progress of any and every operation.
Production Coordinator Rebecca Dack elaborates, “It’s more than just visibility of what is happening and where, it’s being able to see to what degree the actual schedule is following the projected schedule. It’s therefore vital to be able to see the impact of any changes on every other order and operation on the schedule. In addition to the reasons already mentioned this is essential as customers often amend an order specification or add items to an order”
Manufacturing Planning Software – A Specialist Solution
Prior to investing in the Seiki Scheduler, AK Precision had historically used a mixture of spreadsheets and tee-cards to try and overcome these production scheduling challenges. The spreadsheets all had too many variables and needed continual updating, which often meant doing nothing other than working on a spreadsheet that might turn out to be a different version to someone else’s. Wayne Read explains, “Given the specialist nature of our work we needed an equally specialist solution designed to work in a machining and engineering environment. The power and flexibility of the Seiki software to meet the company’s present and future requirements was the one of key the strengths of the solution for us.”
There were a number of other key considerations, all of which were met by the Seiki Systems Scheduler. These included the need to be able to schedule ‘on the fly’, to carry out quick and complex ‘what-if’ scenarios and to provide a high level of visibility across every element of the schedule. Furthermore, Seiki Systems had experience of integrating the solution with AK Precision’s primary PROGRESS business system. Read explains, “From the outset we all had a sense that Seiki understood our business and our account manager Neil Saunders and the wider Seiki team felt like people we could work well with.”
The implementation was completed by Seiki in less than a week with no impact on the day-to-day running of the business. It wasn’t long before the first major benefits started to appear. Production Coordinator Dack describes the impact of the improved visibility provided by the Seiki Scheduler as ‘massive’ – “Now we could see not just every order on the schedule but how they all interacted with each other. We can make much better informed decisions, and with increased confidence.” Read adds, “In a very real way, the Seiki Scheduler has actually made Becks’ job possible. Production meetings which used to take forever and a day now take 30 minutes tops.”
Realising the Benefits
The ability to generate the best possible schedule maximising the company’s human and machine resources has brought a number of direct time and cost savings including an increase in turnover and a 50% reduction in Work in Progress. It has also brought a number of additional benefits, including highlighting where manual routings for new or existing products are wrong or inefficient. And, because each machine now has an accurate work-to list (impossible before), operators can now see not just what job needs to be done and when, but what work is coming down the line. As Taylor notes, “Not only does this make the transition from one job to another smoother, it also gives the production staff a real opportunity to input positive suggestions into the schedule. These can then be tested and evaluated and when appropriate, acted on.” Read adds, “This has been a positive way of generating the buy-in from the production staff and has helped create an even stronger team spirit within the company.”
Another key benefit is that AK Precision is now able to compare projected and actual schedules in real time because the start and stop times of every operation are automatically logged on the system, the schedule is continually updated which means that any delays can be flagged up as soon as they occur. This also helps identify time savings where operations finish quicker than scheduled, which combined with ability to then investigate ‘what-if’ scenarios, enables the company to see which orders can be moved forward. The ‘what-if’ capabilities of the Seiki Scheduler are already being used with a view to assisting strategic capital purchase decisions.
Looking to the future, AK Precision is aware that there is much more to come from its investment and partnership with Seiki Systems. The company has just installed a large screen monitor in the planning office which is used in production meetings to show all those involved the current schedule. The next stage is to install several screens on the production floor so that all personnel can not only see the current jobs and forthcoming jobs, but also whether a given job is above or behind schedule. This will enable the company to do away with the paperwork and potential human error associated with ‘work to’ lists. As Read explains, “By enabling everyone to see the visibility of the schedule, they can see the impact of what they do not just on the job they are working on, but the schedule and therefore the company as a whole.” He concludes with a strategic reflection. “From a company perspective, it’s enabled us to move on and is providing the basis for future growth.”
Find out more about Seiki’s Manufacturing and Planning Software