20 Dec Preactor helps mould leading laminating company for further success
Foilex is one of the industry’s leading foiling specialists, laminating window, door, cladding and roofline products for major name companies, adding value through its comprehensive service focus. Foilex was founded over a decade ago and has gone from strength to strength now operating seven lamination lines 24 hours a day, servicing an enviable customer base. The company also has its own slitting facilities and a unique rapid turnaround line that gives it a significant edge over its competition. In 2005, this success resulted in a £5m turnover processing 6 million metres of product. When Foilex recognized it needed an Advanced Planning and Scheduling system to help continue its drive to maximum operating efficiency, it found the perfect partner in Preactor. On one level, the business processes involved at Foilex are quite straightforward. The company takes in raw material in the form of pre-shaped strips of the required material which may be UPVC, unicellular foam, wood or aluminium.
Laminate is supplied in varying size logs and cut to size in house before being bonded to the pre-shaped strip, on both sides, via a lamination line. After QA testing, the finished product is dispatched to the customer. However, as Karl Draper, Planning Manager for Foilex who has been with the company for 10 years explains, there are a number of very challenging business and production constraints, which need to be overcome.
“As a business, we continually face challenges in terms of product, ever decreasing lead times from customers, as well as customers demanding greater flexibility in terms of products and finishes. A typical order is between 500 metres and 25,000 metres and one of a limited number of finishes. However, a growing number of customers want custom lengths much shorter than 500 metres, and often in a bespoke finish. We have had to cater for this by installing a dedicated fast turnaround laminating line.”
The actual production process also presents Foilex with significant constraints, most notably resulting from the highly labour intensive nature of production and the variability and complexity of applying the laminate successfully to the pre-formed strips. Draper again, “For any given pre-moulded strip, there may be between 17 and 30 different sets of rollers used to apply the appropriate pressure to the laminate which by this stage has been coated with adhesive. Each roller needs to be of the right size, profile and material and set in exactly the right position, by hand, to avoid processing problems. In addition to the considerable set up time involved, the continuous nature of the process means that the tiniest variation in size or profile in a batch of product needs to be picked up on immediately, with adjustments made to the appropriate rollers, while the pre-formed strip is still actually moving down the line. Each time the line has to be stopped for adjustments, it of course has a knock-on effect on every job behind it.”
The impact of tooling changes and adjustments therefore poses one of Foilex’s primary planning and scheduling challenges. If pre-moulded strips of a similar size and/or profile are run on the same line then the changeover times for both the rollers and the laminate foil which needs to be cut to the exact size can be kept to a minimum. This needs to be applied to each laminating line. It is also essential when handling Foilex’s rapid turnaround orders. It may be possible to include rapid turnaround order at the beginning or end of an existing standard order without diverting material and human resource to the dedicated rapid turnaround line. But as Draper admits, “The secret to successfully being able to do any of these lies in the amount of visibility we have not just of what’s happening here and now on each line, but the order flow for the coming days and weeks.”
And it is this that used to give Foilex the biggest headache, for as Draper also admits, “most if not all the specialist knowledge for each product and also what orders were where, lay in my head.” Draper therefore spent a large portion of his time mapping out this information onto spreadsheets from which rough works schedules could be generated. In addition to being very time consuming, it also locked up valuable company information within one or two staff, with the ability for the company to function therefore reduced by 50% if one of these staff members was unavailable. There was also nothing more than the visibility offered by a spreadsheet, which became out of date the minute any real times changes on the production floor happened. As Draper recalls, “Forward visibility was simply guesswork. We may run a rapid turnaround order on a separate line, when we’d have the capacity to do it as part of a longer run only 24 hours later.” In addition to the cost implications of this, Draper also estimates that 5 hours of every day was spent trying to manage the planning and scheduling process.
A commitment to ongoing continuous improvement and the fact that a member of Foilex’s senior management team had come across Preactor led to a decision to investigate the potential of Foilex implementing Preactor as assist with its planning and scheduling requirements. At the heart of this was a recognition that Preactor could be a Lean Manufacturing Tool for Foilex in terms of significantly reducing the company’s inefficiencies. Alan Keene of The Scheduling Biz was approached in December 2006 because of prior relationships with the company and a timescale for a complete and successful implementation was set at less than 3 months.
The implementation involved standardizing each product into a unique code that still reflected a family grouping code. This would enable products of like families to be optimally scheduled. Keene had to develop and write the required link between Preactor and Foilex’s Microsoft Navision ERP system which would allow the relevant order information to be exported to Preactor with the Preactor generated final schedule then being imported back into Navision. Draper on the other hand had to begin mapping out the business processes the company would require to make use of the information generated by Preactor. Success by both led to a smooth go-live, on time, on March 16th, 2006 with, as Draper notes, “No interruption to production or business in any way.”
As often the case with an APS implementation, there were immediately visible benefits. The primary objective of reducing tool changes was achieved, and over the first 2 months, was reduced by 20%. This has now extended to a 40-50% reduction which correlates to a rise in production of the same magnitude. Draper comments, “To achieve this reduction in tool changeovers, makes Preactor worth every penny in itself. But we have also obtained a number of significant other benefits which add further to the value of our Preactor solution.” Foremost of these is the dramatic increase in visibility. Works orders for weeks ahead can be pulled into Preactor from Navision which provides an immediate overview of what will be happening, and when. This has had a marked impact on Foilex being able to make use of its main laminating lines to provide the short turn around orders which previously would have required running an additional line. The ability to look at “what if” scenarios also provide insight into the impact of changes to orders, or potential problems in delivery of raw materials. In a similar fashion, the impact of a line failure can be immediately and accurately assessed with the most appropriate action then being taken. The pre-planning of maintenance is also much easier as any disruption can now be planned around.
The company’s ongoing use of Preactor has provided Business Intelligence (BI) insights from being able to identify trends in bottlenecks and line problems. From a long term company security perspective, the standardizing of product codes and corresponding roller settings has moved what used to be specialist knowledge locked within only 2 individuals into the ownership of the company as a whole. From a personal perspective, Draper estimates that he now spends at the most, 1.5 hours a day planning with the rest of the time now being able to concentrate on wider business issues and looking for further Lean improvements that the company can make.
As for the future, Foilex is contemplating a move to using hand-held data capture devices at each step of the production process which will then automatically update Navision and Preactor and provide the absolute pinnacle or real-time visibility. Draper concludes, “We simply couldn’t have got to where we are in terms of efficiency and therefore profitability without Preactor.” Mike Novels, Managing Director of Preactor International commented on the application. “This is typical of how Preactor can enable an ERP system such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV. We would call it ‘Dynamic Aggregation’. Instead of deciding to make larger batches in advance to minimise changeover time and take the risk of holding more stock than is needed, Preactor takes orders and creates the larger batches dynamically based on the attributes of the real orders received and delivery required.”