BEL Valves Ltd
Newcastle based British Engines Ltd (BEL Valves) is a successful, family owned manufacturing and engineering business established in 1922. The company has grown from an outsourced manufacturing business to an £85m turnover specialist manufacturer of bespoke valves for the oil and gas industry, specialising in bespoke Engineer-to-Order valve solutions for extreme operating environments.
With annual production rates that can range between 1800 and 3000 units, there can be up to 25,000 processes going on at any time. Breaking this down into more detail reveals the process flow within BEL Valves and begins to highlight the challenges the company faces in optimising its four workshop areas containing CNC machines, a dedicated carbide coating area, assembly areas and test bays.
Improved visibility for time and cost savings
Given the physical size and scale of the operations at BEL Valves, visibility of what is happening and where does create a real challenge. This is more than just knowing what machine is in use and when, it is understanding the underlying reasons behind this data, including the human input at every stage. This is essential not just for controlling costs but also for being able to accurately allocate costs to orders. Given the scale of manufacturing at BEL Valves, potential time savings can be measured in hours per operation and subsequent cost savings measured in tens of thousands of pounds by ensuring schedules are met.
Manufacturing system requirements
Prior to investing in the Seiki Systems solution, BEL Valves relied on a combination of its Avante ERP system and its APS package. While this allowed a basic level of works order progress monitoring, it involved a high degree of manual input. As Thomas Hodgson, Systems Production Engineering puts it, “We had some data but we couldn’t trust it. Consequently we had regular manual inspections of workers processes to check the validity of data.” When the business committed to an expansion plan to double its existing capacity in 2012 the following concerns/requirements were identified:
- Tighter integration
- Better information management
- Clearer data output
- More robust hardware
The Seiki solution
Following Seiki’s recommendations, systems were stripped back and a new network infrastructure implemented. Seiki industrial touchscreen PCs were installed as shop floor terminals to provide maximum robustness. From a software perspective, Seiki completely reworked their interface with the Avante ERP system, ensured it would run smoothly with BEL’s APS system and then installed its Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC) with WIP Booking, Machine Data Acquisition (Monitoring) and Jobpack DNC modules throughout the area.
Shop floor operators were now being driven by new ‘work-to’lists delivered to each machine. The operator would pick the next job and if the required material was present, they would then download the relevant CNC program as well as be provided with video and text instructions including which tool to use. When they start the machine programme, Seiki then begins monitoring all the live operational data and handles any alerts resulting from stoppages etc. When finished, the operator enters the quantity of components at which point the Seiki software then has all the performance data relating to what happened and when.
Early indicators of success
Tim Maughan comments on the early indicators of success. “The most telling sign was the acceptance of the system by operators, the ease of use, increased robustness and flexibility of the system.” As well as bringing increased visibility and clarity to plant and human resources, it was at this stage that the cumulative benefits began to be realised. This was most keenly felt at management level which began to gain improved clarity of asset utilisation across shift patterns and at individual and combined machine shop level. Adam Leggett remarks, “Now I can look at one screen and see how every piece of equipment I’m responsible for is doing, in real time and from a trend analysis perspective.”
Looking to the future
BEL Valves has plans to continue rolling out the system throughout the company, beginning with assembly and testing (an area that has historically been difficult to derive accurate data from). Seiki is now at the heart of BEL Valves ambitious expansion plans. The final word goes to Tim Maughan, “We have moved from having an IT system providing limited visibility to having a fully integrated manufacturing system that the entire company trusts to provide real time information. We can see the machine and WIP status of every resource and the company as a whole in real time. Thanks to this we have the confidence to manage the challenges of our market and to ensure we meet the needs of our customers in terms of on time delivery, visibility and responsiveness.”