When motor sport manufacturer and rally operator RML needed to jump-start its complex engineering, manufacturing and rally project business it found a modern ‘make-to-order’ enterprise system could do even more than it expected. Brian Tinham reports.
To succeed in the global motor sport industry, specialist engineering company Ray Mallock (RML) says it needs its business and manufacturing operations to be as fast as its cars. And since October 1999, the firm has achieved this – by implementing an enterprise system (ERP) that’s not only given it complete visibility of its race and car build projects, and moved it up to “extreme JIT operations”, but massively reduced work in progress, transformed project costing and slashed admin costs.
Based in Wellingborough, RML, which has a turnover of £7 million and 100 staff, designs, develops and runs race and rally cars, as well as building sports cars – such as its American Le Mans Saleen 7 (launched last year and on sale to the public for a princely $375,000). Customers include Nissan, Opel and Vauxhall: RML was responsible for the Nissan Primeras in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and ran the work team for Vauxhall in the British Rally Championship and in World Rally Championship events.
But this is a very competitive market, and RML has to work hard at staying ahead – focusing on everything from delivering good customer service in its racing campaign management to continuously improving its fast-paced automotive engineering, manufacturing and project management.
In 1999, RML decided to review its IT. It was happy with its design side: RML runs Unigraphics CAD/CAM with no PDM. (The company says development of products is so rapid that “the detail of PDM would actually slow us down”.) Unigraphics drives to Mastercam for the lathes, CNC machine tools and the rest, which all works fine. Meanwhile, the interface to the BoMs in its manufacturing system is traditional, with a production engineer passing verified data to a BoM administrator for manual entry.
On the manufacturing business side though, the company felt it needed to start again. There were specific issues. It needed a system capable of handling purchasing and manufacturing processes for highly configurable cars, subject to constant redesign for performance improvement. Also, capacity planning had its challenges: racing accidents cannot be predicted and a requirement to reschedule for a complete rebuild can come overnight. And there was international project and race campaign management.
Chris Davies, IT manager, says the firm spent “four or five months” shortlisting systems and got it down to five: QAD, Epicor (then Dataworks), Kewill (now K3), Glovia and Frontstep (formerly Symix). Having ranked all these against specific performance requirements gleaned from across the company, RML went with Frontstep. Davies explains: “Many systems we considered could support mass manufacturing, but were unsuitable for concurrent engineering like ours. Frontstep’s SyteLine is focused on make-to-order. We also felt Frontstep understood our business.”
RML placed its order for £150,000 worth of system in June 1999, and was up and running three months later, on time and within budget. Davies: “Our main objectives were to increase operational efficiency and reduce costs. We also wanted to be able to gain more accurate information about the business that would enable us to serve our customers better.”
SyteLine has achieved this in several ways. Davies first cites the system’s ‘bill of manufacture’: “The previous system’s bill of materials (BoM) separated routings from materials, which didn’t make much sense.” But SyteLine’s BoM gives RML visibility of the build process, so it can give customers and suppliers more precise information about delivery dates. “Our BoMs are at least seven layers deep, so it’s not unusual to find nested manufactured items. Syteline can blow down all this to cut to accurate rolled up lead times for the whole BoM – operations and purchased materials.”
Tracking and recording labour spent on operations and projects also gives RML better minute-to-minute shop floor management. And Davies adds: “The other superb thing is that Syteline ... automates the release of jobs to the shopfloor against due date. Everything is referenced back to the customer due date and it looks for all the parent and child jobs, with back flushing, so that everything arrives on time. That’s critical.”
There’s more: the bill of manufacture also incorporates variant parts. Says Davies: “The same car will have different variants, depending on the competitions it enters. For example, a rally car will require specific parts according to the rules of a competition and whether it is racing on gravel, mud or the road. SyteLine incorporates a configurator that can calculate the costs and timescales – it creates a bespoke BoM on the fly for that unique model. That’s invaluable to us.”
Real project management
Moving on, SyteLine has also improved RML’s ability to manage projects and costs. It provides accurate and detailed estimating and cost accounting, so now, not only can RML tell customers precisely how much projects will cost; it can also keep tabs on budgets as they proceed. Paul Coleman, head of operations at RML explains: “Previously, we had limited knowledge of how much it would cost to run a project. Now we have accurate project costs, and this ensures that each project is profitable.” Davies adds: “It goes a step further than straightforward project costing: there’s the notion of projects as tasks, with a finite time, and project resources. So for a race like the Manx rally at the end of March, it scheduled all resources to arrive in time.”
Cost reductions have also been achieved through SyteLine’s electronic workflow, which has enabled RML to cut out inefficiencies. Workflow has speeded up tasks that previously stalled processes and works, by automatically prompting individuals to act upon events fast. For example, workflow automatically informs team managers when parts arrive so they can prioritise other parts for purchasing and/or manufacturing.
Davies says that project managers now have confidence that resources and parts will be delivered on time, which has hugely improved stock management – and in turn reduced work in progress. “We had £12 million in work in progress on the old system: after six months we now have £500,000!” Davies accepts this is not comparing apples with apples, because of the difference in accounting procedures (“It’s extreme JIT stocking, and it fluctuates wildly”). But it remains a huge tribute to improved accuracy and visibility.
Looking to the future, Davies says his next investment will probably be Frontstep’s advanced planning and scheduling (APS). “MRP runs once a day, but APS would work very well with our operations,” he says. “The supply and demand position changes so quickly.”
Also there’s e-commerce. RML, he says, may soon be contracted by the Opel Performance Centre to develop another new rally car. “They are most likely to want us to start selling cars and parts over the Internet to the public. It’ll be a major new opportunity.” Davies says he will support it with Frontstep’s eSyte e-commerce suite, providing everything from Internet catalogue sales to real-time order status and the rest.
Author: Brian Tinham