Providing for more accurate staff and resource management is just scratching the surface with computerised time and attendance (T&A) systems. When integrated more closely with business and plant level IT even more advantages can be obtained. The idea of linking T&A with production systems is “quite a hot button” according to Mike Hawkesford, managing director of T&A suite supplier Crown Computing. Even so, this concept has yet to filter through. Hawkesford says it’s difficult to be precise, but that between 10—20% of manufacturers use T&A to schedule and monitor their workforce. But, he says, many are now exploring labour planning as a route to improved productivity. The key point is that T&A enables organisations to monitor actual working time against the plan. In a market where control of costs has been a priority, the requirement for integrated T&A is fast rising up the checklist, according to Frank Reynolds, account manager at T&A solution firm Kronos. However, he claims that manufacturing companies admit to neglect on this front – across the industry sufficient access to the relevant information has not been provided. Yet the benefits are clear, according to Reynolds. “The ability to plan, track and analyse shop floor processes – and therefore manage your business – depends to a great extent upon how a business can reconcile labour costs with production costs.” So the question is not whether to integrate T&A and production, but how far this process needs to go. Clearly the more real-time the requirement, the more complex the task. Reynolds believes that few manufacturers are advanced enough in this integration game for a real-time solution, although companies will aspire to this state as their processes develop. There are other factors to be considered, according to Mike Skidmore, senior consultant at analyst Cambashi. He sees management within manufacturing becoming more aware of the need to link “efficiency of machine attendance with output target achievement”, as part of any calculation of contract values with main customers. He points out that T&A plays an important part in quantifying production capability. But it is quite difficult to superimpose T&A measurement on an existing production facility, Skidmore observes. The processes need to be included within the initial control specifications. Included by Skidmore in this context are response times to component feed demands and an effectiveness ratio to compare available production time with utilisation of resources. A lack of standardisation and off-the-shelf modules from the controls and T&A software suppliers, he says, is compounding the challenge. And he reckons that manual data input, such as smart cards and input codes, are not always suitable to situations where, for example, protective clothing has to be used. Further, systems have to distinguish between the performance of skilled and semi-skilled workers. One sector where T&A has been integrated with production has been in automotive parts supply, where the pressure to control prices needs to be matched against situations where manual parts handling impacts efficiency. Another is in china – where Wedgwood, for example, has linked T&A from Crown Computing with its piecework production. Both demonstrate the benefits simply waiting to be harnessed.