The Planning and Scheduling Challenge
Supplying to such a diverse range of industries and particularly key OEMs within the medical industry requires an agile approach whilst retaining the highest levels of quality and responsiveness. As well as the design complexity and use of high value materials that need to stand up to repeated cleaning/sterilisation, orders tend to come in smaller batches of 5-10 with extremely tight delivery deadlines. At times there can be over 700-800 works orders on the system, comprising of anywhere between 5 and 500 operations to make up an assembly. Managing this volume and variety of work, whilst maintaining the flexibility to stay responsive to new orders provides some unique scheduling challenges.
Prior to investing in Seiki advanced planning and scheduling software with W.I.P booking and Electronic Work Queues, Kirkstall’s primary production management system was SOAP – a bespoke system developed by company co-owner Tim Buckley to manage all resources, BOMs and routings.
Mindful of the inherent risks of relying solely on an in-house developed system, specifically supporting and future proofing it, the team was keen to explore specialist solutions designed for manufacturing environments, that could meet their current and future requirements.
With such a fast changing and high volume order book, one of the primary planning challenges for Production Manager Steve Wilson was having visibility of their true capacity. “SOAP could tell us how many hours would be needed for a new job but if someone asked what the affect would be on our current live or planned workload it was almost impossible to calculate accurately and certainly not quickly. As a business we were also keen to have more live information and feedback from the shop floor to give us that much more confidence in being able to meet customer demands.”
Going live was made easier by the familiarity and uncomplicated functionality of the system. Steve explains, “You just want to be able to pick something up and to run with it. It enabled me to do what I was already doing but a lot faster.” With the Seiki scheduling software it now took seconds, leaving Steve to best describe the system as a ‘number cruncher’.
“I can have the answer I need on the screen almost instantly, which makes me ask more questions. It keeps me busier exploring ideas, being more creative and it frees up my time to do other jobs.”
This ability to ‘number crunch’ provides much greater manoeuvrability, particularly when dealing with last minute customer orders that need to be incorporated into the schedule. Without visibility of how every job interacted with each other and therefore the consequences of any changes, it was hard to make informed decisions. The Seiki software changed that by enabling ‘what-if’ scenarios to be run without affecting the live schedule.
For Kirkstall first article inspection is a critical process that can take anything up to 24 hours to complete. If this otherwise potentially hidden time and resource requirement isn’t also accounted for when scheduling it’s almost impossible to get a realistic or accurate planned completion date. Steve explains, “You’ve really got to think of all the variables that you need the Scheduler to manage, so that you can build the entire process into the plan. For one job, before the 2,500 parts could go into inspection each one had to be manually unwrapped from its packaging. You can imagine the potential error we would be building into the whole schedule if we hadn’t factored this in. But once they are in the system as resources we have a repeatable process.”
Each machine now has an accurate, prioritised work-to-list that is generated directly from the Scheduler, so Operators can see not just what job needs to be done and when, but what work is coming down the line. This integrated, collaborative approach ensures that the Operators are helping to generate a live view of work in progress by booking on and off jobs in real time. By giving everyone visibility and a means of feeding back their knowledge it empowers people to make a real, valuable contribution.
“The system is factual, dependable and repeatable. I never feel like I’m playing catch up. I always have an exact picture of where all my jobs are and can share this information easily with the team. I can also drive suppliers to meet their deadlines if the system is telling me that we are at risk of running late on a job.”
Kirkstall anticipates much more to come from its investment and collaboration with Seiki. To expand the system and introduce new methods of working is a continuous improvement process. “The ability to take a progressive approach was one of the benefits of the Seiki system. We needed a supplier that could support us as we continue to grow and evolve; as well as guide us with the latest, best practice solutions.”