When Madras and Nottingham Lace maker Morton, Young and Borland needed to transform itself for the 21st Century, it implemented integrated IT without losing its craft foundations. Brian Tinham reports.
The only company in the world still making ‘Madras’ cotton and one of the few producing Nottingham Lace is in the small Ayrshire town of Newmilns. But Morton, Young and Borland (MYB), now 100 years old and turning over £2.7m, isn’t just interesting for its heritage – the firm has introduced modern machinery and an integrated enterprise (ERP) system and IT infrastructure, and brought them together to work in what is still a craft environment.
MYB employs 75 people and 60% of its turnover is exported. Operating at the top end of the fabric market the company’s Madras cotton clients include Osborne & Little and Anna French in the UK, and in the US, names like Jobbers, Ralph Lauren and Robert Allen. “It’s a challenge manufacturing Madras for clients like these,” says Scott Davidson, sales and marketing director. “Each new design that these fabric houses produces goes to our CAD designers to prepare them for production. Then the designs are woven to order, with each made exclusively.”
This is a growing market, but MYB faces all the usual issues of modern manufacturing – centring on the need to make cost savings and become more efficient. So two years ago, facing problems with its existing Kalamazoo accounts on the run up to Y2k, it made the decision to implement an integrated business and manufacturing IT system both to facilitate further growth and improve production efficiency.
It wasn’t going to be easy. “We are a low volume, high value company, receiving approximately 40 orders a week,” says Davidson. “Madras weaving is a complex operation … The weaving speeds are very slow and only the highest quality long staple yarns can be used, so the cost of the finished article is relatively high.” And although the company had invested in some modern computerised Vamtex looms capable, for example, of taking designs on disc from the CAD stations (instead of the old card systems), it was still a craftsman’s environment. So not only was scoping the project going to be testing, but with so little in terms of existing IT, and with old skills and ways to consider, implementing any system was also going to be tricky and expensive.
Eventually the firm selected an NT-based Efacs system from Exel, through local VAR RAD Software, as well as a new (Payrite) payroll system, Internet and email connections – a complete infrastructure. Says Steven Ede, IT manager, “We’ve spent heading up to £150,000.” Most of that was on a 20-user Efacs system with, says Ede, considerable additions, rewrites and special reports for textile operations and MYB specifically.
Which begs the question, why Efacs? “We felt they had the biggest scope for adapting and developing their system to our needs, and RAD is local and very responsive,” says Ede. In the event, the new system went live 18 months ago, a couple of months after installation, and, with RAD’s modifications, went down well. “There are always a few hiccups along the way but RAD has helped us overcome them,” says Davidson.
Power of workarounds
Modules installed include: engineering, sales order processing, planning, material control, production and work in progress (WIP) and financials. Ede: “The engineering side manages our design data – we had to get our head round all the mechanical engineering terms, but it works. On the planning side we did use MRP to begin with, but it was too complicated for our people. So we don’t use it now: RAD developed screens using Efacs’ Adapt language to get round it.”
So now the firm is back to planning boards for scheduling work, while production material ordering is through Efacs (purchase/tendering and vendor rating aren’t used) – with the stockman simply managing and holding a couple of weeks worth of safety stocks and entering details for reconciliation.
Ede says this was the only sensible way given the nature of its people and operations. He goes on to say that MYB doesn’t operate a strict bill of materials (BoM) system – Efacs has been set up so that the BoM doesn’t take the yarn itself into consideration, instead looking at what matters to the users – the top level product design, colour and cut size only.
Clearly, these quite specific requirements entailed tailoring from RAD. And there are plenty of other examples: like consignment management between MYB and its contractors that apply colouring, with partial works orders and the like; and special ‘works order’ screens and automatic background processes that generate all the piece, sales, order and item numbers and barcode tickets that accompany material through the loom (itself making multiple products), cutting, darning and external stages – and tie back into sales orders.
Workarounds or not, Davidson says, “Efacs helped us integrate our production processes from sales right through to despatch.” And he adds, “[It] has added great value to our business, allowing us to adopt a much more professional approach to our suppliers and customers – in the way we present invoices, the way we respond to customer enquiries in seconds now instead of saying we’ll call back. No-one knew where anything was before; now we can all see in real time.”
Indeed, Davidson says such has been the improvement in efficiency, MYB has been able to cut its workforce by about 10%, while those remaining are able to make more profitable use of their time. “The system will have paid for itself in another couple of years.”
Currently the company’s is piloting barcoding on the looms. Ede: “We have SFDC (shop floor data capture) terminals and we swipe jobs on and off the production floor so that operators don’t have to record metreage manually. It’s all linked into Efacs and updates work in progress, books jobs off the looms, prompts the next operation and so on. Reports from this include production rates per loom per shift, per day, etc.”
Next, MYB wants to extend this to downstream manufacturing – cutting and darning – and then on out to the colouring/finishing contractors. The SFDC is in place: “all we need is the barcode readers,” says Eade.
And Davidson adds: “A barcoding system would be a great addition, speeding up stock control and making its management more accurate. Our warehouses are full of rolls of fabric and stacks of tablecloths, etc. and barcoding will cut out a large number of manual transactions. It will also improve Efacs’ real time performance so we can get even better updates.”
Author: Brian Tinham