Two years ago, Press Patterns was a tool and die maker with flailing profits and a shrinking order book. But over the last year, the company has managed to attract a host of new, high profile customers including Aston Martin and BMW. Dean Palmer roots out the secrets of its success.
Nuneaton-based Press Patterns is a small-to-medium size mould and die maker for the automotive industry, part of First Automotive Group. The company specialises in producing prototype models (known as ‘model stacks’) for major car manufacturers. In fact, Press Patterns was responsible for the Rover75 exterior model stack (i.e. a model which exactly represents the finished road car).
Two years ago, just as the situation at the Nuneaton site was beginning to deteriorate, Press Patterns was acquired by First Automotive Group. This enabled Press Patterns to invest in new facilities, 25 new CAD workstations, and new machinery on the shop floor.
But the cash injection from First Automotive was not enough on its own – more investment was needed, particularly in the area of IT. Paul Martindale, purchasing and quality manager for Press Patterns, is one of two ongoing project “champions” for the WorkPlan implementation. Martindale explains the original situation at the company: “We were a fragmented company, with disparate databases all over the business … some people were using [Microsoft] Excel, others [Microsoft] Word … the same data was being keyed-in multiple times, there were too many wasteful processes and double effort.”
Production scheduling was also relying on “gut feeling” rather than accurate real-time data from the shop floor. “WorkPlan has solved this problem now,” explains Martindale.
“12 months ago, the management team realised that the business lacked a system that could support quotations, material demands, resource planning, quality schemes and project management to the extent necessary to cope with any increased demand,” continues Martindale. “You simply cannot survive by basing decisions on inaccurate, out-of-date information. We wanted visibility throughout the business – this is why we decided to look for a software solution.”
From a list of eight vendors, Press Patterns eventually decided on Sescoi’s WorkPlan software. Martindale explains further: “WorkPlan certainly wasn’t the cheapest, but it was the best-fit solution and best value for money … also, some vendors could not provide an integrated invoicing module which was very important to us.”
“The software was also ideally suited to one-off and small batch production which also became a deciding factor,” says Martindale.
With the help of WorkPlan, the company has gained complete visibility throughout the enterprise: sales can confidently quote lead times and costs to the customer; management decision making has improved; manufacturing is able to identify bottlenecks earlier, and can reschedule accordingly; purchasing and production planning know when to outsource and when to make in-house; works order tracking is quick and easy; and the implementation of a time & attendance module is on course to pay back within the year.
So how does WorkPlan achieve such visibility? Using a relational database, WorkPlan consists of nine integrated modules: quotations, sales order management and processing, production planning and scheduling, purchasing and stock control, quality control, time and attendance (T&A), and manufacturing management.
Press Patterns began a phased implementation of WorkPlan 18 months ago, starting with the time and attendance module. Before WorkPlan, employees used daily time sheets, clock cards, and had to sign for materials from the warehouse. The T&A module has been up-and-running for about six months now.
Paul Carey, resource manager for Press Patterns, describes the benefits of using WorkPlan: “Now, employees use swipe cards to clock-in and out, and bar codes for material requisition, with the information recorded automatically in WorkPlan … management can accurately track work-in-progress, and can calculate the ‘true cost’ of a job through the plant, adjusting future quotations to the customer accordingly.”
Carey reckons the complete software implementation [which cost £44,000 for a 15-PC terminal installation, 10 barcode readers and two digital clock-in units] will pay for itself in one year with the savings made on the time and attendance module alone. He continues: “Just imagine what was happening before … 80 shop floor workers spending 15 minutes filling in their daily time sheets. That equates to more than 100 man-hours lost per week! We believe we will save £120,000 as a result of the T&A module in the first year.”
Carey continues: “Even the CAD department staff use swipe cards now to record the time for each job. When they finish one job, they swipe the new job’s barcode into WorkPlan, and the computer records it all.”
So other departments around the company are already benefiting greatly from the WorkPlan implementation. The nature of Press Patterns’ work means that fast and accurate quotations are key to winning contracts. Detailed quotes are often necessary including the number of hours for each sub-assembly, or the number of hours for each machining operation.
According to Martindale, “the system now enables users to quickly locate existing quotations by searching on product characteristics, and then allows you to copy one or more into a new quotation … speeding up the whole process. We can also perform quotation simulations against the current production schedule … we’ve never had this kind of visibility before!”
Martindale continues: “Orders have increased simply because sales engineers have access to very accurate costing data … thus if your margins are being squeezed hard by the client, sales can quickly make a decision on whether to accept the order or not – or perhaps even outsource part of the order if our capacity can’t handle it.”
But surely there must have been problems transferring legacy data into WorkPlan?
In fact, there were very few problems in this area. Martindale elaborates: “We decided, due to the nature of our business, to allow our existing order book to run to completion, then feed only new projects and orders into WorkPlan. In parallel, we had to clean up our existing customer and supplier data [in Excel], before it could be imported to WorkPlan, but it was not a real issue for us.”
And the results of the implementation speak for themselves. WorkPlan, coupled with investment in new CAD systems and CNC machinery, has helped to increase the company’s sales turnover by 20% - from £7 million in 1998, to more than £8.5 million in 2000 – and profits are now on the up again.
In an industry where the majority of car manufacturers require very stringent project management and proof of project progress, companies like Press Patterns simply must have access to real-time accurate data from the shop floor and across the enterprise. WorkPlan has certainly helped to achieve this. And Evidence of the turnaround is in the company’s new client list – Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volkswagen and even Rolls-Royce!
Author: Dean Palmer